Magic and Mental Health

It seems both poetic and ironic that on World Mental Health Day (10th October), that my own mental health which has not been good this year (particularly of late), has turned a corner.

It’s true that I have been plagued by depression since I was 13 and have had some pretty dark times. I once described it as being a meal on a menu, once you’ve been down that dark road you’re never quite the same again and that meal option keeps popping up – an apparent ‘easy’ way out. Which of course is illusory, nothing in any aspect of life is ever ‘easy’.

But, demons aside and crippling self-doubt, it is amazing what a piece of good news can do for your self-esteem and yes, for your mental health.

It’s horrible to think that my mental health is so fragile and unstable that it can be shaken by bad news and improved by good news. I’ve always prided myself on being a very tough cookie, after all I’ve survived a lot of things that would simply have buried other people, so there is a hard tenacious streak somewhere in me.

But I suppose, when I’m feeling low, stressed and upset, that’s when mental health can be particularly fragile and susceptible to outward forces. I just have to accept that and try not to be so affected by others and the outside world. Being a hermit after all has some benefits! 😀

The trick to any mental health crisis, is not to beat yourself up. You can’t help how you’re feeling and you’re not in full control of how you behave either, I’m not talking about behaving like an asshole to others and using it as an excuse, there’s never an excuse for being a dick. But, when you’re in that dark hole, the world and everything in it is skewed, you are viewing people and situations in a very altered state. Paranoia, fear, isolation, loneliness and self-destructive thoughts run rampant and things that appear minor and trivial to others, become massively important to you, through a microscope lens.

The only advice I can offer to fellow suffers, is just that it WILL pass, if you let it. Everything in life is transitory.

Happiness never lasts, neither does love, but then neither does unhappiness either.

We are all flotsam on a tide of emotions that ebb and flow, appear and disappear. So if you are feeling miserable, take heart that you will not feel like that forever. And if you are happy or in love, make sure you treasure every moment because life is so fleeting.

So…for me, as writing has been causing me so much pain of late, I have temporarily hung up my pen. I will always be a writer and I WILL finish Book 2 of The Darkling Chronicles, Darkling Rise and the third and final book, even if no-one reads them and my other novel projects, including Ravenwing. But for now, novels and short stories (which I’m still not convinced I should do anymore of), are being temporarily shelved.

I’m concentrating on something I know I CAN do and do well – ART!

2017 has been a pretty monumental year art wise. I established the Artmaniac Challenge and FB group, where people share their art and try to do something arty and creative every day (a very hard ask), as well as videoing my first art tutorials on YouTube and doing my first art exhibition in the Art Room at BristolCon (the first exhibition since my art student days)…but I have also found myself being wooed by HarperCollins to become one of their illustrators! A dream come true! That resulted in my creating two awesome maps for their highly anticipated grimdark debut’s Anna Stephen’s Godblind and Anna Smith-Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives. The response I have had about these maps has been nothing short of phenomenal and they have made their way around the world being picked up by Random House and Orbit in the USA and by Dutch and German publishers etc etc.

Well, it’s happened again! Out of the blue, another major publisher contacted me on my illustration website and wants me to work for them! No less than Penguin Random House! 😀

I’m so chuffed! Yes I know my art skills are good and I’m a total perfectionist, but as we all know, having any measure of talent does not guarantee you a damn thing. How many multi-talented people do we all know who should be wildly successful but aren’t, while decidedly mediocre folks seem to rise to the top? 9/10 times, it’s simply who you know, your connections that get you where you want to go and not your acumen or talent. Tough but true.

But on this occasion, it genuinely seems to be my skills as a mapmaker that have brought me to Penguin’s attention. Woo and hoo! 😀

So yes, as I finish a current map commission, start work on a brilliant new project being funded by Oxford University no less, and prepare for my scary art exhibition and being on two panels at BristolCon (including moderating one)…I will also begin a scary new commission for Penguin Random House! 😀

So…dare I whisper it, but I am starting to feel a lot better and my depression is (hopefully) on the wane even as I enter a very hectic and stressful period. But that’s the thing about mental health, it can affect any one of us and at any time. So please, if you know someone who is struggling, no matter what the cause, just listen and be there for them and remember to look after yourself too.

Peace, good mental health and love to you all. ❀ xxxx

❀

 

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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 clichĂ© 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

World Book Day – Let’s Kick Some Book Ass!

Today is World Book Day! Now usually I find myself doing something cool for World Book Day. In years gone by, when I was a teacher, we’d dress up as favourite book characters and spend the day reading cool stories and playing book related games. Then, as a author and illustrator, I found myself doing book signings in Waterstones or some lovely independent bookshops (which I would always urge you all to support – use Amazon to buy other stuff, but PLEASE buy your books locally, it’s the only way to ensure that we still have local bookshops!). More recently, as I now work in a library, we have celebrated World Book Day by having cool events and art activities all with a book theme.

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This year? Well, World Book Day has fallen on a day I don’t work and as I’m concentrating on writing new material this year rather than galloping around the West Country and Wales book signing, I’m actually spending this lovely day in a peaceful creative huddle. Candles lit, music softly playing in the background, dogs asleep (shhhhh!) and laptop on my…er…lap as I type away.

Logos[1]While I wrestle with the sequel to White Mountain, which I am determined to finish in the next few months, I have been very productive on the short story front. So, what better day to tell you all about new stories and new books coming up, than to announce it on World Book Day! 😀

For White Mountain fans, you have two Darkling Tales/short novellas winging their way to you VERY soon. A Friendship Forged – charting how Mr. Agyk and Gralen first met, why dragons have disappeared from the world and the first dark inklings, has just gone through it’s last round of edits (thank you Robyn!) and is looking VERY good! The second story, The Siege of Kallorm – recounts the tragic tale of Korrun of Koralan, how one fateful mistake can change your life forever and his attempts to find redemption. Can you ever atone for your sins? Sooooooo excited about these! 😀

For lovers of dark fairytales, there’s a wonderful anthology – Shadows Of The Oak, by Tenebris Books, on its way very soon and I’ll have a sweetly dark and twisted tale in it, ‘The Orphan and the Iron Troll’ and two illustrations.

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And for lovers of kick-ass fiction…wow you have a treat coming! A brilliant and prestigious group of the best female sci-fi/fantasy writers in the country all gathered together for one awesome anthology – Fight Like A Girl! The theme is all about strong empowered women, female protagonists who kick ass whether they be natural born fighters, soldiers, mercenaries, assassins, hardened warriors or ordinary women thrown into extraordinary circumstances. What makes this anthology unique, apart from the talent gathered together to create it, is that all the people involved in it are women. Female writers writing about powerful females, women editors (the brilliant Joanne Hall & Roz Clarke), and uber-cool publishing house, Grimbold Books, run by two women (the galactically awesome Sammy HK Smith & Zoe Harris)!

Fight-Like-A-Girl-V2-400ppi[1]Having said all that, the book is designed to appeal to both genders. It’s choc full of battles, violence, dark humour and cool kick-ass action! The grand launch is on Saturday 2nd April at the Hatchet Inn in Bristol where there will be a panel, readings and even some swordplay! Fighting and buffet food too – grab your tickets now!* 😀

I must confess I’m rather honoured and more than a little humbled to be included in this collection amongst such prestigious writers with my own gritty sci-fi tale – ‘Silent Running’, nestled amongst a host of other great stories from luminaries like Juliet McKenna, Julia Knight, KT Davies, Kim Lakin-Smith, Gaie Sebold, Danie Ware, Dolly Garland, Lou Morgan, KR Green, Joanne Hall, Roz Clarke, Fran Terminiello, Nadine West and Kelda Crich!

It’s true that there are a lot of exciting bookish things happening this year, but being a part of this anthology is definitely one them!

*This book launch event has been kindly funded by the BristolCon Foundation
For more information: http://www.bristolcon.org/?page_id=2654
For tickets – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/fight-like-a-girl-flag-launch-event-tickets-20658444965

Wherever you are and whatever you’re reading – Happy World Book Day!!!! 😀 xxxx

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Tis’ the season to be jolly…still?

Well, my lovely bloggers, visitors, friends, fellow nutty inmates…Christmas has come and already passed in a blur of sparkling drinks, party food, crisps, squashed chocolates and merriment! And now New Year has sped past too…!

SAM_5514I for one, have had a lovely Christmas so far and hope you all have too, despite some horrendous weather anomalies both sides of the Atlantic.

For once, I was actually looking forward to the New Year – a milestone I usually dread, after all, who really wants to celebrate getting a year older and reflecting on all those targets you didn’t achieve, things you failed to do or progressive steps you forgot to take? New Year has a way of focusing all the negative things that happened through the year under a fine microscope.

BUT this year…well, this year has been different. It’s been an amazing year in almost every way. Personally, I’ve taken some huge steps forward and the fruition of this should hopefully be evident this time next year…he he he! Professionally, I’ve loved every second of working for my fabulous publishers, Grimbold Books and Kristell Ink. As an author, you simply couldn’t want for more supportive lovely people, we really are all a huge gloriously weird and wacky family, which was so evident at FantasyCon in Nottingham this year. It really was the most fun you can have with your clothes on! 😀 11986568_1137863496242052_4476185573487481831_n[1]

Artistically and creatively, it’s been a great year as not only has my epic illustrated fantasy, White Mountain, been doing rather well, but I’ve been book signing up and down the West Country and Wales, moderated my first fantasy convention panel, was invited as an author and illustrator to take part in the Cirencester Literary Festival (which was awesome and a complete sell out) and managed to not only write a bunch of new short stories (which have been and are being published), but even took part and succeeded in my first ever Nano write! Nano Winner 2015 Certificate

So all in all, it’s been a frenetic, hectic, manic year and although I am completely knackered, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

So…what for 2016? Did I make any New Year’s resolutions to be broken a few weeks later?

No.

What I will say, is that 2016 will bring more creative projects. After having struggled with my illness and writing, Nano showed me that I CAN beat my stupid condition and I CAN novel write again. So with renewed vigor, I intend to finish the sequel to White Mountain, Darkling Rise, which has taken me so long (I promise to my beloved White Mountain fans that it WILL be worth the wait!), and I will finish my other dark fantasy novel, Ravenwing, that I wrote 50K words of for Nano and which I am stupidly excited about! I will also finish my first picture book, already written and in stasis while I paint the 24 full page illustrations! Wow! I had NO idea just how much work goes into a picture book when you are writing AND illustrating it…but I must say, it is something rather special. I don’t mind being uncharacteristically optimistic and saying that this could be something huge… 😀 xxx

So, whatever your plans for 2016, my advice is to…

be brave and be bold.

If the last few years have taught me anything, and I apologise for the clichĂ©s here…but life really isn’t a rehearsal, it speeds past in the briefest of flashes and before you know it all those hopes and dreams you had are fizzled into nothing. My dear fellow insomniac friend, Lindsey J Parsons, who I used to chat to late into the wee small hours, really grasped life by the horns. She had so many hopes and dreams, she achieved many of them but had many more to accomplish that tragically never came to pass as she died suddenly on 5th January 2014.

295755[1]I think of her often and try to use her wonderful example to spur me on and to ignore that self-doubt, that negative voice that cripples so many writers.

What are you hoping for in 2016?

To steal a phrase from the book and film, ‘We bought a zoo’, (which ironically I have a personal connection too as I used to teach Benjamin Mee’s nieces, so knew all about the family and there predicament and the Hollywood film based on their lives)…

“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of INSANE courage…and I promise you, something great will come of it.”

So…what 20 seconds of insane courage do you need this year to accomplish your dreams?

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As my little blog passes 45,000 visitors for which I am truly humbled, honoured and more than a little surprised…it makes me reflect on what life is and what hopes and dreams I have for it. Remember, it is NEVER too late to change your life.

Whatever 2016 brings to you, believe in yourself, be brave and bold and don’t let your fears stop you from following your dreams.

😀 xxxx

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 RISE, is 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!

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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

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😀 ❀ xxxxx

Distant Worlds – Welcomes Joanne Hall!

This is a very special post and the tenth 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.

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To kick off the Distant Worlds strand, over the last few weeks I’ve been 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.

Grimbold Books were also doing a fabulous ‘Summer Promotion’ from 31st July – 4th August, where ALL of its wonderful titles were priced at only 99p/99c across Amazon platforms. Now, although summer is over, there are still great promos and bargains to be had running into Autumn, so grab yourself something special before the prices go back to normal! Awesome fiction at awesome prices!!!! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

Right, now to our tenth author interview and a rather special edition this one – a truly multi-talented lady, terrific writer, fantasy aficionado and the founder/creator and head honcho of BristolCon…the cosmically cool


Joanne Hall

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Joanne, 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?

Tea bags, a towel (of course), pens and paper, sunblock and my dog (I’m allowed to take my dog, right? I’m not going off into the wilds of space without her
)

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

– photos of family and friends, Barnaby, the teddy bear I’ve had since I was five, and my laptop. I know that’s not five things. 🙂

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

It would depend on what the life forms were – I’m currently reading Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time and the intelligent alien life forms are spiders as big as your leg. Don’t fancy meeting them much
 But if they weren’t too insecty / arachnid-y and didn’t want to kill me, I’d probably be ok with meeting them.

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

– Only five? Meanie! If I leave my leg behind can I take six? No? Ok, I would take The Lord of the Rings, Dune, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, The Copper Promise by Jen Williams and The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov. These are all hefty books that would be good for smacking the local wildlife into a coma (just in case), and at a pinch I could build a house out of them, and they’re all awesome. 🙂

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

These lists of book and albums are subject to change without notice, right? Generation Terrorists – Manic Street Preachers (I could not conceive of living in a world where I could never listen to the Manics again), Five Leaves Left –Nick Drake, 100 Broken Windows – Idlewild, Two Suns – Bat For Lashes and Dog Man Star by Suede. I realise anyone reading this list will probably now be able to work out my age down to the nearest six months, but I don’t care about being Down With The Kids. Anyway, it’s my planet
 😉

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?

Can I have vodka and coke, please?

Joanne, as well as being a very talented writer yourself, you are also founder and chair of extraordinary fantasy convention, BristolCon (coming up next week! – Sept 26th 2015). Over the years as BristolCon has blossomed into an ever bigger event, you have had some very prestigious writers and artists attending, from Mark Lawrence (Broken Empire), legendary fantasy illustrator, Jim Burns, to Jasper Fforde who sat on several panels. If you could choose ANY fantasy or sci-fi writer from the past or present to attend BristolCon and share a plate of nachos with, who would it be and why?

If I could choose ANY fantasy or SF writer to attend BristolCon? Only one? I can’t choose one, thought I’d love to see Tolkien and CS Lewis on a panel together… Some of the people I would most like to see at BristolCon are the people who narrowly missed out – people who we would be falling over ourselves to ask if only we’d had the chance. So Iain M Banks, Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett… But most especially our friend Colin Harvey, who was instrumental in setting up the very first BristolCon but was taken from us suddenly in 2011. If there was any writer in the world I’d love to share a plate of nachos and a pint with one more time, it would be Colin.

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! 

– Spark, a mage-trained boy, kills his master and goes on the run in the biggest city in the world, where he is pursued by rival criminal gangs who want to take advantage of his uncontrolled powers. When his wild magic cracks the world and unleashes a horde of demons on the unsuspecting city, Spark has to turn to his pursuers for help, unleashing a conflict that could bring about the end of the world. (from Jo’s new novel, ‘Spark and Carousel’, which has it’s global launch at BristolCon next week!)

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

Reading, writing, exploring with my dog and enjoying being out in nature. And trying not to get eaten by monsters!

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

– My boyfriend (unless he could come with me), cheese on toast, shopping for books, trash TV and Twitter.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Bigotry, guns, David Cameron, Ricky Gervais and cucumbers.

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

Beyond the big important killing Hitler type things, you mean? I would have liked to spend more time with my grandad. He used to make up stories for me when I was little, and by the time I had books coming out he was a little too far gone to understand what was going on.

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

Like a shot, provided I haven’t been eaten by anything so far


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

Well, obviously everyone published by Kristell Ink – that goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway. 🙂 Outside the confines of KI, I’d recommend Fran Jacobs, author of The Shadow Seer, and Fox Spirit author Margret Helgasdottir (The Stars Seem So far Away) , while at Kristell Ink, while I’d like to recommend everybody, I’ll just have to pick out three
 ooh, hard question! I would say Deb E Howell if you like westerns and steampunk, Steven Poore if you like High Fantasy, and Paige Daniels if you like SF and cyberpunk.

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

Always know where your towel is. Though I think somebody already said that
 Celebrate the things you enjoy, whether they’re “cool” or not. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Write what interests you, and enjoy writing – publication is a bonus, money even more so. And eat cake.

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

Lyra and meJoanne Hall in her own words…

– I live in Bristol with my dog and my boyfriend, where I write words, eat cake, and help organise BristolCon. My inspirations are my grandfather, as well as David Gemmell, Diana Wynne Jones, old castles, nature, weird bits of architecture and anything I find interesting. I’m published by Kristell Ink, who are awesome and lovely – they have published two volumes of The Art of Forgetting, and my third book with them, Spark and Carousel, is released on September 26th – launching at BristolCon with cake and wine and bombastic intro music! That’s if I can get back from this darn planet in time
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Bio:

Joanne Hall lives in Bristol, England, with her partner. She has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pen, and gave up a sensible (boring) job in insurance to be a full time writer, to the despair of her mother. She dabbled in music journalism, and enjoys going to gigs and the cinema, and reading.

Her first three novels, which made up the New Kingdom Trilogy, were published by Epress Online. Since then she has had to move house to make more room for books. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies, including “Dark Spires” and “Future Bristol”, as well as a number of magazines. A collection of short stories, “The Feline Queen” was published by Wolfsinger Publications in April 2011, and her latest novel, “The Art of Forgetting” was published by Kristell Ink in two volumes in 2013 /14, and the first volume has been longlisted for the 2014 Tiptree Award. With Roz Clarke, she has co-edited two anthologies, “Colinthology” and “Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion.”

She is also one of the founders of Bristolcon. Her blog can be found at www.hierath.co.uk, and she’s always happy to hear from readers.

Waterstones

Amazon UK

Amazon US

spark-and-carousel-front-cover-digitalLatest Book Blurb:

Spark and Carousel

On the run after the death of his mentor, wild with untamed magic, Spark arrives in the city of Cape Carey, where his untapped talents make him the target for rival criminal gangs. His guide through the intrigues of the Cape Carey underworld is Carousel, a wire-walker and a thief, who takes him under her wing.
Elvienne and Kayall ride south to the city, hunting the lost fosterling of their murdered friend. Their mission is to track down a killer, and prevent Spark’s magic from spiralling out of control. They need to find him before he falls into the hands of those who would exploit his raw talent for their own gain, who would force Spark to confront a power he is not ready to handle.
Wealthy Allorise Carey has her own plans for both Spark and Carousel, and the sudden arrival of the mages throws all her carefully-laid plans into disarray, as she unleashes a terrible evil onto the streets of the unsuspecting city. An evil only Spark’s magic can control, if she can track him down


(Available September 26th!)

Joanne’s other great books, also available at Waterstones and Amazon!

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Thank you, Joanne. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing galactic explorer has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

6 months of magic and mayhem…with more to follow!

Today’s post is a rather reflective one, so apologies for getting a little misty-eyed and overawed!

Six months ago on the 1st December 2014 my debut novel, White Mountain, the first of my Darkling Chronicles trilogy, was gloriously published by Grimbold Books & their imprint Kristell Ink Publishing. I knew at the time that the merry-go-round of madness was about to begin, but boy what a rollercoaster ride it’s been!

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White Mountain, as most of my friends, family and supporters know, was a complete labour of love that took over ten years to write, research and worldbuild (yes, I am a VERY slow writer! I promise that Book 2 WILL be finished and ready next year, so no decade to wait!). All my interests in ancient history, world mythology, geography, geology, natural history, ecology, anthropology etc., etc., dripped into the history and worldbuilding behind the story of White Mountain; and my personal experiences and complicated relationships seeped into the characters and their lives.

No matter what genre you write in, no matter how fantastical or other-worldly it may be, use your life in what you write.

For me it was a wonderful cathartic experience of writing about dysfunctional relationships I knew, about friendships, inner turmoil, feelings of atonement, guilt, rage, loneliness and yes, it was liberating to write my villain, a thoroughly nasty, manipulative, violent and cruel character who I have openly admitted is based on my father. Do I have baggage to write about? Hell, yes…don’t we all?

Anyway, White Mountain was born into the world with its awesome new cover and that’s when all the fun began!

My signing at Books On The Hill

The last six months has been a manic ride. I attended my very first fantasy/sci-fi convention, BristolCon, (huge thanks to the multi-talented and fellow fantasy writer, Joanne Hall who founded & runs it brilliantly). I went to my first book fair and did my first public reading (terrifying but brilliant!). I then embarked on a hectic book-signing tour around Wales and the West Country, signing in some truly gorgeous and prestigious bookshops and meeting some terrifically awesome people along the way. Best of all though, has to be that sense of tingling excitement when someone buys your book! I don’t think I’ll ever feel blasĂ© about that, it’s a truly humbling experience chatting to customers, signing and dedicating books to them and loved ones. Simply put, it’s just one of the most magical experiences and completely eclipses the awkwardness and embarrassment of sitting in a bookshop feeling like a lemon waiting to be squeezed! SAM_6855 (2)

Chepstow BookshopAmongst the book-signing tour and newspaper articles I went to my first literary festival as an author, to do a poetry and fiction reading. The tiny but potent, Hawkesbury Upton (HULit) Literary Festival, founded by local indie author, Debbie Young, who is a one-woman self-publishing whizz and who managed to not only organise the whole event but to even attract big name authors such as Katie Fforde – who opened the event, read from her book and graciously took a photo op with little old me!

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White Mountain, continued to pick up momentum and great reviews, including gaining a 5 star review and shiny medal from Reader’s Favorite and from very popular websites, Girl Who Reads and Brainfluff among others. Of course we authors are always desperate for more reviews as we know that getting reviews is absolutely crucial to whether a book succeeds or fails. So if you read a book you love, help that book and author and post a review! Reader's Favorite review

Then, amongst the book signings and readings, I was asked to participate in the Cirencester Literary Festival in July, as an author and illustrator and run my own illustration workshop for children in Bingham Gallery!

Cirencester event on Octavia's

Octavia's Cirencester eventWow!

With more bookshop signings and book fairs on the horizon in addition to BristolCon 2015 and FantasyCon coming up in the Autumn, it has been a gloriously nutty few months!

Then…to top it all off, White Mountain, has been shortlisted in The People’s Book Prize! The People’s Book Prize is the only major literary award voted by the people, as a way of finding new books and new talent which may have been overlooked by mainstream markets. Founded by Dame Beryl Bainbridge and with Frederick Forsythe as it’s current Patron, it is wonderful to be nominated.

People's Book Prize page

Do I have a chance of winning?

I’d certainly LOVE to win as it’s a fantastic way of raising your book’s profile, with the awards ceremony even being televised on SKY News, but honestly I don’t hold out much hope. White Mountain is in the Children’s category and the competition is very stiff with the most likely winner being a larger mainstream author who sells in Waterstones, has a larger fanbase and has won it before. BUT, you never know…could David defeat Goliath?

People's Book Prize capture

So here’s my shameless plugging bit…can I ask EVERYONE reading this to PLEASE lend your support and give the underdog a chance by voting for White Mountain? It only takes a few moments of your time, is totally FREE and really would make all the difference to a little indie author like me. Voting continues until August, but every single vote counts! Just pop on the website, register by giving your name and email, they will then send you a password. Then click back onto my book, put in your name, password, VOTE and leave a short comment. http://www.peoplesbookprize.com/book.php?id=1295

A MASSIVE THANK YOU to everyone who has already voted, especially those who have left comments too, and to those who are going to vote. It really is hugely appreciated, so thank you guys, you are the best! Lol, I won’t hold my breath, but I’ll quietly keep my fingers, toes and dragon wings crossed! 😉

So, there you go…as my little blog passes 39,000 visitors (a truly humbling number for such a tiny online diary about writing), I can only wonder what the next six months will bring… 😀

A HUGE thank you to all of you who keep the fires burning in this quiet cloister of the internet! You are all amazing and uber-cool dudes and dudettes! THANK YOU!!!!!! 😀 xxxx

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