BristolCon 2017 – Art, Fantasy & Maps!

Last weekend was BristolCon, the largest sci-fi & fantasy convention in the west country, UK and by far my favourite con. For the last nine years BristolCon has flourished at the Hilton Double Tree hotel in the heart of Bristol, a single day SFF convention that always signifies a glorious mix of panels, events, signings, workshops, art, and of course books! Amongst the flurry of bookish activity, one the things that makes BristolCon so damn special is that feeling of inclusiveness, a welcoming family for old friends and new, with no cliques, no judgements, just a genuinely open, friendly and ultra cool ethos of – “come along folks and have a great time!”

What made BristolCon 2017 extra special for me this year, besides being thrilled that my lovely publisher, Grimbold Books (and our leader the wonderful Sammy HK Smith) has subsequently won the BFS Award for Best Independent Press, is that I wasn’t just there as an author and panellist (moderating an uber cool panel on ‘Mapping in SF & F’)…but that I was there as an artist too! 😀

*gulp*

Yes, after being talked into applying to exhibit in the famous Art Room at BristolCon by the lovely vice chair, John Bav, with extra encouragement from Mark Robinson and the lovely ex-chair, Joanne Hall, I actually plucked up the courage and applied and got in! For me this was a huge thing. Although I’ve been drawing and painting my entire life (before I could even walk apparently), and although I did a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art and had won an MA place at the Slade School of Fine Art (which I stupidly didn’t take up), I’ve only actually been illustrating for the last 2 or 3 years. In fact, it’s only since my teaching career ended due to illness that I’ve even had the time to do more art.

So, in the last 2 years, I’ve illustrated about 12 books so far (with a few current ‘in the works’ projects). The highlight undoubtedly had been creating the fantasy maps for Juliet E McKenna and the two HarperCollins commissions for Anna Smith-Spark & Anna Stephens, and now I am busy creating another cool fantasy map for Penguin Random House – Yay! 😀

But actually exhibiting my artwork was an entirely different thing. I haven’t exhibited since my art student days, twenty years ago! Despite starting prep for it months ago, finding and buying the right frames, getting all the ‘s’ hooks needed to hand them etc etc. I’d actually forgotten just how much work is involved! The framing and mounting card alone took ages, the picture prep, sorting out illustration portfolios, transporting the art and putting it up. Thank goodness for Andy Bigwood (Mr Art himself) who runs the Art Room and helped me find my feet and for the vital Friday pre-BristolCon Art Room set up time! I was there at the hotel until 11pm the night before BristolCon, knackered and nervous but I can’t explain how great it felt – being in that atmosphere! A mixture of pure fear, excitement, exhilaration and total imposter syndrome! Lol, when you’re there in the Art Room next to the likes of illustrating greats like Jim Burns and Chris Moore and BFS Award winning Sarah Ann Langton (who did the cool cover for the ‘Fight Like A Girl’ anthology), you suddenly feel very quickly out of your depth!

BUT, despite all those daft fears, the whole thing felt RIGHT. It felt like THIS is what I should be doing, coming full circle, coming home to art – my love of it, my solace, my saviour through mental health problems and depression, my relief, my method of self-expression when I can’t muster the words.

I admit, with only an hour and a half sleep, I was a walking zombie when Saturday actually came. Apologies to a couple of customers as my brain freeze took over a couple of times – so weird that when you’re that exhausted you slip into daft old sayings as your brain stops processing new information. By the end of BristolCon I was so out of it, I honestly can’t remember how I drove home! Oops!

But it was brilliant and I loved every second of it.

I’d decided to show some of my best portraits (30 of them all framed in lovely black box frames) for a cool ‘Game Of Thrones’ idea I had of having them all clustered together for a ‘wall of faces’ (aka GoT season 6) which became an interactive ‘Game Of Faces’ where people had to try to identify as many of the portraits as possible and the winner would win a piece of original artwork of their choice! Cool idea, eh? 😀

Well, it worked beautifully! I had loads of people coming to view my work and participate. I also displayed some of my silk paintings and my maps (all framed in lovely matching black frames) and one of my ‘works in progress’ (the steampunk map I’m working on for the lovely Kate Coe) so people could view my creative process at constructing them. 🙂

In fact, I had so many people coming to visit my art display that I couldn’t finish writing up my art price list! Lol, I eventually finished it after I’d already sold a load of silk paintings and was dragged off by the lovely Robyn Fulton to actually eat something before I dropped.

After a hurried but much needed lunch I went off to my ‘Mapping SF & F’ panel about one fo my favourite subjects – fantasy maps!  I was moderating the panel in the big conference room with the lovely Anna Stephens, Juliet E McKenna, Joel Cornah and Andy Bigwood. It went wonderfully, in fact myself and all the panellists could have talked for three or four hours and only got through half of my questions!

The whole day was a delightful blur of meeting old friends and new – people I’ve been friends with for years on Facebook but who I hadn’t actually met yet (like RB Watkinson, Judith Mortimore and Jessica Rydill) and chatting to the lovely people who bought my art – THANK YOU! ❤

 

 

 

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Magic and Mental Health

It seems both poetic and ironic that on World Mental Health Day (10th October), that my own mental health which has not been good this year (particularly of late), has turned a corner.

It’s true that I have been plagued by depression since I was 13 and have had some pretty dark times. I once described it as being a meal on a menu, once you’ve been down that dark road you’re never quite the same again and that meal option keeps popping up – an apparent ‘easy’ way out. Which of course is illusory, nothing in any aspect of life is ever ‘easy’.

But, demons aside and crippling self-doubt, it is amazing what a piece of good news can do for your self-esteem and yes, for your mental health.

It’s horrible to think that my mental health is so fragile and unstable that it can be shaken by bad news and improved by good news. I’ve always prided myself on being a very tough cookie, after all I’ve survived a lot of things that would simply have buried other people, so there is a hard tenacious streak somewhere in me.

But I suppose, when I’m feeling low, stressed and upset, that’s when mental health can be particularly fragile and susceptible to outward forces. I just have to accept that and try not to be so affected by others and the outside world. Being a hermit after all has some benefits! 😀

The trick to any mental health crisis, is not to beat yourself up. You can’t help how you’re feeling and you’re not in full control of how you behave either, I’m not talking about behaving like an asshole to others and using it as an excuse, there’s never an excuse for being a dick. But, when you’re in that dark hole, the world and everything in it is skewed, you are viewing people and situations in a very altered state. Paranoia, fear, isolation, loneliness and self-destructive thoughts run rampant and things that appear minor and trivial to others, become massively important to you, through a microscope lens.

The only advice I can offer to fellow suffers, is just that it WILL pass, if you let it. Everything in life is transitory.

Happiness never lasts, neither does love, but then neither does unhappiness either.

We are all flotsam on a tide of emotions that ebb and flow, appear and disappear. So if you are feeling miserable, take heart that you will not feel like that forever. And if you are happy or in love, make sure you treasure every moment because life is so fleeting.

So…for me, as writing has been causing me so much pain of late, I have temporarily hung up my pen. I will always be a writer and I WILL finish Book 2 of The Darkling Chronicles, Darkling Rise and the third and final book, even if no-one reads them and my other novel projects, including Ravenwing. But for now, novels and short stories (which I’m still not convinced I should do anymore of), are being temporarily shelved.

I’m concentrating on something I know I CAN do and do well – ART!

2017 has been a pretty monumental year art wise. I established the Artmaniac Challenge and FB group, where people share their art and try to do something arty and creative every day (a very hard ask), as well as videoing my first art tutorials on YouTube and doing my first art exhibition in the Art Room at BristolCon (the first exhibition since my art student days)…but I have also found myself being wooed by HarperCollins to become one of their illustrators! A dream come true! That resulted in my creating two awesome maps for their highly anticipated grimdark debut’s Anna Stephen’s Godblind and Anna Smith-Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives. The response I have had about these maps has been nothing short of phenomenal and they have made their way around the world being picked up by Random House and Orbit in the USA and by Dutch and German publishers etc etc.

Well, it’s happened again! Out of the blue, another major publisher contacted me on my illustration website and wants me to work for them! No less than Penguin Random House! 😀

I’m so chuffed! Yes I know my art skills are good and I’m a total perfectionist, but as we all know, having any measure of talent does not guarantee you a damn thing. How many multi-talented people do we all know who should be wildly successful but aren’t, while decidedly mediocre folks seem to rise to the top? 9/10 times, it’s simply who you know, your connections that get you where you want to go and not your acumen or talent. Tough but true.

But on this occasion, it genuinely seems to be my skills as a mapmaker that have brought me to Penguin’s attention. Woo and hoo! 😀

So yes, as I finish a current map commission, start work on a brilliant new project being funded by Oxford University no less, and prepare for my scary art exhibition and being on two panels at BristolCon (including moderating one)…I will also begin a scary new commission for Penguin Random House! 😀

So…dare I whisper it, but I am starting to feel a lot better and my depression is (hopefully) on the wane even as I enter a very hectic and stressful period. But that’s the thing about mental health, it can affect any one of us and at any time. So please, if you know someone who is struggling, no matter what the cause, just listen and be there for them and remember to look after yourself too.

Peace, good mental health and love to you all. ❤ xxxx

 

When you’ve lost your way…

Battling depression – and losing.

As writers we all have times when we face a crisis in confidence, often being plagued by terrible self-doubts. In my case, those anxieties are magnified. Certainly out of all the friends I know, especially writer friends, I would say I’m by far the least confident as a writer. I see them saying things and doing things I wouldn’t dream of saying or doing, conducting themselves with the reassurance that they are right and know what they’re talking about. I never think that, certainly not where writing is concerned. The most confident I am, is with my artwork, I know I can draw and paint well, though I’m utterly crap at any digital art.

But writing although it has been a apart of me since I was three apparently, the earliest in the whole school to read and write, writing, particularly in recent years (since I got ill in 2013) has also been my Achilles Heel and something I admit that I am terribly insecure about.

But recently, those nagging insecurities, self-doubts and paralysing fears have been given tangible substance and I admit, it has triggered a terrible reaction in me that I’m struggling to control. Because so much of my identity of who I am and what I am, is tied up with writing, to suddenly find that something I was so proud of, something I thought was fantastic, poetically written, tense, engaging, historically accurate (I did a History A Level on the subject), something I had done exhaustive research on and which had filled my imagination for months and months…was in fact crap, has been like an earthquake to me. I honestly believed it was one of the best stories I’ve ever written. I still don’t know what is actually wrong with it, the feedback I’ve had focused on different areas, but I still don’t know what it was about it that they disliked so much, what made it a bad story, because honestly, re-reading it, I still think it’s great even though now that’s tinged with my brain saying – no Sophie it’s shit, remember, you’ve been told it’s subpar, deal with it.

Criticism is something we all get, and up til now I’d always dealt well with it, I’ve had a life time of practice after all. But something about this just broke me. I can’t put it anymore plainly than that. It triggered the very worst of those negative voices I carry around with me, and unfortunately triggered an awful lot more – my depression and the worst of my dangerous feelings and feelings of worthlessness. It symbolised that not only was I wrong, not only was my writing not good, but that my judgement was WAY off!

How can a writer continue if they can’t trust their judgement? If what they think is good is crap, or vice versa?

It also meant that a book, Ravenwing, that I have been working on (80,000 words+), which has so much of me and my life in and which when I pitched it to a couple of friends received a luke warm reception to say the least, is also crap. That book has the exact same character in it as the crap story and is written in exactly the same manner, so if one is rubbish, the other will be too.

For someone like me who struggles against an illness that robs writers of their voice, that steals away my short term memory, to the point where I can’t remember books I’ve read only months before, and that makes mental fatigue and a 30min max concentration span so overwhelming – to have yet another obstacle in my way has been more than I can deal with. I don’t need anyone else tearing me down, I do that well enough on my own, but yes, the whole experience has broken me.

I don’t know where I go from here. I can’t trust my judgement and I can’t trust any writing ability I may or may not have. Not only will I never write another short story again, I’m now left wondering if I can ever write anything again. The mountain is too high as it is, but now my hands and feet are tied and I’m blindfolded.

So yes, depression has sunk its claws into me and I would quite happily bury myself in a hole and never reappear again. My energies are spent, my confidence (such as it was, under my ‘bubbly facade’) is in tatters and I genuinely don’t know where I go from here. I’ve never felt like giving up more than I do now. Giving up on everything. What the fuck is the point?

So I’m taking a break from everything, from FB, social media and the constant whirr of noise that hits you, the ups and downs of people, the dramas, the tears and smiles, the narcissistic selfies, the congratulatory patting of backs, the woes, the worries, the inner thinkings, the copious piccies, all of it. I need a rest, I need space. I can’t take the optimism and confidence of people, especially my friends when I’m feeling as if a black hole has swallowed me.

I wish everyone well, I always do, and I love my friends. But no-one can help sort out what’s in my head. I know they’ll be back chat and talk from some people and inevitable bitchy comments of  – “really? oh ffs, what’s she making a fuss about?”

What am I making a fuss about? Nothing, absolutely nothing…that’s kind of the point.

😦

Testing The Waters…

In the spirit of adventure and trying new things, I am eventually caving into the lovely, flattering but firm nudges I’ve had from friends to expand my ‘artistic abilities’ and actually join the 21st century and video some of the traditional art I make.

Lol, now for someone as technologically challenged as me, this is akin to asking a novice to play a violin solo in front of the audience of the Royal Albert Hall/Carnegie Hall – ie. fraught with nerves, technical issues and just plain embarrassing!

But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. 😀

So, being the complete IT idiot that I am, about the most technical thing I’ve been able to do is video myself creating some art on the video setting on my digital camera (I don’t even own a smart phone or tablet!). Lol, so I thought I’d start off with a series of simple ‘How To…’ art videos.

As a professional illustrator for HarperCollins and other publishing houses not to mention the 40yrs of experience (I’m giving my age away!) I have of drawing and painting, I thought that it was high time that I actually shared some tips and tricks I’ve learnt over the years.

The first short video is a simple ‘How To…Create a Silk Painting’ by starting with the basics – drawing your design or picture on silk (using Habotai silk and an embroidery hoop, though a rectangular frame would be fine, and a soft 3B pencil).

Tomorrow I’ll move onto the next stage, appying gutta and the actual silk paint + some effects you can create. 😉

Here are the YouTube links:

Silk Painting 101 – Drawing onto Silk 

& ‘How to… Create a Silk Painting 101: Gutta’

Applying Silk Paint

I hope you enjoy the videos! 😀 ❤ xxx

Public Service Announcement.

The life of a writer, much like the life of an illustrator, is always a precarious one, but sometimes you have an experience that stays with you and that you just HAVE to share (forgive my comic take on this):

This is a public service announcement. This guide is called, “How NOT To Commission Artwork”, but can also be filed under the titles: “How NOT To Treat People” and “How NOT To Do Business.”

When commissioning artwork from any illustrator/supplier:

  1. Don’t discard the illustrator’s contract without a word of warning or any discussion – this is disrespectful and insulting and unlikely to get you what you want.
  2. Don’t get your other half to then create their own contract and don’t expect this to be used and terms to be bartered over – this is bizarre and unprofessional behaviour and is NEVER done. Suppliers supply the contract not clients.
  3. Don’t criticise the illustrator’s contract while saying how yours is better – again calling someone’s contract crap is unlikely to work.
  4. Don’t direct the illustrator to add comments on your created contract as if directing a child on what to do. You are a CLIENT not the illustrator’s boss.
  5. Don’t claim to be more knowledgeable on illustration contracts and the illustration business than the illustrator themselves. You may be an expert on everything but this is unlikely to make the illustrator want to work with you.
  6. Don’t create a contract with terms which are hugely biased towards the client at the expense of the artist, rather than being fair to BOTH parties. A contract that stipulates that if, after a month of working on your commission, using the artist’s time, skills and resources and delivering the artwork on the agreed deadline, that you can then decide not to pay for the services you have used, is neither fair nor usual business practice and would put most struggling illustrators out of business.
  7. Don’t belittle the illustrator by continuing to behave like an expert on commissioning artwork and quote Clark’s Publishing Agreements Chapter 13. You are NOT an illustrator or in the illustration business. Achieving success does not mean it gives you the right to treat people like underlings.
  8. Don’t be surprised if the illustrator is not keen to sign your created and unfair contract and requests that the Society of Authors contract experts look at it in confidence – which they did and the feedback was not good!
  9. In short, treat people with the same fairness, respect and empathy that you would want to be treated with. It doesn’t matter how big or small a name you are, how successful or not, don’t let your ego rule your decisions when dealing with people.

This has been a public service announcement. Thank you.

I know this all sounds frivolous and strange but it was a reminder to me of some of the machinations at work within the world of publishing, whether it’s big publishers, independents, small presses or self-published, despite the over-saturated market, the countless slew of books out there it’s still a rather small world with people vying for their slice of success.

BUT, being successful should never be by trying to take advantage of others or treating people with disrespect. I’m not naming and shaming, that’s not my style and frankly it’s counter productive and smacks of small minded ‘meanness’. The person in question is not a bad or vindictive person and they genuinely do not seem to be aware of how rude and inappropriate their behaviour was. I certainly mean them no harm (the personal phrase I live by is: “First, do no harm”), though I do think a little humility may be in order. Perhaps, they are simply a product of their own success and have forgotten how to treat people and what it is like for the millions of independent authors & artists for which they are supposed to represent, but then, I’m personally friends with some very successful big name authors who have never fallen into the trap of believing their own hype, so I guess it depends on the individual. 😉

Peace & love to all. ❤ xxxx

Fight Like A Girl – BFS Nomination Giveaway!

This is one of the best anthologies I have ever read and I’m NOT saying that because I have a short story, ‘Silent Running’, in it. This powerful collection of strong women SFF writers brings a truly evocative and kiss ass breath of fresh air to the short story anthology. In fact, it’s so good it’s been shortlisted for a prestigious BFSA Award for Best Anthology! Yay! 😀 #SoProud

Joanne Hall

As you might know from this post, Kristell Ink’sFight Like A Girl, edited by me and Roz Clarke, has been shortlisted for Best Anthology at this years British Fantasy Society Awards, and both Roz and I are going to be at FantasyCon to watch the ceremony. It’s been a great year for Grimbold as a whole, with eight nominations including artists (Sarah Anne Langton, one of the shortlisted artists, drew the FLAG cover). So as a celebration I’m going to be giving away a paperback of Fight Like a Girl on this very blog, and YOU could be in with a chance of winning!

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All you have to do to get your hands on a copy of FLAG signed by myself and Roz is to post a review (over ten words, please!) of ANY of the books from the Grimbold catalogue (you can find them listed on…

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The Chris Pratt Challenge – Changing Your Life!

I’m no Tony Robbins, the famous motivational speaker and all round ‘Can Do’ guy, but I’ve learnt a few things about motivation, will power, tenacity and trying to change your life over the last month. Warning: This is a personal post!

On June 16th I finally decided to turn my life around – I was fed up of being overweight, unfit, tired all the time and generally feeling like crap. Although I was a skinny kid, due to a pretty traumatic home life (ultra violent alcoholic father & a bullying brother), I started over-eating, the classic comfort eating. By my mid twenties I was fat and have stayed fat ever since.

Following a book launch for Anna Stephen’s HarperCollins debut – Godblind (I was the illustrator who created the map), where my appalling lack of fitness ended up with me being late for the event and turning up exhausted and in a sweaty mess – I vowed ‘Never again!’.

The next day I made a very public pledge to myself and the world to change my life, no matter how hard or how long it took. It’s true I’m an incredibly stubborn and tenacious person, but like so many of us when it came to my own personal goals, I always chickened out and gave up. NOT this time!

I called this life changing endeavour, The Chris Pratt Challenge. I chose Chris Pratt, not because I have a wee crush on the guy, it was actually more profound than that. He’s a public figure but unlike most public figures who seem to have the luck and looks of a god or goddess, Chris Pratt has actually struggled with his weight like us mere mortals. He’s been 21 stones (300lbs) in fact, and turned his life around losing 60lbs in 6 months to get the role of Star-Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.

So, the Chris Pratt Challenge was born – to set a date in 6 months time to lose 60lbs and get fitter.

In truth I need to lose more than 60lbs and I know this will take me longer than just 6 months, but any life change requires a large kick up the butt, so this is mine. If I can lose 60lbs or close to it by December 16th, it will kick start the rest of my long term health and life goals.

The first month of the challenge has now passed and it’s been a huge success. Yay! 😀

Not only is there now a lovely support group on facebook, The Chris Pratt Challenge group, with 20+ members from around the world (and growing), but it’s been the start of something really special. All of it’s members are looking to either lose weight or get fitter/healthier or both, for hugely differing reasons too, but we’ve all been able to get together in this group and encourage and motivate each other. There are days when someone might slip with their diet, or hit a personal problem, and we are there for them every step of the way, giving them the support they need sometimes when no-one else is. It’s been the best mutually beneficial thing I’ve ever been involved with and has almost taken on a life of itself! 😀

For me, and one other member, we also have very important personal life goals we want to achieve but need to lose weight and get fitter to reach them, so again the group has been AMAZING!

As far as actual results are concerned, it’s been incredible.

I started this endeavour 6 weeks ago on the 16th June weighing a massive 17st 12lbs (240lbs). I am now 16st 11lbs (225lbs). I have now lost just over a stone (15lbs) in 6 weeks, achieving my first milestone of many hopefully. Although I can’t say there’s any massive noticeable change yet, though according to friends I do look slimmer, I’ve not only lost weight but I’ve also lost several inches from various body areas. Despite my CFS and Vesitibular Neuritis health probs, I have more energy than I’ve had for ages and I’ve also noticed that very slowly, bit by bit, my muscles which really haven’t been awoken or used for twenty years, are slowly beginning to appear. Lol, I’m definitely NOT sporting a six pack but I have muscle aches after exercising where I didn’t have muscles before! 😀

My first 6 week statistics:

  • 15lbs lost + BMI: from 41.6 to 39.1
  • 5inches off midriff
  • 4 inches off waist
  • 3 inches off hips
  • 3 inches off thighs
  • 2 inches off bust
  • 2 inches off upper arms

So onwards and upwards from here, we’ll see what the next 6 weeks brings. The truly astonishing thing about all this though, has been the positive side effects & knock on reactions it’s created, like dropping a stone into water, the ripples just keep going! 😀

By setting myself these goals, I’ve also found myself setting other goals for the first time. Giving myself a deadline to complete a short story by, committing myself to write 10,000 words by the end of August on either my second and very long awaited sequel to White Mountain, ‘Darkling Rise’ (apologies to my Darkling Chronicle fans, I know I’ve been dreadfully slow with this second book but it is slowly getting there!) or on my other dark paranormal thriller, Ravenwing.

So for any of you reading this, wanting to lose weight or get fitter/healthier or just wanting to change your life – you CAN do it! Join a support group like ours, dig deep and you’ll find resources you never thought were possible. Believe me, if someone like me who has a life long aversion to exercise and ‘healthy foods’ can start doing exercise and eating healthier foods – YOU CAN TOO! 😀

 

The best of luck to us all! 😀 ❤ xxxxx