Holding Your Nerve!

A great deal of success, beyond the working your ass off, talent and smattering of luck, is also down to you ‘holding your nerve’. Recognising that moment, that opportunity which could go either way, and making sure you swing the pendulum towards the ‘YES WE WANT YOU’ direction and not the ‘THANK YOU, WE’LL PASS’.

Holding your nerve is a deep breath as you plunge through the ice and hope you don’t drown kind of a moment. It catches your breath and if you play it wrong, you’ll be self-flagellating yourself for years to come, bemoaning that one last chance, that one opportunity you had but messed up.

So, that’s the precarious limbo I find myself in now, trying to swing that pendulum my way.

Shortly after my last post about possibly getting an agent, or at least having an agent interested in me, I hit an unforeseen road block in the shape of posh celebrity funny woman, Miranda Hart!

Yes, the same Miranda Hart that used to have the TV show on BBC 1 called ‘Miranda’ and who, apart from being posh and famous, is also fabulously rich.

Well, like a slew of other celebrities, Miranda Hart has decided to go into the realms of fiction, specifically children’s fiction, after all to write a children’s book is the easiest thing isn’t it? That’s what Madonna did and David Walliams does? Sigh.

Now, normally this wouldn’t elicit much of a response from me, beyond the usual groan that once again here is a celebrity that had never written a book before they were famous and who, now they are a well known name, decide to capitalise on that fame and invade the bookshelves of our local library and bookshop (often at the expense of full time writers who depend on writing as their sole income and who don’t have the celebrity lifestyle, bling, fame, money etc., and do not have the cache of having an instantly recognisable name).

I don’t mean to sound bitter, but it does piss me off. The publishing world is tough enough for all writers, especially those like me from a small press or many of my indie author friends, so to have even well established authors squeezed off the shelves by sparkly, shiny celebrities, seems grotesquely unfair and means we have zero chance of getting there ourselves. I don’t have a problem with the endless celebrity cookbooks and autobiographies, but I do have a problem with them invading the fiction shelves with an automatic get out of jail free card – ie. an unfair advantage that no one else has. Even well established authors will not garner the massive publicity, the huge marketing budgets, the momentum, the TV interviews and media coverage that these celebs get, just for being celebs! If they always wanted to write, then why did not one of them write a book before they became famous?

Our library, like many around the country, reflects this trend. So while I’m doing my job I’m seeing Judy Finnegan, Richard Madeley, Fern Britton, Dawn French etc., etc., etc. It’s depressing tbh. Perhaps some of them are good writers, but they have used their celebrity status to get huge publishing deals most authors could only dream of, and remember, they hardly need the money!

Well, on this occasion, this latest celeb to go into fiction has made a huge and direct impact on me personally, in all the worst ways.

A few days after my last post I received a very sweet email from the interested agent giving me a head’s up. It was terrible news.

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/miranda-hart-turns-childrens-book-author-499821

The children’s book I wrote back in 2013, when after 16 years of teaching I suddenly lost my job and career through a nasty long term illness which I have for life, and when, at the same time I also left my dreadful ex-publisher and was utterly heartbroken over how they had treated me and ruined my beloved book, it was fair to say that 2013 was an awful pissing year. As such, I not only lost my way that year but I also lost my smile for a long time. It was those events that inspired me to write my children’s book, ‘The Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile’, in the hope of it helping me to find my smile again and start over.

Well, I wrote the book back then and have been slowly and meticulously designing and drawing the 24 illustrations needed for it (for a normal 32 page layout picture book). It was this same book that these agents were interested in.

What happens? Miranda bloody Hart has written a book with an almost identical title and by the sounds of it an almost identical story! So after 4 years of hard work, writing, drawing and polishing this children’s book, in one swoop it’s all gone up in smoke! Thank you Miranda millionaire Hart! To say I’m gutted and annoyed is an understatement! All that work, all those years, for nothing! 😦

I am now left in the precarious position of having to completely rework my story and illustrations for these lovely waiting agents, and yes, the pendulum has severely swung away from my direction towards the ‘Thank you but no’ side. It is up to me to now ‘hold my nerve’ and produce something amazing out of the hat to show them, something that will allay their fears about another very similar book already heading for the shelves. The only advantage I have, is that my book is aimed at a younger audience than Hart’s.

But boy oh boy, talk about bad timing, bad luck and sheer annoyance.

“Fuckity, fuckity, fuck, fuck, FUCK!”

So, here I am, holding my nerve, grasping the nettle and stepping off into the ether and hoping against hope that I’ll be able to still grab onto that fleeting opportunity.

Wish me luck folks and if you do see or know Miranda Hart, give her the middle finger for me please! 😀

Agents and Taking Chances!

This is kind of a follow on from my last post about the randomness of good luck and how ‘word of mouth’ can set off a chain reaction of happy outcomes. For me last month that started with HarperCollins approaching me because they loved the fantasy map I created for one of their new authors, Anna Smith-Spark, and that led to them wanting me to be an official HarperCollins illustrator!

Pencil portrait of poet Ben Okri by Sophie E Tallis

Pencil portrait of poet Ben Okri by Sophie E Tallis

Well, what I didn’t mention, as it happened so soon afterwards, is that I was also approached by an agent! Yes, an agent! Again, how this happened was so so weird.

I work at a library, a very inconspicuous job and one I love – who wouldn’t love being surrounded by books all day?! Now, apart from doing my normal library duties, I also paint murals on the huge glass panels of the library windows, which not only brighten the whole library up but do encourage kiddies and more people through the doors. I did a Christmas scene from Narnia, a huge homage to Roald Dahl and the latest one, my own version of ‘Twas the night before Christmas’, complete with my old cat, Kitty.

My mural interpretation of Quentin Blake's Roald Dahl character, Fantastic Mr Fox by Sophie E Tallis

My mural interpretation of Quentin Blake’s Roald Dahl character, Fantastic Mr Fox by Sophie E Tallis

Anyway, one random day last year, just before Christmas, a customer came into the library and asked if I did the windows. I said yes, then she asked if I was an illustrator, again I said yes, then she revealed that she worked in publishing, specifically children’s publishing and loved my artwork! I was gobsmacked. I told her I had written a children’s book and was busy illustrating it and she was very keen. We exchanged email addresses and emails then after Christmas she contacted me again and asked to see the book. I sent her the text, layout and a few sample illustrations then waited. About two weeks ago she got back to me. They loved it. It wasn’t an immediate “yes we’ll take it now”, but it definitely wasn’t a “no”, they gave me really detailed feedback to tweak and improve it then want me to re-submit it to them in the next few weeks. OMG! 😀

Pencil portrait of poet Benjamin Zephaniah by Sophie E Tallis

Pencil portrait of poet Benjamin Zephaniah by Sophie E Tallis

It’s just such a bizarre set of circumstances!
So, all this arty madness and my continuing daily Artmaniac Challenge on Facebook, got me thinking…yes luck plays a great part in getting opportunities, what were the chances of an agent coming into the library and approaching me? Zero I would have thought. But, by that same token, we can do more to try and maximise and even create those opportunities. Ten years ago I would never have had the confidence to speak up, if a agent had complimented my work I would have said thank you and left it at that. So yes, we do have to push ourselves out there whenever we can.

Pencil portrait of musician Rick Wakeman by Sophie E Tallis

Pencil portrait of musician Rick Wakeman by Sophie E Tallis

Simple truth – shrinking violets don’t get anywhere.
All that lovely good stuff got me thinking about taking chances, being more proactive beyond the usual internet stuff we all do, which let’s face it, doesn’t really get us anywhere beyond having a good time chatting to our friends.

So, in a mad flurry, I decided to enter the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018, a national art competition which is televised of all things, where professional and amateur artists have four hours to paint a celebrity sitter then have their work judged. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is expose my wobbling chins on television, but this was something so totally out of my comfort zone I just felt I had to at least try.

Pencil portrait of actor Al Pacino by Sophie E Tallis

Pencil portrait of actor Al Pacino by Sophie E Tallis

First stages of my self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

First stages of my self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

Given that I haven’t actually painted in years (and many of my oil paints are so old they’ve gone hard!) and it’s been twenty years since I painted a self-portrait (the pre-requisite for entering the competition), it was a totally mad idea! So, with the deadline being Friday 3rd March midday, I started an oil on canvas self-portrait the day before! INSANE!

Next stage of the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

Next stage of the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

With literally a minute to go (and yes I mean one minute), I finished the portrait Friday morning, quickly filled out the online form and submitted it before I could think too much about it.

Work in progress of the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

Work in progress of the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

A few minutes later, I got the confirmation email saying they had received it, wow, I actually did it! I also got another lovely email from one of their assistant producers asking for a higher res photo of my artwork, which I did.

Now, I have no delusions of grandeur here, the likelihood is that my art won’t even be longlisted let alone shortlisted, but you know what, that almost doesn’t matter. I took a chance, a mad chance and really pushed myself out there. I’ve learnt that things I thought I couldn’t do anymore I actually can.

Progress on the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

Progress on the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

So…the next challenge? I HAVE to put that same energy, that same risk taking, chance taking in my writing. I’ve been frozen on the writing front for so long it’s now a joke. Yes I eventually managed to get to the dodgy first draft stage with my second novel, but I know it’s such a long way from being finished – what the hell has been holding me back? Illness plays a large part, but not all, I’ve been using that as a crutch, I realise that now. It’s fear. Fear that I can’t do it anymore, that all I can do is short stories not novels, fear that the second book will be a failure, that it won’t be as good as the first book, that it will be crap. FEAR.

So folks, this has been my very round about way of saying…

TAKE CHANCES GUYS!

You may fail, most likely we all will, but by god it will help you, inspire you, push you out of that rut you’ve fallen into without even noticing. If you fail, fail gloriously, fail having taken that chance not having stayed on the couch and ‘what if’d’.

So there you go. Opportunities are what we make of them, be brave and challenge yourself. Good luck guys, good luck to all us creative crazies! 😀 ❤ xxx

Final oil on canvas self-portrait completed Friday 3rd March 2017 by Sophie E Tallis

Final oil on canvas self-portrait completed Friday 3rd March 2017 by Sophie E Tallis

YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!!

When it comes to writing or any creative endeavour that you are serious about i.e. not a hobbyist, but that you actually want to make a paying career from (again not fame & fortune, if you crave that you’re in the wrong game – go join a Big Brother house or Britain’s Got (f**k all) Talent), we are so often faced with failure.

So often I feel like the Balrog on the bridge in Khazad-dûm, trying to gain access to a path closed to me, a world full of closing (or slamming) doors.

Just need to add the appropriate sentence ending:

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this slush pile.”

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this competition’s shortlist (or even longlist).”

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this agent’s/publisher’s criteria.”

even “YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this selective writing group.” etc., etc.

Trying to make a living out of any creative field in a marketplace so utterly saturated with other writers and artists, is tantamount to wading through tar to reach that Avalon-like island on the horizon. It takes a hell of a lot of hard work, some random luck, some ‘who you know’ and a decent product that you’re trying to sell.

Unfinished pencil study of James Norton by Sphie E Tallis

Of course writing and art are completely subjective, what one person considers to be masterful, another perceives as being rubbish. But I still think some basic principles apply – the mechanics of writing a good sentence or drawing a good picture, of forming those images whether in the mind or on canvas.

Sadly, the path to success is littered with amazingly talented people who never quite got to grips with marketing, social media, ‘branding’ or simply had the bad luck not to reach that agent or publisher at the right time who might recognise their genius.

Pencil portrait of James Norton.

Pencil portrait of actor, James Norton by Sophie E Tallis

Annoyingly, the path to success is also littered with those who seemingly had only a tenth of the talent needed, but who were either fabulously well-connected (all areas of working life will always have an element of nepotism, the famous name, the ‘who you know’ element etc.), or were either bloody lucky in their timing when approaching said agent/publisher, or were so fantastic at the marketing/branding side that they had tremendous success before people realised the tripe they were actually peddling.

In writing terms, the author E.L. James comes to mind, whose actual writing (aside from the dubious pro-abuser content) is simply dreadful. In terms of the art world, for me, Tracey Emin is also the perfect example of brilliant self publicity/PR with minimal talent required. As a former history of art and fine art student & artist myself, I am not anti-modern art at all, just people like Emin. Damien Hirst may not be to everyone’s taste, but like Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Saville, Rachel Whiteread etc., they had a huge underlying skill level. I actually saw Hirst’s early work before he made it big as part of the 1990’s Brit-Art explosion and the guy is actually very talented. Although I cannot pretend to like a lot of his work, the guy CAN at least draw, his draftsmanship skills are very good, he just chooses to explore abstract and conceptual art. For me, as a drawer and artist, that is my benchmark for art, as it is for writing, that the person needs to have good basic skills in their chosen art-form. Emin cannot and never could draw proficiently, even the most basic forms, her drawing ability is quite frankly poor, and no, the irony that she was employed a few years ago as the Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy of Art is not lost on me. 😦

Pencil portrait of actor, Trevor Eve

Pencil portrait of actor, Trevor Eve by Sophie E Tallis

But back to writing. At the heart of the matter, the writer/author needs to have skill at stringing words together, at spinning a yarn, telling a compelling story, writing memorable characters etc., etc.

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” goes the voice in our heads as we contemplate sending work off to the latest narrowing submission window, chasing any opportunity that passes no matter how fleeting – like too many bees chasing the one elusive queen, or in fantasy speak – butter spread over too much bread. We’re all chasing the same thing, the same elusive target – to be published, to have an agent, to make a living from what we love to create.

For me, so far this year, the successes I have seen have definitely been in my art rather than my writing. As dearly as I would love more people to read my work and review it and yes, love it, I am still yet another small voice amongst the din, I know this (I will be doing a separate post on ‘branding’ with some tips I’ve picked up and stolen!). But, my illustration work has, rather surprisingly, started to take off and accrue a real momentum of its own!

Pencil portrait of Stephen Fry

Rough pencil study of Stephen Fry by Sophie E Tallis

Some of that is due to content, to being prolific. As a writer I have always been glacially slow, I’d like to think it’s quality over quantity, but in truth I wish I found writing as easy as drawing. I struggle with illness, concentration and mental exhaustion to get the words down, it seems to use a part of the brain that simply is not needed when I’m busily drawing. I don’t have to try to thread complicated plotlines together and continue a narrative over a long period of time when I’m drawing. Art allows you to switch off the brain and just use your eyes, instincts and fingers to form the image you want. Because of this, I have been able to create new artwork every day as part of my daily 365 day Artmaniac Challenge, whereas sadly I seldom manage to write every day no matter how hard I try. 😦

So, success definitely is due at least in part, to being prolific, having more content out there for people to look at, assess, discuss etc. Something I fear I may never achieve with my writing. 😦

Another element which I have seen first hand, is the ‘luck & who you know’ factor I was talking about. In my case it was a simple snowball effect. The lovely Juliet E McKenna heard in fantasy circles and shared contacts that I was an illustrator and specialised in fantasy maps. So she contacted me and I ended up doing a fantasy map for her and her wonderful ‘Secret Histories of the River Kingdom’.

watermarked-300dpi-finished-map-amended-bw-version

Then, because of that and again ‘word of mouth’, the equally lovely Anna Smith-Spark asked me to do a fantasy map for her debut novel, ‘The Court of Broken Knives’, to be published in June 2017 by HarperCollins. That in turn led her editors at HarperCollins to look at the map I did and my other illustration work, which then led to the Head of Fiction Art at HarperCollins contacting me directly to say how much everyone at HC loved my work and to offer me a contract to be an official HarperCollins illustrator (supplier)! *SQUEAL* 😀

The contract came through two weeks ago and yes, I signed it straight away! 😀

Since then I have had almost daily requests from various people to do commissioned artwork for them, including from a New York literary group who want me to do the main image for their magazine and website. It’s insane, I don’t even advertise and am now having to say, “No, sorry, I can’t take anymore commissions on at the moment!”

Madness!

HarperCollins were also lovely enough to tell me that I had been MASSIVELY undercharging people and advised for me to raise my rates. I did, a little, but not as much as they were suggesting otherwise that would stop any Indie Authors from being able to afford me and I know how damn hard it is for indie and self-published authors anyway, so I’m certainly not going to price myself out of their reach. 🙂

So, yes, creating more content and having that ‘word of mouth’ and lucky break does play a massive role in creating success. Now, if only I could apply that and get the same reactions to my written work! 😀

If you’re having the same struggles or successes, do let me know! 😉 xxx

Pencil portrait of Rayleigh Ritchie

Pencil portrait of actor Rayleigh Ritchie by Sophie E Tallis

 

Face to face: face those fears and show them the door!

We are all in our own way battling fears and self doubts, about decisions made, life choices, jobs, creative endeavours, pretty much everything. Yes there are those lucky few who sail through life never second guessing anything they say or do, who have unswerving self-confidence regardless of any reasons pro or against – well good for them. But for the rest of us mere mortals, especially those of us who are pursuing a creative career, writers, illustrators, actors, singers etc., crippling self-doubt kind of comes with the territory. 😦

The fact that you have chosen an entirely subjective career path which by the nature of it, is open to a great deal of criticism, speculation and even ridicule, hardly helps. Neither does the fact that most creative people tend to be very sensitive – almost a precursor to being a writer, poet or artist of any kind.

Pencil portrait of Richard E Grant

So, apart from navigating the choppy waters of crippling self-doubt and external criticism, sometimes, just sometimes you have to man (or woman) up and face your fears.

For me, some of that is allowing myself to be bold enough to actually set goals for myself. To say that this year I am going to achieve ___________.

Setting goals is a scary business, it’s laying your cards face up on a table and saying to the world – this is what I’m going to do and risk that ridicule and criticism if you don’t manage it.

But, as a brilliant writer friend of mine has said, someone who has ambitions and rightly so (watch this space people), what’s holding you back? Face those fears, fly your flag, pin your colours to the main brace and declare “I am here, and here is what I am going to do! I WILL achieve this!”

img_0129

So, I am risking the embarrassment of setting out my goals for this year – there is no try, there is only do or do not: 😀

  1. Completely finish writing and edit Darkling Rise (the very long awaited sequel to White Mountain that has taken me FAR too long to write!).
  2. Lose a minimum of two stone (hopefully three) for long-term health benefits and a major life commitment I have made to myself (before I’m too old for it to work) – I’ll be less cryptic when I’m nearer to achieving this goal.
  3. Continue writing short stories and my dark novel, Ravenwing (hopefully to a first draft stage).
  4. Continue building my illustration business. So far I haven’t had to advertise as people have been approaching me, but I need to step up my game and get more commissions going and widen my reputation.*
  5. Build a stronger online presence, as my mate calls it, sort out my ‘brand’, which will help grow followers, fans and help sales as well as getting more reviews and make me more visible to potential opportunities. Yes we’d all love the Game of Thrones success of George R. Martin (though I’ve never fancied the fame bit) but at the end of the day, most of us just want to be able to write and create full-time and make a living from it (enough to pay the bills at least).
  6. Finish my picture book ‘The Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile’ (the story is written but I need to finish drawing and painting all 24 illustrations – I had no idea just how much work is involved in making a picture book!).
  7. Bite the bullet and try subbing to agents, both for my picture book and Ravenwing (once it’s finished) and stop being afraid of success or trying to be successful!!!!
  8. Continue the daily Artmaniac Challenge, creating new art EVERY DAY for a whole year!**
  9. Pay more attention to my lovely little blog (yes, you guys) and blog more often – Sorry!

So there you go, 9 goals for the year. Will I achieve them all? Only time will tell, but I’m going to try my bloody hardest.

Face your fears…

So, what are YOU going to achieve this year?

Pencil sketch of Christopher Walken by Sophie E Tallis

* Yes, I have some exciting news to share to do with HarperCollins. I have signed a contract with them and will fill you all in very soon! 😀

** The reason for my doing portraits at the moment for the Artmaniac Challenge, is due to the wonderful inspiration that is the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year (and yes, I am thinking about doing it next year!) 😀 xxx

 

Michael Moorcock: How to Write a Novel in 3 Days

Here is my first re-blog of the year. A very interesting article here about Michael Moorcock’s method of attempting to write a novel in just 3 days! 😀

Interesting Literature

Ever fancied writing a novel, but don’t have oodles of spare time to set aside for such a thing? Michael Moorcock, a hugely influential and prolific writer, has the solution. Those of you who like the idea of #NaNoWriMo (or National Novel-Writing Month), but would rather set aside a few days to write rather than a whole month, may like ‘the Moorcock method’. Stephen King’s book On Writing offers a fascinating insight into what it’s like to be a prolific author and has some invaluable advice, but Moorcock’s suggestions are well worth sharing too.

For over fifty years now, Moorcock has been a significant writer in a number of genres, notably fantasy, science fiction, and horror, although he’s also written more ‘literary’ works, such as Mother London (1988). Here at Interesting Literature we’re avid fans of his work. Moorcock is famous, in writing circles, for being able to write a…

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2016 – The Year of the 4 B’s – Bowie, Brexit, Broken Friendships and Bigotry

It’s 2017, thank the gods! Like many people around the world, I was very keen to welcome 2017 and see the back of 2016, a bloody awful year. 😦

This year has seen the last vestiges of any innocence die a death, of what remained of life’s rosy tints fade to a newer, harsher reality of what the world is really like rather than what we’d like it to be or thought it was. I’ve always teetered between being daftly optimistic on life or darkly pessimistic, this year has definitely brought out the latter.

That’s the reason I have written this very long post – to cathartically and finally put 2016 and all its negativity behind me, so I can start the new year afresh. To move on, live, love and find the beauty in life again.

Warning: If you’re feeling low at all, just skip on down to the positive stuff at the bottom! 😀

bowie_on_tour[1]The year started terribly, the death of one of my all time heroes who I affectionately described when I was a 6 year old dressing up like him, as my ‘space pirate’, yes, the death of David Bowie hit a lot of people hard. He was this insanely exotic and magical figure, my space pirate, then the Goblin King then as a teenager, he was a refuge, an outsider just like me, someone who didn’t fit in. He looked different and felt different and celebrated that diversity rather than trying to adhere to other’s rules. As a teenager I withdrew from friends, from everyone, from life, the weight of dealing with a family imploding in on itself, was too much to bear, an ultra violent alcoholic and abusive father who was determined to destroy his family and tear his children down. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t worrying about make-up, exams and boyfriends, I was worrying about what lies to tell my friends when they asked why the police were around our place again, why we were seen being chased down the road in bare feet and our bedclothes as he wielded a knife, an axe, a broken bottle. I was worried about being killed, throat slit or head caved in as he threatened or having my mum killed, yet another dreadful statistic of domestic violence. So yes, I sought refuge in fantasy fiction, in writing and drawing and my beloved Bowie, the ultimate outsider.

After Bowie passed, the year saw more of our heroes fall, one after the other, unrelentingly so, most recently Carrie Fisher our beloved Princess Leia and her mother just the day after.

5dea49e85d1672067a19ae1306b8ba353e1eac91be17d09a3ee9a50c3fa7db8d1I admit my mental health has not been great this year. I’ve battled with extreme depression on and off for most of 2016, swinging from manically happy to manically low, and I’m sure this has skewed many things and heightened my reactions to things. The thing about depression is that you can be surrounded by friends yet feel utterly isolated and alone. A couple of times this year things have been very bleak indeed and I’ve teetered on the edge. I’m not excusing myself, even in my blacker moments I’ve never attacked those I love or anyone. But I know I’ve been incredibly angry this year, not like me at all, and the whole Brexit debacle has definitely played a huge role in that.

In February, I was driving to work when a woman smashed into my car ploughing it off the road and writing it off in the process. I was gutted, out of pocket and in pain. As anyone knows who is involved in an accident even a clear cut case like mine where the other party admitted culpability, it drags on for months! 😦 Crash

The year wore on and with it my physical health continued to dip, several trips to the doctors, a couple of collapses and a couple of low key hospital visits together with a shed load of meds later. It’s a drag but it’s not life threatening, pain is something you learn to deal with, its just when the vertigo and vomiting kicks in that you feel like an invalid as you truly can’t walk or even stand and can do nothing but crawl on all fours like a howling toddler. Sigh. But, I know people have it far worse, so I’m grateful for the health that I do have.

The war in Syria continued to escalate, the sheer cost of human suffering is almost unfathomable and yet the West seems utterly unable to help the innocent who are paying the cost with their lives. The world is a very scary place right now. 😦

51s1l6rh6cl-_sx311_bo1204203200_1In April came a wonderful highlight, the launch in Bristol for the awesomely awesome anthology, Fight Like A Girl (a strangely prophetic title given how the year turned out!). Wow, what a wonderful day! Martial arts, gritty readings, a panel and a mass signing, it was like a glorious mini-con and I eventually got to meet fellow AWB matey, the lovely AFE Smith who had travelled all the way to Bristol to support the launch. It was lovely meeting her after nearly 6 years of knowing her! Thank you to BristolCon, Joanne Hall, Roz Clarke and the amazing Sammy HK Smith for everything, I do feel very blessed to have you all in my life. Love to you all. ❤

Then we had the toxicity of Brexit. OMG, what can I say?

First, lovely Jo Cox, an amazing Labour MP, thoroughly decent human being and mother to two young children, was brutally murdered by a fascist right wing nut. She was a staunch supporter of the Pro-Remain side along with the rest of her party, leader and the vast majority of left wingers and Labour party supporters. She died for what she believed in, an inclusive, forward thinking and compassionate country, not an inward looking, anti-immigrant island of ‘them and us’.  It was an utterly brutal and horrific attack. jo-cox-labour-mp1

Did it change the outcome of the Brexit Referendum? No, not one jot.

13510824_10153736311815840_6984061545886519550_n1Myself, along with 16 million other people, the 48% of people in Britain who rejected the right wing rhetoric, the xenophobia, narrow mindness, racism, bigotry and poison spouted during the ‘campaign’, not to mention the endless fear mongering and lies (£350 million going to the NHS eh? Uh, no), truly believed that we lived in a better country than we do. We were proved wrong. I’ve never been so sad and so ashamed of my country. 😦

Massive divisions opened up, and yes, there was mud slinging on both sides. No-one escaped Brexit untouched and unsullied. But what was shocking to me was how intelligence was suddenly vilified, experts in fiscal studies, economics, trade, heads of business, the IMF, corporate CEO’s, scientists, academics, all of them were ignored while ignorance itself and mistruths were applauded, the ‘now we have our country back’ brigade were out in force.

Brexit was utterly toxic, divisive and caused deep rifts in families, friendships and communities up and down the country, rifts that still remain today. lr-by-party1

On a personal level, which I admit has really shaken me, it also heralded the end of a close friendship I had for nearly 5 years. I won’t mention his name, I’m not into ‘outing people’, it’s unfair and unnecessary so most of you will have no clue who I’m talking about, only a very small handful will know and they know anyway.

It was a strange friendship, granted, but a good one I thought. Despite often telling me that we were basically the same age (thanks for that), there was actually 18 years between us, he is nearer to my Mum’s age than mine. Age never mattered to me though, anyone who writes fantasy tends to be young in themselves regardless of the passing of time, but in this case it seemed to play a part. As with much of the country, we fell into the age demographics of Brexit. He was a vehement Pro-Leaver/Brexiteer as most of his ‘baby boomer’ generation were (the 60yr olds +, the ones who benefitted from free education, early retirement, golden handshakes, low cost housing, plentiful jobs etc., opportunities the younger generations could only dream of) and I was a staunch Pro-Remainer along with most people in their 40’s and younger (many of them unable to get on the housing ladder and crippled by huge debts). Of course there are exceptions, my mum and her friends in their early 70’s were all left wingers and Pro-Remainers and a percentage of younger people also voted to Leave, but generally the vote was pretty clear along age, political and educational lines.image1

 

13498097_1209717079039636_4890768423205541922_o1Running up to the Referendum, for weeks we had had awkward conversations on FB, especially privately. He’s a very forceful personality and was actively interjecting his opinions all over FB most notably and deliberately on Pro-Remain posts, to such a degree that a mutual friend threatened to defriend and even block him! It didn’t seem to diminish his fervour, in fact he seemed to actively enjoy the arguments as if it were mere banter. I hated it. I admit I was very fervent myself, very angry, but unlike him I was ONLY commenting on my fellow pro-Remainers posts, a mutual commiserating and supporting of each other during a traumatic time. I’d no sooner start trolling Pro-Brexit posts than fly to the moon! Suffice to say, he was rubbing quite a few people up the wrong way and was either blissfully oblivious or found it a strange ego-boost in some way. I can’t fathom that kind of thinking to be honest, I hate confrontations, I’ve had a lifetime of them and they make me ill, but then I don’t have his unrelenting self-confidence.

With each new comment I became more shocked at how entrenched he was, which of course, only made me equally intractable, that’s how arguments escalate, like sides in a war. brexit-shorthand-charts-1_11

Things came to a head when, after he had pushed me to the point of breaking, ignoring my repeated pleas to him not to discuss politics (he’s one of those characters that think of themselves as being very sensitive to others when in reality they are utterly clueless and just bulldoze over people) I had asked him to back off, stating that I would not discuss politics with him, that I would walk away every time he commented on something. Fine.

Then came the vote itself. Despite feeling awful at the outcome, he, on the winning side, still continued to blissfully push his opinions on everyone, cheerily telling Remainers who were in shock, dismay and were mourning the result, that things would be rosy and fine, that their genuine fears were wrong – NOT the thing to do! Again, a mutual friend had to forcibly tell him to BACK OFF. Despite all this, I private messaged him offering the olive branch, trying to reconnect with him and explain why I had asked him to back off and had been so emotional.

What did he do? He verbally attacked me. I never knew he had a nasty side, I do now. Among other things, he accused me of calling him a racist, something he knows damn well I never said and never would. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. I knew full well his reasons for voting the way he did, he saw the EU as some all evil Empire, it had nothing to do with immigration. I was deeply hurt, outraged, bloody furious, how dare he? After all the crap I’ve put up with from him, the bullshit, the exaggerations, the lies, the ulterior motives. I’d never blamed him for repeatedly recommending me to join our old awful ex-publishers, for pushing them so hard, it was my mistake not his, I had signed with them without checking them out first because I had trusted the opinions of him, my friend. He’d later admitted that he wanted as many people to join them as possible to make them successful and help his own books. The experience scarred me more than I can say and almost stopped me from ever writing again, but I never once blamed him for my own misfortune. It was my mistake, not his. I’d always been supportive, putting my own personal feelings to one side when he did things I didn’t like, as I’m sure he did for me, after all, that’s what friends do, they respect each other’s differences and idiosyncrasies. Having been cheated on myself in the past, I find adultery abhorrent regardless of the circumstances, but when he got involved with a married woman (whose husband was apparently dying), I was genuinely thrilled and supportive for him, because I just wanted to see him happy – again that’s what friends do!

I asked him to show proof of where I had accused him of such a heinous thing (knowing he wouldn’t be able to). He ignored my message for two long weeks. I was devastated. How could a close friend be so vicious, so unkind, so untruthful? I shared my shock on FB, being careful not to mention his name, as I was so upset and needed the comfort of friends. What did he do? – attack me again for sharing my feelings on FB – and here’s where it gets truly nasty. He had done the exact same thing to me, but worse, he had done it the day before (when I was in ignorant bliss of his awful feelings towards me) he had openly vented over FB on a mutual friend’s post, spreading lies about me, about how a close friend of his had called him a racist and how he’d been battling with racism his whole life etc etc. Then in a typically underhanded and hypocritical move of him, he had secretly contacted the mutual friend and asked him to remove the thread, when that friend refused, he then went in and edited out all the crap he said about me – but too late, I had already seen it! To then have the audacity to pretend he was somehow the victim instead of the attacker and accuse me of something he himself had done the day before just beggared belief!

I know how terribly trivial this all sounds, especially given the dreadful global things that have happened this year – the crumbling of a friendship is hardly worth moaning about. But it was one of the worst most hurtful things I’ve gone through in quite a few years, made worse because I was in a vulnerable state and hadn’t expected a friend to behave like that.

To be honest, politics, deceitfulness and verbal attacks aside, the thing that has devastated me the most is the fact that running up to this whole horrible debacle, I had repeatedly told him that I was in a bad head space, that the whole Brexit thing was actually making me ill, that I was really struggling etc., and he couldn’t give a shit. From someone who has been afflicted by depression himself, the ‘black dog’ as he fashionably likes to call it, and as a close friend he knew I had struggled with bad depression for years, including two suicide attempts. I had always been SO fucking supportive of him when he was in a bad head space, even though I know he exaggerates everything, I’d been on the same drugs as him which hadn’t affected me at all, but none of that mattered. I know when it comes to mental health everyone deals with it differently and gets affected by it differently. But here was the crux, I’d always been very supportive and caring of when his bad times hit, and to a certain extent he had been relatively supportive of mine. Yet, when it came to Brexit, he had ignored every single one of my pleas, he didn’t give a shit that I was struggling, that I was repeatedly telling him I was in a bad way, none of that mattered, only that he was right and me along with 16 million others were wrong. His ego, his unwavering self-belief was far far more important than a friend in need. It was the final demonstration, if I needed it, that this was a man so utterly up his own arse that if anyone needed help, he’d be the last person to see it. Like a teenager desperately seeking attention, only HE was the one that mattered, only his depression, his feelings, his opinions.

After two weeks passed he eventually responded to my private message. I admit, I never read it. I was too hurt by the whole thing and could tell straight away that it wasn’t an apology or anything like it. He had attacked me in such a nasty way, he had hurt me terribly to assuage his own bruised ego over most of our mutual friends saying how wrong he was over his Brexit stance and he had taken his frustrations out on me, a soft target. Ironically I saw how he reacted to our mutual friend who had threatened to defriend and block him and who quite rightly told him where to stick his opinions in a hilariously forceful way. Did he attack him back? No, of course not, he replied with a single word answer, “Peace”. Strange how differently he had reacted to me, but then our mutual friend wasn’t a soft target and I was.

To me, that was pretty unforgiveable. Like a divorce, the end of a friendship is never easy and always painful. Things went on. We didn’t speak or communicate at all. When my birthday rolled around I knew I wouldn’t be getting a birthday card from him, but I admit, seeing him active on FB that day and not bothering to even press a button to send one of those automatic FB birthday messages, something that takes no effort to do, I finally realised that things were over for good. The pretence that we were friends was over, what was the point of hanging on and just being continually kicked in the gut? So the day after my birthday I finally defriended him. It hurt, it still does to a certain extent, maybe that will give him some pleasure, I don’t know and I no longer care. I only know that after a lifetime of being hurt, of being kicked in the guts physically and figuratively, that I am too old and too worn down to allow so called friends to hurt me, my tolerance for cruelty is zero. I’ve never knowingly hurt anyone in my life, never attacked anyone, never cheated, never lied about someone. I have been a carpet, I admit, but my fiery temperament is definitely taking over now and I’m not prepared to take anymore shit.

None of us deserve to be treated badly, none of us.

I’m all for forgiving people, god knows I’ve forgiven people a hell of a lot and then been shitted on again. But in the end, life is too short, too hard, too fucking difficult to keep climbing that hill with all our baggage while those we hold dear kick us as we stumble. I am very fortunate to have a few very very dear friends, Heather who I’ve known for years and who made me godmother to her first child; Sammy, my amazing publisher but far far more importantly, an amazing and very dear friend who I share so much with, Kate Coe and Jo, two of the truly loveliest people you could meet, Roz too and actually all my fellow Grimbold authors who are such darlings and such truly remarkable and wonderful people. I love them all and am very thankful to have them in my life. ❤

But I admit, more than the awfulness of Brexit, of Trump’s hideous bigotry and election win, of our heroes dying, what has marked this year as being particularly awful for me, was the ugly end to what I thought was a great friendship. It leaves me feeling wary, jaded and nervous of trusting people again and I know that is not a good disposition to have.

So…my New Year’s Resolution is simply this – to be open, to be positive and to be happy.

Darkness won in 2016, but even in the dark there is always a light.

So, looking to the positives…this year has also seen a very close family friend of some 50 years, battle and survive cancer, which is to be celebrated! We are so thrilled she has made a full recovery and is doing so well. 😀 ❤ The growing closeness of my other friends is something I am so so thankful for and as some of them embark on a whole new chapter in their lives, I am so excited and thrilled for them. shadows-of-the-oak

This year has also seen the publishing of two books with my stories in, the wonderful, Fight Like A Girl in April (with an amazing book launch in Bristol), and most recently, Shadows Of The Oak which also has two of my illustrations in. I am so happy for improved health and happiness of those I hold dear too, especially my mate Sammy who has overcome so many things and is an inspiration to all of us. Love you sweetie. ❤

My illustration business has continued to flourish with great word of mouth keeping me very busy. My most prestigious commissions to date were for the wonderful Juliet McKenna and her Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, and now Anna Smith-Spark and her new HarperCollins book due out next year, The Court of Broken Knives.

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I also managed to win my second NaNo this year (50K words in a month) which I was thrilled about and have just wrangled into existence a first rough draft of my second novel, Darkling Rise, after struggling for two years with it!

Now, I have two more short stories to write this month for two different anthologies, yet more illustration commissions lined up and Book 2 to knock into shape. 2017 also heralds a very personal milestone that I am going to try my hardest to achieve…watch this space! 😀

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So, I hope you guys have had a better year than me and wish you a gloriously happy 2017. But if you have had a tough year too, then take heart, things always change and WILL get better. I know 2017 will have a lot of struggles of its own, after all we will all be entering Trumpland, but I truly believe if we remember to treat each other well and not give into hate, that we can make the next year a great one.

Love to you all and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!! 😀 ❤ xxxxx

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A Quick Note On The Vulgar Subject of Money

A great blog post here by the brilliant Joanne Hall, and one that fits in well with my previous piece about writing as a career. NEVER give your work away for free, your time, your creativity, your work is of worth, therefore it deserves to be paid for. Give your work away, and you’re telling everyone that it’s not worthy of being paid for.

Joanne Hall

I’m British, and I was brought up to belive that it’s not polite to talk about money. But I will make this quick point, in response to a company that popped up this morning on my Twitter feed.

The company is called Freesist. I’m not linking, you can Google. It’s a company that, as far as I can gather, helps people find freelance writers who will work for free.

(I’m hoping it will turn out to be a parody account. Even if it does, the following still stands.)

If you are a freelance writer, unless you are very fortunate, what you will mostly get paid is shit-all. Anyone thinking that freelance writers, or writers in general, make squillions is kidding themselves. But writing is work (I know sometimes it doesn’t LOOK like work, when we’re staring out of the window sucking our biros) and work deserves to be paid. You…

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