Jilly: Planning for the Zombie Apocalypse

Have you been reading (or watching) much fiction over the last few weeks? What kind of stories did you choose?

I spent the first week of my enforced homestay on the sofa, re-reading Jenny Crusie. I picked Agnes and the Hitman, followed by Fast Women. Angry heroines, laconic heroes with just the right skill-set, a dazzling array of secondary characters, terrific dialogue, and murder. Just what I wanted. No softness, lots of snark and action. Edgy stories tinged with darkness and humor, and a heroine with agency who fights her way to a happy ending, for herself and everyone she cares about. Very cathartic.

Then last week, between obsessively reading the news and completing a fiendishly tricky jigsaw puzzle with an underwater fantasy scene featuring strange fish, steampunk machines, grandiose ruins and Pre-Raphaelite mermaids, I revisited MR Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts.

That was a dark choice, given that the book is post-apocalyptic sci-fi, set in a future England where civilization as we know it was wiped out by a virus that turned most people into hungries—brain-dead, decaying, cannibalistic zombies. Only a few pockets of humanity survive, and a group of mysterious children who live in a sort-of school under heavily armed guard. Superficially this is so not my kind of book, but the friend who gave it to me promised I would enjoy it, and he was right. Apart from the subject matter, this book could be a Crusie. It passes every craft test taught to us by Jenny. The heroine, Melanie, the smartest of the children, is compelling. The author makes you care deeply about her, and the stakes start high and get higher. The secondary characters—one teacher, one scientist, two soldiers—are all credible and have their own arc. All the turning points work. The internal and external plots are tightly tied together, all the way to the excellent and inevitable ending. It’s another Jenny-trick—after I read the end, I went back to the opening scene to see whether the author made the right story promise and fulfilled it. Yep. Nailed it.

I’ve posted in the past about Dr Jennifer Barnes, a psychologist, cognitive scientist, and YA romance author (click here to read about Id Lists). Yesterday, as I was wondering what to read next, I remembered her workshop called The Romance Writers Guide to the Psychology of Fiction. I’m pretty sure she said one academic theory is that fiction provides us with a safe space to work out how to deal with real-world problems and to role play potential future scenarios.

Huh. I thought I’d been taking a break from reality. The alternative explanation is that my Girls in the Basement have vented their frustrations at the state of the world, taken a time out to recalibrate, and have now begun to adapt to our new normal by planning for the zombie apocalypse.

Really hoping it’s the former 😉

I still haven’t decided what to read next. I started another jigsaw instead.

So what kind of fiction have you been reading/watching lately?

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: Life, But Not As We Know It

Yesterday Michaeline reported that Hokkaido is no longer in a state of emergency, so she and her family are free to socialize and celebrate the spring equinox. Yay, Hokkaido!

In my corner of London things are…strange. In true British fashion we’re not ordered to stay home, just strongly requested to do so. Pubs, clubs and bars are closed, ditto theaters and cinemas. Public transport is running a reduced service, and consumer stockpiling has stripped the supermarket shelves. We’ve been strongly requested not to panic buy food and toiletries, but so far that request has been more honored in the breach than the observance.

So far I don’t know anyone who’s had the illness, but I know lots of people who’re suffering the financial consequences of avoiding it. Friends who’ve lost their jobs or fear they may be about to; business owners who’ve lost everything almost overnight; pensioners who’ve seen their retirement savings devastated. The government is undertaking a massive program of financial intervention, and we have to hope that will mitigate the effects for the worst-hit people. Continue reading

Jilly: Sibling Rivalry–A Snippet

I had a list of possible topics for today’s post, but somehow none of them felt right. Instead I decided to offer a micro-distraction from our current real-world grimdark.

The snippet below is from Daire’s upcoming novella. I should have more information to share soon, including a title and a cover. The excerpt is a little spoiler-y, but no more than you’ll get from the blurb in due course. If you’d rather wait a month or three for the finished article, look away now 😉 .

Prince Daire is crown prince and sole ruler of the wealthy city-state of Caldermor. Prince Warrick is his brother and heir. The exchange below comes in the aftermath of Warrick’s death-or-exile attempt to challenge Daire for the throne.

Sibling Rivalry

Warrick was right, blast and blight him. He’d clearly spent as much time as Daire worrying about the future.

Time to turn the tables. “What would you have done? If you’d defeated me yesterday?”

Warrick cleared his throat. He had the grace to look abashed.

“Besides putting me to the sword.” Daire brushed that off with a wave of his hand. “Would you have married?”

A curt nod.

“Who would you have chosen?” He managed a grin, and a drawl. “Which blue-blooded brood mare meets with your approval?”

Warrick’s eyes blazed. He took a step forward, fists clenched, before he got hold of himself. “She’s no brood mare. She’s beautiful. Intelligent. Principled. Calderran. She knows our history.”

Daire watched his brother warily. “Does this paragon have a name?” Continue reading

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