Jilly: I’d Love to Read His Story

In her post last Saturday, Michaeline talked about subplots and secondary characters. We chatted in the comments about the movie version of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, and Michaeline said she wished the whole story could have been about the master swordsman sidekick, Inigo Montoya.

Which got me wondering: which secondary character(s) would you like to see in a starring role?

In this era of series, especially in romance, many (most?) significant secondary characters are written and signaled as sequel bait. Usually I’m excited about that. I love the promise of more stories in a world I’m enjoying, and if I’m already invested in the characters, there’s a delicious frisson of anticipation whenever they do something that could come back to bite them later.

Sometimes the author dangles the treat but keeps the reader waiting through multiple books. Maybe even through an entire series, like Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green books, where it was always clear that the resolution of Lyon and Olivia’s romance arc would wrap up the series. That’s OK. I’m comfortable with deferred gratification. I know the story will come, eventually. If I care enough, all I have to do is stick with the author and series until it arrives.

Here, I’m thinking more about the cast of supporting players who people a fictional world but who are not set up to step into the limelight in due course. Take Christopher and Barabas, two characters from Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels urban fantasy series. Ilona put up a blog post a few days ago in response to a reader’s question about whether she would ever write their romance. Click here to read the post in full. In short, Ilona said the decision would not be a question of popularity, but one of inspiration.

If I had my way, I’d beg the story gods to Continue reading

Jilly: Georgette Heyer’s Bath

We spent last weekend visiting the beautiful city of Bath. We stayed in a hotel that was once owned by the Duke of Wellington and walked into town to hear a friend’s choir sing in the stunning fifteenth-century Abbey. It seemed as though everywhere I went, I followed in the footsteps of a much-loved Regency romance. Sometimes it was Jane Austen; more often it was Georgette Heyer.

Most of the time it was Black Sheep. It isn’t my all-time favorite Heyer, but I think it has one of the best settings.

By the time of the Regency, Brighton had become the fashionable place to spend the summer and Bath, which had once been the ton’s favorite resort, had become a kind of posh backwater inhabited by invalids and those who couldn’t afford the expense of living in London. Which makes it the perfect choice for Black Sheep. Continue reading

Jilly: What Are You Waiting For?

Full disclosure: today’s post is an update of one I wrote in 2015. Given the subject matter, I make no apology. I hope I’m lucky enough to post another update next April.

Four years ago this week, my husband almost died. One moment I was cracking jokes about man-flu, wondering if he had a chest infection and needed antibiotics; the next, we were in an ambulance heading for the resuscitation room. It was a very, very close-run thing, but with the help of the fantastic staff at the Whittington Hospital in North London, he pulled through and is (almost) as good as new.

I’m embarrassed to admit that while it was happening, we had no idea how much trouble we were in. We were too busy worrying about whether my husband would have to give up wine and asking if he’d be on his feet in time to go to the ballet the following week. Even when the consultant said “I think that’s the least of your problems,” the penny didn’t drop. It wasn’t until much later that I got the shakes.

I’m sharing this because there will never be a better day to say don’t take tomorrow for granted. If there’s anything that you’ve always promised yourself you would do, no matter if it’s trivial or life-changing, do it today.

Do it now.

Don’t wait for somebody else to make the first move. Don’t leave it until you’ve paid for your house, or the kids are a little older, or you’ve retired. Continue reading

Jilly: Good Novella Squee–Gaslight Hades

I treated myself to a book binge last Sunday. I chose carefully, but my day of self-indulgence did not begin well: neither of the first two books I read hit the spot. In the first I liked the main characters but the plot resolution was weird; in the second I liked the worldbuilding but the characters lacked depth. Fortunately I saved the best for last. Grace Draven’s novella Gaslight Hades rescued my readathon.

The story is a steampunky second chance romance with a difference, and at 39k words it’s compact enough to read in a sitting, but long enough to avoid that rushed plot feeling you sometimes get with shorter novellas.

Here’s the official blurb:

Nathaniel Gordon walks two worlds—that of the living and the dead. Barely human, he’s earned the reputation of a Bonekeeper, the scourge of grave robbers. He believes his old life over, until one dreary burial he meets the woman he once loved and almost married.

Lenore Kenward stands at her father’s grave, begging the protection of the mysterious guardian, not knowing he is her lost love. Resolved to keep his distance, Nathaniel is forced to abandon his plan and accompany Lenore on a journey into the mouth of Hell where sea meets sky, and the abominations that exist beyond its barrier wait to destroy them.

I really enjoyed this story, and here’s why: Continue reading

Jilly: A Snippet and a Question

How likeable do you like your main characters? Will you take strong, interesting and flawed, especially if they grow and change during the story, or do you prefer them sympathetic from the start?

And do you think readers set the bar higher for heroines than heroes?

In the recent Duke University romance forum, Ilona Andrews said that in her experience, romance readers are more forgiving of male characters than female ones. A male character can do appalling things but with the careful application of a little tragic backstory, he can still become a hero. A heroine, not so much.

That set me to wondering about one of my favorite contemporary characters, a super-rich bitch called Sasha Montgomery. She’s on ice for now, but not forgotten. She’s not a nice woman, but I love her a lot and I’d always planned to turn her into a heroine one day. Now I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.

Below is a snippet from the life of Unredeemed Sasha. She definitely has a challenging backstory. I’d be very curious to know whether you think she could be turned around.

Continue reading

Jilly: Fantastic Free Resource–Alli Independent Author Fringe

Alliance of Independent Authors Indie Author Fringe–London Book Fair, March 2017

Big thanks to Kay for alerting me to this great resource: the Alliance of Indpendent Authors (Alli) is holding an online conference this weekend to tie in with the London Book Fair.

By 10am London time today, they will have uploaded 24 hours’ worth of great presentations on topics like understanding the writing process, perfecting your first 50 pages, identifying and eliminating the biggest mistakes most fiction writers make, and all kinds of advice about self-publishing including writing better book descriptions, advertising, and audiobooks.

Best of all, the sessions are archived for you to view at your own convenience, and they’re totally free.

Check out the conference agenda here.

And find the links to the presentations here.

I’ll be catching up on some of the technical ones later today, but I already watched and really enjoyed fantasy author KM Weiland’s one-hour talk: Are You Making These Common Fiction Writing Mistakes?

It’s worth noting that Alli will be hosting a further two conferences this year, to coincide with the major book fairs, so if you find these presentations useful, it might be a good idea to sign up to be notified of future events. I did 😉

Enjoy!

Jilly: Dunbar’s Number for Writers and Readers

How many authors are on your mental auto-buy checklist? How many are on your keeper shelf? And how long have those authors been at the heart of your reading universe?

I’ve been noodling around with these questions for some time—a couple of years, probably—ever since I first read about Dunbar’s Number. If you’re not familiar with the concept, Wikipedia describes it as a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. Or, to put it crudely: there’s a limit to the number of people your brain has space for.

Dunbar’s Number has been around since the 1990s, but I came across it when I started writing fiction with an eye to publication and realized that meant I’d have to get to grips with social media. If you’d like to know more about the idea in the context of online relationships, click here for a Youtube link to anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s 15-minute Tedx talk: Can The Internet Buy You More Friends?

If you’d prefer the short version, it goes something like this: we humans maintain social relationships at various levels of intimacy, and the number of people we have the capacity to manage at each level is more or less predictable.

  • We have a very inner core of intimate friends and relations, people we would turn to in times of deep emotional stress. Typically there are about five of them.
  • We have a group of best friends, people we know well, confide in, trust, spend time with. That group would likely be about fifteen people, including the inner five.
  • The next closest layer, good friends, would be about fifty people (including the first fifteen);

Continue reading