Jilly: Silver Linings Saturday

While Michaeline’s away dealing with family matters (check out this post for more information), I’m borrowing her Saturday slot to ask: what good experiences did you find to alleviate the grimdark this week?

Whatever your circumstances, if you found joy in a burst of birdsong, or the spring sunshine, or an unexpected message… if you found something—anything—that lightened your heart, please share it in the comments and give somebody else a much-needed moment of feelgood.

I took a little while to make my list for this post, and to my surprise just searching for the good moments in another stressful week left me feeling uplifted.

Of course the most important thing is that all my family and friends are still home and well. Everything else pales beside that. I’m deeply thankful, and I hope that you have all been equally fortunate.

I’ve had another week of no new writing. I’m supposed to be working on the my new Elan Intrigues novel, but the opening scene is really intense. The heroine loses everything she cares about in one candid exchange, and I simply haven’t had the emotional bandwidth to do it justice. I plan to do better this week. Hopefully that scene will be next week’s silver lining.

I did, however, go back and forth with Deranged Doctor Design on the cover for my new novella, The Seeds of Exile. I mentioned last week that I found a stock photo of a cool urban dude that I hoped DDD could turn into a historical fantasy prince. No spoilers but…they did, and he looks amazing. I’m thrilled. I should get the finished file on Monday or Tuesday. I’ll share next weekend, and I hope you like it as much as I do.

Also writing-related: Draft2Digital and Overdrive (library ebook distributor) have created a promotion whereby D2D authors can opt to make their novels available to libraries at a seriously discounted price, initially through April 30th, potentially longer. Given that the world is suddenly full of people with time to read and no money to spare for book buying I think this is an excellent idea. I’ve signed up to offer The Seeds of Power. I hope Overdrive decides to include it in the promotion. If they do I’ll stay in for as long as the promotion runs.

On the home front, I noticed something different. Our house is on the outskirts of London, and for years our street has been a cut-through to one of the main roads into town. The traffic noise has never bothered me particularly. It’s at most an hour in the morning and again in the evening, and as we’ve lived here for more than 20 years I’ve internalized it. Suddenly though, people aren’t driving into the city and the absence of noise has disoriented me. Subconsciously, it seems, I’ve been using the rat-run as an alarm clock.

The days are getting noticeably lighter, and I’ve been relishing the unexpectedly clean air on my daily walks. I’ve been keeping to the streets rather than following my usual routes over Hampstead Heath, but the signs of spring are all around my neighbourhood. Daffodils, tulips, camellias, crocuses, blossom, scents. Lovely.

And on the subject of spring, did you see that David Hockney published a series of images created recently at his home in Normandy, offered to the public as a respite from current events? The images are beautiful, and I am awestruck and inspired that he is capable of such work at 83 years young. There’s hope, right? Check them out and absorb the wonder of man’s talent and nature’s glory. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-52109901

So. Those are the good bits of my week. How about yours?

Jilly: Silver Linings

So how was your week?

According to the news briefings, London is the coronavirus hotspot of the UK, but so far, touch wood, we’ve been fine chez Jilly. We’re doing as instructed, staying quietly home, washing our hands, waving to the neighbors from a safe distance, watching the news, and checking up on friends and family. I’ve been having lovely long chats with friends I normally only catch up with at Christmas.

I didn’t do any new writing, but I did put together a brief for Daire’s novella, now officially called The Seeds of Exile. I had a good discussion with my cover designers about the stock photo I found for Daire, crown prince and ruler of Caldermor. The guy’s expression and pose are perfect. Unfortunately, his clothes aren’t. He’s a cool urban dude and I need a fantasy prince. I had some ideas about how he could be transformed, and I was thrilled when Deranged Doctor Design said they can make him work. Those people are a breath of fresh air, somehow managing to work with their usual upbeat professionalism even though their patch of Eastern Europe is under martial law and they’re expecting to go to full corona-lockdown soon. I really admire their attitude.

The other task that’s been occupying much of my time is chasing grocery orders. The Prime Minister suggested we should have our food and necessities delivered if at all possible. That’s turning out to be easier said than done, as the online delivery companies crumble under the sudden weight of demand. They’re beyond overwhelmed. The one I use has seen a ten-fold increase in activity, combined with a decision to prioritize ‘key workers’ and vulnerable people, which is making it basically inaccessible to ordinary customers, even longstanding ones like me.

I wasted more than seven hours trying to wrangle that online supermarket on Friday, to no avail, and now I’m done. I realized today that I’ve been approaching this challenge all wrong. Even as the big grocery chains adapt their model to help the government, this country is full of smaller independent businesses—farmers and wholesalers—who were dependent on the restaurant trade and who are now desperately trying to adapt and survive. They have families to feed, stock they can’t sell, and for the foreseeable future they’re looking to private customers to keep them afloat. From now on, until this pandemic shutdown is over, my new plan is to use my time and money to find and buy from those businesses. I’ve placed two orders with an organic farm in Devon, for delivery in May, and I have a couple of other referrals in London that might be able to tide us over for April. Those are on my list to contact tomorrow. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Oh—and our friendly indie wine merchant (also reeling from the closure of the restaurant trade) agreed with us that it would be a good idea to withdraw as much of our paid wine reserve as we could manage while the bonded warehouse is still making deliveries and the merchant is still there to liaise with them. So we did. We’ve always kept our wine in storage because we have a small house and no cellar. Now there’s wine under the stairs. Under the coffee table. Under the dining table. Wherever we could find a shady space. After all, nobody’s coming to visit. And even if we have to dine on corned beef and microwave rice every night, at least now we know it will be accompanied by a glass of something nice 🙂 .

And best of all, last Friday the Eight Ladies had a virtual get-together courtesy of Zoom. We span the East and West coasts of the US, plus the UK and Japan, and in normal times the chance of finding a time where we could all sit in front of a screen is slim to none. Right now everyone’s home, which means it’s tricky but do-able, and we did. It was great!

So how was your week? It’s been another tough one around the world. I hope you managed to find some silver linings.

Jilly: Mind Candy–The Witterlist

Sadly it looks as though things are going to get worse before they get better in the world at large, and chances are many people will be spending more time at home over the coming weeks and months.

If that means you’re likely to spend quality time with Netflix, or if you’re just interested in hearing an intelligent, enthusiastic analysis of what makes a story work (or not), you might enjoy BBC Radio 5 Live’s The Witterlist.

5 Live is primarily a news and sport radio station, but every Friday afternoon movie reviewer Mark Kermode joins host Simon Mayo to discuss the week’s new releases. I rarely go to the cinema and I don’t often stream movies, but I love The Witterlist because Mark Kermode is such fun to listen to. He’s honest without being sarcastic, or jaded, or blasé. He clearly loves not just movies, but story, and the insights he offers make me smile, they make me care, and then they make me think.

Here’s an example from last month: the most recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. I don’t often enjoy movie adaptations of classic books, and Emma is probably my least favorite Austen—the heroine is so entitled she makes me grit my teeth till my jaw hurts—but Mark Kermode makes me want to watch this film. He makes me want to go back and read the book, which I haven’t done in years. Here’s a quote:

Emma the source text is like a Beatles’ song. You can play it in a number of ways. You can play it fast, you can play it slow, you can play it upbeat, you can play it swing, you can pay it skiffle, you can play it rock, but it’s still the same song. You can emphasize different melodies and countermelodies because the thing itself is so sturdily constructed.

The whole Emma review is around nine minutes long. You can find it here.

The Witterlist home page, with a list of reviews and all kinds of other fun, interesting links is here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Stay warm and safe, and here’s hoping things improve soon.

Do you have any mind candy recommendations to keep folks engaged and uplifted while we wrestle with real life? All suggestions gratefully received 🙂 .

Jilly: It’s Grim, But It’s Not All Bad

 

Yesterday Michaeline shared the events of her week in rural Hokkaido, which began with a birthday celebration and ended with the coronavirus-related closure of schools, the declaration of a state of emergency, and a strong request that people should stay home.

Here in London the Sword of Damocles is still suspended, but probably not for much longer. So far there are 20 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus across the UK. Nineteen of those cases are people who have been abroad recently, but the latest one is a man who is the first person to be infected domestically. The source of his infection is currently unknown. He lives in Surrey, a populous area to the south of London, and attended his local doctors’ surgery before he was diagnosed.

We’re also starting to see precautionary measures taken by employers. Last week the oil multinational Chevron sent 300 staff home from its Canary Wharf offices after one of its employees, who’d spent the weekend ski-ing in Italy, became unwell. Media company OMD, which shares the same building, sent all its staff home after an employee who’d returned from Australia via Singapore reported symptoms. Transport company Crossrail, which shares a building with Chevron and OMD, sent all its employees home. And yesterday law firm Baker McKenzie sent home more than 1,000 staff from its Blackfriars office after a possible virus case was identified. Continue reading

Jilly: Self-Isolation Past and Present

Boundary Stone, Eyam
(via Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday Michaeline shared a fascinating Reddit post about how a foreign resident in China is dealing with food and cooking during the lockdown imposed by the authorities in an attempt to contain the outbreak of coronavirus/covid-19.

In the UK we only have 9 confirmed cases of the virus, but Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of National Health England, has said people may increasingly be asked to isolate themselves here too. This BBC article explains who should self-isolate and what precautions they should take.

It’s sobering to think that one of the world’s most effective tactics for preventing a global pandemic has been around for centuries and depends on ordinary people showing selflessness and self-discipline.

I first learned about self-isolation more than 40 years ago, on a school visit to a local historic site: Eyam, a picturesque village in the Derbyshire Peak District. Eyam is a scant few miles from stunning Chatsworth House (Pemberley!) and Haddon Hall (Prince Humperdinck’s Castle!) but its place on the tourist trail was earned in much grimmer circumstances.

I blogged about Eyam, Historic Plague Village, five years ago, but given current events it seems fitting to revisit the story. Continue reading

Jilly: The Big Step

It’s been months since I worked on a new story. I’d almost forgotten how it feels 😉

I had a solid draft of The Seeds of Power finished by summer last year. Then I spent the rest of 2019 dealing with edits, more edits, proofreading, formatting, and uploading the book. Not to mention setting up author accounts, claiming author pages, writing blurbs, bios, and all kinds of other indie publishing stuff.

It was interesting and oddly enjoyable, rather like my desk job back in the day. I was pleased with the final result, but it’s only now I’ve started working on the next Elan Intrigues story that I realize how much I’ve missed writing.

I’ve started a novella that links The Seeds of Power with the next full Elan Intrigues book. The point of view character is Prince Daire. He was the most important secondary character in The Seeds of Power, but he didn’t have a point of view in that book, so the reader never got an insight into his head.

Even though I had a pretty good understanding of Daire, it’s taken me most of the last month to find his voice. Now, finally, I’m getting there. Here’s the key to Daire: his family motto is The Price of Privilege is Duty, but his personal mantra is Whatever Happens, Smile.

It’s early days, and it’s only a novella, but I can’t overstate the thrill I get from feeling that I finally got inside Daire’s head. He’s a fictional character, but suddenly he’s become real to me. I care what happens to him. I’m excited to tell his story. I want to solve his problems. Don’t tell my husband, but I kind of love him 😉

I know it won’t last, but right now I want to write the next scene, and the one after that. I go to bed thinking about the story and wake up raring to write. It’s wonderful.

I said at the beginning of the year that my watchword for 2020 would be WALTZ, symbolizing my efforts to balance writing, publishing, and marketing. I realized this week that a waltz may comprise three steps, but they don’t have to be equally weighted. You can take one big, swooping creative step and then balance it with two smaller, stabilizing ones. I think that may be my kind of waltz.

It’s been a good week here in London. What gives you that excited, buzzy feeling?

Kay: Narrating Family History

The family tree of Cesky Sternberk Castle, Czech Republic (Library of Congress)

Novelists create characters. We give them names and personalities, families, backgrounds, and histories. We give them motivations and core values, often based on what they learned from their families or what’s important to their heritage, so they have reason to make the choices they do in our narratives.

Imagine my surprise when I learned from Ancestry that individual Americans actually know very little about their heritage.

Ancestry commissioned a survey from OnePoll, which canvassed 2,000 people in the United States. They found that many Americans don’t know or are unclear about their family origins.

  • 25 percent don’t know from what countries their families came to the United States
  • 40 percent of Americans polled are not certain from what country their last name originates

Continue reading