Climbing Mountains – January blues and 31 days of madness!

As we start February I look back at the madness that was January. From the world being plunged into the realities and dangers of Trumpland to the usual January blues. At this dull time of year, after the festivities and fun of the festive period I always think of CS Lewis’s words:

“I’ve always found this a trying time of the year.  The leaves not yet out, mud everywhere you go.  Frosty mornings gone.  Sunny mornings not yet come.  Give me blizzards and frozen pipes, but not this nothing time, not this waiting room of the world.”

January inevitably, is always a pensive time, a time of anti-climax, of looking back at the past year and looking to the future – sometimes in hope, sometimes in anxiety. I suppose now with the turmeric turd (as I call him) ensconced in the White House, there is more reason than any to be anxious about what the future may bring. For me personally, being such a lover of nature, a conservationist and environmentalist at heart, I worry about his ignorant, unsubstantiated (and quite possibly insane) views and denial of climate change as merely a ‘Chinese hoax’. That instead of listening to the independent views of thousands of scientists and climate experts around the world, of proven facts about climate change resulting from human activity, that Trump’s ego and his love of money and power could easily cause unparalleled environmental damage that may take years to reverse, if it can be at all. We don’t own this world, we are merely custodians, another animal species that rely on it for life itself. This world is such a precious place, its eco systems so fragile, its wildlife under so much threat from humanity already, that 4 years or dare I say it, 8 years of Trump insanity, of arctic drilling, fracking, extra oil, gas and coal exploration and pollution, may well be too much to recover from. Only time will tell.

January is also about setting goals especially life goals which are always tricky, the positive vibes of saying to yourself that THIS year will be different, this year you will lose those annoying pounds (or stones), achieve those long held goals and dreams, that this will be YOUR year.

It’s a double-edged sword. Yes you should have aspirations, goals, dreams, things that make you happy, but the reality of not achieving them can be dreadful. January is also a time of year that I often find myself falling back into bad habits and bad thinking – the time when depression often rears its ugly head.

So, as a way to combat those feelings and that awful January inertia, back in November I had an utterly mad idea…

painting-outside by Sophie E Tallis

Being Facebook friends with the lovely Children’s Laureate, illustrator extraordinaire Chris Riddell, I’ve been watching his posts all through the year. Every day Chris draws or sketches in what he calls his ‘Laureate Log’, a wonderful visual diary of creativity. Well, as Picasso himself said “The best ideas are stolen!”, I decided to do my own daily art record – what I call ‘The Artmaniac Challenge’!

So I set up a friendly inclusive group on Facebook – the Artmaniacs – open to anyone to draw, sketch, paint, sculpt, create a new artwork EVERY DAY for 365 days, starting from January 1st 2017 – January 1st 2018 and post it online in the group and anywhere else they fancy! It was a way for focusing the mind, being productive and a way of forcing you to be creative every day, even on days when all you want is a cuppa and a duvet to hide under.

I had no idea if it would work, but it has, we already have 27 members and growing! It’s been a wonderfully positive thing, a great way of driving out those damn January blues and giving a real sense of achievement to those participating. So in the mad 31 days of January, I and others have 31 pieces of art to show for it, an ever-growing portfolio – and the lovely thing is that it doesn’t matter if they are rough sketches, finished drawings, doodles, paintings, experiments, photography, anything goes! 😀

For someone like me, who has found it so hard to put pen to paper in regards to writing, doing this daily challenge has actually helped me in my writing too, because, if I can spare a few minutes to draw every day, if I can force myself to create something every day, then I can do the same for writing! WE CAN DO THIS!!!

So, here is the gallery of my first month of art, some good, lol, some not so good! 😀 xxxx

Dragon and warrior sketch by Sophie E TallisFallen Angel by Sophie E TallisSaw Gerrera character sketch (from Rogue One) by Sophie E TallisPen & Ink sketch of my dog, Korrun by Sophie E TallisCharacter sketch from my short story, Silent Running by Sophie E TallisRough sketch of Fenn, given that he only sat still for a few seconds before moving! by Sophie E TallisHand study in pen & ink by Sophie E TallisMy rough illustration from my children's book, The Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile', by Sophie E TallisThe Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile by Sophie E TallisCharacter sketch of Lord Perral from White Mountain by Sophie E TallisDragon sketch by Sophie E TallisRough sketch by Sophie E TallisSketch in blue by Sophie E TallisCouple Portrait by Sophie E TallisFinished Couple Portrait by Sophie E TallisBenedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock character study by Sophie E TallisRough fairy study by Sophie E TallisView of Kallorm 'City of Light' from White Mountain by Sophie E TallisDragon sketch by Sophie E TallisSelf=Portrait in blue by Sophie E TallisStudy in blue by Sophie E TallisMy blue toned drawing of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia by Sophie E TallisWolf study in purple by Sophie E TallisBurnt umber and ochre study by Sophie E TallisLong-Tailed Tit by Sophie E TallisPortrait study in blue by Sophie E TallisFigure study in purple by Sophie E TallisPen & Ink pheasant study by Sophie E TallisOde to John Hurt RIP by Sophie E TallisPen & Ink drawing of my dog, Tolly by Sophie E Tallis'Do not be silenced' watercolour pencil study by Sophie E TallisChinese New Year dragon rough sketch by Sophie E Tallis

Well that’s it – the good, the bad and the ugly! Let’s see what the next month brings. 🙂

N.B. I will also let slip, that a couple of weeks ago, I had some VERY good news involving HarperCollins… I’ll let you all know once everything is signed and sealed. Watch this space…! 😉 xxx

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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 cliché 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

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….

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