Making Hay with Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry and Chris Riddell!

On Monday 29th May 2017, I had the good fortune to drive to the beautiful Welsh/Herefordshire border town of Hay-on-Wye and its world famous Hay Literary Festival. The Hay Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, so it felt like an extra special treat. My reason for going, apart from the fact that Hay-on-Wye is a book lovers paradise, was because I had tickets to see Neil Gaiman in conversation with Stephen Fry on the subject of ‘Mythology’, two authors and people I greatly admire and a topic I love and am a little obsessed with – a perfect day out! 😀

I’ve been to Hay and its festival many times now but it always feels like the first time, that tangible sense of excitement and child like joy just stays with me every time. I’ve been wanting to see Neil Gaiman for ages but somehow had always missed him, often because I’d bought early bird tickets to see someone else before realising that Gaiman was appearing as well. As much as I love Hay it’s just too far to go twice in a week (every route there is fiddly as hell), and too expensive and booked up to even consider staying the night. Last time, I was at the festival to see Kazuo Ishiguro and his brilliant new book The Buried Giant and had once again missed Neil Gaiman. The irony was that Ishiguro was discussing the incredible snobbery he had encountered when he decided to write The Buried Giant, his first foray into fantasy, and how he had had no idea just what genre bias, prejudice and misconceptions there was in literary circles about fantasy. In fact, Ishiguro had been so taken aback by the level of snobbery towards fantasy that he ended up, with Neil Gaiman, writing a newspaper article about it!

So when the festival programme landed on my door two weeks ago and I saw Neil Gaiman would be appearing with another favourite of mine, Stephen Fry, it was a no brainer, I booked my ticket immediately. To my delight, a couple of friends had booked up the exact same event so we were able to meet up and sit next to each other. A shout out to the lovely Roz Clarke a brilliant fellow fantasy writer from Grimbold Books (who’s not only a great writer but is an amazing editor as well as being a lovely person) and Heather Ashley, another lovely mutual friend and her fabulous fringed blue shawl which I wanted to steal and two new friends I met on Monday, Ian Halverson and Amanda Beecham who was wearing the most gorgeous dress!

I drove to Hay hoping to avoid the predicted rain as well as all the poor squashed hedgehogs along the route. My accompanying soundtrack was Soundgarden’s Superunknown album, made all the more poignant by the tragic suicide of its glorious frontman and all round poetic genius, Chris Cornell less than two weeks before. The track ‘Feels Like Suicide’, a track I had always loved now seems too loaded with meaning and full of sadness to listen to. 😦

I arrived a little late (as usual), just after 1pm. Note to all people travelling to Hay-on-Wye, don’t EVER go through Hereford, REALLY not worth it! Anyway, after a security check of bags (a sad necessity these days especially post the horrific Manchester attack the previous Monday) and the armed police that were patrolling the festival, I met up with the gang in the Food Hall. What made it more joyous, is that only Heather had been to Hay before so for Roz, Ian and Amanda this was all a gloriously new experience. We wandered past the various tents, bunting and fluttering flags like Tibetan prayers to the gods, past the smells of barbecuing foods, coffee’s of every description, acoustic music, pan pipes, fiddles and the general hubbub caused by the thousands of festival goers.

We grabbed a shuttle bus into town and started our book crawl opposite Hay-on-Wye’s impressive ruined castle…by going to Shepherd’s Ice-Cream Parlour! Yes, ice cream came before books! 😀 Shepherd’s is an amazing place straight out of the 1930’s with it’s curved glass façade, mosaic floor and café chic vibe, but it’s ice cream…oh la la! The queues were totally worth it! Made from local sheep’s milk, for me, it’s the best ice cream outside of Italy. I was a little pig and had four scoops spread over two tubs! 😀

We began exploring Hay-on-Wye’s delights by visiting the famous Richard Booth’s bookshop – THIS is the sort of bookshop you dream about, all creaking dark wooden floors and interior and several levels to get blissfully lost in. Having the will power of a gnat, I succumbed and bought my first of many purchases of the day!

We went on to Addyman’s Books, Mostly Maps and one of my personal favourites, Hay-On-Wye Booksellers. The magical thing about Hay-on-Wye, is that it casts a spell over you so utterly that you lose track of time even if you’ve only been in a few of its wonderful bookshops. Which is what happened to us. We didn’t even get the chance to meander around Hay’s largest bookshop, Hay Cinema Bookshop with over 200,000 titles! Suddenly it was 5pm and with our Neil Gaiman/Stephen Fry event starting at 5:30 in the main Tata Tent, we had to move our arses. With the queue for the shuttle buses impossibly long we decided to chance walking the mile and a bit from the town centre to the festival. We made it in time and joined the expansive queue – in all my years of going to Hay, I’ve never seen a queue for anybody as long as that one! We eventually got into the Tent and in my exuberance to grab five seats together I virtually trampled on this poor woman who had sat herself at the very end of a line of empty seats. Oops sorry! :O

The event started and to our amazement we had an extra treat, up on stage joining Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry was Children’s Laureate and illustrator extraordinaire, Chris Riddell (a FB friend of mine and someone I am in complete awe of). Chris was on stage throughout actually illustrating the conversation on the spot! Amazing! I have no idea how he does it!

The conversation started with Stephen Fry asking Neil about how he first got into mythology, a subject they are both passionate about (Stephen Fry loves Greek Myths which he talked about a bit, whereas Neil Gaiman prefers Norse Myths – hence his new book, Norse Mythology). For Neil Gaiman it was Norse Mythology and its roots, not the Wagnerian Cycle stuff but the older original Eddas, tales of Odin, Thor, Loki and giant wolf Fenrir, of magic and cruelty, tricks and betrayal, that he loved so much. Certainly very inspirational stuff, no wonder Tolkien often plundered such tales for his own creations! Neil spoke eloquently about Loki’s children, particularly Týr and read a section of his new book, Norse Mythology, and how Odin had made the dwarfs make an unbreakable chain, Gleipnir, and had tricked Fenrir into being bound up by it because they were jealous of his strength and power. I won’t spoil the end of the tale for those of you who are not familiar. 🙂

Stephen Fry, as always, had a lovely relaxed style of questioning that made both men at ease, even under the intense stare of some 500 audience members and all the bright lights. Chris Riddell brought there conversations alive with beautifully drawn snapshots of both sitters and the various mythological characters they discussed, as well as some cheekily flamboyant moments of drawing hilarity!

The entire experience was utterly magical. I really wish I had brought a Dictaphone or something to record it all. It lasted just over a hour with some question and answer bits from the audience, including one girl asking if as writers did Gaiman and Fry ever feel like a God themselves? Clever question. Neil Gaiman replied “Yes, twice. Once when I was asked to write a Dr. Who script and I wrote… ‘Interior Tardis’, and once 30 years before that when I had to make Batman say something!” You can see the whole talk here.

Someone also asked if Gaiman would be interested in ever doing some Welsh Myths, like the Mabinogion…he didn’t say no! 😀 For someone like me, who ADORES any kind of mythology, but particularly Norse, Celtic and ancient Sumerian tales (Epic of Gilgamesh), this whole event was simply edible! 😀

After it finished I did my usual gazelle sprint to the festival bookshop, to queue up for the book signing. Despite my stumpy legs and swift weaving through the crowds, there were still about a hundred people in front of us, including the annoying serial fidget who was sitting next to me and could keep still for ore than a few seconds, making my chair move so much I was getting nauseous! But, we still managed to secure a good place, seeing as the queue snaked behind me by at least 2 or 3 hundred people!

Despite aching legs and complaining feet we queued and queued. Due to the number of people waiting Neil could only signed two books, but frankly he was amazing and ended up book signing for 5 hours! OMG! Anyway, being the naughty shit that I am and being a fan of his writing, I couldn’t resist in doing something cheeky. When it came to him singing the books I bought, his Norse Mythology and Stardust, I blurted out that I was a fan of his writing and wanted to give him a gift to say thank you. I wasn’t as eloquent as I wanted to be and slapped my novel, White Mountain, down on his table like a wet fish, but he was very gracious and seemed to love the cover. “Wow, lovely to meet a fellow author!” then to my amazement he stretched out his hand for a handshake! Gulp! What a moment, then he went and drew a doodle in one of the books!

After the book signing, exhausted but blissfully happy we said our goodbyes. It was nearly 8:30 but thankfully still light, so with the sun setting I left Hay-on-Wye and this my most favourite of festivals and taking a different route I drove through the majestic landscapes of the Golden Valley homeward bound.

What a magical day! 😀

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Writing 101 – writing tips by Morgen Bailey

More invaluable advice from the ‘Queen of Blogs’ herself, maestro, Morgen Bailey. Here are some fantastic writing tips to improve and tighten that manuscript! Pull up a chair, make yourself comfy and get your pen and paper ready, you’ll need to take notes. 😀

MorgEn Bailey - Editor, Comp Columnist/Judge, Tutor & Writing Guru

In the absence of a guest blog today, I thought I’d bring you the contents of my Writing 101 (tips) page, just in case you’ve not explored this site (there’s a lot to see). Regardless of how much you’ve written (for me over 400 short stories / flash fiction, a bit of poetry and seven novels), we can all still learn. Let me know (in the comments box below) what struck a cord with you and if you have any tips of your own, please add those too and I’ll include them on the Writing 101 (tips) page, credited to you of course.

Also see ExercisesIdeas and Sentence starts, and for those living in the UK, I shall be running some Northampton Writing Courses from January 2014. Anyway, on to the reason for this page…

At 5am on Wednesday 24th October 2012, I woke up to a message from my Facebook…

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Garth Nix and the Writing Process

Another great piece about the construction process of writing, this time from the great, Garth Nix, thanks to Proseia for this! 😀

The Fall (Garth Nix novel)

P. Rose Copeland

For anyone familiar with the Abhorsen Trilogy (as you all should be!), I’ve dug up one of my favorite links from Garth Nix, wherein he describes his take on the process of writing a novel.

Simply titled “How I Write: the Process of Creating a Book,”  the piece walks inquiring minds through the surprisingly approachable steps that this particular author takes when writing. I found this shortly after I started to become more interested in the structure of stories and more deliberate in my study of the writing process, and it got the gears moving in a way that none of my other resources did. I’d like to share it on the off-chance that it may help others as well.

 

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The Last Letter

3

Dear Someone,

I’m glad you have found this little place, my haven. It has sheltered me for over fifteen months. I do not know if the world beyond has changed. I hope with all my heart that it has. I hope that somewhere, even if it isn’t here, but somewhere, there are children playing. I hope people are making their way to work, slurping cups of coffee between quick bites to eat. I hope there is traffic. Oh, how I miss traffic! The sound of the engine humming along, the thud of rubber tyres running fast on cement, exhaust fumes. Yes…I miss traffic almost as much as I miss the birds. I hope the world you find yourself in has returned from the brink of insanity that I left it in. I hope somewhere, that there are people who still make sandwiches and load washing machines.

Please forgive my ramblings. I’m tired and well, I didn’t know how to write this letter. How does anyone write a letter in these times? Perhaps this is the last letter left. I hope not. I should be filling it with profound sayings, teachings I’ve learnt, some kind of knowledge. I’m sorry it’s not better than this. I find it hard to clarify my thoughts these days, words somehow, just don’t seem enough.

You should know that there are provisions here for one person for a year, if there are more of you, oh how I wish there is, then you can ration them to make them last longer. The tinned peaches are particularly good! There are matches under the stove and a flint head to make sparks should you use the matches up. The tank collects plenty of rainwater so that will be fine, just be sure not to turn the tap too tightly. It’s a little rusty and sticks, I had been meaning to fix that. The toilet is just a bucket, I’m afraid, there’s a stagnant pond nearby that I throw the slops in, don’t be tempted to dispose of them by the door, and DON’T use the house, it’s not safe. There are some fresh clothes under the bunk and some other useful stuff. There’s a gun under there too, but, I’m afraid I only have 12 bullets. Use only dry wood for the stove so it doesn’t smoke and leave the junk on top of the chimney, it disguises the vent. I’m sure I’m forgetting things. Make sure you use the periscope before you go out. It looks dumb I know, but it actually works! My uncle had built this place as a bomb shelter years ago, then converted it into a playhouse complete with periscope, when my brother and I were kids…that was long before any of this madness.

I don’t really know what else to say. Stay quiet, stay locked in, especially when you’re sleeping. If you have to go out, only go out at night and keep low. If you do get spotted, the door will shut and lock tight and should hold even against a gun blast. There is an emergency tunnel behind the stove if things get bad but I’ve no idea if it’s safe or even where it goes to.

Sorry. This letter should be better. I have no advice really that I can give you. I used to believe in god. I used to go to church every Sunday. I used to do a lot of things.

I hope the world has changed for you, that the sky is blue again and the trees are green and the birds have returned. I still dream of fields of soft green grass and buttercups and butterflies! Yes, butterflies!

Good luck.

I’m going to join my family now.

Goodbye,

From Mrs Dean Mitchell, the last grandmother. xx

*****

(Sophie E Tallis © 2013 – ‘flash fiction’ for writing challenge competition on theme of letters)

(check this letter out and many more stories on ReadWave: http://www.readwave.com/the-last-letter_s11823 )

Hot Insomnia

Sunshine

The silver shimmer slid away,

Light dancing on water,

Heat haze above the roads.

As dusk falls, and the air cools

I think I hear the sigh of the sea.

Hot insomnia abounds

Winding, clinging sheets

And suffocating downs.

Wet behind ears,

Stingy eyes, sticky arms,

The closeness of thunder without the storm.

I dream of sparkling oceans and their breeze

The cascade of waterfalls,

The tinkle of ice in glass

And tender coldness under foot of grass.

These stifling sleepless nights,

And breathless airless days,

Sun baked earth, windless sky,

So uncommon to our verdant shores,

This ancient rain-soaked isle

So used to washed out summers,

Now sizzles in July.

Sophie E Tallis © 2013

piercing sunshine

Versatile, yes…but very forgetful – The forgotten awards!!!

Okay, to my regular visitors, you lovely shiny happy people, you’ll know that due to illness I have not been the consistent blogger I used to be, and have been rather sporadic in my posts over the last few months, something I hope to correct soon.

Anyway, to my delight I was nominated for two blog awards! –  The Versatile Blogger award and the Liebster Award. Amazing, yes, fantastic and humbling, definitely, but here comes the embarrassing bit…

The gorgeous and very talented writer, Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/), kindly nominated me for the Liebster Award back in May – thank you Kay! But it was, ahem…over a year ago when she nominated me for The Versatile Blogger award! *cringes* Oops, sorry!

I really am the definition of the absent minded blogger! So, VERY belatedly, I’m accepting The Versatile Blogger award first. 😀

So, here are the rules:

I have to say seven things about myself and nominate fifteen others for the award, so here goes! *gulp*

  1. I’m a complete nerd with a deep love of comic book superheroes, dragons, and basically anything to do with fantasy and science-fiction. Yes, I love DC and Marvel comics EQUALLY, how could I really choose between my spidey and batman? However, I hate Dr Who, I like my sci-fi/fantasy to be ultra high quality (BSG – Battlestar Galactica & Games of Thrones girl here). But I still have a fondness for the wobbly sets of Blake’s 7 and Red Dwarf! English: Opening logo to the Star Wars films
  2. The first film I ever saw at the cinema, was Star Wars in 1977, I was 4yrs old (yes, I am that old!). I screamed and ducked down in the seat during the opening titles because I thought the starship was going to hit my head! That was it – I was HOOKED!!!! I still have some of my original Star Wars figures!
  3. One of my dreams, other than being able to fly like Man of Steel or kick butt like Buffy, is to go to America at least once and attend the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, a feast for any fanboy and fantasy freak! I hear the marvellous Henry Cavill is attending a panel and signing autographs there Saturday 20th July…mmmm…sigh! 🙂

    A Comic Con sign.

    A Comic Con sign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  4. I’m an avid film buff with an enormous collection of films, including some wonderfully obscure ones. My favourite actors are Al Pacino, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Christian Bale. My favourite actresses are Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Juliette Binoche and Judy Dench, though I think Jennifer Lawrence is great. Favourite film? …oh that changes so much! Betty Blue, Les Enfants du Pont Neuf, Star Wars & Empire Strikes Back, Godfather 1 & 2, Leon, Blade Runner, Three Colours Blue, The Dark Knight Trilogy, 2001 Space Odyssey, Gladiator, LOTR trilogy, Watchmen, Man of Steel, Insomnia, Memento (yes, I love Christopher Nolan movies) Frankie & Johnny – did I say I have eclectic tastes? Chinatown, London. Benedict Cumberbatch during...
  5. I LOVE New Zealand after having spent four glorious months there back in 1997/1998, just travelling around with my backpack and loving every second of it! Not only was it a life changing experience, the adventure, the freedom, the people, the amazing landscapes, but that 4 month odyssey also inspired my debut novel, White Mountain. Without that trip, my Darkling Trilogy would never have come to pass. A few years later, after I’d already begun writing the novel, I saw my beloved New Zealand again when watching the LOTR films. A truly mesmeric and freaky experience, as unlike the majority of the audience watching it with me, I had actually BEEN to most of the locations they filmed in, and the same extraordinary landscapes that inspired Peter Jackson, had inspired me! His Mordor was parts of my Fendellin, his Fangorn was my Grey Forest, and Aoraki itself – Mount Cook, WAS my White Mountain!  75
  6. I’d love to travel more as I used to, revisit Russia, Andorra, Italy and New Zealand. I’d especially love to do the world’s longest and wildest train journey, the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladisvostok. I’d also love to go to Tibet and Mongolia and rent a car and drive across America, road trip style. More adventures needed! 😀
  7. I ADORE my two white wolves, my family & friends, Marmite, my lightsabre, my ability to dream in 3 dimensions and cinema surround sound – which doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep but wow are my dreams vivid! (I’m an awful insomniac), my book collection, my gorgeous garden, nature, landscapes, the ocean, art, photography, chess, maps, the stars…life!

There you go! 😀

Right, now for nominating others, this is really hard as I know SO many great bloggers out there that deserve this award…in NO order whatsoever!

  1. Lindsey Parsons – http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/
  2. Tricia Drammeh – http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/ &  http://theclaimingwords.com/
  3. AFE Smith – http://www.afesmith.com/blog.html
  4. Kate Jack – http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/
  5. Will Macmillan Jones – http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/
  6. Andrea Baker – http://www.andreabakerauthor.com/ & http://rosewallauthor.wordpress.com/
  7. Gretchen Steen – http://www.gretchensteen.com/ & http://gretchensteen.blogspot.com/
  8. Ryan Holmes – http://griffinsquill.com/
  9. Jane Dougherty – http://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
  10. Susan Finlay – http://susansbooks37.wordpress.com/
  11. Debbie Young – http://youngbyname.wordpress.com/ & http://offtheshelfbookpromotions.wordpress.com/
  12. Emily Mckeon – http://theabsenteeblogger.blogspot.com/
  13. Lisa Scullard – http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/ & http://hardinkcafe.wordpress.com/
  14. Ashen Venema – http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/
  15. Lisa Weidmeier – http://lisawiedmeier.blogspot.com/ & http://lisawiedmeier.com/
  16. Okay, I know I’m not allowed more than 15 nominees, but some of these were previously nominated for this same award so I HAVE to include a couple more. The wonderful multi-talented and extremely versatile, Morgen Bailey – http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/
  17. And the marvellous fantasy author, John Lucas Hargis – http://johnlucashargis.wordpress.com/

A HUGE thank you to fellow member of the Alliance of Worldbuilders http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com/index.html, the wonderful Kay Kauffman – fantasy author extraordinaire, for her very kind nomination!

Please check out Kay’s stunning blog, full of heart warming poetry that leaps off the screen, tips on writing and her journey to becoming a published author and much much more! Thank you honey – http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/ 😀

Author Essentials: Go there…

Making it real, no matter what genre you write in…  😀

Hard Ink Café

Sophie E Tallis in New Zealand

If your imaginary world is rich in geographical detail, at least in your mind’s eye, you need to get out there and soak it up in order to transfer the experience to the reader. Sophie E Tallis was already travelling when she started to think about writing her epic fantasy adventures.

You may be the writer, stuck at your desk – but the reader can be anyone, anywhere in the world. And if you’re imagining any part of the world that your reader knows, you need to impart knowledge and inspire empathy. If the reader doesn’t recognise the Oxford Street that they pass through on the way to work every day, because you’re writing about it from your cul-de-sac in Bexhill-on-Sea and the closest you ever got to Central London was Tunbridge Wells, then perhaps a one-day travelcard wouldn’t go amiss in your research.

Even if your world is invented…

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