An Eight Lady Serial–The Laird’s Legacy – Part 7

Here’s the seventh episode in the saga of Jordy MacHugh, a Canadian music teacher who inherits a derelict Scottish estate by the sea and decides to build an opera house.

So far, Jordy has acquired twin baby girls of unknown parentage and a housemate, Jenny from Kansas. She arrived in the Highlands as a tourist and has stayed to help Jordy look after the girls. She’s in deep waters now, even if she did reject Jordy’s chivalrous offer of marriage. Then, a mysterious woman appears on Jordy and Jenny’s doorstep. She claims to be the girls’ mother, but she has no documentation except a blurry old photograph. I was hoping Kay might tell us more about her, but instead she asked Who Is Alanis McLeish?

Today Jilly attempts to answer that question.

In keeping with the Friday writing sprint challenge, this installment includes a character who gets caught in a lie, and the words flowers, fumbling, sweet, dazzling, bribery, charming, mirror, calculation, truth, forgiven, identity, growl, nightmare, freckled, alarm and preserve.

The story so far…

“Those girls are mine, I tell you.” The young woman’s face crumpled. “I know what you must think. I meant to—but I can’t look myself in the mirror anymore. I can’t face what I did. Or forgive myself.”

Grave Concerns

The twins are mine. Jordy bit back the words. The woman—Alanis—seemed distressed, and desperate. She was almost certainly in need of professional help, but there was no calculation in her manner. She didn’t strike him as a liar.

He examined the crumpled, blurred, black-and-white photograph she’d given him. Flimsy, freckled with mildew, worn from frequent handling. The image was oddly familiar. He’d seen it before, or something very like it. Where?

He knew that rocking chair. Hell, he’d sat in it, wondering if it was sturdy enough to take his weight. It was, like everything in the Pointing Dog, charming but built to last.

“Don’t go anywhere.” He handed the photograph back to Alanis.

“Hold the fort, love,” he said to Jenny. “I have to make a phone call.”

He ducked into the cottage and closed the door behind him. Grabbed the phone and dialed the Pointing Dog. “Maeve?” He didn’t waste any time on social niceties. “Do you know anything about a woman called Alanis McLeish?”

The sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line told him he was on to something.

“Tell me what you know. The truth, please, however difficult or improbable.” Continue reading

An Eight Lady Serial–The Laird’s Legacy – Part 4

The MacHugh saga continues :-).

For those who are just joining us, we’re in the midst of a serial story that started with Jilly’s short story about Jordy MacHugh, the Canadian music teacher who inherited a derelict estate in the Scottish Highlands and decided to build an outdoor opera house by the sea.

Elizabeth continued the story and raised the stakes by introducing Jenny, a tourist from Kansas, who discovered twin babies in a basket, courtesy of the mysterious MacHugh Blessing Stone.

Maeve, the local seer, pronounced Jordy, Jenny and the twins a family, but as Jenny observed via Kay’s installment, the whole setup screamed Trouble with a capital T.

Read on to find out what happens next. Using the prompts from Friday’s writing sprint, our character(s) face a challenge, and including the words equipment, belly, aimless, baffling, noise, bloke, fuzzy, clever, beekeeper, footwork, glass, dream, corduroy, setup, lump and artist.

Challenge Accepted

They couldn’t go on this way. Somebody had to make this village of dreamers face reality, and apparently that someone was Jenny.

Sunday service was over, and she emerged from the small stone kirk into the sunlit, postage-stamp sized churchyard. She settled the oversized wicker basket at her feet and chatted politely with the villagers, all twenty of them. They were kind and friendly, but their warm welcome wasn’t for Jenny herself. Not really. Her true value to them was as companion-dash-housemate to the new laird, Jordy MacHugh, and as carer for his adopted twin daughters. Continue reading

An Eight Lady Serial–The Laird’s Legacy – Part 1

A few years back, one of our Friday writing prompts inspired Jilly to write a short story, which various Eight Ladies added to over a period of several weeks.  It was a great deal of fun to take a story in progress and, using a new set of random words, keep moving the action forward.  At one point we realized we had no conflict, and at another we seemed to have written ourselves into a corner, but creativity prevailed and we managed to reach a satisfying conclusion.

This week we’re revisiting the story–posting a segment every day–and hope you will enjoy watching it unfold again or for the first time.

So, without further ado, here is where it all started:  a Highland-based short story using  a character who found something unexpected, incorporating the words basket, symbol, siren, bottle, freewill, baby, future, confusion, absurdly, little, grabbing, aroma, banana, vision, identical and robbery.

Enjoy!

The Laird’s Legacy

“As you can see, we’re jam-packed…” Moira Douglas gestured to the dining room behind her. The But & Ben was rarely full in high summer, let alone in early October, but tonight every family in the village was there, trying to look casual and hoping Moira’s home cooking and smooth talking would persuade the visiting Canadian where Charlie the Solicitor Advocate’s carefully worded suggestions had failed.

Jordy MacHugh smiled politely. He had to duck his head to get through the doorway but now he stood tall, blocking the entrance. It was an assertive sort of politeness, worthy of his long-dead ancestors, masters of cattle raiding and border robbery. “The Pointing Dog had a kitchen fire. They had to close for the evening, so they sent me over here. They promised you’d feed me.”

Of course they did. There was a lot of him to feed, and while he’d reportedly made fast work of a full Highland breakfast complete with porridge and black pudding, that was eight hours ago. Since then Charlie had walked the incomer all the way round the boundaries of the McHugh property with little more to fuel them than a packet of oatcakes and a flask of coffee.

Right on cue, Jordy’s stomach rumbled. “I’m starving hungry, and it’s a twenty-mile drive to the next village. Can you please squeeze me in somehow?” Continue reading

Jilly: Taking A Break

Are you looking forward to the summer? Feeling ready for a break? Me, too.

Apart from essential trips to the dentist and doctor, one decadent haircut last October, and daily sanity-maintaining walks with Mr. W, I haven’t left home since mid-March 2020. I haven’t even taken the tube into town, except for one unavoidable hospital appointment.

I like my home. I love sitting at my dining table, writing. But after twelve months of covid-confinement, I feel as though the lack of variety and absence of external stimulus are taking a toll on my creativity. It’s taken me three months and I don’t know how many rewrites just to get a first scene I’m happy with on my current WIP, The Seeds of Destiny.

In normal times I’d take a vacation, break out of my comfort zone and fill my creative well with new experiences—sights, smells, ideas, food, people, places.

Right now that’s not possible, though I have my fingers crossed for 2022. 

In the meantime, since I can’t change my surroundings, I’ve decided to break my routine, take a pause from blogging and change it up by taking on a few new challenges from the comfort of my own home.

I’ll still be commenting on the other Ladies’ posts, and you can always find me via my website or my newsletter.

While I’m recharging my battery, I’d like to thank you for your company and wish you a safe and rewarding summer 😀 .

Jilly: Easter Eggs!

Happy Easter, if you’re celebrating today!

Do you enjoy Easter eggs? Story ones, not the chocolate sort 😉 .

In this context, an Easter egg is a bonus nugget—an object, action, character, or phrase—that isn’t critical to the story and may be overlooked by many readers or viewers but which is somehow significant and provides an extra hit of geeky pleasure to those who notice it.

Easter eggs may offer a wink and a nod to a sub-genre. Here’s an easy one: I have lost count of the number of romance heroes who say “As you wish,” when being ordered around by the heroine. No explanation is ever asked or offered, but most romance readers would immediately recognize the homage to William Goldman’s 1973 fantasy romance The Princess Bride, or more likely Rob Reiner’s wonderful 1987 movie adaptation. It’s what farm boy Westley says frequently to Princess Buttercup, and it means, of course, “I love you.”

Or they could be a tiny detail within a book or series that adds a little extra zing. In the final book of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, when the eponymous hero has finally found his HEA, there’s a quick exchange where his beloved says “You can give me a brooch. A sapphire one.” He answers, “But will you take care of it?” Which harks back to their very first encounter, in the very first book, when she’s a ten-year-old child. Lymond questions her to verify her father’s honesty. It’s frightening and dangerous, and when it’s over he pins a beautiful sapphire brooch to her nightshirt by way of apology. She rips it off, hurls it to the ground and grinds it under her shoe. Yay Philippa! Yay, Dorothy Dunnett!

An Easter egg could also be a reference to pop culture. The heroine of Ilona Andrews’ most recent book, Blood Heir, was an important secondary character in their bestselling Kate Daniels series. In the Kate Daniels books she’s Julie Olsen, but in Blood Heir she returns to Atlanta with a new face, a new name—Aurelia Ryder—and a whole raft of new superpowers. She becomes a temporary member of the chivalric Order of Merciful Aid, which makes her Knight Ryder. I laughed out loud the first time I read this. Because if you’re as old as I am, you might remember Knight Rider as a 1982 TV series starring David Hasselhof, a police detective who’s rescued after a near-fatal shot to the face and returns to town with a new face (thanks to plastic surgery) and a new name to become a hi-tech, modern crimefighter. I guess it was most likely a joke that became a book.

Easter eggs are everywhere. Peter Grant’s car (a Ford Asbo) in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London/Midnight Riot. Google it if you don’t know what an ASBO is. Ford Prefect’s name in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Quentin Tarantino’s sneaky cameos in many of his movies. A quick glimpse of John Thaw in a mirror in the Inspector Morse prequel TV series Endeavour.

I think they’re a nice bit of added fun. I enjoy them when I spot them. I don’t mind too much if they sail over my head.

How about you? Are you an Easter Egg fan? Do you have any favorite examples?

Jilly: One For The Diary

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the UK’s first national lockdown. In late February 2020 Mr W. and I had lunch in a crowded London restaurant with a bunch of friends, celebrating a landmark birthday without a care in the world. A month later we couldn’t set foot outside our home at all without an approved reason.

The change was sudden and drastic. Like everyone else I know, we were more than a little shell-shocked.

I’m reminded of a night, many years ago, on vacation in the Himalaya. A group of us camped on a ridge, high above a vast plain. We had supper, sang songs, played word games around the campfire, and retired to bed in excellent spirits. Around midnight we awoke to a storm the like of which I have never seen before or since. The waterproofing on our tents was rapidly overwhelmed and a fast-flowing river sprang up under my sleeping mat. Fortunately we had some dry clothes in a sealed bag, because everything else was soaked. Staying inside the tent was grim but going outside was worse. The following morning we all sat silently on our saturated kit bags, bedraggled and bemused. Our guide, who’d doubtless seen worse, looked us over, rubbed his chin, and thought for a moment. “One for the diary,” he said.

The Year of Covid probably deserves a whole diary to itself, but a page is more than enough for me. Below are my current top ten entries.

  1. Don’t take today for granted. Life can change in a heartbeat.
  2. Lasting good can come from terrible catastrophes.
  3. Humans are social animals. Technology can connect us, but it will never fully replace face-to-face contact and caring touch.
  4. Humans are adaptable and innovative. It’s mind-boggling what we can achieve when we co-operate together.
  5. Our world is deeply interconnected. We can’t just fix bits of it and expect the whole shebang to work.
  6. Don’t mess with mother nature.
  7. For the writer in me: character is choice under pressure.
  8. Also, language is also adaptable and innovative. A new crisis will spawn new words and concepts.
  9. Further: everything, however grim or inspiring, is story material.
  10. And for the eternal optimist: nothing but good times ahead.

What would you record in your 2020-21 Covid Diary?

Jilly: Virtual Vacay–My Father’s Island

Do you like to travel?

As a child I dreamed of exploring the world, and as an adult I’ve been lucky enough to visit some spectacular places. I’m glad I didn’t wait until I retired. Right now, thanks to covid, we aren’t even allowed a day trip to Brighton.

I know it’s not the worst consequence of the pandemic, but I feel sad that our skies and borders seem likely to stay restricted for some time to come. I hope we’ll find a way to open up again.

In the meantime I’ve been recapturing that sense of wonder by re-reading some of my favorite travel books. I decided to share one or two here, in the hope that you might be inspired to refresh your own post-covid bucket list.

This week’s treat was My Father’s Island by Johanna Angermeyer, which I first read in 1997, just before we visited Galapagos. I love this book. It’s memoir, but the author’s story is fascinating enough to be fiction. To borrow from the dust jacket:

In 1935 Hans Angermeyer and his four brothers escaped from Nazi Germany and sailed to the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles west of Ecuador. Surviving incredible hardship, the Angermeyers began an extraordinary Robinson Crusoe existence surrounded by giant tortoises, tame birds and prehistoric iguanas.

When Hans met Russian-born Emmasha, the couple set out to make a life together on what truly seemed to be their portion of paradise. But Hitler’s war caught up with them, shattering their idyll and sending Emmasha back to the United States with three young children.

Johanna Angermeyer, the youngest daughter, always daydreamed about her father’s island but never expected to go to the Galapagos—until one day she saw her long-lost uncles on a TV adventure programme. Seeing her cousins, ‘children born in paradise, their toys are the wild animals,’ and hearing about her people who ‘made their own shoes, delivered their own babies, built houses from lava blown from the bowels of the earth…’ left nine-year-old Johanna with a dream and a vow to return to the Enchanted Isles. With determination her family returned to South America, where the author began piecing together the story of her parents’ extraordinary marriage and her father’s tragic death.

My Father’s Island is a wonderful story—funny, moving, surprising and satisfying—and the descriptions of the Galapagos Islands after Darwin but before tourism, before the archipelago became a National Park, are some of the most vivid word-pictures I’ve ever read.

Reading this book wasn’t as good as a Galapagos vacay, but it left me refreshed and delighted. It’s not available as an ebook, but if you’re tempted it looks as though second hand print copies are quite readily available for a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket 😉 .

Do you have any recommendations? Favorite travel books or destinations for my post-covid bucket list? Thank you!

Jilly: Does Age Matter?

Would you choose a book because the main character is a certain age?

I’ve mentioned before that I read and enjoyed KF Breene’s Magical Midlife Madness, the first book in her Leveling Up series. I’ve since learned that the series is part of a new and fast-growing subgenre—paranormal fiction for women of 40 and over, or paranormal women’s fiction.

Apparently a group of savvy, successful romance and women’s fiction authors thought that there would be an eager readership for stories with female protagonists kicking ass and finding empowerment in their 40s, so they got together to make it happen. Their initiative has been a raging success. Good for them!

I have to confess, though, I’ve been trying to get my head around it. I think perhaps part of the appeal is the idea that it’s never too late. That a woman’s best years are not behind her at 30, or 40, or whatever.

I’m a woman of 40 and over. Ahem. I’m actually a woman of 60 and over. But when I look back over my life, I’m satisfied with how it’s gone so far. I’ve been married to the same man for more than 35 years and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone. I had a rewarding professional career, and when I turned 50 I exchanged it for writing fiction, a vocation that I love.

So I already know that middle age can mark the beginning of a fulfilling second life.

I love reading, and while I’m lost in a fictional world I definitely put myself in the protagonist’s shoes. I like my heroines smart and scrappy. Interesting rather than beautiful. I want them to face and overcome a near-impossible challenge and to gain a happy, rewarding new life. But as long as they are old enough to know their own mind, confident enough to trust their instincts, and they never give up on their goal, I don’t think I want their challenges to be defined by their age.

In short. As long as I find the heroine and her challenge fascinating, I don’t much care who or what or how old she is. I’ll even identify with Murderbot, and it’s an artificial construct with an attitude problem 🙂

How about you?

Jilly: Scrappy Underdog v Flawless Beauty

How do you like your heroines? Scrappy or stunning? Do you care?

A couple of weeks ago I re-read Ilona Andrews’ Blood Heir. The book was indie published in January and became an immediate bestseller. It has nearly six thousand ratings on the US Amazon site, almost all five stars. I’d been counting the days to publication, bought it as soon as it was available, and read it right away.

I enjoyed it—Ilona and Gordon’s books are an auto-buy for me and I don’t see that changing —but I didn’t love it the way I expected to. I don’t think my reaction had anything to do with the writing. The book was set in a familiar fictional world, with a nice blend of old and new characters. All the usual elements were present—kindness, humor, adventure, action, mythology, community, and snappy dialogue. I think my problem (if you’d call it a problem) was in what I brought to the book as a reader.

The heroine of Blood Heir is an important character in the hugely successful Kate Daniels Atlanta-set urban fantasy series. In that series she’s Julie Olsen, an orphaned, feral street kid who’s adopted by Kate. Julie gains a family and a community, finds trust, love, and protection in a dangerous world. She grows up and discovers her own considerable magical powers, but she remains scarred by the crucible that formed her. For example, she always carries food, even though she never goes hungry anymore, because she spent her childhood in a state of near starvation. Julie is pretty enough. She’s feisty, attitude-y, and independent, with some well-hidden vulnerabilities. I find her a relatable, fascinating character.

In Blood Heir Julie returns to Atlanta from her new home in California because a prophecy has revealed that an ancient and super-powerful Big Bad will try to kill Kate and destroy all that Julie loves. Except she’s not Julie now. She’s been re-born as Aurelia Ryder, a high princess of an ancient and powerful magical dynasty related to Kate. She has a new, flawless face and body, incredible superpowers, wealth, education, even a new scent. She can’t tell anyone she’s home, because if Kate finds out, Kate will face the Big Bad and die.

When I first read about this set-up, I was just super-excited to read a story about Julie. I speculated privately that maybe the new name, new face, no Kate setup might be somehow related to contractual publishing matters. Or alternatively that it might be a way to start a spinoff story without reinventing a super-successful series that had been drawn to a satisfying conclusion.

Blood Heir has a powerful emotional element. Julie/Aurelia is back in Atlanta, but isolated from the family she loves and the community she cares deeply about. She can’t tell anyone who she is, and she can’t go home. Add in the reappearance of a wolf shifter she’s had a lifelong crush on—he also has new name, a new pack and massively enhanced magical powers—and you have a heroine with material, magical, and physical advantages carrying a terrible emotional burden.

I’m sorry to say, I didn’t care about this as much as I should have, and I think it’s because Continue reading

Jilly: Homes With Character

Would you read a book that had a house or piece of land as an important character?

Long ago, in class, we discussed the role of the antagonist, aka the Bad Guy or Girl. We learned that a strong, smart, all-powerful opponent makes for great genre fiction, because their actions will push the heroine to her limits, forcing her to make difficult choices and in the process to grow and change before she eventually triumphs.

We also learned that Nature (a desert, a mountain, a storm) does not make a good antagonist, because it isn’t sentient. Even if it tests and challenges the heroine, it doesn’t respond to her actions. It doesn’t push back, so the story lacks zing.

That made sense to me at the time, but lately not so much. Because in a fantasy world a piece of land, or a house, can be sentient. If it can react, it can be a character, and lately I’ve read a few interesting books and series that use this trope. It’s an idea that holds so much potential. Part of any story’s power is what the reader brings to it, and almost all of us have deep ties to and strong feelings about places we’ve lived. Imagine if that place also had strong feelings about us, and the power to express those feelings? It’s not that much of a stretch if you’ve ever visited somewhere and felt stifled and claustrophobic, or instantly at home. Continue reading