Climbing Mountains – January blues and 31 days of madness!

As we start February I look back at the madness that was January. From the world being plunged into the realities and dangers of Trumpland to the usual January blues. At this dull time of year, after the festivities and fun of the festive period I always think of CS Lewis’s words:

“I’ve always found this a trying time of the year.  The leaves not yet out, mud everywhere you go.  Frosty mornings gone.  Sunny mornings not yet come.  Give me blizzards and frozen pipes, but not this nothing time, not this waiting room of the world.”

January inevitably, is always a pensive time, a time of anti-climax, of looking back at the past year and looking to the future – sometimes in hope, sometimes in anxiety. I suppose now with the turmeric turd (as I call him) ensconced in the White House, there is more reason than any to be anxious about what the future may bring. For me personally, being such a lover of nature, a conservationist and environmentalist at heart, I worry about his ignorant, unsubstantiated (and quite possibly insane) views and denial of climate change as merely a ‘Chinese hoax’. That instead of listening to the independent views of thousands of scientists and climate experts around the world, of proven facts about climate change resulting from human activity, that Trump’s ego and his love of money and power could easily cause unparalleled environmental damage that may take years to reverse, if it can be at all. We don’t own this world, we are merely custodians, another animal species that rely on it for life itself. This world is such a precious place, its eco systems so fragile, its wildlife under so much threat from humanity already, that 4 years or dare I say it, 8 years of Trump insanity, of arctic drilling, fracking, extra oil, gas and coal exploration and pollution, may well be too much to recover from. Only time will tell.

January is also about setting goals especially life goals which are always tricky, the positive vibes of saying to yourself that THIS year will be different, this year you will lose those annoying pounds (or stones), achieve those long held goals and dreams, that this will be YOUR year.

It’s a double-edged sword. Yes you should have aspirations, goals, dreams, things that make you happy, but the reality of not achieving them can be dreadful. January is also a time of year that I often find myself falling back into bad habits and bad thinking – the time when depression often rears its ugly head.

So, as a way to combat those feelings and that awful January inertia, back in November I had an utterly mad idea…

painting-outside by Sophie E Tallis

Being Facebook friends with the lovely Children’s Laureate, illustrator extraordinaire Chris Riddell, I’ve been watching his posts all through the year. Every day Chris draws or sketches in what he calls his ‘Laureate Log’, a wonderful visual diary of creativity. Well, as Picasso himself said “The best ideas are stolen!”, I decided to do my own daily art record – what I call ‘The Artmaniac Challenge’!

So I set up a friendly inclusive group on Facebook – the Artmaniacs – open to anyone to draw, sketch, paint, sculpt, create a new artwork EVERY DAY for 365 days, starting from January 1st 2017 – January 1st 2018 and post it online in the group and anywhere else they fancy! It was a way for focusing the mind, being productive and a way of forcing you to be creative every day, even on days when all you want is a cuppa and a duvet to hide under.

I had no idea if it would work, but it has, we already have 27 members and growing! It’s been a wonderfully positive thing, a great way of driving out those damn January blues and giving a real sense of achievement to those participating. So in the mad 31 days of January, I and others have 31 pieces of art to show for it, an ever-growing portfolio – and the lovely thing is that it doesn’t matter if they are rough sketches, finished drawings, doodles, paintings, experiments, photography, anything goes! 😀

For someone like me, who has found it so hard to put pen to paper in regards to writing, doing this daily challenge has actually helped me in my writing too, because, if I can spare a few minutes to draw every day, if I can force myself to create something every day, then I can do the same for writing! WE CAN DO THIS!!!

So, here is the gallery of my first month of art, some good, lol, some not so good! 😀 xxxx

Dragon and warrior sketch by Sophie E TallisFallen Angel by Sophie E TallisSaw Gerrera character sketch (from Rogue One) by Sophie E TallisPen & Ink sketch of my dog, Korrun by Sophie E TallisCharacter sketch from my short story, Silent Running by Sophie E TallisRough sketch of Fenn, given that he only sat still for a few seconds before moving! by Sophie E TallisHand study in pen & ink by Sophie E TallisMy rough illustration from my children's book, The Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile', by Sophie E TallisThe Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile by Sophie E TallisCharacter sketch of Lord Perral from White Mountain by Sophie E TallisDragon sketch by Sophie E TallisRough sketch by Sophie E TallisSketch in blue by Sophie E TallisCouple Portrait by Sophie E TallisFinished Couple Portrait by Sophie E TallisBenedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock character study by Sophie E TallisRough fairy study by Sophie E TallisView of Kallorm 'City of Light' from White Mountain by Sophie E TallisDragon sketch by Sophie E TallisSelf=Portrait in blue by Sophie E TallisStudy in blue by Sophie E TallisMy blue toned drawing of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia by Sophie E TallisWolf study in purple by Sophie E TallisBurnt umber and ochre study by Sophie E TallisLong-Tailed Tit by Sophie E TallisPortrait study in blue by Sophie E TallisFigure study in purple by Sophie E TallisPen & Ink pheasant study by Sophie E TallisOde to John Hurt RIP by Sophie E TallisPen & Ink drawing of my dog, Tolly by Sophie E Tallis'Do not be silenced' watercolour pencil study by Sophie E TallisChinese New Year dragon rough sketch by Sophie E Tallis

Well that’s it – the good, the bad and the ugly! Let’s see what the next month brings. 🙂

N.B. I will also let slip, that a couple of weeks ago, I had some VERY good news involving HarperCollins… I’ll let you all know once everything is signed and sealed. Watch this space…! 😉 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.

nano-winner-2016

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! 😀

14481949_10157461243935375_3364092516786540302_o1

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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The Realities of Writing…

soa_member_rgb1As a member of The Society of Authors (SoA), the longest running society helping authors (actually celebrating its centenary this year) and certainly the nearest we have to an ‘Author Union’, I received my quarterly SoA magazine ‘The Author’ a few weeks ago.

‘The Author’ is always a fascinating read, a thermometer of what’s going on in the literary world, in publishing, what’s trending and in writer’s lives themselves. It’s full of really interesting articles, all written by writers for writers on issues as diverse as copyright, publishing & publishers, literary festivals, contracts, public lending rights (PLR), author events, public liability insurance, awards and grants, writing tips, sales, bookshops, Amazon, research, booktrade news in addition to its own ‘Quarterly News’. Lol, to be honest, the first thing I always do is look to see the names of new members and if I recognise anyone. 😀

Anyway, in amongst the magazine was a ballot paper for this year’s Election to the Management Committee. Now I won’t say who I voted for, I don’t want to invalidate my ballot, but reading their candidate statements was really interesting and, considering most of these people are big names, quite surprising. I don’t know why, but I suppose we all have stereotypes that we fall into from time to time and certainly I imagine that these writers, the ‘big names’, all live a dream life of never having to worry about money or bills or mundane things again, that their writing has brought riches and fame and therefore they are a world away from the harsh realities that myself and my fellow writers live in day in day out. But, to my surprise, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is precisely because these writers have made it big, that makes them so sympathetic and empathetic to the struggles and plights of others because they remember what life was life before that bestseller.

One writer in particular who grabbed my attention was Alice Jolly, talking about writing as a career and how hard it is for most writers just to keep their head above the rising tides.

In her own words:

“The position of the writer is a paradox. On the one hand, authors appear to be powerful. The UK general public love authors. They spend approximately £2.2 billion on books a year and 60% cite ‘author’ as their dream job. The UK has approximately 250 literary festivals some of which attract audiences of 200,000.

But despite all that, the reality of an average author’s life is grim. The median annual income of authors is £11,000 (substantially below the minimum wage based on a forty hour week). The hours are unsocial and authors are continually asked to run workshops or make visits to schools for free.

So how can we writers capitalise on the power we have in order to ensure that writing is a career, not a hobby? How do we make sure that the current seismic changes in the publishing industry take us into a world where writers have more control over their careers?

There is no simple answer but that change certainly will not happen unless we all work together.”

What makes Alice Jolly’s words particularly pertinent is that she has experience in a range of fields, from teaching creative writing at Oxford University, having two novels published through Simon & Schuster, to four plays produced in the theatre to crowdfunding her latest work. It’s somehow reassuring to know that people like Alice, or Joanne Harris who are widely known and respected, are able to relate to the problems and struggles that we small press and indie authors face every day – that struggle not only to write in itself, to get published (in whatever way that means to you), but also to make ends meet, pay the bills, survive.

The romantic notion of the starving artist in their garret or isolated writer in their shed, is all well and good, but starving in reality does not help creativity – it stifles it. If your mind is continually pre-occupied by how you are going to keep the roof over your head and food on your plate, if you are literally starving, you are not going to be concerned by writing the next great tome. Your energies and efforts will be spent on trying to survive so you have a future where you can write.

I find these issues particularly relevant to me and my own situation. Not only have I found writing my second novel particularly hard (due to major writer’s block caused by health issues), though I have been able to write several short stories/novellas, my own personal circumstances are more than a little precarious in both financial and personal terms. All of which, the stress, the worry, health issues and the counting of pennies, really does not help the creative process.

So, what is the answer?

Alice Jolly is right, there are no simple solutions. As with everything in life, the randomness of luck always plays a part, simply being in the right place at the right time, and yes, sadly, the old adage of ‘who you know’ plays a major part. Would Christopher Paolini really have been published and pushed into the limelight if his mother hadn’t been in the industry and placed his novel in front of an agent rather than it doing the rounds of the slushpile? I think not. But we are also masters of our own destinies. I see the flamboyant and endless energy of self-published authors Ben Galley and Debbie Young who both simply do not settle for resting on their laurels. They are so determined, so inventive and so driven they have made it happen for them. Ben Galley recently revealed that he’s selling 400 books a month in the US and tours around the country and can be seen at most conventions, Debbie Young set up her own Literary Festival from scratch (the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival) with Katie FForde herself opening the inaugural event. She’s now planning the 3rd year of the festival next year and is also the main collaborator for ALLi – The Alliance of Independent Authors and tours the country doing talks and events.

So, is this the future and answer to making writing a career that can actually pay the bills? The honest answer is…I don’t know. I’m thrilled for both Ben Galley and Debbie Young, both of whom are not only thoroughly lovely people but also terrific writers. My problem is this, as much as I would dearly love to be a full-time writer (it’s been my dream since I was a kid) and be able to make an actual living from it as with any other career (yes, writing paying bills), I simply do not have the stamina or funds to do half the things that they do, I dearly wish I could. This year for instance, as I’ve been concentrating on writing so much, my marketing and publicity has, in all fairness, been crap. I’ve just found it far too hard to be able to do both things effectively.

So, the question remains, what is the answer? If you’re unable to travel much, are not techy at all (I’m an IT idiot tbh and still don’t understand what the hell, Thunderclap is!), and health and circumstances curtail what you can do, then how do you turn your imagination into something that can actually pay those bills?

Well, in truth I’m still working on that one. What I will say is in a strange parallel to other industries such as farming for instance, I think a big part of success or at least survival and self-sufficiency, is by diversifying. Look at what you can do, what you’re good at (apart from writing) and try using those skills to aid not only your writing but to also pay the bills.

For me, that has meant illustration work: –  Sophie E Tallis Illustrations. Being a trained traditional artist, with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and an MA place, I illustrate books and do fantasy maps (having just completed a commission for the wonderful Juliet McKenna and her fantastic ‘Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom’ and am currently working on a map commission for grimdark author, Anna Smith-Spark and her upcoming Harper Voyager book, ‘The Court of Broken Knives’). In fact as I can adapt to any illustration style wanted, I can pretty much do whatever the client wants (lol, though not digital art, my computer skills are crap!). Now, although I’m not raking in huge amounts, as far as paying for those damn bills, it is definitely helping!

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So, for we small authors to continue writing as a career not a hobby, we have to use every trick in our arsenal, diversify, think outside of the box, focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

Good luck guys, may we all succeed at that elusive goal – full-time writing AND survival! 😀 ❤ xxx

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Mapping The Imagination

Maps are a subject I keep returning to again and again and for good reason. Ever since I was a child I’ve held a deep fascination for atlas’s, globes, maps and cartography in general. The mystery of distant countries with exotic names, far flung foreign lands, strange topographic features or intricate maps of fictional worlds have always captivated my imagination and I know I’m not alone in this passion. Maps, particularly when used in fiction, are more popular today than they’ve ever been.

Check out my previous map inspired posts: For the love of maps! & Mapping your fantasy

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In literary terms, the first map I’m aware of studying was probably E.H. Shepherd’s beautifully illustrated ‘100 Acre Wood’ for A.A. Milne’s glorious Winnie The Pooh, that was quickly followed by the maps in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Tove Jansson’s wonderful map of Moomin Valley and CS Lewis’s Narnia map.

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As all lovers of good fantasy fiction know, there is nothing as pleasurable as poring over a map of your favourite fantasy world, whether it be George RR Martin’s Westeros at the heart of his phenomenal Games of Thrones (Song of Ice & Fire) series, JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth in his Lord of The Rings trilogy, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. 34c29aa5e22785787f24a35d580761c71

 

Now, as an illustrator and author, I create my own detailed hand-drawn fantasy maps for my books and for other authors and publishers. I’ve only illustrated 9 books to date so far but have several projects in the pipeline, and would like to share with you, my fellow map lovers, how I created my latest commission for fabulous fantasy writer, Juliet McKenna and her awesome new River Kingdom series.

Firstly, I cannot tell you what fun it is creating these beautiful objects – “The literal and visual distillation of an author’s imagination through graphite, pen & ink and paint.” It is true that not every great fantasy novel needs a map and some authors like NK Jemisin were initially not keen on them, but for me I love them as I think they create a tangible geographical point of reference from which the story weaves its magic. Funnily enough, Joe Abercromie who apparently wasn’t keen on fantasy maps for his First Law series then included 5 of them in The Heroes (to represent the battle movements)!

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At the end of July I was approached by Juliet McKenna who was looking for someone to do a map for her latest fantasy series, the River Kingdom. That started a really interesting month of creative exploration. Juliet, much like me, is a stickler for detail, which I love. The devil’s in the detail they say and that is particularly true when creating fantasy maps, the more information the better!

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The first thing I loved, is that her River Kingdom is landlocked i.e. set in the middle of a continent, much like my Fendellin map (see left), and avoids the over used cliché of a coastline and seas. This makes total sense to me – as much as I love coastlines, not every land is going to be coastal and yet if you follow the vast majority of fantasy maps they are all either islands or coastal regions! River Kingdom is inland and is all about the rivers and the regions and peoples they dominate.

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For a starting point Juliet emailed me a few pages of notes about her fabulous River Kingdom world, the main rivers (Tane and Dore) in her kingdom, what they are like (winding? straight? navigable? deep? shallow? rapids? maelstroms? etc), how they flow, the settlements and communities along their banks, the different administrative ruling centres and fiefdoms, what the Hill Country was like and forests, a description of the Nilgeh Mire, how the land lies and towns relate to each other, etc. It was obvious from the beginning that this was going to be something rather special, as so few authors really fully imagine and realise the worlds they create down to the everyday detail.

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From this, we started a wonderful creative collaboration, back and forth. To ensure that my clients are 110% with the artwork they receive, I’m a great believer in asking questions rather than guessing, that way you are able to really crystalize what the author/client wants and are far more likely to deliver it.

More questions and details followed, the colour of the waters of the main rivers, their tributaries, what happens when the two great rivers meet, adding wharfs and quays for river folk to travel and ferries, the types of trees in the forest areas, how high are the mountains, how to represent the towns with different allegiances, motifs to be used to represent the Grainland and Grassland areas and lovely nuances like adding subtle terraces to some of the Downland hills and what the geology and terrain was of drier areas like the High Plateau. Discussions about the lovely maps of 15thC cartographer, John Speed and the red colour of towns depicted etc.

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Then, after the graphite and then inking stages were finished, a whole new conversation took place about colours and tones for the finished painted map. Mountainous regions in reality, vary hugely, another reason why I prefer to hand draw everything rather than using computer programs which just replicate the same mountain shape again and again, some smaller some bigger but none with any individuality. Were the mountainous regions alpine in nature, snow capped and grey granite or like the dry peaks of parts of the Andes or more like the Cairngorms and Snowdonia, greener lower peaks?

What about the woodland areas?

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Most forests depicted in fantasy maps tend to be one generic shape repeated infinitum and if they are coloured, one generic green shade. We decided instead to have individual shapes, colours and shades for the different tree types just like a real mixed forest canopy of deciduous and coniferous trees. Yes these are still stylised trees, drawing an accurate observational study of a tree with all it’s intertwining branches would look dreadful in a map context, like a mass of spider webs and would become too distracting to the overall effect.

captureThen you have the map’s compass. I like to do an individual compass for every map and client, so they are unique to that client’s work. In Juliet’s case, I really wanted to include some of the mythos present in her story, namely the fact that her market towns have shrines to the Sun Goddess & Moon God, so I wanted a compass rose with a sun and moon motif at the centre (lol, Juliet is apparently now thinking of using this compass rose as a cross-stitch design!).  🙂

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When painting the map, I found myself using some truly gorgeous pearlescent paints and gold inks for the details (there are amazing art products out there!), I only wish the sheen of these had fully translated into the final scanned map.

So, after a month and a bit of continuous work, we had a finished painted map for Juliet’s amazing new fantasy, Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, which launches at *BristolCon in less than two weeks! Pop along and meet Juliet in person and grab yourself your own signed copy from the author herself! (check out the gorgeous cover by Ben Baldwin!)

*BristolCon – is a fantastic one day SFF convention in Bristol at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on Saturday 29th October! The programme of events is here. (Juliet will be there signing copies of Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom and appearing on two panels & I’ll be there too supporting my publishers, Grimbold Books and doing a panel and reading – come along and join the fun!)

So, there you go folks…the process of actually creating and making a fantasy map, it ain’t easy but boy is it FUN!  🙂 xxx

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🙂 xxxx

Derailing The Diversity Train

A very very interesting and insightful blog here on the continuing battle to try and get more diversity into fiction, specifically SFF fiction and how in some quarters, even daring to have that discussion brings derision and harassment and how the issues at the heart of the discussion are being ignored in favour of merely discussing the ‘fights’ and controversy.

I am not a person of colour, I am white and I know that unjustly comes with certain benefits I take for granted. But what I am is a woman, 50% of the world’s population but without the inherent advantages of the other 50%. As a female writer, specifically a female SFF writer, I myself have come across prejudice in relation to the fiction we create, merely based on our gender rather than ability. Yes, that prejudice is infuriating, unfair and as with any prejudice, is completely inaccurate and based on fear not fact.

I work in a library too, and sadly it is quite a familiar occurrence for customers (always male) to refuse to read or say they don’t read any fiction written by women, often dismissing it as frivolous ‘chicklit’. I don’t read ‘chicklit’ myself either (personal preference, I like SFF), but I have nothing against the genre and am against snobbery of any kind. I also believe that there are many writers of that genre which are talented, good, accomplished writers. Why have snobbery about any genre?

But the point is, female writers have a FAR harder time trying to break into publishing, trying to be visible in such a male dominated genre as SFF, trying to be heard and most of all READ. The general prejudice I’ve heard is that somehow, due to our genitals, we are unable to write dark, gritty, bloody work of complexity, that we are somehow lightweight or prone to put romance in. None of which is true of course. As a library worker, I try to open eyes, so I talk to these customers about women writers who write weighty tomes, dark crime, gritty SFF etc, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Stella Rimmington, Ursula Le Guin, NK Jemisin, Jen Williams, Susanna Clarke etc. Why this blog post is SO great, is that it is trying to focus people’s attention back on the issue that really matters – not the arguments, the hateful rhetoric on twitter etc, but actually on the issue itself – of trying to bring more diverse voices into fiction. Of trying to make fiction more representative of the diverse cultures and countries we live in. It is not about stopping other people’s voices, or political correctness, or oppression of any kind, it is about inclusion. Including more diversity in fiction, why is that scary to some people? How can inclusiveness and diversity possibly offend or threaten anyone? Great post! 😀

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There have been quite a few awful blog posts, videos and speeches given regarding the discussion of diversity in publishing in the past few weeks. Some of these opinion pieces have led to harassment, to trolling, to people leaving Twitter and blocking half a village.

There has been a push towards inclusiveness in the publishing world lately and it’s normal to see push back. Change always begets fear. Fear sometimes leads to opposition. Like any discussion on any sensitive topic there will be people who get upset, people who take it to the extreme with things like death threats which are completely ridiculous, and people who express their anger pointedly.

The discussion about diversity has largely been about one message: creating space for all of us. Yet, over and over again, I see authors and bloggers choose to focus on the anger that is a part of the discussion instead…

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