Can you give us your quickest description of your books?
A reader said they ‘make you feel emotions you didn’t know you had.’
That’s always a huge compliment – being able to make your readers feel something. So what type of readers would you say are typically fans of your books? (Simply by looking on Twitter, your covers are amazing, by the way. )
Thank you! I’ve been working with Jessica Bell to make a branded look in covers and the Troubadours are the first ones.
My fans include history buffs, dog-lovers and romantics of all ages, men and women. My books break all the rules and are in a variety of genres so there’s a Jean Gill book for everyone. One Sixth of a Gill is a collection of shorts (free on signing-up to my newsletter) which shows the full range and helps readers choose which book next.
That’s a great idea. What are you working on currently?
I’ve just finished Plaint for Provence, Book 3 of The Troubadours Quartet, my 12th century series. It takes me a year to research these big romantic thrillers as I like to get the history accurate in my head before I see what my fictional characters are getting up to. Each book has a troubadour song as a motif so as well as researching places, people and events in 1153, I’m looking out for the key song.
What a unique idea! And it must be a lot of work, but I imagine it pays off for you. Do you do a year of research and THEN start writing? Or do you write as you go and research as new things come up?
I spend a year on research before I even think of starting the novel. That gives me time to explore the byways of medieval Europe and all kinds of stories brew in my subconscious. When I’m ready to write, I’m immersed in the medieval world and know exactly where to find detail if I need to look something up.
What is your favorite scene you’ve written? Can you give us a peek?
So many! I think the hunting scene in Plaint for Provence is special because it took me deep into the feelings of my warrior-troubadour, Dragonetz, and the political tensions explode at the end of the hunt. This is a taste.
The hunters could even exchange words, laugh, without being perceived as human. Maybe they no longer were so, but rather part of the natural world, their animal selves to the fore. The more he listened, the more Dragonetz heard. Burbling of frogs in summer second mating frenzy; territorial squawk of a duck; soft splashes of vole or even otter; occasional bubble and rise of fish; a skylark rising.
He breathed evenly, channeling his thoughts along every ripple and splash, noting the song of the marshes, as yet only melody. The words would come later, when he was alone. Not alone, Vertat reminded him, shifting feet, heart pounding beneath speckled white feathers. What did she hear?
The moment before the hunt hung on the air. Even Costansa and the spaniels were quiet. Time stopped. It was like the moment in battle when you took responsibility for bringing death, the moment of Truth, each man accepting his part in the greater workings of destiny. It was that place in each man beyond thought, a communion with bird and beast.
Von Bingen’s words fitted themselves to the song of the marshes
The will rises from here
gives flavour to the soul
and kindles the senses.
Dragonetz heard the long-legged splash and stab of heron or crane as it speared fish; the huge beat of swan wings dropping to a clumsy landing. He opened his eyes and caught the splashing rise of a cormorant. It gulped down a slithering eel, into a throat that snaked double with its prey, lost the tail, then swallowed the whole. Dragonetz removed Vertat’s hood.
Hugues signed to Dens and the spaniels rushed the covert, yapping and squabbling. They flushed a flurry of songbirds to the air, three partridges toddling and bouncing along the ground, some bobtails of rabbits scattering to holes and one hare. The disturbance carried a warning to the water, where the smaller birds, shelduck and water rails scudded to a rising flight. The hunters unloosed the lords of the air.
The falcons sped high and fast, beyond sight, diving like stones to take lark and thrush, ducks and all that flew in their path. The hawks took the ground prey, dispatching confused partridge with ease and chasing rabbits. Dragonetz walked Sadeek further into the water. He whispered words of blessing on the goshawk, his sword of air, then he flung Vertat out above the rippling water to do death’s work.
Great imagery! And from just this little bit, I’m already drawn in and want to read more. Very nice job.
Book 1, Song at Dawn, is free as an ebook so you and your readers can visit the 12th century any time you like.
Fantastic! (*takes moment, goes to Amazon link above, clicks BUY*) Okay, so what is one question about your books that you wish more people would ask?
How did you figure out why the Christians lost the seige of Damascus in the 2nd Crusade?
Ha! I’m guessing a lot of work went into research, and then… So what’s the answer?
So many crusader stories assume that the wars were like football matches Christians vs. Saracens. Once I realized from my research that, in ‘the Holy Land’, the Crusaders were invaders hungry for land, I understood how they were seen by the multi-faith citizens of Damascus. The Crusaders wrongly assumed that they would be welcomed by all the Christians in the Holy Land. The full story of what I’m sure really happened is one of the adventures in Bladesong.
I read background material in English, French and translation from the Arabic, and I think it’s very important to see history from different points of view. I hate the notion of the Christian crusaders as ‘the goodies’. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 2nd Crusade is interesting in that it is dominated by the Franks (French) and the colonization of the near East via the crusades is quite a coup.
This is all a tiny part of Bladesong but it pleases me. 🙂
Do you use your personal experiences in your writing?
My poetry is often openly personal. My fiction draws from real life, often subconsciously. My husband says he knows where the bodies are buried. 🙂
That’s interesting that you can mention poetry. Is a love of poetry what draws you to using the songs in the story?
Definitely. I translated the verses myself from Occitan, French and Arabic (via French and English versions). I wrote some of the verses myself – Estela’s version of the song of El Cid is my creation.
I love the fact that troubadours were so esteemed in medieval Provence and their adventurous lifestyle gives me perfect material for my romantic thrillers.
Thank you, Jean, for sharing!