Fantasy Maps, Book Launches and Chris Pratt!

You only have an epiphany moment maybe once or twice in your lifetime – a moment where suddenly you see yourself and your life in crystal clear clarity and the path you must take. Well, that happened to me twelve days ago at a book launch of all things and it was like a jolt of lightning to the senses. The only frustrating question that was left was why didn’t I do this years ago? Why did this take me so long?

As many of you know I’m an illustrator as well as a writer and back in February I was approached by HarperCollins to work for them as one of their official illustrators. Yippee! Since then it’s been an utterly manic year with very little opportunity to breathe between projects, but I’m not complaining, I’d rather be busy than struggling to find jobs. Amongst the illustrations I do for other people, it’s fair to say that fantasy maps are the most popular!

The highest profile illustration jobs I’ve done of late, were both fantasy world maps for HarperCollins and their HarperVoyager imprint and were both for exciting new authors called Anna – yes, it got a little confusing at times! 😀

The first was for Anna Smith-Spark and her stunning grimdark debut, The Court of Broken Knives, published 29th June 2017.

The second was for Anna Stephens and her highly anticipated grimdark debut, Godblind, published 15th June 2017.

It’s strange, from the earliest age I’ve always had a fascination for all things map-ish. I’ve poured over geography books, old cartography records, maps, atlases and globes, learning about far flung places, exotic locales, topographical features and the geology of landscapes. That love of maps was fuelled further by fiction, finding immersive fictional worlds depicted in the maps of Tolkien, CS Lewis, AA Milne with E.H. Shepherd’s wonderful ‘100 acre wood’, even the Moomin map!

Maps have become so associated with quality fantasy fiction that GRR Martin’s, Games of Thrones, inspired television series features nothing but an evolving map in its opening title sequence!

My passion for maps has caused me to blog about this subject more than any other, check out these earlier map inspired posts.

For The Love Of Maps!

Mapping Your Fantasy

Mapping The Imagination

As the mapmaker for Godblind, I was lucky enough to be invited to the grand book launch of Anna Stephen’s debut at Waterstones Birmingham on the Thursday 15th June. Waterstones had reserved the whole of the second floor for this function – very impressive! So I trundled up to Birmingham where I’d arranged to meet my two fellow Grimbold Books gals, my publisher and writer friend, Sammy HK Smith and my writer friend and editor, Kate Coe, both of whom had sensibly taken the train.

A word of warning folks – NEVER drive through Birmingham at rush hour – total insanity! 😦

Having left home at 4pm for this 6:30pm Book Launch event, I was sure I’d give myself plenty of time, after all Birmingham isn’t that far away. Sure enough, driving at my usual…ahem…speed on the motorway, I hit the outskirts of Birmingham at 5:40pm with oodles of time to spare. Yeah right. To my dismay, I was then in unmoving bumper to bumper traffic for over an hour! I couldn’t believe it, I was going to be bloody late!

Finally I got into the centre at 6:40pm, parked at the Bull Ring and walked briskly to where I thought Waterstones was. Despite looking at maps and asking about five people, I couldn’t find it. Panic set in, it was nearly 7pm, I was desperately late. As it turned out, I’d actually walked past the bloody place about three times. If you’ve ever been to Waterstones Birmingham (a 4 storey bookshop), you’ll know that the ground floor from the outside looks rather like a café, all you can see are signs for coffee and snacks…ahem, though I seemed to have missed the rather large WATERSTONES sign above!

I raced inside exactly how I didn’t want to arrive, late, hot, bothered and basically a sweaty mess! Already exhausted by the walking and with feet which had clearly developed blisters, I knew I couldn’t manage the stairs so took the lift. The second floor button had been taped over so customers had to either get off on the first floor or the fourth, as they’d reserved the second floor for this event. Embarrassingly, what I didn’t know was that the glass lift was directly behind the event itself, with all the chairs and audience facing it. So as I hit the fourth button, thinking I’d rather walk down a flight of stairs than up one, I was on full display to all as I went up. It was farcical!

The place was packed, I was the last and only late comer. Thankfully my mates had saved a seat for me. I’d missed Anna’s wonderful reading and had joined midway through the Q&A session. I sat down wishing I was invisible, unable to curtail my copious sweating. I tend to sweat profusely when I’m nervous anyway, but add exercise and exhaustion on top and I was a melting mess! I quickly tied my hair up in the vain hope of cooling down. It didn’t work. As quickly as I moped my brow the sweat came back. I was dripping. 😦

Anna very kindly asked if the illustrator/map-maker was in the audience and I timidly raised my hand. Sammy & Kate being sweet were pointing to me as well. I stood up and made some self-deprecating comment about being the late sweaty one then promptly sat down again. The event finished with rapturous applause before people lined up to get their book signed. I’d brought my hardback copy along, very nicely sent to me by the Head of Fiction Art at HarperCollins. While I was queuing, Anna’s lovely Mum and Auntie came over to me to say how much they liked the map, which was so  sweet of them. The response I’ve had from people has been amazing! I reached Anna, who had been signing copious copies of her wonderful book and we chatted. She is so lovely and I wish her all the success in the world, I’m sure the book will be a huge smash, I just wish I hadn’t been such a disgusting mess when I finally met her.

BUT…this experience became the lightning bolt I needed.

After the event, Sammy, Kate and I had a quick coffee and catch up before we walked Sammy to the train station. Every step hurt, my feet were absolutely killing me, I struggled to keep up, even though they were only walking normally, it was too fast for me. We said goodbye and then Kate and I walked back to my car. I was done in. Anyone would have thought I’d just walked a marathon.

I got home a few hours later to find massive blisters the size of £2 coins on the sole of each foot. My thighs had rubbed together and generally I was just uncomfortable, painful and feeling awful. I was a total mess. It was then that I had my epiphany moment – suddenly for the first time in years I really looked at myself.

What the hell was I doing?

Here I am in my early forties, feeling as young and immature as ever (having never really grown up), but with a fat frumpy body that was falling apart just from a bit of bloody walking! I had had enough! Enough of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, enough of being so unfit and feeling heavy, bloated and generally awful about myself, enough of wheezing after a few steps, enough of feeling like an ugly blob next to my slimmer friends, enough of struggling to find something I can wear often choosing to smother myself in tent like clothes to hide in, enough of being embarrassed in social situations because I was hot and overly sweaty or just felt like the odd one out, enough of having a bad body and bad body image…ENOUGH!

Yes I was once a skinny kid and before I gained all my weight (mostly through comfort eating as a means of coping with trauma), I actually had a figure to die for (34D bust, 22inch waist, 34inch hips), your basic hourglass figure and yes, the likelihood after years of abusing my body of ever getting back to that is minus zero. BUT, that doesn’t mean I have to just settle for what I am now and give up on myself either! I have a personal life goal my close mates know about and if I am ever going to achieve it, I NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT and GET FIT NOW!!!!

That daft incident at the book launch finally opened my eyes to what I was doing to myself and to my life. It’s not enough to just sit in the same rut, day in day out, and let life pass you by as if you’re just a piece of flotsam on the current and not actually a part of the stream.

My epiphany was simple…I HAD to change my life.

That’s where Chris Pratt comes in, lol, no not literally, well almost! Unlike other Hollywood types and famous hunks called Chris, like Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt for all his money and fame is just like so many of us, a mere mortal who has struggled with his weight. That’s when inspiration hit. Chris Pratt had ballooned to 300lbs (21 stone) for his film role in The Delivery Man then had a life changing moment of his own when he was cast as Peter Quill, Star-Lord himself, in Guardians of the Galaxy (one of my favourite films).

To secure the role he needed to lose 60lbs in 6 months. THAT was my inspiration jump off point – to give myself 6 months and a fixed date I could focus on (for the first time ever) to lose 60lbs or as much weight as I could! Thus The Chris Pratt Challenge was born!

The very next day I announced to the world, as a way of stopping me from backing out, that I was doing this Chris Pratt Challenge, where I would check in every day to share my experiences of trying to lose weight, get fit and change my life. I even went as far (for the first time ever) of weighing myself and going public with my weight. Not Chris Pratt’s 21stone but still a massive 17st 12lbs! I was shocked I had gotten so big, but I was and am determined to change. No more yo-yo dieting, a permanent change.

My start date was 16th June 2017, the day after that fateful book launch and my deadline date is 16th December 2017. I pledge to have lost a significant amount of weight, a life changing amount of weight by that date. Not only am I eating healthy food now and not late at night, I am forcing myself to eat breakfast, which I haven’t done since I was 13 and…most unlike me, I’m doing something I haven’t done in over twenty years – exercise, in fact, I’m doing daily exercise! Starting off with a negative value of fitness the only way from here is up! 😀

I WILL do this, lol, I’m nothing if not a tenacious bastard! 😀

 

So, I am finally changing my life…what are YOU going to do today to change yours?

Good luck to us all! 😀 xxxx

 

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Are you supported? Friendship and passing 27,000 hits!

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Okay, this is not a blog post about supportive bras (sorry guys!), but it is about friendship and support. Do you have people who support you or leave you swinging in the wind?

I am absolutely THRILLED that my tiny little blog has now passed 27,000 visitors and want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who have supported this blog, whether you are a one-off fly-by visitor or a regular ‘pull up a chair and chillax’ visitor. You guys are utterly AMAZEBALLS!!!! 😀 xxx

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Well, although this is a time of great changes and sparkly new horizons, all of them positive – like the brand new job and scary new career I’ve just embarked on after having been a full-time teacher for the last 16 yrs; I admit that this post is a bit of a ‘moan-fest’, something I don’t do very often. But I’m eventually venting about something that has bugged the crap out of me for the last two years.

It’s funny, I was recently reading a very heartfelt and extraordinary post by brilliant fantasy writer, Tricia Drammeh, all about how important it is to be supported by family and friends. The post really struck a chord with me, as it did for so many other writers: http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/2014/05/21/when-your-family-doesnt-support-your-writing/ Please check out the rest of Tricia’s wonderful blog: http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/

Although writing can be exhilarating, life-changing, life-affirming and just a wonderfully fulfilling creative ride…it can also be incredibly isolating, lonely, frustrating, un-rewarding, demoralising and difficult. That rollercoaster journey of success, failure, hopes and dreams, both realised or crushed, is hard enough as it is, but the journey becomes all the more difficult if you are embarking on your creative path without the support of nearest and dearest.

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Now, I count myself as being very lucky, as my family even including Aunts and Uncles, have been incredibly supportive and encouraging of my writing journey. But, like many other writers,  I too have experienced the opposite. Despite the majority of my friends being amazingly supportive, more than I could ever have hoped for, strangely enough my oldest ‘best friend’ of the last 20 yrs+ has been pretty dreadful.

Daft I know, but it has not only plagued me, but deeply hurt and upset me. I can openly say her name, Joanna, why? Because I know that she will never ever read this. She knows nothing of my writing life and doesn’t care. She doesn’t know that I have a blog, let alone the fact that my little blog has attracted over 27,000 visitors since I started it in Jan 2012. She doesn’t know that I’m on Facebook at all, have a FB book page with over 1,000 likes, have countless followers on Pinterest, set up my own Illustration business, recently had a short story published in a wonderful anthology, Felinity by Grimbold Books41wpCDigqbL[1]She was vaguely aware (though no doubt she has forgotten) that I did a very successful Waterstone’s book signing tour in 2012, but wouldn’t know what towns and cities I visited and certainly didn’t bother attending the one just down the road from where she lives.

Again, Tricia Drammeh’s post really resonated with me. For the last 20+yrs I have supported Jo through thick and thin, for every success, every failure, every relationship, every drama – no matter how big or miniscule. I send cards to congratulate, commiserate or just to buck her up and say I’m thinking of her, even cards when she moves from one rented property in her town, to another just down the road. She is an only child, which in itself shouldn’t mean anything, except to say that in her case she is selfish and totally self-obsessed and has always been used to being the centre of attention and having people ‘do for her’. Now, the silly thing is, I never minded playing second fiddle, being the ‘listening ear’, the sympathetic shoulder, the invisible person who always supports her. I didn’t mind the fact that our friendship was always so one-sided, all about her, never about me. BUT, in 2012 something big happened in my life, the biggest thing that had ever happened to me – my first novel was published.

At the time I tried not to be hurt when I received congratulations cards and even flowers from ALL of my friends, even work colleagues and people I didn’t know well, everyone I knew EXCEPT from her. My novel was available for a limited time to pre-order, and by doing so the people who pre-ordered could have their name printed inside the book. Again, all my friends raced to purchase their pre-ordered copy, but Jo? Despite months of gentle hinting, she didn’t, eventually, with only days to spare, I plucked up the courage to be more assertive and asked her (knowing the answer), if she had bought a copy yet as the deadline was coming up. I had to literally twist her arm. Whereas my close mate, Heather (totally lovely), was the first to buy a copy, Jo was the absolute last. I couldn’t believe how totally and blatantly uninterested and unsupportive she was being, just because for once this was something to do with me and not her. Months continued like this, all my friends asking about the upcoming publication date, wanting to read excerpts, wanting to be involved in any way they could, but Jo, nothing. She never asked questions, never brought it up, it was like the 500 pound elephant in the room, all conversations reverted to the usual drone about her love life, wanting to lose weight, talking about food and Tesco’s or her long list of imagined ills and troubles – i.e. all about her as usual.

I admit, for the first time ever, my rose-tinted glasses that had been superglued to my head, actually came off and I saw clearly how completely skewed our relationship had become.

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I had visited her down in Devon in the summer of 2012, which was once again a visit ‘all about Jo’ and been shocked and embarrassed when we visited her other friend (who she see’s every few days) and Jo quickly blurted out in the car on the way there that her friend knew nothing about my book so I’d have to tell her. It just re-affirmed how unimportant it was and I was. Bear in mind too, that her ‘friend’ had dabbled in writing for years and has always been a jealous sort, so you can imagine how she reacted to the news. This, btw, was after Jo had admitted to me that she gave her copy of my book away to some guy in Totnes.

Publication day came and went and nothing, no congratulations, no acknowledgement even. Again, in very rare excerpts, I had tried talking about my writing and my new novel and told her I was having a big book launch at Cirencester. I knew she had no dates that clashed with it, but I also knew, from her total silence on the subject, that she had no intention of coming. She would rather spend the weekend with her bf of the time than support her best mate.

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The day of the book launch came and like a fool I was still hoping to see her walk through the door, of course she didn’t. Instead, ALL my family and friends came ‘en mass’, dear Heather travelled nearly two hours with her two little babies to attend, my dear dear Lindsey (who I had never met at that time) travelled for two hours to support, my wonderful close mate, Will Macmillan Jones travelled all the way from deepest darkest Wales to be there, everyone EXCEPT for Jo. The book launch was a huge success and sold out in just over an hour, but still, all I could think about was Jo.

And so it continued.

Then I got a true glimpse into why Jo was behaving the way she was. She visited my place with her chain-smoking obnoxious bf at the time. We went for lunch and during lunch I was shocked to have this bf ask me about my book, something Jo never did. I soon understood why. During the lunch I was then subjected to a full-on interrogation. The bf asked me a flurry of aggressive questions about my book, I tried to ignore his condescending tone. As soon as I tried to answer, he just interrupted me with comments like, “Humph, sounds like every other book I’ve read”, “Sounds just like Harry Potter” (which I have NEVER read and don’t personally like) “But what exactly makes it different?”, “You haven’t answered my question!”, “Who did you get your ideas from?” etc., etc. I was being bombarded, I looked across at Jo who not only hadn’t come to my rescue and told her offish bf to BACK THE F**K OFF, but was sitting there, arms folded, totally silent and with the most awful smug expression on her face. Cheshire cat comes to mind. 😦 grinning-chesire-cat[1]

It suddenly dawned on me…these disparaging remarks, the belittling, the arrogance, the condescending attitude, all of it could only have come from Jo. Those were her words spoken through him.

It was finally clear where her lack of support came from, she thought I was an idiot, an immature fool following childish dreams. Who the hell did I think I was – pretending to be a writer? Did I think I was going to be the next big thing? Delusions of grandeur or what? The feeling of disdain, palpable embarrassment towards me, her sad little friend deluding herself into thinking she had achieved something, that I was ‘an author’. I struggled through the lunch, said my courteous goodbyes and burst into tears the moment they left. I felt utterly crushed. 😦

Ever since then, even though her nasty bf then dumped her a few months later, I swore I’d never talk to her about my writing/books again, and I haven’t. It hasn’t been hard as she isn’t interested and never asks. So, we carry on, me going through the motions of a friendship that now seems so hollow. More Jo dramas to support, more imagined problems, exaggerated health issues (which magically only arose when I became ill last year), all the things that still keep Jo at the centre, where she likes to be. Meanwhile and by stark contrast, my real friends are exactly that, REAL. We support each other and can talk to each other about anything. And again, because I know Jo isn’t interested in anything other than herself, I’ve stopped talking to her about anything important to me, about my new job, my plans for the future, my family, any of it. Our last conversation was, as usual, all about her, her ‘bad back’, her problems, etc., etc.

3b61948569022d0457a6b60ad7d39393[1]Yes, I know I should have the guts to simply be honest and have it out with her, but frankly I’ve been worn down by it all. I have great friends around me, I’ve just eventually realised, despite the length of our friendship, that Jo isn’t one of them. 😦

So ‘moan-fest’ over, promise.

How do YOU deal with disappointment and lack of support from those you call friends? How do you move forward?

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THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR LISTENING TO THIS ‘LETTER TO JO’. 😀 xxxx

Hope, Hot Cross Buns and Easter Surprises!

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It’s Easter already? Where did the year go?

Well, I feel I should share a few of our family rhymes at this time of year:

“Hot cross buns,

Hot cross buns,

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns.

If you have no daughters,

Give them to your sons,

One a penny, two a penny

Hot cross buns.”

Lol, although those that know me well know that I’m not a religious person at all, in fact I’m an atheist, I do respect all cultures and religions and people’s personal belief systems. But, despite my non-religious status, I’ve always found Easter to be such a hopeful time. It’s probably to do with Spring being in the air, the first warm days of the year, the first azure blue skies (though not today!), the first new flowers of the year.

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SAM_3701Walking round the garden with my four doggies becomes an almost spiritual experience at this time. The sheep with their baby lambs frolicking in the fields behind, the first green shoots on trees, the swaying sturdy stems of daffodils, the delicate drooping heads of the snake’s head fritillary, the first butterflies and countless birds nesting in every nook and cranny. We love nature and the cyclical nature of life is not lost on us. We put out peanuts and wild bird seed every day for the woodpeckers and various little birds which live with us and corn for the moorhens, but the best thing is brushing all our dogs and placing the discarded fur out on the lawn, then sitting back and watching. It takes literally seconds before the first birds swoop down and start picking out bundles of the white fluffy stuff in their beaks to line their nests. It really is such a wonder to behold. Tiny little chiff chaffs, blue tits, chaffinches, robins and sparrows all sporting long white beards and moustaches, like little miniature mandarins. SOOOOO sweet!

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If you have any pets, cats or dogs (though dogs are best), now is the time to brush them and put out the fur for the birds in your garden, you’ll be amazed by the results! Within an hour, there was no fur left, and it just got me thinking about how important it is to be in harmony with nature and give it a hand whenever you can. SAM_3711

I just love the thought of all our nesting birds having a doggy fur lining to snuggle up in!

But, I digress… SAM_3725

Easter and Spring is about hope, whatever your religious or non religious beliefs. A year of promise and opportunities stands before you. So, what will you do to seize those opportunities?

For me, apart from pursuing my creative endeavours, including setting up my new illustration business http://sophieetallisillustrations.weebly.com/ and hopefully getting back to novel writing, I am also pursuing some personal goals too. One of those I’ll keep quiet about for now (don’t want to jinx myself), but I do want to share a struggle so many of us have – with our weight.

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A few weeks ago I weighed myself, something I’ve learnt not to do often to avoid bad news, and had a nasty surprise – since my illness last year when I really couldn’t do much of anything, I’d put on a whole stone!!! I was shocked when I worked out my BMI. 😦

Although I was a skinny kid and slim in my early teens, after a few traumatic years I started eating for comfort and the pounds piled on. As an adult I have struggled with my weight like many of us. Name a diet and I’ve done it, Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Rosemary Conelly, Atkins, fasting, Dukan diet, etc., etc. The best I’ve ever managed to lose is about a stone and a half then plateau for four/five months before giving up utterly dejected and eventually putting the weight back on. 😦

This year, after a year of huge life change, I eventually had an epiphany… SAM_3719

Yes a lot of it was to do with having turned 40, having left a 15 year solid career and embarking on a whole new one, and a lot of it was to do with the sudden shocking death of my dear friend, Lindsey J Parsons, in Jaunary 2014. 827e711c41030a7f023505.L._V144210053_SY470_[1]

My epiphany was simple – life is too damn short to waste a moment of it. Don’t just think about your dreams, or plan for tomorrow, DO SOMETHING about it!

MAKE IT HAPPEN!!!!!!

With that in mind I mentally slapped myself and VOWED to lose weight and get healthier. No, I don’t expect to get back to my former skinny self, 22inch waist and all, but it’s not about capturing the past…it’s about creating a future – a healthier, happier future.

SAM_3691I made a schedule for myself, three small healthy meals, eating breakfast (for the first time since I was 13), not eating after 6pm, doing three bouts of exercise daily. No counting calories, carbs, points or anything else, just regulating what I eat, making sure it’s healthy, and smaller portions of course.

Well, only two weeks later since I started and I’ve lost 10lbs so far!!!!!

I have a loooooong journey ahead of me, but I know I can make. For the first time ever, I have HOPE. I’m not sure if it’s Easter hope or Spring hope, but I know I’ll get to where I want to get.

You know the saying, “Hope Springs Eternal.”

So, for all of you out there, whatever your goals, 2014 will be the year you achieve them, just believe in yourself, be pro-active and have HOPE!

😀 xxxxx

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