Jilly: Travels With Kay

Postage Stamp Depicting the Globe Theatre, 1614

I’m writing this post a little early, because Kay is visiting us here in London. World news is getting scarier at home and abroad, the weather has turned chilly, and our neighbors (on both sides) are engaged in noisy construction work, but we’re making the most.

So far we’ve enjoyed food, drink, a LOT of book talk and a tour around Highgate Cemetery. The sun shone, which was a bonus, even if it didn’t do much for the brooding, gothic atmosphere.

Kay wrote in her Thursday post: I think travel is good for people. It puts you in different and sometimes complex situations that challenge you to see events, places, and people in new ways. It can stimulate your thinking and creativity. And it’s fun.

I think it’s also good to have guests. It prompts you to go to new places and do different things. Plus, you get to experience the familiar through the eyes of a visitor, and it’s surprising how different their perspective can be. All of this is a great way to boost creativity plus, as Kay says, it’s fun.

Last night we went to see Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe. The theatre is in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames, just a few hundred yards from the site of the original Globe Theatre. The building is a replica of an Elizabethan playhouse, the result of almost fifty years of fundraising, campaigning and research initiated by Sam Wanamaker, the American actor, director and producer. It’s as faithful a reproduction of the original Globe theatre as is possible, built of oak lathes and staves and white lime wash. It was constructed using traditional methods and even has a thatched roof—the only one allowed anywhere in the city of London. The only concessions to modernity are provisions for emergency signage and fire protection.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, opened 1996

It’s an amazing venue, and I’m embarrassed to say last night was my first visit. Kay and I made a few concessions to 21st century living—we did not join the ‘Groundlings’—the intrepid souls who stood for three hours in the rain in the open space in front of the stage. We were seated, under cover, with rented cushions to soften the benches and blankets to keep us warm (Kay says it was 90 degrees when she left California so the blanket was a welcome addition). Still, it was amazing to experience theatre the way people would have done in Shakespeare’s time.

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Jilly: The Big Finish

Do any of your favorite books get wrapped up in a high-risk, high-stakes final standoff?

Michaeline and Elizabeth had opening scenes on their minds this week. I’m at the other end of my WIP. I’m deep in my writer’s cave, trying desperately to polish up the grand finale of Alexis Book 1.

There’s a dramatic setting, mortal jeopardy, the stakes are nosebleed high and there’s no obvious way out. All the major players are present—heroine; hero; scary otherworldly nemesis; powerful scheming old crone and her grandson, the heroine’s jealous, spoiled half-brother.

I’m trying to do the scenes justice, but I’m feeling a little out of my depth. I know what happens, and why. Stuff happens. Tension escalates. Somebody gets hurt. Somebody dies. The death is right for the story and I’m sure I want to make that choice, but I’ve never killed off a character before. This is a new challenge for me and I want to master it.

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Jilly: Five Great Writing Craft Resources

What are your go-to references for improving your chosen skill–creative, mechanical, sporting, whatever’s important to you?

I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t spend any more money on writing craft—no books, workshops, courses or conferences—unless I come across something exceptional. It’s not that my writing is so good I don’t need it, but that I already have a great collection of resources at my fingertips and I’ve only scratched the surface of most of them.

Even if I write for another 20 years (and I intend to), I bet I could find the answers to 99.9% of my craft problems on my current bookshelf or the internet. My challenge is to digest all that great advice, evaluate it, select the bits that I need most in order to power up my strengths, bolster my weaknesses, and widen my skill-set, and apply those lessons until they become second nature.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in this post that I was surprised to discover how much I’ve absorbed about the process of self-publishing. I’ve also learned that some craft resources hit the spot for me, while other famous names slide through my brain and out again, leaving no trace. I had fun choosing my favorite indie publishing resources, so I decided to play the same game with the writing craft references. I found it surprisingly easy to pick the ones I believe will support my writing journey all the way to the pearly gates.

Your mileage may vary (I’d love to know!), but here are my choices: Continue reading

Jilly: Tips for Creative Problem Solving

What do you do when you’re chewing on a problem, any problem, and you can’t seem to find your way to an answer?

I’m just back from a routine trip to visit my mum in Derbyshire. The return journey involves a minimum of six hours driving, closer to eight hours this weekend. It almost always results in some brainwave, useful insight about my WIP, or some other problem if Real Life is getting in the way of my writing.

I don’t consciously use my driving time to problem solve—I try to keep my eyes on the road and my wits about me—but somehow when my surface concentration is fully occupied watching the traffic, the deeper levels of my mind feel free to work on knottier problems.

I write sequentially, which means that I use each scene I write to provide the impetus for the next one. The good thing about my process is that the story grows organically. The downside is that when I hit a problem, I grind to a halt and spin my wheels. I can’t move forward until I resolve it.

Over the last few years I’ve tried various tactics to rescue myself when I get stuck. Here are a selection of the ones which work best for me, though your mileage may vary. Continue reading

Michaeline: Crazy stories

Now here’s an example of structure combined with crazy — leading to an incredible body in motion. Strandbeest by Michael Frey, image via Wikimedia

We love structure and craft here on Eight Ladies – combined, we’ve spent thousands of hours on classes, and maybe tens of thousands reading about how to write, and listening to podcasts. Structure is important, and it makes a book great.

But . . . it’s not the only tool in the toolbox. There’s that big, blasted sword of Crazy that only shows up in this dimension when it wants to, and can disappear nearly as fast. It’s also only visible to certain readers, so whoever wishes to wield the sword of Crazy had better have a thick skin or numb ears: a lot of people are going to be telling the wielder that s/he is . . . well, crazy.

Crazy sometimes carries the day, though. I love Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series – adored them as a teen and imprinted on them, and even read them as an adult and still loved them!

Adams had a gift for funny ideas, and was skilled at winding them up and letting them run into each other at full speed. Structure was more hit and miss – he was more like a jerry-rigger than an architect of literature. The Hitchhiker’s Guide has not just one, but multiple prologues. The climaxes seem to come regularly, but not in any particular order. And the dangling threads? Well, apparently that’s why this trilogy needed four sequels instead of the usual two.

Still – look at Adams’ impact on culture. Anyone in the English-speaking world who has Continue reading

Jilly: The Joy of Podcasts

Are you a fan of podcasts? I’m a recent convert, and I’m wondering what took me so long.

Some of my friends are dedicated podcast followers, though with interests very different to mine. I enjoy chatting with them about their favorites, but I never thought to seek out shows that might align with my own interests, because I couldn’t think of a natural place in my routine to listen to them.

The obvious time would be during a regular journey such as a school run or commute, but I don’t have either of those. My commute is from my bed to the sofa, with a detour to the kitchen for coffee 🙂 . I have my groceries delivered and though I have a car, I rarely drive it more than once or twice per month. I’m not a gym bunny either. If the weather is nice I like to walk around my neighborhood or to the local shops, but I use that time to listen to my playlist and think about my WIP.

I don’t Continue reading

Jilly: Which Story Would You Tell?

“Where do you get your ideas?” is supposedly the question most asked of successful authors.

I collect and hoard story starters from here, there and everywhere (Alexis grew from the juxtaposition of two fascinating anecdotes shared by my hairdresser), but my all-time favorite source is the BBC website.

Most weeks I stumble across something weird or wonderful that makes my brain fizz. I bookmark them in a folder called ‘story stuff’ and forget about them until I’m looking for ideas or inspiration or just something a little different to get the wheels turning.

I had one of those days today, so I took a stroll through my story stuff file. There are more than a hundred nuggets in there, but here are a trio of good ones.

A sci-fi classic: Continue reading