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!

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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

AWB Illustration Unicorn BattleAWB Illustration Archer

😀 ❤ xxxxx

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Perseids and the pursuit of time.

A multicolored, long Perseid meteor striking t...

So, September has drawn to a close and with it, the last glimpse of hazy summer days of green, full of the flutter of butterflies and the promise of warmth, long before the trees shed their leaves in time for the frosts of dark winter, I find myself pondering the meaning of time.

I find myself staring at the calendar, October…really? Where did the year go?

The grass will only need another cut, maybe two before it’s growth stops for the season. Mushrooms and toadstools sprout like Autumn flowers from every nook and cranny, pushing their heads through the thick carpets of acorn and horse-chestnuts that seem to litter our garden. I’ve managed to pick a few highly exotic looking pink toadstools which I can’t identify in any of my nature books, with billowing tops like frilly edged bolero skirts!

A few fleeting Speckled Wood and Small White butterflies still linger in the margins, their brief lives coming to a close soon, but delighting in the odd sunny day we still have and the harvest of Autumn fruits to feed upon. Only a few blooms still remain, the odd rose, some Michaelmas daisies, but mostly the garden looks barren now compared to the riotous colour that has dazzled us through spring and summer. Now the golden hues of Autumn are the palette of the day, beautiful in their own right, but a reminder that winter is coming. Time is passing.

I’m not just thinking of the literal meaning of passing time – minutes, hours, years of our lives ticking away as surely as those grains of sand in an hour glass, grey hairs appearing, wrinkles creeping or deepening, a paling of the skin, a yellowing of the eyes, spots on hands, or gravity working it’s inevitable magic. But the abstract form of time as well. Is time our friend or our enemy? A steady hand who guides and follows us through the ups and downs of our life? Enriches us with the experiences we share, that shape who we are? Or a nasty bully snidely reminding us how short our brief lives actually are, no more than a fleeting spec in the cosmic soup of the universe and how many precious years we have wasted…and how few we have left in which to achieve our dreams/goals? Time – friend or foe? I’m not sure where I fall on this one.

Certainly, like so many of us, I’ve always felt myself doggedly pursuing time, much like a hamster stuck on a spinning wheel, trying to cram far too much into every 24 hours and cursing myself when I couldn’t achieve the impossible. Most of our lives are spent in this endless juggling game – juggling jobs, families, life, and the stresses and workloads inherent with them, then trying to squeeze anything else in the few hours left, such as writing, creating or …er…breathing!

My reason for this ‘timely preoccupation’ is simple. Not only was last year the first time I unexpectedly found myself with nothing but time on my hands, and it was not been a welcome companion (thankfully I am VERY busy now and manically juggling things again), but this year is proving to be a pendulum of highs and lows.

From working a very full-time and responsible job, which certainly clocked in excess of 50 hours a week, not counting work on weekends and evenings, after 16 years of juggling my job and constantly chasing time, my body suddenly said, “NO!”. Yes, there were a lot of factors involved in it, and yes, I should have received support and didn’t, especially when I asked for it. Stress and overwork can have devastating results if left unchecked, a year later and I am still struggling to regain my health fully. The last two years have undoubtedly been the strangest and most traumatic years of my life, but as I was looking back over this lovely summer I remembered an event I witnessed nearly two months ago that kind of put things in perspective for me, as well as bringing as smile to my face.

I was fortunate to see one of nature’s true spectacles, through my own somewhat scratched and blurry glasses. I speak of course, of the annual event of the Perseid meteor shower which hurls its cascade of dust and small rocky particles across our atmosphere every summer (July 23rd – August 20th 2014), with the peak usually falling around August 11-13th. The Perseids are named after the Greek deity, Perseus, whose constellation they appear to come from.

I’d been having serious insomnia problems again, and ended up going downstairs. It was August the 12th and I remembered the Perseids were happening, so with my white wolves and a warm fleece, I snuggled in a chair and gazed up at the clear heavens. Living out in the sticks has its definite advantages, no light pollution. Not only do we have the most amazing sunsets here, uninterrupted across the fields, but the skies here are the clearest I’ve seen for miles around. Seeing as my wobbly legs and dizzy head prevent me from standing and gazing up without toppling over, the chair was a great idea. Wow! Apart from the few faint streaks I saw whizzing through the sky, I was amazed by three blazing fireballs, really bright, and only forty minutes or so apart. Truly spectacular!!!

It just reminded me how small my problems are, how vast and beautiful the universe is, how we never truly know what is out there or what life will throw our way and how precious time is…every single second of it. As precious as air, as rare as love, and totally priceless. Every second counts. It doesn’t matter if you think you’ve messed up the last few years, or want to re-run the last fifty years, it’s never too late to make the most of the time you have, every day, every moment of it.

Life is beautiful, don’t let worries or the daily grind make you forget it.

😀

http://youtu.be/KQlOAXF4T60

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For more meteor showers coming your way, here are some dates for the next of nature’s spectacles! 😀 xxxx

Thanks to Meteor Watch for this: http://www.meteorwatch.org/

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New Horizons!

SAM_4591Okay, yesterday was my birthday and I’ve never been fond of birthdays, but the last few days have been glorious. All in all 2014 is shaping up to be an amazing year, despite having one hell of a bumpy start. As we pass into out of summer, with its sunshine drenched buzz of activity, and into the darker evenings of Autumn, it is a time of excitement for what is to come and a time to reflect for what has gone.

The beginning of the year couldn’t have been worse. After having spent most of 2013 very ill, I had no choice but to leave my teaching job of the last 12 years. I have always worked, even through college I worked (actually it was a pretty cool job working in a video shop, surrounded by great films all day!), so the prospect of suddenly being unemployed through no fault of my own, was very daunting and pretty scary.

Martin-Hobb-1024x457[1]We haven’t worked out all the kinks yet and things are still tighter than I’d like, certainly the prospect of spending £45 to go and see Robin Hobb and George RR Martin in London on the 19th August, plus travel and hotel expenses, was simply out of my price range.

However, worries over jobs, money and financial matters paled into insignificance when my good friend and fellow fantasy writer, Lindsey J Parsons suddenly died on the 5th January 2014, only days after I had spoken to her to wish her a Happy New Year and talk excitedly about what 2014 would bring. Lindsey had so many plans for this coming year. She was going to write and release her third book, Shegal, the final book in her wonderful Return of the Effra trilogy. She and I were planning to go off to Las Vegas together, to a writing convention there. That’s where I would have been this summer if things had turned out differently.

Lindsey’s passing was a dreadful shock to all who knew and loved her, and the sadness of her passing has haunted all of us this year. I have always been an insomniac and so, in the wee small hours of the night when I used to chat to Lindsey til 2 or 3am, I miss her the most.

But her tragic death also did something else. It was a tannoy (loud speaker to my US friends) to the rest of us, that none of us know how long we have on this planet, none of us know which breath will be out last, and so the imperative is upon us to STOP WASTING TIME!!!!

It was then, that I decided to get on with the rest of my life. Put my dreadful experiences of 2013 behind me, not just my illness and having to leave my job, but also some thoroughly rotten experiences with my ex-publishers (who shall remain nameless), but who almost put me off writing anything ever again. Once bitten by a shark, you are very wary to dip your toes in the water again! I won’t spend anymore time or energy on them, as quite frankly they’re not worth it.

I also decided to be more proactive. There has been one really huge accomplishment in my life that I have wanted, really since I turned 30, some ten years ago now, and I am eventually doing something about it. This time next year, I hope to share a very different life story with you.

Another part of being pro-active, was deciding not to be ruled over by fear. I had been paralysed by fear pretty much all of last year. Fear that I would never recover and get better, fear that my goals were simply not achievable, fear of losing my job, of losing my way. One of my fears was that I would never be able to write again.

I’m not talking about the commonal garden variety ‘writer’s block’ which plagues many authors, I’m talking about total physical and mental incapacity! Part of my vestibular illness, apart from the migraines, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and head pain, was short term memory problems and a complete inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. My brain simply couldn’t cope with it. It took me days to write a simple letter, because I couldn’t concentrate for longer than 3 or 4 minutes, and the mental exertion and sheer exhaustion it caused, would flare up my symptoms again.

I’d try reading or writing and I’d be staring at a page of text like a zombie for 40mins, my mind simply ‘zoned’ out. Apparently this was very common with severe vestibular conditions, where the concentration needed to read and write was tantamount to asking a person on crutches to climb a mountain! So the whole of last year, I was crippled by thoughts that I’d never be able to climb back on that horse again and write. That my first novel would be my last!

But, after Lindsey, I decided to stop letting that fear rule me. I WOULD write again, and now, I AM!

69190_4684701805703_297748057_n[1]A HUGE part of that, has been the incredible support I have received from family and friends. A massive shout out to all my Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB) brothers and sisters – without you guys, I’d be a sad little shadow of myself and certainly wouldn’t be sat here writing this. smiling-cat[1]

Another incredible turn of fate and good fortune, was finding the most amazing new publishers who were willing to take a chance on me and wanted to publish my first novel, despite it having been published (badly) before.

Again, because of dear Lindsey, I was pro-active and approached this very cool publishing house. To be honest, I felt it was a long-shot and didn’t hold much hope, but hell it was worth a go! I loved the books they produced, how friendly, approachable, honest and professional they were and how they put authors first (the total opposite of the experiences I had had before!).

grimbold-182x300[1]To my utter delight, I signed with them in June! I cannot tell you just what that has meant to me – to have my cherished work taken on and see new life breathed into it (and new life breathed into me!), by unbelievably passionate people who love books and prize quality above everything…wow! I owe Sammy HK Smith and Zoe Harris of Grimbold Books and Kristell Ink, more than I’ll ever be able to express in words…thank you, thank you, thank you! 1782001_779354595426279_1544248234_n[1]

 

2014 is turning out to be utterly AWESOME year after all! White Mountain – Book 1 of the Darkling Chronicles will be published this Autumn with a brilliant new cover and short stories, and I am eventually writing again!!!!

 

ea1ab-10582915_874217609273310_7073274247011447578_o5b15dSo, this week I celebrate not only my birthday, but a year full of promise and opportunities. At the beginning of August it was also the 5th Anniversary of getting my beautiful boys. 5 years ago, two gorgeous white wolves came into my life and it has never been the same since! Happy times and clear skies ahead! 😀 xxxx

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730 days…Tempus Fugit!

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It’s a strange time. Tomorrow I go to the funeral of my dear friend, Lindsey J Parsons, who tragically passed away earlier in the month. To say her passing was sudden and shocking, would be a huge understatement. At times like these, it’s hard not to be reflective. It’s strange and unsettling, but somehow death has a way of magnifying life and making you realise what is important. c33c5842e5e71ebeff5fc9fcb5a97b5f[1]

Tempus fugit, how time flies! Don’t waste a moment of it.

Talking of passing time, on Sunday it was the 2nd Anniversary of my little blog. 26th January 2012 I plunged head long into the daunting waters of blog writing.

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A hell of a lot has happened in those 2 years.

I’d love to think that I have learnt 730 new skills, grown 730 days wiser, or happier. My life has undoubtedly moved on and changed in that time, which is both good and bad. I have gained wonderful new friends and tragically, lost one dear dear friend.

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I have known tremendous success and faced failure up close. Achieved my dreams, and seen them fly away. Been on the highest mountain, the highest pinnacle and found myself completely lost and wandering the wastelands with no cause or direction.

I have battled ill-health and bullies, won and lost, fought for justice and been swamped in confusion. Certainly, it’s true to say that my life has never followed a conventional path, but these past 2 years, have certainly seen it meander into some very strange waters!

maya-angelou-quote[1]Now, believe me, I am as big a coward as they come. I’m not feeling sorry for myself, but in my life I have been treated very badly but never seemed to have the courage to face my attackers and tell them what I think. But, somehow, my celtic courage seems at last to be awakening… 167125836141739827W2MFYYTkc[1]

I have been able to break free from a very bad situation where my creativity was being attacked by what I can only describe as a couple of decidedly unstable, unprofessional and wholly nasty little bullies, I won’t name them, frankly I don’t need to. But I feel so immensely relieved to be free of them and disassociated from their poor standards.

I have also somehow found the courage and strength to change my circumstances, to give up a long-term and very stable career to jump into the void and try something new. Will I land on my feet? Only time will tell. Do I miss my old job? Honestly…no. Illness forced me to leave, but in hindsight it may have been a blessing. I loved it for a long time, and still love the teaching side of things and working with children which is always memorable and life affirming, but…it was time to move on. I shall miss my good friends and will keep in touch with them, but I shan’t miss ‘It’.

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I’ve also been thinking a lot about the life lessons and wisdom of Maya Angelou, one of my personal heroes.

So…what lessons and wisdom, if any, have I learnt that I could pass on and share with you lovely people?

  • Don’t be afraid – afraid of change, afraid of changing. Maya Angelou, an amazing writer and a personal hero of mine, said in her book, ‘Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now’, that if you don’t like a situation, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Seemingly simplistic advice but full of meaning. imagesGZD6YSB7
  • Take risks – You never know, it may fail but it may work! What have you really got to lose?
  • Life is too damn short – If you’re not living it…then what the hell are you waiting for? Believe me, I’ve wasted time like it’s an Olympic Sport and I’ve been going for gold. Chase your dreams. Don’t wait until tomorrow, because tomorrow may never come… None of us know how much time we have on this Earth, so you owe it to yourself to make the most of it.
  • Rise above it – You can’t always avoid what I call ‘toxic’ people, recklessly unkind, brutish, deceitful or selfish individuals but you CAN choose to rise above them. Always strive to do the right thing by your own moral compass, don’t be sucked into negative thoughts. Share the love. Life is too short to spend it in negative situations or with negative people, break free, be free!
  • Relish the moment – Try not to take anything for granted. Relish the things and people who make you happy. That’s what life is about.
  • Health is everything – An obvious bit of advice but so so important. Without your health, life is meaningless. This last year has taught me that. Illness prevents you from functioning, limits your freedom and enjoyment of life. So do what you can to look after your health. Avoid stress where you can and stressful people. Be kind to yourself.

I know all this sounds like obvious cheesy advice, but a cliché is a cliché precisely because it’s true.

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With the sudden and shocking passing of my dear friend, Lindsey J Parsons, at such a tragically young age, a lot of things suddenly became crystallised.

There is NO time to waste.

imagesYTIE3WWFEmbrace life, in whatever way that means to you. No frivolous New Year resolutions that get instantly broken. This is life stuff – the stuff of life! Promise yourself, that this year you will do what it takes to be happier and more fulfilled than the last year. If you continue to do that every year onward, think what a happier person you’ll be.

I’ve taken some huge steps already, but I intend to continue this year and take as many challenges, opportunities and chances as I can.

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So…there you go.

730 days have given me purpose and direction. But most of all, I’ve really, finally, understood what is important in life and what is not. quote-each-of-us-has-the-right-and-the-responsibility-to-assess-the-roads-which-lie-ahead-and-if-the-maya-angelou-323351[1]

Would you rather be richer or happier? You know the answer. Good luck my friends, I hope you all find your paths and we wander through journeys with bigger smiles than before.

Love Sophie 😀 xxxxxxxx

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😀 xxx

A pinch and a punch for the first of the month…a slap and a kick for being so quick!

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December! Really? How the hell did that happen? Only a blink ago it was the summer, then Autumn turned our gardens to a deeper shade of gold, now shop windows are frosted with aerosols, lights dangle overhead, brightly coloured trees sprout up like iced gems all around us…Chritsmas is upon us!

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Wow…

Well, although like most of us, the thought of another year passing, another year older, sends a slight shudder down my spine, I do LOVE Christmas. I love everything about it, it’s ridiculous optimism, that childish sense of magic in the air, over indulgent cupboards and fridges bursting at the seams, all those naughty treats you deprive yourself of, now suddenly tangible…you have the best excuse in the world for nibbling those crisps, those heavy fudge cakes, or sugary treats, hey it’s Christmas! Forget the diets, guys!

I find myself being a child again at this time of year. Yes, for me I HAVE to get my tree up on the 1st December, decorated and glowing and green…and although it’s branches are less green now and more than a little crispy, I adore every moment. LOVE IT!!!! 011

So, in the chilly air, we got our Christmas trees, one enormous 7ft 6″ leviathan for the living room, the bushiest tree I have ever seen – so bushy in fact it that it got stuck in the netting machine gizmo, where it took three of the tree guys to force it through! Then we have a smaller tree for the hall, looking cheerily out of the window to welcome all. Christmas 2013 022

Then it’s the yearly struggle to remember which ‘safe place’ we’ve snaffled the Christmas boxes in, messily taped up to try to contain the copious amounts of decorations in. It is true that I cannot throw ANY Christmas decorations away and for the last twenty years I’ve had a tradition where I buy one new Christmas decoration every year, so now I have loads!

After fiddling with stands and buckets, trimming tree-tops, pruning trunks, we had the trees up and looking proud.

Christmas 2013 011Lol, okay, I admit to a slight idiot move on my part…er…namely cutting too much off the top of our perfect tree so I kind of ruined the look of it, but, I’m nothing if not creative, so some wire, superglue & sticky tape later, and I’d reattached the top & stuck the star on to cover up my cock-up. Looks beautiful now! 003 (2)

Then it’s the usual tangle of fairy lights…it doesn’t matter how carefully you put them away, the little buggers will tangle themselves involuntarily! Amazing all lights were working…ahem, after a sale last year, I found myself facing over 800 fairy lights! 400 on each tree would look ridiculous, right? Amazingly we could have used more, they just seemed to disappear in the branches!

049Oh, but what lovely festive fun! For the first time in months I actually found myself laughing, an amazing feat given that I was so ill through November. But like a tonic, the Christmas spirit is definitely rubbing off on me and all those around. An easing of the spirit. Somehow, the challenges and difficulties of 2013, a year I shall never forget though I’d like to, seem to dissolve against such magical optimism. Problems may be large or small, but they CAN be overcome, they CAN be solved!

Positive thinking, right? Yes, yes, YES! 😀

Christmas 2013 052Anyway, advent calendar windows opened, dangling Father Christmas decorations up, decorations on doors, garlands over mantlepiece and up the stairs rails, and cheesy baubles on trees. LOVE it!

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One other lovely thing, that I will definitely make a Tallis tradition, is going around the garden with a pair of secateurs, taking branches of fir, spruce and holly. Why pay for a Holly wreath or bow, when you can make one?! SOOOO simple and satisfying to do, just a little wire to hold the branches together and a red bow, viola! One instant door decoration and so special as it’s from your own garden!

IChristmas 2013 032f you don’t have fir, spruce or holly available, confer branches would work just as well.

Then, of course, it’s the long process of Christmas card writing – which depending on your mood, can either be a gloriously relaxing affair, or a stressful nightmare! The worst, is drawing up your list, desperately wracking your brain over your second cousin removed and her new hubby whose name you can’t remember, hoping you haven’t forgotten anyone, grumbling over the cost of stamps as they increase every year, finding too many cards and not enough envelopes and writing the wrong addresses on the wrong cards, before rushing off to make sure you’ve posted all your overseas ones before the cut off! Manic? yes, but still lovely! 🙂

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Luckily managed to do all mine this year, including the overseas ones, with time to spare! Wow, that’s a first!

Yes…December has arrived in all its glittering shinyness and though I may miss the blissful heat of summer, nothing beats a crackling log fire and some hearty cheer!

So whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re plans, wherever you are, here’s wishing you all a wonderfully happy, magical and glorious Christmas and festive season!

😀 xxxxxxx

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Merry Christmas Everyone! 😀 xxxx

Winter haze, snow days…life goes on!

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It’s been a little while since I last posted, sorry folks for the delay, just a few unforeseen bumps along the road of life, but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

SAM_2173Just over a couple of weeks ago I was staring out of my window at a scene of almost indescribable beauty.

SAM_2120Everything lay shrouded under a mantle of magical white. Landscapes I knew so well, were suddenly alien. Formless lumps and bumps smothered beneath snow. The trees and thickets, so stark and mournful in winter, had grown frosty fruits of their own over night. Icicles adorned gutters and everywhere lay a stillness and silence so strange to behold in a garden which usually resembles an aviary. SAM_2181

Little three-pronged footprints skitted across the lawn, looking this way and that in the hope of food. Deeper imprints from the various wild creatures that frequent our wooded garden, could be seen gathering round the feeders we put out.

SAM_2269The pond had frozen solid and there, as reminder of the beauty and cruelty of life, was a track, leading from the edge of the pond across the frozen water to the little island where the moorhens live. A mink.

A creature never intended to be on this little sceptred isle of ours, not indigenous but introduced, brought over here for the cruelest of reasons, to farm them not for meat, for us to live from, but for the vanity of fashion – for fur to adorn the wealthy and arrogant. And why was this mink suddenly roaming our countryside? Because it’s freedom had been given by those who oppose the fur trade. A noble endeavour, but of course a short-sighted one, and our indigenous wildlife has paid the price. Much like our poor English crayfish, on the brink of extinction from introduced foreign invaders, our otters struggle against the competition and our birds fall prey.SAM_2258

And so, in this scene of snowy loveliness I was reminded of the arrogance of man, the ‘great interferer’, who has through ignorance, apathy or intention caused the suffering of so much of our planet’s wildlife – species that were here long before us but whose lives now hang in the balance on the most tenuous of threads because of us.

041The moorhens, a breeding pair who had mated for life, had been living on the little island in my pond for longer than I have been living in this house. Last year with utter delight, we saw them raise three broods of chicks – little black balls of fluff with outsized feet, 18 chicks in total! We put out corn for them daily in addition to the wild bird seed mixes, peanut feeders, vegetable suet and dried fruit we put out daily for all the garden birds. Helping nature where we can. Anyway, there was the track of this mink, heading straight for where the moorhens have their permanent home. No, I didn’t see any blood, just a few brown black feathers. But unmistakably, there will be no moorhen chicks this year.  Only a single moorhen remains, the male, left alone nervously swimming the pond as it thawed, running and flying at the first sign of danger, seeming to look for its lost partner.

SAM_2145A sad tale to be sure…but it got me thinking about life, about all those calamities that befall us, those obstacles we have to overcome, those hoops we jump through, those times of strife.

Certainly for me, tough times are when I “go to the mattresses”, I’ve been through enough really tough times to recognise when something truly qualifies as a major disaster or simply another pot hole in the journey we all find ourselves on. That’s not to minimise anyone’s ‘bad time’, we all have days even weeks when we just shouldn’t have crept out from under the duvet, when everything we touch turns to pig slop, but you do find a perspective in life when you’ve really had struggles. As a result, you are able to deal with the odd crisis or recognise simply when things aren’t as bad as they seem – a lucky escape wrapped in a drama!

SAM_2135For me, everything is a matter of perspective. Everything I have and have achieved has been through damn hard work, sweat, blood, tears and persistence – no fickle luck, no easy hand outs or rich family members, just slog, but that does build character. SAM_2179

So, when the dust settles and you’ve picked yourself up. Look around. Smell the air, breathe deep and realise that things always happen for a reason. That you may just have had a lucky escape from a bad situation that could, and probably would, have become a lot worse. See those silver linings? They’re for you.

SAM_2235So, the next time something ‘bad’ or unexpected happens to you, take the time to reflect, look up from your duvet and simply breathe and you may just find that a new door opens up for you and a new horizon brighter than any you could have imagined! SAM_2104

SAM_2294As for my lonely moorhen, I cannot promise that he will find another partner, that life will get any easier for him, despite my efforts, but life does go on. Within days a pair of wild ducks arrived and a couple of pheasant have been taking up residence…life goes on. SAM_2232

So good luck to you all, my friends, my supporters, my family, life IS a wondrous and beautiful trip, make sure you don’t miss it!  😀 xx

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