31 March 2013

Guest Blog: Jean Gill

This week, we're welcoming author Jean Gill, whose latest title is Bladesong, book two of  The Troubadours series. The author will offer a free copy of the book to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:    

1151 – the Holy Land during a fragile peace

Estela, the troubadour, following the destiny of her beautiful voice, and Dragonetz, her passionate knight; divided by the times they love in.

Dragonetz is imprisoned in Damascus, his military prowess as valuable and dangerous to the balance of power as the priceless Torah he has  to deliver to Jerusalem.

Can Estela get him out alive, despite Nur-ad-Din, the Muslim Atabeg; Melisende, the Queen of Jerusalem; and an avenger from the past?

Will she still want to, when she knows what they’ve done to him?

On the run from abuse, Estela wakes in a ditch with only her lute, her amazing voice, and a dagger hidden in her petticoats. Her talent finds a patron in Alienor of Aquitaine and more than a music tutor in the Queen's finest troubadour and Commander of the Guard, Dragonetz los Pros. Weary of war, Dragonetz uses Jewish money and Moorish expertise to build that most modern of inventions, a papermill, arousing the wrath of the Church. Their enemies gather, ready to light the political and religious powder-keg of medieval Narbonne. 

**Q & A with Jean Gill, author of ‘The Troubadours’ books, ‘Song at Dawn’ and ‘Bladesong’**

You’ve written in many different genres; why historical fiction now?

Yes, I started as a poet and turned to prose at 40. Poems still happen sometimes but not as often. I have a deskful of ideas and can’t write them all in full, so choosing which one to spend a year on is very important. It was my husband who chose ‘the story about the girl troubadour and the big white dog’ as the one he’d most like to read, out of the three completely different novel ideas I couldn’t choose between.

 ‘Song at Dawn’ does start with Estela (the girl troubadour) and Nici (the big white dog) but by the time I wrote it, the character of Dragonetz was alive in my imagination and I was already in love with him, so spending time with these fictional people is so much fun. I also discovered the real historical characters and true stories of the 12th century and am totally hooked on this period.

Who do you think was the most interesting historical character of your period?

There were so many! It has been an eye-opener to discover people I’d never heard of, especially the women in power. I expected to admire Eleanor of Aquitaine (Alienor in ‘Song at Dawn’ as I gave her the Occitan name) but actually it was Ermengarda, the sole ruler of Narbonne from 1143-1192, who amazed me. She was Viscomtesse of a vital trading port, she survived the military attempts to usurp her and she created a sophisticated ‘court of love’ where the finest troubadours performed.

It has just happened that for each book my research has found an amazing woman about whom I previously knew nothing. In ‘Bladesong’ that woman is Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem, again a ruler in her own right, although she had to fight her subjects’ prejudice and a husband to wield power. She and her three sisters formed the royal family of the Crusader States and some of their alleged adventures make the Borgias look tame.
I’ve already discovered two more of these remarkable women whose paths are likely to cross those of Dragonetz and Estela in the third book – watch this space!

How much research do you do?

A huge amount! I spend a year researching before I feel ready to plot a novel. I’m in the middle of a research year, reading history books and making background notes. Dragonetz and Estela are fictional characters in real events, mixing with real historical characters and I try to use only what did happen or what could have happened. If I know something to be untrue I change the story. This makes my books very complex to write, especially as I avoid working out the plot beforehand. I have a rough idea but there is always leeway for the characters to make their own choices. If I feel that so-and-so would never have done that, I don’t write it. Sometimes I lie awake in bed wondering why a character would have done such-and-such, and I’m not happy unless I know why, even if I don’t write all the motives down.

What advice would you give to other historical novelists?

Read historical novels and network with others writing in the same genre. I have a group of writer-friends and some of them also write historical novels. Our discussions have been so useful and their input to ‘Bladesong’ was invaluable. We don’t always agree either! I blogged some of our arguments here http://www.jeangill.blogspot.fr/2013/01/lets-argue-about-history.html You’ll find genre-specific groups on the writers’ support sites such as authonomy.

There are many different kinds of historical novel and I don’t like ones that are too slushy, too predictable, too melodramatic, or without any specific period background. Many many readers do like these books – and won’t like mine. I’m fine with that and I’m learning to accept that authors and books have to fit so there is no point breaking your heart over the wrong readers – find the right ones. My books are reaching more and more readers who like them, so I think I’m doing that now.

What do you think about self-publishing?

I’ve published fifteen books, every-which-way except best-selling (as yet) and there are pros and cons to all the routes, plus the publishing world is changing so fast no-one can keep up. I’ve reached the stage where I don’t know what a small press can offer me that I can’t do myself, so I’m very happy self-publishing most of my books now. I love designing my own jackets have had my designs accepted by traditional publishers so I feel confident in them. I do have editing input from other people and I think it’s essential to have critical friends or professional input on aspects of publication.

Would I sign for an agent? A big publisher? If I felt they were going to take over legal headaches (translation and film rights come to mind) then maybe. But my ambitions have shrunk in response to all the crazy things writers do to make a bestseller. I’d rather watch my readership grow slowly, while I do only those marketing activities that I enjoy and that I consider worthwhile – like answering questions on this blog.

Thank you for inviting me here.

Bladesong is available from Amazon and in all ebook formats from Smashwords.   Also available in print from Lulu

Book one, Song at Dawn, won the Global Ebooks Award for Best Historical Fiction
'Believable, page-turning and memorable' - S.P.Review 

Jean Gill is a Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with a big white dog, a Nikon D700 and a man. For many years, she taught English in Wales and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Carmarthenshire. She is mother or stepmother to five children.

Publications are varied, including prize-winning poetry and novels, military history, translated books on dog training, and a cookery book on goat cheese. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, she can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.

Follow jean on twitter @writerjeangill

Join the Troubadours on Facebook 

Have fun with the Troubadours on TV Tropes   

Jean says:

I love hearing from readers so feel free to mail me at jean.gill@wanadoo.fr with comments or questions. You'll find a mix of my work, along with fun trivia about books, at www.jeangill.com My photo portfolio is at www.istockphoto.com/jeangill and I blog at www.jeangill.blogspot.com I sometimes accept guest bloggers so get in touch.

GIVEAWAY to readers of Unusual Historicals blog; a signed copy of Bladesong by Jean Gill by random draw. If you can find the time to post a review, whether on Smashwords, Amazon, Goodreads, your blog, wherever, Jean will be very grateful.