About the author:
Jean Gill a Welsh writer and photographer. She taught English in Wales and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Carmarthenshire. She has published books in several genres such as poetry, military history, and YA. She is the author of The Troubadours Quartet, No Bed of Roses and many others.
Go check her website here.
Go check her blog here.
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M: Can you share with us a little secret about Queen of the Warrior Bees that isn’t in the blurb?
JG: Don’t tell anyone but… like Mielitta, I suffered multiple stings, fifty plus, in a honeybee attack, so I could write that scene from personal experience! In my case, the incident was caused by my mistakes during my third year as a beekeeper and I recovered (obviously), after an epinephrine injection. For a month or more, I felt energised, with none of the usual aches and pains – not quite superpowers 😊 . Once I’d got over the shock and was working again with my bees, a little gingerly at first, I analysed and learned from the experience.
M: This is such a fresh story of the classic YA heroine going on an adventure! What was your inspiration for the story?
JG: A writer friend, B A Morton, said ‘That would make a good story, a girl gaining superpowers after a bee attack.’ Two years later, the idea kept coming back to me. I’m fascinated by bees so I love going into a beehive as a shapeshifter! In my imagination, that is.
Like many, I feel despair at the loss of wildlife and at the growing distance between humans and nature in the ‘real world’ so the Citadel and the Forest symbolise that rift. When I read a facebook discussion about how plastic grass was easy to vacuum and keep clean, I was horrified at yet one more way in which humans destroy wildlife habitat, and the idea for grassette came to me. In the sterile environment of the Citadel, grassette creates fake ‘greensward’ and is controlled by magecraft. Substitute ‘technology’ for ‘magecraft’ and my fantasy world is entirely possible.
While I was writing an eco-fantasy novel in which a teenage girl tries to save the bees, Greta Thunberg was speaking up against climate change so reality is imitating my fiction and there is still hope for the future! But above all, this is a story in which characters who are very real to me live their adventures, dealing with social, personal and environmental problems that we can all recognise.
M: Can you tell us about the process to come up with the cover?
JG: This is my 20th book with cover designer Jessica Bell so we have a close partnership. This cover was different though because, for the first time ever, I was sitting in Jessica’s apartment in Athens while she came up with designs based on my brief. Usually, we’re a thousand miles apart, communicating by message and images. I was still writing the book, sitting there with my ipad, until she was ready to show me her ideas. The first concept was great but this, the second draft design, was magical. I love the soaring emotion, the colours, the bee insignia, the title font and that feel for the wilderness.
Before cover creation, I collect covers I like from bestsellers in the same genre and I complete Jessica’s questionnaire to give her the feel of what I’m looking for. Jessica knows that I don’t want half-naked men or dripping blood 😊 We both value originality and she always comes up with something artistic and a bit different for me.
M: We already know there will be a sequel! Can you tell us a little about that? Do you have an idea of how many books there will be? Will it be from Mielitta’s perspective or will another character take charge?
JG: Book 2 will pick up from Book 1 with some new characters joining those we know already. One reader wanted to know more about Tannlei, the (female) archery master; her wish will be granted! There will be other points of view in subsequent books and I think Book 2 will start with a focus on Kermon. The mages are devious and conflict between Forest and Citadel is not over. Also, the walls and their ‘wisdom’ suggest another culture to be explored. I am not a JK Rowling, with the plot all mapped out, so will discover the story as the characters live it. There will be at least three books in Mielitta’s story but each one will read as a standalone and I think this fantasy world will expand, with other places and other stories in future books.
M: Do you write while listening to music? If so, do you have a playlist you can share with us?
JG: Yes I do! I like a wide variety of music from heavy rock to harpsichord and choose according to my mood – Metallica, Keep Shelley in Athens (with Jessica Bell on vocals) or Bach! While writing the Troubadours Quartet I listened to medieval troubadours music and I have started a playlist for fans of my medieval historical fiction. These are songs from some of the real 12th century troubadours who appear in the books.
Find the playlist HERE.
M: If you had to describe Mielitta in three words, what would those be?
JG: At the start of the novel: isolated, self-doubting, gifted.
M: You’ve written books in several genres. Was the process different with YA?
JG: For my Historical Fiction, I research for a year and make notes before starting a novel. My main characters have been fictional but the world was real history. For this series, I tried very hard to create the world first before writing the story but I blanked. As soon as I started writing, I could see Mielitta in her world. So I did it the other way around. When I finished writing the first draft, I wrote up the facts of the world and its society.
I still research thoroughly and my readers like believable details, whether of bees or archery. Details of medieval life in the Citadel draw from my historical research for the Troubadours and I’ve done a photo-shoot with a blacksmith so know well the details of a forge. The bee interaction is based on research and experience (as a beekeeper not as a bee 😊)
M: What was the highlight of writing Queen of the Warrior Bees?
JG: I loved flying as a bee and going into the beehive. Fighting the rival queen was a heart-thumping moment and I don’t look at my bees the same way after getting up close and personal! Each time a reader tells me their favourite part, I re-live that and feel motivated.
M: Can you tell us a bit about your future work?
JG: There’s an audiobook coming soon for Queen of the Warrior Bees with wonderful narrator Jannie Meisberger, and a French translation of Song at Dawn. I am waiting for a Historical Fiction anthology to be published, featuring a short story I wrote about Titian and the Black Death. I am also incredibly excited that I will have seven photos in my first exhibition at an art gallery here in Provence, in September. And of course I want to start Book 2 of the Natural Forces series!
M: What advice would you give to new and aspiring writers?
JG: Don’t get it right; get it written! THEN get it right.
M: Can you share a photo of a character inspiration, or maybe your favorite place in the world?
Hot/ cold: Cold! But then there’s a heatwave now…
Paperback/ Ebook: Ebook
Morning person/ night owl: Very much a morning person.
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