BristolCon 2017 – Art, Fantasy & Maps!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Distant Worlds – Welcomes Sam Dogra!

This is the seventeenth outing of a new blog series, as I dabble my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews!

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.


The Distant Worlds strand started a few months ago, focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber-talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends. Check out their cool titles while they’re still at bargain prices! 


A World Of Their Own – an awesome anthology of fantasy, sci-fi and literary short stories, with ALL profits going to charity!

But now we’re branching out and will be zoning in on an extraordinary group of people, The Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB), who I am also VERY proud to call close friends.

The AWB – a bunch of uber-talented fantasy and sci-fi writers and artists who met on the HarperCollins writing site, Authonomy, back in 2010. We formed The Alliance of Worldbuilders, a friendly, inclusive and wacky group and our collective friendships have seen us through some very hard times, including the sad loss of one of our own, Lindsey J Parsons. In honour of Lindsey, our dear friend who tragically died in January 2014, the AWB have created an awesome anthology of short stories, which was published in glorious paperback and e-book on 4th September 2015! It makes the perfect prezzie and ALL profits go to charity, the World Literacy Fund, fighting illiteracy around the world, so grab a great book and help a great cause too! Amazon UK & Amazon US

Right, now to our seventeenth author interview, and our fifth AWB member, the Vice Captain (VC) herself, the doctor of chaos and large weapons of mass destruction (she’s soon to be a REAL doctor!), dark paranormal fantasy writer and artist…

Sam Dogra


Sam, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

Wow, talk about being thrown in the deep end! Well, I’d probably want my medical bag (which I take to work; it has all sorts of useful equipment in it), a water bottle/ container of some kind, my smartphone and its solar powered charger (is that two items?), and my old tent.

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

My paperback copy of Sabriel, a photo of my family, a stash of chocolate/ cake I’d undoubtedly be carrying, my cuddly toy dragon and my sketchbook!

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

Seek life-forms for sure, I’m definitely not the outdoors type.

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

Well, Garth Nix’s Sabriel, as aforementioned. It was the first fantasy book I read and it remains my all-time favourite. I’d also take Alison Croggon’s Books of Pellinor (if I’m just allowed one it would be the fourth one, The Singing), as this was the first ‘heavy’ fantasy I actually like [sorry to say I am NOT a fan of Tolkein at all!]. I’d also bring Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasy Land, as I love how it makes fun of various fantasy Tropes. I’d then bring along the third book of Julia Golding’s Companions Quartet (The Mines of the Minotaur), as it’s a fantastic look into the relationship between mythical creatures and humans. And last but not least, Bardo by Chris McKenna, a fun-filled adventure exploring the theme of reincarnation and rebirth.

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

To be honest I’m not that much of a music fan, and my taste is pretty acquired! I’d be happy with my Japanese Vocaloid songs, and I also quite like the talented violin work of Lindsey Stirling. I also like the work of Hiroyuki Sawano, who does a lot of anime soundtracks.

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

Could I mix the coca-cola with the vodka? (Absolutely!)

Random comet question: Marmite – love it or loathe it?

I’ve never tried it so…something to add to my lists of regrets?

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go! 

Crikey, right then! My book follows Eliza, a girl who falls prey to a curse that forces people to fall in love. She’s ‘Bound’ to Ryan, a bounty hunter with secrets of his own. So, Eliza must break her curse, before Ryan finds out they’re Bound and before his past catches up with him. Of course, Eliza gets more than she bargained for. So, as she searches for a cure that’s not guaranteed to work, and has her heart turned inside out with feelings that aren’t her own, she also needs to come to terms with how her choices affect those around her.

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

Well once the basics of food, water and shelter were covered, I’d like to explore, study the wildlife and plants, and perhaps draw them in my sketch book. In between sending transmissions for help, of course!

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

Internet! My family too, along with video games, the concept of dessert, and of course my friends.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Mobile phone companies, traffic, bigoted know-it-alls, deadlines, and people who are two-faced.

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

Hmm…nothing immediately springs to mind! Perhaps being more sociable at University and that I’d kept in touch with more people.

If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it?

To be honest, no! I am firmly on the side of Earth exploration when it comes to whether we should explore space/ home first (and I’ve got a book in the works addressing this topic…)

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

Hmm…well I’d recommend Bardo by Chris McKenna as above, as it’s so much fun to read. I’d also recommend Simon Wilson’s Yuko Zen is Somewhere Else, which has an adorable quirky style. The Binding Stone by Lisa Gail Green is a great character study involving djinns, and I’d also recommend Thorn by Intisar Knanani, a very well-written take on an old fairytale for when you just want to be swept away. Finally I’d also recommend The Spirit Keeper by Melissa Garrett, an enchanting romance with Native American themes.

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

No idea is stupid, but unless you give it structure it can end up that way! So even if you’re one of those ‘write it as it comes’ authors, please do not underestimate the importance of having a framework to maintain consistency.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself and your inspirations!

Sam DograSam in her own words…

I am an (overworked) doctor working for the NHS. I’m in my final year of General Practice training and exams pending I’ll be a fully-fledged GP by next August. In between seeing patients, writing reports, and doing home visits, I dabble in fantasy fiction writing and digital fantasy art, the latter of which you can sample at .

Unlike most other writers, I’m not particularly inspired by books; I take a lot more from video games and Japanese anime (my age is showing 🙂 ). The Binding came about as I was doing my hospital job shadowing (way back in 2011) and was taking some blood samples to the lab. I just saw an image of a girl sitting alone in a dark forest because she had a vulnerable heart, and everything just sprang from there. As a wild guess I’d say the Kingdom Hearts series (video games) was probably the main influence, as well as the anime Romeo x Juliet as I borrowed a few of the aesthetics from there. Not to mention my general dislike of the romance genre and its mistreatment of plot 😉

Sam’s Amazon UK Author Page

Sam’s Amazon US Author Page


Sam Dogra is a junior doctor working in the UK, and is currently training to become a General Practitioner. Between reviewing drug charts and X-rays, taking blood, saving lives and getting grilled by consultants, she also writes fantasy fiction and is a fantasy artist. She has co-written ‘Fated: A Timeless Series Companion Novel’ with author Lisa Wiedmeier, and has also published her first novel The Binding, and its sequel, The Parting, with a third book in progress.

She’s widely travelled, and has enjoyed her visits to France, Germany, Norway, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Rhodes, Turkey, Cyprus, Lesvos, India, Dubai, Australia, Canada and Idaho, Washington, New York, Seattle and Alaska, USA. Her other main interest is fantasy art.

In what little spare time she has, Sam also enjoys reading, baking, shopping, watching movies and anime, astrology, video games, collecting cuddly toy animals, and photography.

Additional Links:

Website/ blog:




The PartingLatest Book Blurb

When your feelings are false, what’s left to believe in?

After the revelation of Ryan’s secret, Eliza is determined to reclaim her lost freedom. Her only hope lies in the Holy Runes—the mysterious symbols linked to the creation of the Binding spell itself. Now with her best friend Adam and the haughty Lady Navinka, Eliza must journey across Azaria to forge a power great enough to break her curse.

The Binding isn’t going down without a fight, though, and the runes aren’t without ill effects of their own. As if that wasn’t enough, a dark cult seeking revenge is out for Eliza, and she must deal with her troubled feelings for Ryan and Adam. Struggling on all fronts just to survive, Eliza’s freedom will be hard-earned, but will the final price be too much to pay?


Sam’s other fabulous books!

The Binding515I4HohFjL._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_[1]

Thank you, Sam. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing medical drone ship has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!


Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

The Artist

050 - Copy

She squeezed the cadmium in a bright yellow streak across the palette.

She had painted in every medium, every material possible, but she still loved the richness of oils – that wonderful buttery smear of vivid colour, the smell of the linseed, the texture of the paint as it glided across the canvas.

All of it seemed more real to her than anything else. A life of its own, raw, visceral.

She dipped the sable brush in her own concoction of white spirit and linseed, to thin the paint whilst keeping the gloss. Too much white spirit would dull the verdant hues, too little would make them too sticky, too slick.

Her movements were erratic, not the usual smooth motions of wandering mind and sparkling imagination. She’d often complete a commission in a daze, almost unaware of where she was or what she was doing. Her conscious self, the side of her that was always acutely cautious, would be suppressed, allowing her hands to take over, her fingers to find the form she wanted.

That was where the magic lay…not in the end result, but in its creation.

Today was different.

Today, she was painting for her life.

The music swelled to a crescendo, pushing her adrenaline forward, hurrying her hand. The mottled texture of the canvas swirled before her eyes, a flamenco dance of colours.

Titanium white, a flash of cerulean, a dab of burnt umber and then the thinning haze of vermillion, red as flesh, peering out at her, reminding her of her slowing heart, the constrictions of her arteries, the pulsating electricity through her veins, which told her she was running out of time.

She worked fast now, pounding the canvas until the wooden stretcher creaked beneath the pressure.

The outside noises had faded away. No traffic, no loud Saturday night voices and wailing sirens. It was silent everywhere but inside her head.

Mixing now, hurried new hues emerging from the clogged up mess. Phaltho blue enriching the green she had created, a hint of lemon, a sparkle of ultra-marine.

Throat dry now. Hands shaking, fingers slipping on the brush shaft.

She HAD to finish this.

Shadows clouded her vision. The music soared as eyes emerged from the canvas, eyes she knew so well, eyes staring into her soul, accusing her, condemning her, gloating at her demise.

“I won’t give in, I won’t!” she muttered feverishly.

Mars black, thick and glossy, impenetrable, unfathomable…she was losing the fight.

“Why did you leave me?”

Amber liquid pooled in the crevices, little streaks finding a route through the strokes, dripping in splashes at her feet.

She was always fighting gravity, as most women do. Always fighting, yes, her whole life she had been fighting.

Through the gloom, the full image stared back at her.

“So, you finally painted me? Finally… It only took you fifty years,” it sneered.

“I…I couldn’t do it before. I couldn’t see you,” she stuttered.

The painting smiled at her. “Are you pleased with yourself?”

“No…no…I, just had to see you. I had to say sorry.”

“But it’s too late for that now, isn’t it?”

She dropped to her knees. Her chest compressing in on itself, pain shooting through her shoulder, her arm, down her right side. She knew what this was.

“I need you to…forgive me.” She panted, fighting to breathe, her jeans soaking up the puddles of paint on the floor, seeping slowly through the fibres to her bruised knees beneath.


The painting watched as she slumped forward, struggling to keep conscious, fighting as she had done her whole existence, fighting to try and hold onto something…love.

“Please…” her voice was raspy, desperate, forcing itself through closing valves, through density of flesh, through spasms of life.

The painting stared down at her as the music floundered.

Thump, thump, thump…

“You don’t deserve forgiveness,” it whispered to her coolly. “You know what you deserve.”

Thump, thump…


“You let her die, didn’t you? What did you do to save her?”

“I tried…I…”

The painting took pity on the thing before it, crumpled like an old newspaper, suddenly a child itself, curling up as an infant, as her infant had been curled up when she found it, smashed by the roadside, barely recognisable. Her baby, her life, gone, snuffed out in a moment of stupidity and violence.

It had been her fault, she was late. She should have been there as she had promised. Instead her daughter had taken a ride with a friend, a drunken friend. What was left behind didn’t even resemble a car anymore.

It had been her fault.

“Pleaseeee…” she drooled, words slurred, barely audible.

The painting sighed, better to quicken her misery than give her hope. “No.”





Sophie E Tallis © 2013