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: 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: 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: Same Prince, Different Cover

Almost the end of October, and we’re inching toward the end of the weirdest, suckiest year of my life so far. Really hoping 2021 doesn’t turn out to be more of the same.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my character Prince Daire of Caldermor—ostentatious, wealthy, and not half as empty-headed as he appears. He has a wild mop of curly hair and a love of showy clothes, which encourages people to underestimate him.

In my debut novel The Seeds of Power Daire is an important secondary character—the pointless princeling who’s supposed to marry a very useful princess (she’s older, fiercer, and determined not to wed him). In The Seeds of Exile, the new novella which is almost ready, Daire is the hero whose political skills are tested to the max in a power struggle with his younger brother. Stiff-necked Prince Warrick finds Daire’s flamboyant style unseemly. Warrick thinks he’d do a better job as crown prince, and challenges Daire for the throne. Battle is joined.

My plan was to make The Seeds of Exile a free read for newsletter subscribers, until I realized that giving away the middle book of a trilogy isn’t the best way to introduce new readers to Daire and Caldermor. So I decided to publish The Seeds of Exile and write a new novella to give to newsletter subscribers. That story will be called The Pulse of Princes.

The Pulse of Princes introduces Daire and elan, the mysterious golden beans that give Caldermor its wealth and power. It’s kind-of-sort-of Daire’s origin story, set in Caldermor just before he inherits the throne. He’s eighteen. His father’s dying, his mother is dying to take control of Caldermor. Daire has to assert himself or he’ll become Princess Irmine’s puppet before he’s even crowned.

I commissioned a cover for The Seeds of Exile way back in April. I found a great model for twenty-six-year-old Daire, thinking that would be his only cover appearance. In The Pulse of Princes he’s eighteen. I had to find a new image and ask Deranged Doctor Design if they could imagine the same character, but younger, skinnier, and altogether less experienced. Anne, my copyeditor, had previously suggested that he’d look great in purple, so that’s what I chose.

What do you think? I hope you like the new cover as much as I do.

I’d love to know what signals it gives you. Does it look like your kind of book?

Thank you in advance for your comments, whatever they may be.

And huge thanks to the team at Deranged Doctor Design, who are a delight to deal with, not to mention brilliant creatively and technically. I feel very privileged to be working with them.

Jilly: The Urge to Hibernate

Is your productivity affected by the change in season?

We’re only a few weeks past the equinox, but to me it feels like winter is here already. The days are dark, gloomy, rainy, and cold. The covid figures are getting worse again. Social media seems to think we’re headed for another bout of heavy restrictions if not a full lockdown, and they’re probably right 😦 .

I’ll be thrilled to see the end of 2020, but the downside is I have a long list of things I want to finish before 31 December. Publish The Seeds of Exile, make The Pulse of Princes available for free download, write at least the first act of The Seeds of Destiny. Submit my taxes and deal with a boatload of other grim-but-necessary administrative chores.

I’ll get them done, because I hate, hate, hate to start the new year dealing with unfinished business, but right now I’m fighting myself every step of the way. What I really want to do is go to bed early, curl under the duvet, rise late, and spend the hours in between lolling on the sofa with a hot beverage, a box of Belgian chocolates, and a good book.

I might give in today, and gird my loins again tomorrow.

How are you doing?

Jilly: New Story, New Cover

It’s August already, and the end of this pandemic is starting to feel very far away. Here’s hoping at least one of those vaccines turns out to be a magic bullet.

I expected to be in California now, drinking cocktails, eating ice cream and hanging out with Eight Lady Kay. Instead I’m about to start the nineteenth week of our involuntary staycation in North London. Sigh. The weather has turned gorgeous. I like my house, and we’re lucky enough to have a small garden. My husband is great company. The food is okay and the wine is good. I’m trying to stay focused on the positives, but a change or two would be welcome.

So while I wait for the copy edits of The Seeds of Exile (Daire’s novella) I’m turning my focus to a new writing project—the second full length Elan Intrigues novel, called The Seeds of Destiny. The main character is a mountain-dwelling healer with uncanny powers. She’s called Annis Benkith. Daire seeks her help as he battles the energy sickness that is driving him toward an early and painful death.

It’s always hard to get to grips with a new character and a new piece of world building. Annis is a nomadic mountain dweller, wildly different from the princes and princesses of the two previous books. Fortunately I have a cover for The Seeds of Destiny that evokes the ambience I’m trying to capture. I’m using it for inspiration.

It took me hours of searching to find a stock photo of a woman who looked as though she could be Annis. She makes eye contact with the reader. She looks natural and rather serious. To me she feels like Annis—calm and empathetic, skilled, but also decisive, courageous and determined. In the original photo she was Victorian and glamorous, but my cover designers, Deranged Doctor Design, gave her a new look with a homespun dress and a high-altitude setting.

What do you think? I hope you like the cover as much as I do. I’d love to know what signals it gives you. Does it look like your kind of book? If you noticed it as you were browsing online, would you click on it to check out the blurb?

Thank you in advance for your comments, whatever they may be.

And huge thanks to the talented team at Deranged Doctor Design. I feel very lucky to be working with them.

Jilly: Searching for Niol

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging in for the long haul. It would be lovely to think the world was starting to return to normal, but I’m not making any plans that involve spending significant time in the wider world. Fingers crossed for next year.

Luckily I have a new writing project to keep me busy. I just finished up the developmental edits on The Seeds of Exile and sent it off for copy editing. Yay! Now I need to get to work on the next Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Destiny. I have a pretty good idea of the central story (more on that later), but I’ve acquired an important secondary character and right now I know next to nothing about him.

The Seeds of Exile is about the relationship between twenty-six-year-old Daire Edevald, crown prince and ruler of the wealthy city state of Caldermor, and Warrick Edevald, his twenty-one year old brother and heir. As I wrote the novella, I discovered a third brother, eighteen-year-old Niol. He doesn’t appear in the book, but he features strongly in the battle between the brothers and at the end of the novella Daire sends a message to call Niol home.

Salient details about Niol: he was sent away aged eight, to be raised at a friendly court on a remote peninsula four days’ ride away from Caldermor. That was a decade ago and he hasn’t been back since, though he’s always known he might be recalled. His political value is as backup to Warrick, just as Warrick is backup for Daire.

I was talking through my edit report with Karen, my developmental editor. She said “So, Niol. What’s he been doing and what’s he like?” Er. Good question. Better figure that out.

All the Edevald boys have been brought up to do their duty, no matter the personal cost, but they have very different styles and personalities. Daire is showy and theatrical, totally OTT, with a talent for political maneuvring and a big heart. Warrick is scholarly, introverted, idealistic, a touch pedantic. So what is Niol? Physically he’s like his brothers– tall and whippy, with masses of curly hair and a cute smile. As a character he can be almost anything I want him to be except an out-and-out villain.

I’d like him to be very different from the other two sons, and since he was raised in a different country I can easily justify that.

Is he happy or resentful that he was sent away?

How does he feel about the family and/or tutors who were given the responsibility of raising him? Does he feel more loyal to them than to Caldermor?

What’s his personality like? What skills has he learned in the last decade?

How does he feel about being recalled? I think he could have visited over the years but has chosen not to, which suggests to me he doesn’t see Caldermor as his home. He has no reason to feel brotherly love for Daire or Warrick.

I’d like Niol to be fun to write, and to read about. What kind of young man do you think he’d be?

Jilly: Picking Your Brains

Is anyone up for a spot of brainstorming?

I’m finishing up my developmental edits of The Seeds of Exile, also known as Daire’s novella. There’s a small, impromptu wedding in the book (not Daire’s). In addition to the bride and groom there are a scattering of witnesses, one matron of honor and one groomsman.

The story takes place in a historical fantasy world a little like northern England or the Scottish border country. The time period would be vaguely late Middle Ages or early Tudor. With lots of otherworldly antics and fantasy tweaks.

There are gods and monsters, but no dominant theology. The marriage in question is a legal and political occasion (as well as a romantic one), but not religious. My edit notes quite correctly suggest that I should find terms for the official supporter of the husband-to-be and wife-to-be that suit my imaginary world and the story.

I was chatting to Eight Lady Jeanne about this on Friday, and she came up with the excellent suggestion of investigating the history of both roles.

As far as I can tell, the role of a matron of honor, maid of honor and bridesmaids over the ages and continents has been to protect the bride by providing her with a degree of camouflage, thereby confusing and confounding jealous suitors, evil spirits and potential kidnappers.

The role of the groomsman/men has been either to help the groom protect the bride against jealous rivals and potential kidnappers, or to assist him in kidnapping his intended (ew). Continue reading

Jilly: Another Shiny New Cover

Another week, another seven days closer to the end of this pandemic, whenever that may be. I hope you’re safe and well.

And Happy Easter to everyone who’s celebrating today. Even though this is an Easter like no other, I hope you’re able to find the joy in it.

Here in England the weather has turned gorgeous, which makes it even harder to stay inside. I’m lucky that we have a small garden, and if I work at the table in the kitchen I can open the double doors and get a hit of birdsong and sunshine. It helps a lot.

I’m still waiting for the edit report on Daire’s novella, now officially called The Seeds of Exile, but I have a cover, and here it is. You might remember that I found a stock photo of a guy I thought was perfect for Daire—hair, face, expression—but who wasn’t a golden historical fantasy prince. I hoped my cover designers would be able to turn him into one, and I must say they surpassed my expectations.

What do you think? I hope you like it as much as I do.

I’d love to know what signals it gives you. Does it look like your kind of book? If you noticed that cover as you were browsing online, would you click on it to check out the blurb?

Thank you in advance for your comments, whatever they may be.

And huge thanks to the team at Deranged Doctor Design, who are a delight to deal with, not to mention brilliant creatively and technically. I feel very privileged to be working with them.

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. Continue reading