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Celebrating 5 Years Published

I guess today is a bit like a birthday. It’s With Proud Humility’s fifth birthday for sure, but it’s also the birthday of my author hat. Five years has flown by in a haze of words, characters, action, adventure, struggle and happy endings, and I’m definitely not complaining. It’s been a wild ride.

For those who like numbers (I admit, I love them), I now have 25 seperate publications to my three pen names. 14 of these are under my actual name, Jess Mountifield (made up of 13 unique stories), 5 are under Amelia Price (4 of which are unique), and there are 6 under a pen name I keep secret. Of these two are historical adventure novels. Three are novels in the Sherdan series with one short story. There are 6 novellas, two in my fantasy world, one stand-alone Sci-fi and the remaining three are Mycroft Holmes stories. The rest are all short stories in anthologies, my fantasy world, or under the third pen name. All in all it comes to well over 600,000 words, with another 400,000 or so written and on its way in one stage or another.

The books between them have been downloaded, printed and bought a total of over 18,500 times. A little shy of half of these are copies of Sherdan’s Prophecy, making it by far my most widely read book, although The Hundred Year Wait has been catching up lately. Chains of Freedom and Wandering to belong are the other two major players with all four books in the four figures.

More importantly than all these stats I’ve made some amazing new friends in some of the readers who reached out to me and have some great fan mail. Hearing from fans has been hands down the best part of the last five years, even though I love the journeys I’ve been on with my characters.

Story wise, I’ve declared an independent country in a chunk of Bristol, and defended it and the people in it with everything I’ve got, I’ve adventured through the Caribbean and even in the waters off New Zealand, I’ve saved a tribe of Maori people, foiled a terrorist plot to destroy London, rescued a village from goblins (with a little help from a dragon), fought through unknown space to get needed supplies to a planet in desperation and brought the right people together to birth the woman who will, once she’s of age, unite an entire fantasy world in less than a decade.

I’ve cried, laughed, felt my heart pound in my chest, flinched, barely been able to look, slogged and fallen in love alongside every single one of my characters as they’ve gone through their stories. When they were in pain I often felt it too. I grieved for their loved ones as they did. I cheered encouragement when they were in their darkest moments and I knew that dawn was coming. There were even times when I couldn’t stop writing and go to bed because I simply couldn’t leave them in the situation they were in.

The last five years have been a rollercoaster, but I wouldn’t have skipped one second of it, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next five.

NaNoWriMo 2015: Update 2

Just a little over half way through NaNoWriMo now and as of first thing this morning I’m at 48,609 words. If I was doing a normal NaNo count I’d be finishing today. Since I’m aiming for 69,000 that leaves me with 20,381 words to go. Not too bad although I’ve been slower the last week or so. It’s definitely not a level of writing I find sustainable.

I finished Mycroft 5 and have tentatively called it The Knight Who Started a War but I think that’s going to haev to change. As much as I like it it needs to be shorter I think.

As is normal I’ve learnt some intersting things. Not least all the symptoms of hypothermia. But the most unexpected – It seems protégé is the maculine form and for a female student you would call them a protégée. Had no idea about that until two days ago.

The hope is to finish Mycroft 6 by the end of this week or the beginning of next (I might actually take the weekend off). Then finish off a few other bits and pieces to get me towards the 69k I’m aiming for. Either way there’s still a fair amount to be written so I best get back to it.

NaNoWriMo 2015: Update 1

I know I’m only a few days into NaNoWriMo but here’s an update of where I’m at so far.

Somehow in only two days I’ve managed to get about a third of the way into Mycroft 5. Still not a clue what the title is but I’ll probably figure that out soon.

As often happens my character’s keep surprising me and even themselves. Amelia turned out to be claustraphobic and it turns out Mycroft and Sherlock can sort of work together, but there’s evidently some history there I don’t know about yet. Daniels, the chauffeur, is also even more awesome than even Mycroft realised, and I even discovered that Mycroft does have a sense of humour! Who knew!

Research wise I plotted one heck of a route thanks to google maps. One of the most amazing tools as a quick way to be able to explain places. I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have access to such a detailed map of pretty much everywhere in the world. Here’s a link for those interested. Yup Russia is involved.

Over the next week I want to get this novella finished so I can take a day off to plot the next one, as I have no idea what happens except for a few series related scenes. It does sorta need its own plot as well. After that we’ll see. I’d like to be about this far into the next one in two weeks time, maybe a little further. It all depends exactly what trouble Amelia gets herself into between now and then!

People Watching

I have to admit that this is one of my favourite past-times. I love watching other people, especially people I don’t know. There’s this great café near where I live that has loads of really antique special mirrors on the walls, all over the place. I always try and sit on table 13, mostly because it’s the best table to view the rest of the café, but I also quite like the number.

This is often where I write but I also do a lot of people watching. I watch the two mums with their new babies and how they do a lot of multitasking, talking almost constantly while they feed, burp and rock their precious bundles to sleep.

I watch the students having a debate on some philosophical issue. Occasionally it seems to get heated and the two guys at one end of the table start using their hands to gesticulate. One of them shakes his head a lot when he’s frustrated, the other interrupts a lot (which is probably the source of frustration) and the poor girl with them can barely get a word in.

People come and go and I soon find myself wondering about them. There’s this one middle-aged guy, with a beard, who’s sat and read a paper for ten minutes then got up and walked out, leaving an almost full drink, and I find myself wondering why he might have done that. He didn’t check his phone so there was no message from a shopping wife to summon him to her side.

When another similarly aged and attired man sits at the same seat and picks up the abandoned paper I can’t help myself from wondering if something was passed on. Did the first guy leave a message tucked in the folds of news-stories, and time the exchange to make it perfectly anonymous?

This is the place where quirks that add to the depth of a character are discovered. Where innocent people become the backdrop for convoluted plots. And where I get to learn about total strangers.

Why Amelia Price?

I’ve had quite a few people ask me recently why the new Mycroft series is all under the new pen name, Amelia Price, especially given that it says on all the covers ‘Jess Mountifield writing as’.

I’ll start with the first part of that question that’s sort of implied. Why am I using a pen name? It all comes down to one thing really. Up until recently, I only wrote books that I thought Christians would be comfortable reading. This didn’t mean the books I wrote fit into the Christian genre, absolutley none of them do, not even the Sherdan series, although that comes closest, but they were lacking any serious swearing and have no described sex scenes.  A few of them have some praying and generally are about character’s bettering themselves.

Recently I realised I didn’t always want/feel like I ought to write books that fit that mold, and from the fan mail I get about the Sherdan series, it is quite evident that fans are already very particular about what they expect from books (expectations is probably a topic for another day but every single message I have ever had about the Sherdan series has included a section about how I did it ‘wrong’ because it doesn’t match up with their expectations of a Christian person).

Writing the Mycroft series under my pen name, Amelia Price is simply me saying, ‘whatever your expectations of my work are, check you’re going to like this new stuff’. You probably will. It’s still me writing it, it’s still mostly my voice, but the characters aren’t Christians. They’re trying to be good people, I think pretty much everyone in this world is, but they’re going to be different and if that’s not okay with you then no worries, I’ll still be writing under Jess Mountifield too.

So why the name Amelia Price? This was simply that I have a character called Amelia Jones in the Mycroft series and she’s one of my favourites. I also totally adore Anya Price in the Sherdan series. They’re like two halves of what I feel like I ought to be writing, so I smooshed their names together and thought Amelia Price sounded better than Anya Jones (I literally put that little thought into it, so please don’t read anything more into it).

Finally, why am I making it obvious it’s me on the Amelia Price covers? Because I think a good chunk of you won’t care that it’s different, or at least you won’t if you give it a try. It might not be quite what you expect, but when is anything really ever? And because I don’t want to pretend I write all clean happy Christian stuff and that there isn’t another side to what I write. I don’t view anything I’ve written as any more or less ‘right’ than anything else. Each book has characters learning about life in them. All of them make mistakes, all of them learn something and all of them begin in different places. I learnt something about life and how to live it writing all of them and in that respect they all have the same merit.

So in short, because they’re me, but a different side to me and you might like it, but you might not.

Writing Through Grief

Writing for me is now mostly a way of life. It’s part of every day, my routine and a lot of my conversations. I tell stories. I paint scenes with a thousand words, and I love doing it. For the most part it makes me feel better, makes me feel like the world is right and I’ve done something productive within it.

The writing process for me is very emotional. I draw on the full range of emotions and experiences in my memory to try and evoke those emotions in whoever might read the story. I feel everything my characters feel, I often cry when they cry, find myself smiling when they smile, my heart pounds when theirs does, and even occasionaly I laugh out loud when they laugh.

Often, when I describe it to people I say that each emotion is a different tool on my desk. I have a red pen for all the passion and romance, a black pen for all the despair, a blue pen for sadness and a glitter pen for all the sparkly happy moments etc. I paint my scene with whichever colours and shades are needed, layering them up until I have the right blend and have a complete picture of all the complicated emotions that go into being a person or, in this case, one of my characters.

When my Grandma died (and even, before that, when she was taken into hospital) it was like someone had come into my office and messed up my desk. They’d moved everything and mixed black in with all my other colours so everything came out with a smear of black. For ages the happy emotions I would normally paint a scene with were tainted so badly when I tried to use them I came out with a brown gunky mess that wasn’t anything like the scene I was aiming for. No matter what emotion I tried to access it resulted in a flood of tears, or anger that had me almost hurling the nearest object.

Slowly, day, by day, some of the black has been filtered out of the colours. A lot of them are so close to their original colours now that I doubt most people would be able to tell the difference, but I still can. And for now, sitting down at my desk and working doesn’t feel quite right, but it’s getting there, and sometimes, for a bit, I can pick up a colour and paint with it and forget that anything ever happened to upset my desk and my writing world. But sometimes I notice, and sometimes I cry.

The plan: 2015

This is a little later than I hoped but it took some more tweaking to get it straight than I thought. My plan for the year.

I’ve got quite a lot written that needs to be published and a lot of it is already with the editors so I expect there to be quite a flurry of releases this year. I’m hoping I might even manage one per month. The first expected release is a fantasy prequel of mine, The Hope of Winter, within an anthology called Flights of Fantasy. It’s to raise money for another good friend who has been diagnosed with cancer.

The next few releases will be collaborative works, also mostly sci-fi and fantasy. There will be more on those as they get closer. I also have plans for lots of Mycroft Novellas. The second and third are written but I also want to write at least two more this year.

On top of that I’ve got a significant chunk into the sequel to With Proud Humility. I fully intend to finish that this year and then get started on the next one of those, although the last one might not be done in time to publish this year.

With the collaborations and all the Fantasy stuff I have already that’s looking like 10-12 releases. I’m very excited, although I’m aware that’s going to be a lot of hard work. I’m sure it will all be worth it.

Here’s to a productive story filled 2015

Branching Plot Novels: How-to

Otherwise known as a Choose Your Own Adventure, although that title for them is trademarked so sometimes they’re also known as a Decide Your Own Adventure, but they’re all forms of Branching Plot Story.

As most of you are aware, I’ve been writing my very own Branching plot novel and blogging it (see all the Angel of the Sands episodes if not) and I have been putting together the parts not chosen in the background as we’ve gone along. It’s not the first time I’ve written a story like this and allowed readers to decide what they’d like to happen next, but it is the first time I’ve tried to put together all the different possibilities into one file to potentially publish.

When I looked into how to go about making a branching plot novel I didn’t find that much information. I found quite a few blogs and websites that talked about the flow of the different branches and how they’ve evolved in the book that were published through the years, but little that went through how to design one from scratch, so I thought I’d blog about how I did it.

Left and up a little is a snapshot of the way I mapped it out so I could see all the branches on one piece of paper. According to the pictures of the others I saw this is a lot more complicated than most are, but hey, I like complicated. One thing I noticed early on was that I had way too much plot and far too many options. It really helps to have an idea of the end point and try to keep it so the branches come back to those points.

To keep the plot straight in my head as I built the tree diagram of the options I also created a word document with the corresponding numbers at the top of each page and an outline of what it needed to cover as well as the options and which number they led to. I essentially wrote out a detailed outline of the plot as I was mapping it, which is something new for me. Normally I have a basic outline not a detailed one, but I found I really needed it.

I also marked the sections on the tree where the same event happens but with variations, so I knew that all the branches had to eventually pass through these. Like a particular attack that happens regardless of everything that’s come before. Despite all my branches there are only 4 different versions of the attack and somehow all the branches come together at those 4 points and feed through. Likewise with a ceremony. All these are circles on the map and I’ve labeled them. In the picture you can see a few marked C, these are ceremony points.

The boxes are where it goes to another number in the tree but it’s too far away so I’m not drawing an arrow and making it messier and then finally the triangles are my endings. I have 11 of them if you count the two deaths. It was a few more than I wanted but I found I had to stop my plot sooner, so there’s lots of endings of various degrees of awesome.

So my advice on making a branching plot novel. Keep the plot fairly short. No more than a 10k story if you only went through one set of branches, keep your options to smaller numbers and keep bringing them back in towards pivotal moments so your branches are regularly trimmed down and don’t overload you. And come up with some sort of system so you know where the branches lead, like the tree I drew or your own equivalent. Also, if you don’t particularly like the idea of doing it all yourself, there does seem to be this handy software. I’ve not tried it but I have heard good things about it.

Angel of the Sands: Part 8

You hesitate over your reply, allowing your mind time to think over the offer. So far he has been kind to you and he did save your life. Alone in the desert you would have died.

When you turn back to him, he’s still gazing at you, studying your face, looking for your reaction. After a moment you nod.

“Yes, I’ll marry you,” you say and suck in your breath. You’ve said it now, and as a smile breaks over his face and he gets to his feet you know you are unlikely to be able to take it back.

He yells a short sentence to his people and cheering erupts. Now the tribe knows of your decision as well. A moment later he shouts it again. Another round of whooping and delight comes back from the tribe, this time more join in.

Before you can react to the noise and decide if you want the attention he turns to you and pulls you to your feet. With another yell he lifts you up into the air and sits you on his shoulder like you weigh nothing. Your face flushes as more and more cheering joins his cries of the same phrase, until you can’t hear anything but the constant roaring of the tribe.

Unable to get off from your perch you have no choice but to let him walk you towards his horse, while you cling to one of his hands and his opposite shoulder to help keep your balance. A procession of people follow you and watch as he places you on the horse and gets up behind. After snaking his hands around your waist and gripping the reigns he encourages his horse into a slow walk. You shiver, despite the heat and his arms wrap a little tighter around you, holding your torso against his.

“Do not be afraid, Angel. You’ve made a wise decision. As a member of my tribe and my Khaadel the other Khaad will be forced to respect you.”

“I only know you a little better than others.”

“True, but we will have many years to get to know each other after our wedding. I look forward to it.” He settles one arm against your stomach, gripping the reigns in the other hand and you lapse into silence. As it has seemed since you found yourself in the desert there is little choice but to go along with events and now Temullgei, and his plans for you.

As the tribe gather around you to move towards the Khaadain once more you notice all the riders who rested in the shade with Temullgei position their horses in a circle around him and now you. Between them, they keep watch from all directions and converse with Temullgei in their language.

The sun shines brightly down and the afternoon feels as if it is growing hotter, making you grateful that you’re travelling away from it and his body shields you from the worst of the sweltering sun.

You fidget a little as time goes by, finding the constant movement of the saddle beneath you making you sore. Each time you do the arm across your stomach tenses, but he says nothing and doesn’t slow his horse.

“I’m getting tired,” you say after a few hours.

“We still have time to go before we can stop. It is not good to camp here.” He motions around you and brings the terrain to your attention. Little grows here, just sand and more sand. “We need to reach those trees.”

He lifts an arm and points ahead to the smudge on the horizon. You sigh and fix your eyes on it, hoping to will it closer, but they barely seem to move. Silence fills the air as the rest of the tribe struggles under the same heat, but eventually you find yourself right at the edge of the large expanse of trees.

As soon as Temullgei stops his horse you try to get off but he tightens both hands around your torso.

“Not yet,” he whispers in your ear before getting down and helping you off the horse as well. No one else gets off their horses until he nods and you realise that you almost went against some form of cultural norm.

“You have to dismount first?” you ask in a low tone as he guides you to the shade of the nearest tree.

“Yes, it is our way. The Khaad first, then his Khaadel, then the Dempair, my riders,” he explains. When your servants run up to attend to you and fan you some more he gives them several orders that you don’t understand and they hurry off again. You begin to suspect that in agreeing to be his wife you have lost some of the command you held over the rest of his people. He is now above you, despite his insistence that you are an Angel.

“I would like to take a bath this evening,” you say a moment later when it appears that you are going to stand and wait for your tent to be erected. He raises his eyebrows and stares at you.

“It would help me feel less sore,” you explain when he says nothing in response, feeling a little like you are justifying your actions when you shouldn’t have to.

“As you wish.” He finally shifts his focus from you and says something to the next servant as she comes past. You can only assume that he has passed on your request for you. Unsure what else to do you go to sit but he grabs your hands and stops you before you can fully perch.

“Ooguair,” he snaps. It sounds like he said no, but you can’t be sure. As you frown at him he points to a spot less than a foot from where you were trying to sit. A small scorpion squats in the sunlight on a leaf. You shiver and take a step away from it and towards him. You don’t take your eyes off the creature until Temullgei laughs.

“Our Gerd will be ready soon, my Angel. Until then, stay close.” As if to emphasise his point he puts his arm around you and almost pins you to his side. Awkwardly you tuck your arms around his waist as well and find yourself pressed closer to his bare chest than you’d have liked, but he smiles his satisfaction at the arrangement.

You find your cheeks flushing read again and eagerly follow your servants when they come to let you know the tent is ready for you. Temullgei follows, your hand ensnared in his so you can’t get too far ahead.

The first thing you notice when you enter is a large metal tub sitting near the fire. It’s empty but one of the younger girls brings in a pitcher of water and pours it in while you wait beside. The water steams and brings the first real smile to your face all day.

“We will arrive at the Khaadain tomorrow,” he says as he walks past you. You nod, grateful for the information.

A small screen is erected beside the tub, but it only covers one side and you notice Temullgei lingers where he would be able to see you before sitting down on the cushions nearby. When the girls finish filling your bath with water you also see them checking the height with Temullgei. He nods and sends them away with a flick of his hand. Immediately your main serving girl comes up and holds out her hands to suggest she should start undressing you. Your eyes widen and you take a small step back, glancing between her and the Khaad. They exchange a few sentences that you don’t understand and he chuckles several times, before getting up.

“I will check on my tribe and be back when the food is ready,” he says and walks out. You exhale with relief. For a moment you thought he was going to watch you bathe and his actions all afternoon have kept you similarly on edge. You wonder if you’ve made the right choice, but you’re not sure if you could change your mind now, even if you wanted to. And tomorrow you will be presented to the Khaadain.

This story is entirely free to the reader and will continue to be throughout, but as you might have gathered from the website around this I make my living from writing fiction. This post is over 1000 words long and took me a few hours to write and polish. Although it’s definitely not a must, if you enjoyed this and want to say thank you in a monetary fashion please consider becoming a patron of mine at Patreon (a lot like kickstarter but more of a pledge per episode/installment sort of thing). You can also say thank you by sharing this with friends who might enjoy it or dropping me a message here or through my email address.

Angel of the Sands: Part 6

His boldness at kissing you takes you by surprise. In response you go to slap him, but he catches your wrist before you can imprint your palm across his cheek. His grip tightens around your waist, pinning you still and making you think twice about trying to hit him with the other hand.

His eyes blaze before calming. After a few seconds he chuckles.

“You have fire in you, Angel. He lets you go and strokes your cheek one last time. “One day, perhaps.”

Without another word he leaves you alone in your tent again. This time you know it would be better to sleep and get into the fur covered bed. Only a few seconds later you’re oblivious to the world around you, deep in dreams of home.

***

The gentle shake from the serving girl of the day before wakes you from your slumber. She has breakfast and gives you a few minutes to eat while she lays your clothes out. As soon as you push the bowls of fruit and oats away from you she hurries over to clean you up and help you dress.

Once you’re wearing one of the dresses you were given the day before, she beckons you to follow her out of the tent. As soon as you step out of the opening you notice the hustle and bustle around you. Almost all the tents are in heaps of material on the ground and many of the warriors you saw the night before are on their horses, preparing to ride off.

A few metres away, resting on several wooden crates is the litter you were carried in. Your servant ushers you over to it and pulls back the light material for you to climb inside. She follows and moves the cushions to prop you in a sitting position. With that done she takes a skin of water and several platters of fruit from a pair of feminine hands outside and arranges them within reach around you.

After smiling and nodding at you she leaves and pulls the material over to cover you from the already fierce sun. Less than a minute later you feel the familiar swaying of your litter being carried along.

The heat combined with the rocking motion makes you feel drowsy and you sleep away most of the morning, eating and drinking in between naps. While the midday sun beats down upon you from on high, you start to grow unpleasantly hot. You consider pushing back the opening to try and create a small breeze but the tribe stops around you and shelters against the sun quickly form while you sit near the edge of your litter and watch.

You’re then escorted by your serving girl and a couple of younger girls you recognise from the evening before and are taken to a small cushioned area shaded by a small oasis of trees. You sit and are helped to get comfortable. Shortly after two of the girls use fronds of leaf to fan you with breeze.

Nearby Khaad Temullgei hands his horses reigns over to another male rider and converses with a small band of men that often linger near him. Before you look away he glances in your direction and notices you staring. Instantly he stops what he was doing and strides over to you. The men follow, many of them staring at you with stony silence.

As Temullgei gets closer you have to tilt your head back further and further to look up at his face and the sun almost blinds you, forcing you to squint.

“I hope you are comfortable, Angel.” Temullgei says as he sits beside you.

As if dismissed the rest of the men relax and find places to sit around you. Other women and girls rush up to fan them as well. When you turn back to the Khaad you realise he has been staring at you.

“These men are my battle brothers. We have fought together many times and they would die for me. They will protect you as well,” he explains before you can ask. For some reason you don’t feel particularly comforted. A chill runs up your spine despite the sweat on your skin.

He ignores your reaction and leans back beside you, supported by the cushions. You remain upright, watching the slow movements of the people around you.

“Sleep, Angel. It is best in this heat.”

“I have slept too much,” you reply, “All night and most of the morning. I am wide awake now.” He chuckles and you look at him with an eyebrow raised, wondering what amuses him.

“Perhaps you would feel tired now if you had accepted my offer last night.”

As the meaning of his words dawn on you a blush creeps into your cheeks. He laughs more.

“Relax, Angel. I may be the first to take an interest in you but I will not be the last. It is often the way of our people, but I will sleep now, even if you will not. Perhaps you will watch over me and bring me pleasant dreams.”

After giving you a smile, he settles back against the cushions and closes his eyes.

What do you do?

Get up and explore.

Stay and watch over him.

Ask him questions about his people.

Kiss him.

This story is entirely free to the reader and will continue to be throughout, but as you might have gathered from the website around this I make my living from writing fiction. This post is just under 1000 words long and took me a few hours to write and polish. Although it’s definitely not a must, if you enjoyed this and want to say thank you in a monetary fashion please consider becoming a patron of mine at Patreon (a lot like kickstarter but more of a pledge per episode/installment sort of thing). You can also say thank you by sharing this with friends who might enjoy it or dropping me a message here or through my email address.