Jilly: Free Novella – The Pulse of Princes

Another year, another Elan Intrigues novella, except this one’s a freebie 😀

You may remember I changed my plan for The Seeds of Exile, the novella I published last month. It’s a sibling rivalry story about Prince Daire of Caldermor and his brother, Prince Warrick. It can be read as a standalone quick read, but it also links the first Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Power, with the last one, The Seeds of Destiny.

My initial plan was to offer Exile as a free read to my newsletter subscribers, until I realized the story wasn’t the best choice to introduce new readers to the world of Caldermor and elan. Instead, I wrote a new prequel story about Daire just before he becomes crown prince. He gets a reality check and has to decide whether to challenge the status quo in Caldermor or follow meekly in his father’s footsteps.

This week I finally linked that novella, The Pulse of Princes, to my newsletter sign up page. Yay!

I decided not to offer it for sale, so I won’t be loading it to Amazon or the other e-tailers. I want to keep it as a thank-you for new (and existing) mailing list subscribers. I probably spent more than I should for a freebie—Deranged Doctor Design for the cover, Karen Dale Harris for developmental editing, Anne Victory for copyediting—but I wanted the novella to be of the same quality as my paid Elan Intrigues stories. It is!

Here’s the blurb:

What is a woman’s life worth?

Daire Edevald, heir apparent to the principality of Caldermor, knows his duty. He must make elan, mysterious golden bean-shaped curatives that bring the Edevald family wealth and power. Then he must relinquish the precious pulses to Princess Irmine, his formidable mother, to fund Caldermor’s governance.

But when Daire discovers that the stable-master’s wife is gravely ill after gathering swamp truffles for a royal feast, he feels obliged to help. Twelve pulses of elan would cure her. Daire has made thousands, but he owns none—and Princess Irmine won’t waste a single pulse to save a hireling.

The maidservant’s survival becomes a critical test of Daire’s fast-approaching sovereignty. If he wants to change the principles that drive the Edevalds’ elan use, he must start now. Even if he has to challenge his fierce mother, his dying father, and most dangerous of all, the shadowy immortal guardian of Caldermor.

Here’s an excerpt from the opening scene:

Daire crossed to Lightning and scratched the stallion’s favorite spots around his neck and ears, thinking hard. The answer, when it came, was embarrassingly obvious.

He gave Lightning a final pat and stepped away from his mount. “You said bloodsucker fever can’t be cured, but elan can cure even sharp fever. Surely it can help the body overcome bloodsucker poison.”

“Oh, elan. Elan cures everything.” The stablemaster dismissed Daire’s brilliant insight with a wave of his stubby hand. “Elan’s for people like you. Royalty. Aristocrats. Not for the likes of Vi.”

“Violet got sick hunting truffles for people like me.” Daire waved his own arm in the direction of the palace on the hill and the great houses that surrounded it. “If a few pulses will save her life, why wouldn’t we use them?”

Fisher turned around to stare at Daire, though he kept his arm around Dawn’s neck. He didn’t say a word, just made a kind of soft clicking noise with his tongue. He had a whole vocabulary of noises he used in the stables. This one usually meant one of his four-footed charges had done something unexpected.

“A pulse of elan is worth a year’s wages to a retainer. Two years to serving folk like us.” Fisher spelled it out as though he realized Daire had no idea what his servants were paid. “I couldn’t guess how many pulses it would take to cure Vi. More than a few. Maybe as many as a dozen.”

“A few, a dozen… Our dynasty is built on elan.” Daire spoke as much to himself as to Fisher. “What kind of rulers have we become if we can’t spare the price of a woman’s life?”

Fisher’s eyes opened so wide he looked as though he’d been throttled. His mouth seemed to be gasping for air too.

“I’ll have to speak to my mother.” Daire wondered what she’d say. She wouldn’t be pleased, but she was fair. Violet’s hurts were their fault. If he explained how the problem had come about, surely she should agree it was their duty to help.

Fisher finally found his voice. “Vi is worth the world to me. But Her Highness may not agree.”

Fisher’s misgivings were likely well grounded. Daire grimaced. “My mother bears a heavy load and makes hard choices every day. I hope she will grant me a favor. If not…” Well, they were about to top up the royal reserves with another month’s worth of pulses. And elan matters were the prerogative of the Edevald men, not the crown princess.

*****

If you’re not already a subscriber, I hope this tempts you to give my newsletter a try. If you’re interested, here’s that link again: Subscribe to Secrets & Treats.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Jilly: Sound Effects

Do you prefer background noise when you work, or are you a work-in-silence type?

In the past I’ve created playlists for individual books, finding songs or pieces of music that I associated with particular characters, places or themes. If I played them often enough, they became so familiar that my ears tuned them out and my subconscious took them as a soft signal that it was time to write.

That worked well for me before covid-19. Until last year I was happy on my sofa, writing in my isolated story bubble, because in the rest of my life I was out and about, interacting face to face with real live people and getting my daily fix of human connection.

Now we’ve been confined to home, more or less, for almost ten months, and close personal interaction with others is something we’re exhorted to avoid if at all possible. I have my husband, thank goodness, and we catch up with friends and family via technology, but we’re feeling the lack of variety in our day-to-day interactions, and somehow it’s affecting my writing routine. At the moment I don’t want to get wholly swallowed by my story world. I prefer some kind of pleasing background noise that doesn’t intrude on my thoughts but quietly offers reassurance that there’s a real world out there, occupied by real people.

I’ve found the perfect solution. Cricket commentary 🙂 .

For those unfamiliar with this very British sport, it’s a bat-and-ball game played by two teams of eleven players on a circular or oval shaped piece of grass—usually with a diameter of around 450 or 500 feet. The game is believed to have originated in Medieval England, and it’s mostly played in countries that were or are part of the British Commonwealth, like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, India, and Pakistan, though all kinds of other countries are now getting into the swing of it.

Because it’s such a very old, very upper-class game, it has all kinds of arcane rules and language (a maiden, a duck or golden duck, silly point, a googly, a bouncer). In its longest form, matches are spread over five days, and a series would be (say) five matches of five days each. A match usually starts mid-morning and lasts for around eight hours, with breaks for lunch and tea (those are the official names). If it rains, the players retire to the pavilion until the ground is dry again. There might be breaks of several hours, or even whole days with no play. If it’s too cloudy to see the ball clearly, the umpires will take the players back to the pavilion until it’s brighter. And at the end of all that, it’s quite possible that a game or a series might end in a draw.

All of which means that the tv or radio commentary for cricket works beautifully for me as a writing accompaniment. The commentators are intelligent, courteous, and highly educated. The matches may be fiercely competitive, but they’re so old-school and such a marathon that there’s no place for screaming commentary. Just a warm, soothing flow of observation that has time to wander off into history, geography, geology, the weather, local sights, customs, wildlife, and anything else that catches the commentators’ fancy.

Even better, many international cricket grounds are to be found in spectacular locations. The England team are currently playing against Sri Lanka in Galle, overlooked by a historic fort and fringed on two sides by the Indian Ocean. It looks gorgeous. I’ve been getting a vicarious travel treat every day, and while it’s not as good as a vacay, it’s a lovely reminder of what will (I hope) be possible again soon.

Fortunately for me, when the England cricketers finish their tour of Sri Lanka, they’re off to India. That takes care of my soundtrack for February and March 🙂 .  I’m hoping they’ll help me build up some momentum on The Seeds of Destiny.

Do you like background noise whilst you work? Have your aural preferences changed during the pandemic?

Jilly: Booksweeps Sword & Sorcery Fantasy

Do you know about Booksweeps?

I discovered them last year, when Jeanne included one of her Touched By A Demon books in a paranormal romance sweep. I joined an Epic, Sword & Sorcery Fantasy collection, and it went so well I decided to do it again this year. Here’s the graphic for this year’s sweep:

A Booksweep is a contest that aims to connect avid readers of a particular subgenre with authors who’d like to reach a wider readership. First prize is usually something like an e-reader plus a free copy of every book in the sweep. Second prize is a free copy of every book.

Authors pay to be included. Readers don’t pay to play. They sign up for the sweep by joining the mailing list of the authors they like the look of out of the selection offered. They don’t have to join every list, but each one they join gives them a better chance of winning. Of course they could immediately unsubscribe from every list they choose, but past experience suggests that many don’t—as long as they enjoy the newsletter.

Epic, Sword & Sorcery Fantasy is a nice broad definition and I think the fifty books in the bundle offer something for anyone who enjoys reading this subgenre. There are wizards, warlocks, orphans, slaves, assassins, royalty, fae, dragons, monsters, even a centaur 🙂 .

My book The Seeds of Power is historical fantasy, set in a royal court. It has a strong heroine, chivalrous hero, elemental magic, and life-or-death stakes. I think it will fit right in.

I like stories that highlight a central character—double yay if she’s female—so I’ll be reading the blurbs and Look Inside samples to see which ones best suit my tastes.

Do any of the covers in the graphic above grab your attention? If so I’d love to know which ones, and why.

If you like the idea of Booksweeps, but fantasy isn’t for you there are current and upcoming sweeps featuring romantic suspense, thrillers, inspirational, new adult, paranormal and sci-fi romance.

The Epic, Sword & Sorcery Booksweep runs until Wednesday (13 January). If it looks like your thing, click HERE to join me there (and I hope you win)!

Jilly: 2021 In A Word

It’s 2021, at last!

In recent years, I’ve formed the habit of choosing a watchword to epitomize my approach to the coming twelve months. It’s less prescriptive than a set of resolutions. I see it as a theme. An idea that recurs and pervades.

My recent selections have been:

2017: PUBLISH

2018: TRIMMINGS

2019: CONCENTRATE

2020: WALTZ

With the benefit of hindsight I’d choose something very different for 2020, but a year ago I associated the word pandemic with history books and thrillers. I’d just published my debut novel, The Seeds of Power, and was trying to find my balance as an indie author. I chose WALTZ because I wanted to figure out how to write-publish-market, and a WALTZ is a three-beat dance of balance and elegance. It mixes technical skills and creative artistry. It’s relatively easy to learn the basic steps, but to achieve excellence takes time and application. If done well, it appears effortless and brings joy to both the onlooker and the performer.

I did not learn to WALTZ last year. From March, when the first Covid-19 lockdown was imposed in London, until May or even June, I spent more time following the news than putting words on the page. I worked on covers and other useful tasks until I felt ready to write again. In the second half of the year I published a novella, The Seeds of Exile. I wrote a prequel novella, The Pulse of Princes, which I will make free to my newsletter subscribers (more on that next week). And I acquired covers for The Seeds of Destiny (current WIP) and for an Elan Intrigues box set. So although I didn’t waltz, at least I walked. In the circumstances, I’m calling that a win.

So—what to choose for 2021? My past watchwords have all been under-pinned by the same philosophy—to maximize the joy and satisfaction I receive from my chosen vocation. In 2020 I did that by sheltering within my comfort zone. In 2021 I want to grow my comfort zone. I’d love to add some useful new skills, like formatting and graphics. If I can get better at them, it will make publishing and marketing much easier and I might even come to enjoy them. If I don’t, then I’ll know for sure that those are tasks I should continue to avoid or outsource, and if it takes a little longer or costs a little more—tant pis!

Drumroll…. My watchword for 2021 is EMBRACE.

Even if the first nine days of 2021 have been less than stellar, I choose to believe that there are good times ahead. I intend to EMBRACE them.

Have you made a plan for 2021? Care to share?

Jilly: Incubating in Caldermor

Happy New Year, all!

I had plans for my first post of 2021, but my brain seems to be off on a frolic of its own. Whether I’m asleep, cooking, tapping at my laptop, or walking around Hampstead Heath, my gray matter is in Caldermor, mulling over Annis, Daire, and my new WIP. Not working out specific plot points, just noodling around what kind of people they are, what they want in their deepest, most private selves, why there would be a deep/unique connection between them, and what would make a true HEA for their love story.

I get this distracted feeling from time to time, and I’ve learned from experience that when it happens, I should relax and give my subconscious free rein. I’m reassured by the idea that creative incubation appears to have some scientific basis 😉 .

Nancy Andreasen is a leading neuroscientist and psychiatrist at the University of Iowa whose specialty is research into the creative mind. She was originally a professor in the English Department, and her research was partly informed by her proximity to the talented writers participating in the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

I’ve linked before to her one-hour Aspen Ideas presentation titled “Secrets of the Creative Brain,” but not since 2017. I revisited it today and thought it an hour well spent, so I’m sharing it again.

Among many other things, Ms. Andreasen says that there are four stages in the creative process:

  • Stage 1, Preparation: the assimilation of basic information to build on.
  • Stage 2, Incubation: a relaxed time when connections are made, often unconsciously.
  • Stage 3, Inspiration: the Eureka! Moment
  • Stage 4, Production: putting the insights or concepts into a useful form, or something that can be communicated to others.

I need to get The Seeds of Exile into Production soon, so I’m hoping all this Incubation will lead to Inspiration. I’ll keep you posted 😉 .

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and creatively satisfying 2021.

See you next Sunday!

Jilly: Lighter Days Are Coming

Are you enjoying the holidays? It’s been a year like no other, but hopefully you’re managing to find a silver lining under all that cloud.

Over the last few days I’ve started to feel really energized. It’s not Christmas (bah, humbug!). It’s partly the prospect of a new year—I’m all in favor of putting 2020 to bed, and I love the idea of a fresh start, even if my rational self knows New Year’s Eve is an artificial construct. Mostly I’m super-happy because we’ve passed the winter solstice.

Last Monday, 21stDecember, was the shortest day and longest night of the year for people living in the northern hemisphere. In London the day was a tad short of 7 hours 50 minutes. Contrast that with the 12 hours of daylight we enjoy on the Spring equinox, and more than 16 hours on the summer solstice.

Long summer days are lovely, of course, but for me trends and momentum are more influential. At some subliminal level I notice when every day is a little lighter and longer than the one before, and I start to feel amazingly empowered and creative. Almost superhuman. It doesn’t matter that we’re still in winter, that the weather may be grim and the nights will be longer than the days for another three months. We’re heading toward the light 🙂 .

I’ve experienced this excited, fizzy feeling almost every year for as long as I can remember. I typically get ever more inspired and enthusiastic until May or June, sometimes right up to the summer solstice. Then my subconscious tends to down tools for a vacation and resists like mad if I try to start new creative projects in the fall. I always do better working on housekeeping and closing out projects, which is why I’ve chosen to edit in the autumn and publish in December.

All of which means that right now, time’s a-wasting. I need to roll up my sleeves and get to work on the next Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Destiny, or Annis’s book, ASAP. I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the last week or so and I feel ready to settle down and start writing.

I still have a little more housekeeping to finish up—I need to get The Pulse of Princes, my Elan Intrigues prequel novella, formatted and set up as a free download for mailing list subscribers. I have a few tweaks to make to my website. And of course I will enjoy the rest of the holidays, right up until New Year’s Day. But I can feel my energy building, and I feel excited to make a new start.

Happy holidays, everyone! I hope you’re looking forward to good times ahead 🙂 .

Are you a seasonal creature? Do you have a favorite day or time of the year?

Jilly: George and the Dragon

Here’s my contribution to the 2020 8 Ladies Christmas Short Story Challenge. I think I got all the prompt words!

George and the Dragon

The winter sun was low in the sky as Georgina Albion moored her sailboat at Stack Aerie’s small dock and picked her way along the slippery wooden boards, ignoring the freshly painted PRIVATE PROPERTY sign and the new ones that said NO TRESPASSING and VISITORS BY INVITATION ONLY.

She raised her eyes to the scudding clouds, but her thoughts were directed at the reclusive new owner. How can I be be invited, if you never answer your post or open your email?

There was a painted steel circle beside the first step of the narrow stone stair that clung to the vertiginous cliff face, and another at the top. Stylized dragons with razor claws and fiery breath, contained within a red perimeter and crossed by a red diagonal bar. In case that wasn’t clear enough, the message was spelled out below: NO DRAGONS HERE.

George stopped for a moment to trace the image with a fingertip. “If that’s true, your Uncle Basil made a big mistake.”

From the cliff top it was a short walk to the futuristic glass-and-steel dome that perched atop the towering granite sea-stack. She knew from past visits that the bubble’s airy interior was comfortable but sparsely furnished. The temperature was always pleasant, the filtered light clear and bright, and the views out over the stormy ocean and back toward the mainland were breathtaking. The traditional rooms—a kitchen, dining room, office, bedrooms—were below, set within the rock. And far, far, far deeper, under the ocean bed, Bas’s treasure cave lay hidden.

The reinforced glass door was flung open before she could ring the bell. “What now?”

The man who blocked the entrance was tall—six and a half feet of long legs encased in dark jeans, broad shoulders snugly wrapped in black cashmere, chiseled features, and short, dark, spiky hair. The luminous eyes that glowered down at her were a distracting golden green color, with an unmistakable amethyst rim.

George blew out a breath. There was no mistake. Bas had chosen his successor. The rest was up to her.

Continue reading

Jilly: Book Birthday–The Seeds of Exile

The Seeds of Exile is live now on Amazon and other e-book retailers! For a dollar and change you can pre-order Daire’s novella today, or download it tomorrow (Monday).

This makes me so happy 😀 ! It’s such a satisfying way to end a depressing year, and leaves me feeling energized and inspired to dive in to the next book.

Exile is the second story in the Elan Intrigues historical fantasy series. It can be read as a standalone, though if you’ve read The Seeds of Power you’ll meet some familiar characters as well as a couple of new ones. Expect a quick-witted hero, sibling rivalry, royal politics, natural magic, and life-or-death stakes.

Here’s the blurb:

Two princes. A desperate duel. A perilous legacy.

How can a man not know his brother? Prince Daire of Caldermor and his heir, Prince Warrick, were raised apart. Daire’s showy. Warrick’s stuffy. All they have in common is a shared secret duty—Daire creates elan, mysterious golden beans that assure their family wealth and power; Warrick bears witness. Then Daire discovers that elan-making ravages his body. Internally he’s hurt beyond remedy, but if he modifies the time-honored elan ritual he can save Warrick from suffering his fate.

Warrick knows transforming elan is a privilege. He doesn’t believe it’s dangerous. To prevent Daire from debasing their treasured heritage he claims the throne and battle is joined. The arena: an elan-making duel. The loser’s forfeit: exile.

Daire wants Warrick beside him, not banished, but he’ll need insight and guile to win the duel without losing his brother—or breaking the ancient Legacy that protects Caldermor.

*****

The novella is a quick read—22k words or around a hundred pages.

I hope you try it. And I really, really hope you like it!

Link for Amazon US is here

Link for Amazon UK is here

Wishing you a safe and happy Sunday!

Jilly: Christmas in Caterwaul Creek

The holidays are almost upon us. Fancy a quick, cozy, upbeat but gloriously non-saccharine Christmas read?

And this year, when travel and convivial family gatherings are not an option for most people, fancy a story about a multi-day road trip shared by complete strangers, ending in a large, happy, informal celebration?

Why not try Eight Lady Kay’s novella Christmas in Caterwaul Creek?

In general I’m a grinch about the holidays. You couldn’t pay me to watch the Hallmark Channel, but I love Kay’s funny, clever, snowy road trip adventure. I bought it in 2017, but I re-read it this week and spent a happy couple of hours on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate, chuckling to myself.

A mere five days before Christmas, Our Girl Sarah is dumped by her lying asshat of a fiancé, who also happens to be her boss. The man is a slippery slimeball and she’s clearly better off without him, but she’s devastated. So she quits her job and decides to spend Christmas with her sister. Taking an unscheduled trip from San Francisco to upstate New York on the cusp of Christmas is, of course, a logistical nightmare. For Sarah the challenge rapidly escalates from difficult to near-insurmountable courtesy of airline schedules, winter storms, and opportunistic thieves.

Sarah is having none of it. I’ll get there if I have to fly in a damn sleigh to do it. She’s my kind of can-do heroine.

The sleigh isn’t available, but she persuades a friendly Indian cabbie to drive her the three thousand miles across country. Then a grouchy pawnshop owner hitches a ride with them, and their journey becomes a wild adventure as they battle Mother Nature, try to evade gun-toting pursuers, and discover some of the more esoteric delights of the Midwest. Along the way strangers become friends, misunderstandings are aired and resolved, and by the time the taxi reaches snow-bound Caterwaul Creek the unlikely trio has snowballed into a rowdy gaggle.

The Caterwaul Creek Christmas celebrations are a delightfully mixed bag, much like the participants, but all’s well that ends well for everyone involved, and (it being Christmas and all), there’s even a new-born baby. I don’t do plot moppets, but even I have to admit you can’t have a Christmas story without a baby.

If you like the sound of Christmas in Caterwaul Creek, you can read a sample and maybe splurge a dollar and change here.

And if you like it, tell your friends. IMO this lovely little story deserves a wider audience 🙂 .

Jilly: Practical Gifts

Can you believe it’s the end of November already? The holidays are here, and I also have a landmark birthday to celebrate before the end of 2020. I’m pretty sure Mr. Wood and I will have a nice party for two, but it’s a shame we won’t be able to share the occasion with our friends.

As we won’t be able to meet up, people have started asking me for gift suggestions. I feel incredibly fortunate in my creative and personal life, and don’t really need or want anything, but I’ve been told that’s not a helpful reply 😉 .

I was racking my brains for a better response when I found the list below. Apparently I wrote it three years ago, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Are you a creature of habit? What simple, practical gifts would keep your daily routine running smoothly?

Here are mine:

Free: Creative Kickstarters
I would love somebody to curate (say) a dozen recommendations especially for me—could be novels, or biographies, music, movies or experiences. The idea would be to offer suggestions that the giver thinks would be new to me and that I would enjoy. It would be fun to investigate the suggestions, to think about why the giver chose them for me, and to decide whether to go ahead and invest in them.

Inexpensive: Screen cleaning cloths
Do you use microfiber cloths to clean your phone and computer screen? All my devices seem to be perpetually smeary, and there’s never a clean microfiber cloth to hand when I want one.

Moderate: Bath Treats
One of my favorite ways to treat myself after a good day’s writing, or to console myself after a bad one, is with a bubble bath (I’m super-jealous of Michaeline who has a local hot springs). Bath treats can range from the cheap ’n cheerful to the ludicrously pricy. I’d be thrilled with any of them.

Moderate: Coffee
I always kick-start the day with fresh-brewed coffee using beans supplied by HR Higgins, a family-run London coffee merchant. They have an excellent online shop and efficient delivery service. A 250g valve bag of smooth, aromatic Costa Rica San Jose beans could be acquired for a smidge under £11.

Expensive: Moleskine Notebooks
I love Moleskine notebooks—the classic version with a soft black cover, ruled pages, size XL. I use them every day, for brainstorming, working through story ideas, blocking scenes, sketching settings, listing potential names, trying out titles, blog ideas, double-checking contest requirements, keeping a note of reminders, and a thousand other useful snippets. I can track my writing and publishing progress over the last decade by flipping back through the books. I get through at about half a dozen books each year, and at around £16 ($20) each they’re not cheap.

What workaday goodies would you most appreciate?

How do you feel about practical gifts? Would they leave you delighted or disappointed?