A Year of Wonder…!

Today, is a special day – not just the 1st of a new month (pinch punch sort of thing), and the first day of the festive season (I LOVE Christmas and yes, I already have my trees up and decorated and excitedly switched the lights on this morning before work :D!) … BUT today marks the 1 year anniversary of my novel, WHITE MOUNTAIN, being published! YAY!!!!!! 😀9781909845978[1]

A year ago today, my epic fantasy was born or should I say re-born in all its glory by a fantastic publisher, Grimbold Books, who prizes quality above anything else and who truly GOT IT!

I owe them so many thanks, not least for producing a book of tremendous quality from the awesome cover to the calligraphy inside, from the production values to the formatting of text and my illustrations (a fiddly thing at the best of times…when was the last time you read an illustrated novel?), (thank you to Alex Bardy the God of Typesetting!). Everything was done with care and more than a pinch of love and I genuinely think it shows. Grimbold Books and Kristell Ink also restored my very shaken faith in the integrity and honesty of people after my dreadful first publisher experience. To say Grimbold are the polar opposite to the cretins I first signed with, would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions! So, a massive thank you to Sammy HK Smith and Zoe Harris for taking a chance on me and everyone at Team Grimbold…I love you guys! 😀 xxx White Mountain full book jacket

So, on this happy book anniversary it seems fitting to take a breath and look back at the wondrous whirlwind year its been and share a few of the highlights!

1st Dec 2014 – My reaction was as always, understated and subtle… 😀 SAM_5228

To my delight, not only did White Mountain gain lots of new readers and admirers but many fans of the first flawed book bought the second improved version too, just to read how the story should have been told. Thank you to all my fans, old and new! I really appreciate your support! ❤ xxx 10407894_10153042995986950_697215546084611716_n[1]

After my first ever Book Fair at the Welsh ICE Book Fair on 29th Nov, I followed that up by my first ever reading in Bristol at the ‘Fairies at the bottom of the garden’ event Sat 13th Dec. I was VERY nervous, but it was great fun. 😀 10614253_846486532082170_6044863703050848758_n[1]

After another successful book signing at the lovely Books & Pontyclun bookshop on December 20th where I formed a great friendship with Book Lady extraordinaire and White Mountain mega-fan, Emily Hannah Rogers now Mrs Emily Hannah King! (She’s on her honeymoon trip around the world…I was hoping to sneak inside her suitcase when I heard she was going to my beloved New Zealand!). SAM_5401

The new year brought yet more wonderful signings and ‘booky’ events. Signing at the fab Books On The Hill Bookshop in Clevedon in February with Alistair Sims and Chloe, lol, and being photographed for the Somerset Times Newspaper…gulp! My signing at Books On The Hill

In March, my second Book Fair and more signings this time at prestigious Chepstow Bookshop in the shoes of my hero David Attenborough! Thank you to Matt and to my lovely mate Will who popped along to say “Hello!”

April, saw me attending my very first Literary Festival as an author and illustrator for the inaugural Hawkesbury-Upton Lit Fest organised by self-published author extraordinaire, Debbie Young, to celebrate World Book Night. 51LK1eQJXNL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_[1]My poetry readings (my first ever) went down a storm and my White Mountain reading got people so hooked they grabbed another few sales! Yay! I also meet famous author, Katie Fforde, who posed for a photo op! 😀 SAM_6754

The month of May was busy busy busy, juggling illustration commissions and lots of events, the highlights being another signing at lovely Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester and my third public book reading as part of BristolCon Fringe alongside fellow fantasy author, Ben Galley. May also saw me going see one of my favourite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro, at the Hay Festival – where he signed two books for me and chatted about the prejudice the fantasy genre faces from the literarti, what an awesome experience! SAM_6855 (2)

In June, White Mountain continued to soar in the Amazon charts and gained yet more wonderful REVIEWS – THANK YOU! This little blog seemed to explode, with a couple of days gaining over 600 visitors each day! Yet more illustrations and yes, lots of writing, including a dark fairy-tale short story, ‘The Orphan and The Iron Troll’ The Orphan and the Iron Trollto be published in upcoming dark anthology, Shadows Of The Oak and a gritty sci-fi space opera short story, ‘Silent Running’ for the upcoming awesome Fight Like A Girl anthology alongside big fantasy hitters like Juliet E McKenna, Danie Ware, Gaie Sebold, K.T. Davies, Kim Lakin-Smith, Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall among others! Wow! Very honoured and rather humbled to be in such company. (gulp) Fight-Like-A-Girl-V2-400ppi[1]

July was hot and awesome in equal measure…but the highlight of highlights had to be the honour of being invited as an author and illustrator to take part in the prestigious Cirencester Literary Festival, running my own illustration workshop as one of the main events! The place, Bingham Gallery in Cirencester, was absolutely PACKED! The event was a tremendous success and went brilliantly, and I even managed to control my nerves! July also saw me starting my Distant Worlds author interview series on this blog, which has been such fun and has had such a tremendous response. 😀 CJi9mo3WEAAGHFn[1] (2)11059440_1736544409906170_5015057545228280997_n[1]11822572_1736544419906169_8415676657590741700_n[1]11406151_1717954358431842_1815668094057261589_o1[1]

September, apart from my birthday (gulp), saw the eventual release of the Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB) first anthology, A World Of Their Own, the fruition of four years hard work. The anthology is dedicated to my dear friend and fellow AWB member, Lindsey J Parsons who died so suddenly in January 2014, with ALL profits from the book going to charity – so it makes the perfect Christmas present. 10628434_901588523202885_688426025216875644_n[1]

I still miss Linds so much, especially late at night when my insomnia kicks in and I need to talk to someone and bounce ideas of…or chat stupidly like we often did until 3am! 😦

Anyway, after the anthology publication the rest of the month was dominated by the insanely cool BristolCon run by Joanne Hall. It took place at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel in Bristol, where I was not only attending as an author on my first ever panel (alongside Jasper Fforde) but was also CHAIRING a panel on the apt subject of Libraries. I also got to finally meet Emma Newman which was very cool as was seeing my mate, Joanne Hall, have her awesome book launch! SAM_7710

October was a mad blur of more book fairs and signings but the highlight was an epically AWESOME 5 days up in Nottingham with my fellow Grimbold band of brothers and sisters for FantasyCon!!!! WOW!!! Where to start? Such cool panels, talks, lots of fun events, me singing Blondie and Adele at my first ever Karaoke…and yes, I didn’t completely embarrass myself! Meeting Brandon Sanderson, hanging out with my new cool friends, eating copious amounts of pizza, cake and burgers (diet was on hiatus), Steven Poore (fellow Grimbold cat) having his awesome book launch at the Con, SAM_8039playing Cards Against Humanity and my 1981 board-game, Dark Tower and cheering on the wonderful Adele Wearing of Fox Spirit Books as they won Best Independent Press at the British Fantasy Awards. SAM_8064Highlights, have to be my decision to make a visual record of the Con by sketching people. Amongst some decidedly dodgy drawings (sorry Jo, I will draw you again honey and do a better job!), I got to eventually meet the very cool Jen Williams who I’d missed at BristolCon. Not only did Jen and Brandon sign the sketches I did of them, Jen very kindly posed for a piccie with it too! SO COOL!!! 😀 SAM_7981Had SUCH an amazing time! SAM_8100SAM_7917

Then, suddenly it was November and my fellow cool Grimbold cat and talented writer, Kate Coe (who I shared a hotel room with and who had to put up with my snoring!), had encouraged me to do something I have been avoiding since 1999…National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWrMo (Nano)! NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-Square[1]

Knowing what a slow sod I am when it comes to writing, yes hopefully I write quality stuff, but do I need to be so goddamn slow? – well, knowing that, how could I of all people possibly hope to write a massive 50,000 words in just one month. Geared up by Kate’s enthusiasm that I could in fact do it…I plunged into it head long! I also took part in a little sword fighting play at Kate’s place for one of the Nano Write-In’s with Adrian Faulkner, a master swordsman and very cool fantasy writer. 12196097_10153633033412254_1672540370840878677_n[1]SAM_7910

So, November was spent ignoring emails, ignoring the TV, Facebook, friends and relatives and just writing, writing, writing…and…on Sunday 29th November, a whole day early for my first ever Nano…I achieved my impossible goal, I reached 50,143 words of my new dark fantasy, RAVENWING. Ravenwing

That was two days ago, and I’m still reeling from it. For me, this Nano challenge was also a deeply personal and important one. I wasn’t just challenging myself to write a huge amount of words in a short time, I was challenging my illness and saying YES, I CAN DO THIS! Nano Winner 2015 Certificate

As many of my friends know, I was struck down by a nasty illness a couple of years ago and that has badly impacted on my writing, making me slower again but also making the sheer effort and mental strain of concentrating for the longer periods needed to write, very very difficult indeed. This has meant that the sequel to my beloved, White Mountain, has been very slow in the making (a big thank you again to my VERY patient publishers!). So…for me, Nano was also an opportunity to show myself that I can do it, to kickstart my White Mountain sequel, and that’s what I intend to do!

So…to start as I mean to continue, here is an exclusive for all my White Mountain fans…

The sequel, DARKLING RISEis coming (promise), but to tide you all over…there will be two brand NEW White Mountain short stories published next year!!!!

A Friendship Forged – is a wonderful back story of how Mr. Agyk and Gralen first meet with some awesome fight sequences and more than a few hints about Book 2 and tie-in events from White Mountain.

The Siege of Kallorm – is the back story of Korrun, why he is such an angst character. It charts his fateful fall from grace, from being a hero figure, the Captain of the Kallorm City Guard to becoming a vilified, hated figure after he makes the worst of mistakes. Can you ever atone for your sins? The Siege of Kallorm sketch

Both new stories are coming soon…watch this space!

***

So…there you go, a year of madness, mayhem, wonderful weirdness, lots of ‘firsts’, and a real personal turning point.

I wonder…what on earth will the next year bring?!

See you all there, for yet more fun…roll on 2016! 😀 xxxxx

AWB Illustration Unicorn BattleAWB Illustration Archer

😀 ❤ xxxxx

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Passing 8,000 and looking to the future…what will 2013 bring you?

This is none of your business, get a life!

Well, 2013 is here, all shiny and new and wanting our attention like a hyperactive puppy.

But before looking to the future, take a moment to reflect on the past 12 months. What kind of a year was 2012 for you?

For me, it was a mad year, a one-off never to be forgotten year. Full of incredible hard work, a lot of stresses, but some truly amazing highs.

The year started in a chaotic fashion. I’d literally moved house two days before Christmas. Having bought the last scrawny looking tree for £8 in B&Q, I was putting it up Christmas Eve amidst a sea of boxes! Although moving house is always exciting, the Christmas of 2011 was a difficult one. Everything that could go wrong with the house did. We lost our electricity, had no central heating, the oven imploded, the plumbing leaked if it worked at all…basically we were cold and hungry, oh, and we had no phones until the second week of January. It’s weird, but you never know how much you rely on phones and the internet until you have none, especially at Christmas time!349

But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Things get fixed, better than they were before. Our money pit of a house turned into a dream home and my gorgeous white wolves have never been happier!

But 2012 really kicked off with my childhood dream of becoming a published writer coming true…!

Amazon UK

And of course, I started this little unassuming blog on January 26th, as a way of charting my life and experiences to date, my journey towards publication, sharing writing tips and ideas, poems and stories, little life lessons learnt etc. Writing, fantasy, epic storytelling, life, creativity and everything in between!

THAT was my motto and still is.

Well, in less than a year that ‘little unassuming blog’ has enjoyed tremendous success with over 8,500 views, far beyond anything I could have envisioned!

2012 rolled on…and with each passing month came a new milestone.

My first book, my first interview, then my second and third and fourth and so on. Long before my debut novel, White Mountain, was even published the pre-orders started pouring in. A HUGE thank you to all those wonderful early supporters, my Dragon Friends, thank you thank you thank you! Chapter Eighteen - Turn Of The Blade

Then came blog awards, newspaper articles and feature interviews. The momentum had taken on a life of its own.

Then, a few weeks after my birthday came the day I’d been waiting for since I was a 5 yr old kid. My first novel, White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles, was published 30th September 2012. A date indelibly imprinted on my brain and SUCH a good time to publish, part of that magical infamous Autumn push!

A week later and I had my book launch at Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester, a very prestigious independent bookshop which was voted runner-up in the Best Small Shops in Britain Awards by The Telegraph and was then shortlisted for Best Children’s Independent Bookshop in The Bookseller Industry Awards. It’s owner, Octavia Karavla, is a real mover and shaker in the book business and was shortlisted for Young Bookseller of the Year and has just been named one of The Bookseller’s ‘Rising Stars’. http://www.octaviasbookshop.co.uk Octavia's Bookshop signing 2012

Well, despite my nerves at my very first book signing event, the book launch was an enormous success and we SOLD OUT in just under two hours!!!! Not a single copy left! I just couldn’t believe it. Customers had to have their orders taken by Octavia and make do with a chat from me and a look at my illustrations!

thumbs_sophie-e-tallis[1]What a bizarre dream. The book had clearly found its feet and the buzz about was growing.

More interviews, more newspaper articles, a listing in The Cotswold Life Magazine, then I was approached by Readathon UK, a national reading charity supported by the likes of Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo, Michael Rosen, Anthony Horowitz, Julia Donaldson etc. THEY were interested in talking to me? Really? http://www.readathon.org/blog/2012/11/author-teacher-joins-forces-with-readathon/

I was dreaming…

The first reviews started coming in, no family members or sock puppets, no, genuine reviews and they were all loving the book. At one point and to my utter delight, White Mountain even found itself at no.9 of Amazon’s epic fantasy books!!!!

A hugely successful Waterstones book signing tour followed with high sales, a growing following and a real buzz about the book…my wildest dreams had come true!

That was my 2012…wow! I’m still waiting to catch my breath. 😀

Now to the New Year.

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions…do we ever really keep them? But amongst the chaos, I’m busily writing Book 2 of The Darkling Chronicles due out this Autumn, then the whole crazy game starts over again! 😀

Another goal for the year I’m intent on keeping, is to keep blogging.

So what will 2013 bring to YOU?

😀 xx

60 days – Catching the whirlwind!

Two months ago today a seismic shift in my life occurred, when I went from being an unpublished author to crossing that magical benchmark into being a published author. A quietly strange and profound experience…

The birth of my debut novel, White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles, the first of my epic fantasy trilogy, was born on 30th September 2012, amidst a rush of frenzied excitement and anxiety.

As with all new authors, and perhaps the grand stalwarts of our chosen genres, a thousand and one questions whizz through your head. Will it be well received? Will it sink without a trace? Will people like it…hell, will they love it? Am I up for the challenge? There is so much to learn, where do I start? Will the book sell? Will I be able to get publicity for it? How do I get the book noticed? Where and how do I get reviews? What happens if the book takes off? What happens if it doesn’t? etc.

So…what has happened in the intervening 60 days?

A whirlwind to be sure…

After the publication of my book, to date, I have had seven interviews including by the highly prestigious national organisation & charity, Readathon UK, supported by literary giants such as Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo, Michael Rosen, Anthony Horowitz, Julia Donaldson etc. http://www.readathon.org/blog/2012/11/author-teacher-joins-forces-with-readathon/ Great company to in, eh?   I’ve been in five local papers including photo feature pieces and a listing in The Cotswold Life Magazine no less, and have had an amazingly successful book launch event which completely sold out!   Then I have been on a whirlwind and very successful Waterstones book signing tour, selling my novel in high numbers, and am even booked up for author signing events at libraries and schools. In short, every weekend has been booked from September up to Christmas! And now…my first reviews have begun to filter in, and what amazing reviews they are! I couldn’t have hoped for better!

All in all…60 days of madness, mayhem and a monumental time indeed. Wow!

Yes, even an unknown indie author from a small independent publishing house CAN make an impact in the gargantuan world of books and publishing. If I can do it, juggling an extremely busy full-time job, working long hours which severely curb the amount of time I can spend on promotion etc, then YOU can do it too!

Be brave, be cheeky, ask questions, be proactive, do your homework…remember if you don’t ask you don’t get, the worst you can be told is ‘NO’, so what have you got to lose? 😀

Good luck to you all!!!  xxx

Book signing – what you need to know but were afraid to ask!!!

books[1]Okay…I’m jumping ahead here, but seeing as I just had my fourth book signing event on Saturday and have my next coming up this Saturday, I wanted to share the freaky experience of author book signing.

Think you’re ready people? I can guarantee you’re not!

Well, like many of us, my only ‘experience’ of book signing was watching it portrayed on TV and in film, i.e. a pretty exciting, thrilling glamorous thing, right? LOL!!!!!!  Oh dear… If you are a celebrity, you’ll have people thronging around you, lining up to get a glimpse of you and a signed copy of your latest tome. If you are a new writer…you’re a nobody. No lining people, unless it’s to the tills, no throngs.

Well, again, like every aspect of a writer’s journey, it will be unique to you. Some writer friends I know don’t do it all. Whether it’s because of time constraints or simply because they feel they can’t and don’t want to do the whole ‘selling’ thing, I don’t know. In fairness, it is an expensive venture, travelling, petrol, parking…it all adds up!

I must shout out though, to some brilliant surprises I had on my book launch at wonderful Octavia’s Bookshop, apart from selling out in an hour! Thank you to my gorgeous fellow fantasy writer, Lindsey J Parsons, turning up (a welcome distraction and lovely support) and my lovely and nutty mate Will Macmillan Jones who LOVES book signings – he has a natural confidence in talking to people and an ease when doing these events.

Octavia's Bookshop signing 2012Then there’s me…the nervous jelly in the corner. Cold sweats, lack of sleep, bitten nails, dodgy tummy, dry throat and well, a host of other nervous complaints. It IS hard and difficult but what nobody prepares you for, is that it is also one of the most totally bizarre experiences a human being is ever likely to find themselves in!

Exactly like walking down the street naked. That is how it feels…and no, I haven’t gone romping down the local lanes and roads starkers! But you feel utterly exposed and naked in a room of crowded strangers…yeap…prepare yourselves guys!

Firstly, you will have to decide on what approach suits you best. By now we all know the changed policy from Waterstone’s head office regarding signings, so NO pushy hard sell! It doesn’t work and it’s at least one of the reasons Waterstones cites for changing their policy, because they were getting complaints from customers who had literally been frog marched to the tills!

Remember you are selling your literary masterpiece, not a tin of beans. Nobody likes being hassled, especially if they’re in a bookshop quietly browsing…so back off. Always go with a relaxed soft sell approach.

That aside, you still need to decide how to do this. Do you stand and wander round the shop? Stay permanently seated at your table? Or a mixture of both? Sometimes the bookshop will tell you what they would like you to do, so you can just follow those guidelines.

My friends all do it slightly differently, which works for them. You’ll need to find out what works for YOU. For me…I just don’t have the confidence to wander, so I tend to stay permanently glued to my table and let people come up to me, or not.

Even though all the Waterstones staff I have met have been absolutely lovely, very friendly, welcoming, helpful and ply you with as much tea/coffee as you want, you will most likely be given a small round black table only a little bigger than a napkin, to display your books. So be prepared! 😉

You may be placed in the fantasy section, teen section, children’s section or by the doors, it totally depends on the store. If they are planning to place you right at the back, you can very sweetly ask if you could be moved. Remember they want you to be every bit as successful as you want to be. You sell a lot of books, it’s great for the store, great for you and most likely you’ll be asked back.

As far as symbiotic relationships go, it’s pretty good – they are the oak tree and you are the nourishing fungus at its roots! Ummm…now doesn’t that sound sexy?!

The next thing you need to be prepared for is…people. Lots of them, none of them, crowds jostling past you, ignoring you, bumping into you. People glancing at you and your book then thinking better of it, shy people wanting to approach but nervously edging past, brash people, “So, what’s it about?” You start your well rehearsed but genuine spiel, “Nah…not for me,” as they drop it on the pile with a clunk. You notice the smear of finger prints on the cover and quickly pop it to the bottom of the pile.

Also, depending on where you are stationed, be prepared for arses (asses for my lovely American friends) and lots of them as you see them leave the shop having NOT bought your book, or worse still, as they queue at the tills and the queue goes back to you. Suddenly you’re sitting in a forest of people’s legs, backs and arses, totally obscured! 😛

You’ll find yourself with a gentle fixed smile, trying not to look desperate as you shift your weight, stare aimlessly into middle distance or try to make eye contact and lightly engage passersby with a, “good morning,” you check your watch. Damn it! It’s 12:30pm. So you change tact to, “good afternoon”.

Or you start to play ‘spot the fantasy fan’ – a fun game which entails eyeing everyone coming into the shop and trying to place which section they’ll head for. Even though I’ve only done 4 signings so far (my amazing book launch at Octavia’s Bookshop and three lovely Waterstones branches to date, with more going right up to Christmas) I’m getting pretty good at this detective game.

But the frustration comes, if you see someone heading and then lingering in the fantasy section and before you can get a chance to talk to them, they’ve left the shop carrying a Robert Jordan, G.R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, David Brett and walked straight past you without noticing…despite the 7ft banner next to you! You could try a net or lasso, but I wouldn’t recommend it! 😛

Then, you get the ones who have no intention of buying your book but haven’t had a decent conversation with anyone in a while and as you’re just sitting there doing nothing, how about a chat? You know what? Always be gracious and grateful…at the very least you are talking to someone and look busy – this is good! Unless of course they stop you from engaging with those who really are interested in buying your book. Tricky.

Then, you get the good stuff, the reason you are there, putting yourself through this…the interested person…what a thrill! The person or people who ask questions, are really engaged when you tell them about the story, who ask about when and why you started writing it, your inspirations and in my case, those who get totally enthralled with my illustrations.

Btw, it really really helps to have visual aids! I’m lucky, I have my own illustrations so I enlarge them, colour some of them, even laminate them and put them in this flick through book for people to…er…flick through! If you don’t have any visual aids – GET THEM!

Now don’t get me wrong, even though the experience can be akin to having root canal, which I have had, there is a genuinely awesome payoff – you get to be on the frontline, talking to people about your book, the characters, the plot, how you created it, what your influences are, and most amazingly, you get to sign a book and watch someone walk to the tills and buy it!!!!!!!!!!!

There really isn’t anything like it!

If I hadn’t been sitting in public, I would have welled up and cried, it’s that emotional. A really unforgettable and moving moment.

That’s why you do it, why you put yourself through the nervous emotional exhaustion of it, not to mention the difficulty of travelling there, finding somewhere to park, finding the store etc – because the payoff is SO sweet. Isn’t that what we all want? To feel that sensation – pride, accomplishment and sheer joy? It doesn’t happen often in life so try to embrace it when it does.

So the next time you’re in a bookshop, do spare a thought for the lonely author sitting or standing there, being brave or possibly nutty, and go and talk to them. Even if they’re selling a manual on how to clean the inner tubing from a bicycle wheel and you couldn’t be less interested in what they are selling and certainly don’t want to buy it…spare a thought for them and go a have a natter and a smile, you’ll really make their day! 😀 xx

P.S. Make sure you have a bottle of water with a good screw top, you’ll need it. In your nervousness, if you knock it over you’re not going to spoil your precious books. Oh…and make sure you have at least three pens, at least one is likely to fail on you! 😉

P.P.S. I must say a special mention to my pal Lucy for stopping by and saying hello yesterday while I was book signing in Waterstones Cribbs Causeway, thank you honey! AND a special mention to Bryony, the lovely lady I meet yesterday who was so interested in my book and who I had a fascinating chat with. I hope you keep going with your writing sweetie, and DO check out The Alliance of Worldbuilders on the HarperCollins writing site, Authonomy www.authonomy.com or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheAllianceOfWorldbuilders or on it’s own website http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com we’d love to see you on there with the rest of us nutters!.

Right, so that’s it, at least for now…everything you needed to know about author signing events, but were afraid to ask! HUGE good luck guys and I hope to meet you on the circuit!  ;D xx