Shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award! Eeeek!

It’s taken a couple of weeks to sink in, hence the delay, but I’m thrilled to say that I’ve been shortlisted for the 2018 British Fantasy Awards in the Best Artist category!!! Yay!!!!

Can’t quite believe it but seeing my name listed as a shortlist nominee is surreal and a little overwhelming, but in a good way! 馃檪 I’ve been nominated in the Best Artist category for the two hand drawn pen & ink maps I created for HarperCollins last year, for Anna Smith-Spark’s brilliant ‘The Court of Broken Knives’ and Anna Stephen’s wonderful ‘Godblind’!

It’s been a lovely surprise especially given that this has been a tough year for me personally, health problems, one of my beloved wolfies (Tolly) has been very unwell, massive financial worries (colossal vet bills!) and the latest gut punch – my wonderful Godmother (who I’ve known and loved my whole life and has been there for us through some pretty traumatic times) is desperately ill with ovarian cancer. It fact she’s having her operation tomorrow to try and cut all the cancer out. We’re all very worried and fighting back tears at the moment, so having something lovely like this happen聽has definitely been a much needed ray of sunshine in amongst a sea of crap.

I won’t find out if I’ve won until the swanky awards ceremony (October 21st). So in a mad dash, despite the fact that I’m totally skint, I booked up the hotel and tickets for FantasyCon 2018 up at Chester聽(October 19th – 21st) and will be sitting there during the awards ceremony with fingers and toes crossed while practising my ‘I’m not really disappointed’ face when someone else wins it! 馃榾

A聽massive THANK YOU to the British Fantasy Society聽and to everyone who voted for me. Amazing to see the other artists I’m nominated with:

Best Artist
路 Ben Baldwin
路 Jeffrey Alan Love
路 Victo Ngai
路 Daniele Sera
路 Sophie E Tallis
路 Sana Takeda

I also want to shout out my other friends who have been nominated too. Firstly a massive congrats to the lovely Joanne Hall聽who has been nominated in the Best Short Story category for her story ‘Illumination’ taken from the anthology ‘The Book of Dragons’ by AJ Dalton published by my publishers, Kristell Ink聽(an聽imprint聽of聽Grimbold聽Books). Congrats to Joshua Cornah another fellow Grimmie from Kristell Ink, who has been nominated for Best Comic/Graphic Novel聽for his hilarious Grim聽& Bold cartoons. Grimbold Books themselves (worthy winner of the Best Independent Press at last year’s BFS awards) are also again nominated this year as well! Woo hoo! xxx

I also want to make a huge shout out to Anna Smith-Spark who has been nominated for Best Fantasy Novel and Best Newcomer聽for ‘The Court of Broken Knives’! Way to go Anna! 馃榾 xxx

Yay!!! So stupidly excited and very honoured and humbled by the whole thing.

To check out more of my work, pop by my website: Sophie E Tallis Illustrations or if you want to BUY any artwork, check out my new Etsy shop: Sophie’s Artisan Arts!

Thank you folks! 鉂 鉂 鉂 xxxxx

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Avengers: Infinity War Review – Spoilers!

Spoiler Alert! – Seriously, if you haven’t seen the film yet then what the hell are you doing? Get out of here!!!! 馃榾

Avengers: Infinity War has been out worldwide for a few days now so I feel I’m safe doing a review with my thoughts and why such an enormous CGI filled visual superhero feast has a strange personal resonance for me, oh and yes, while I will not discuss the fates of the characters, there will be spoilers story/plot wise.

It’s a weird thing, but considering I’ve been a cinephile my entire life, did film studies as part of my Fine Art Degree (with combined studies, including some really obscure films like Dr Calgari’s Cabinet!), used to work in a video shop just to get the free movies and have a collection of films which must run in the 1000’s now…I’ve never actually done a film review on here before! It’s crazy, my filmic knowledge is better than most and I even used to write film reviews for聽a freebie mag at college so why did I stop?

Anyway, while not claiming to be the world’s foremost expert on all things Marvel, I have been a superhero nerd since I was a kid so these are my observations and opinions on what was, for me, the most fun I’ve had at the cinema in a loooong time!

Is Avenger’s Infinity War a perfect film?

No, but then there are very few of those. It does however get a solid 5* stars from me for sheer entertainment and ambition. The way the Russo Brothers (the directors) have interwoven all the disparate storylines and character arcs is truly impressive, think Civil War (also a Russo film) but on a whole other galactic level! Multi-layered and complex doesn’t even cover it!

Bloody hell, what a cast!

We have our primary Avengers team聽– Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) & Captain America (Chris Evans), only Hawkeye is missing (*more on that later). Then you have the second wave Avengers –聽War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackey), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) & Vision (Paul Bettany). No Ant-Man, again *more on that later.

Add to that, Tom Holland’s plucky young, Spider-Man, definitely the kid of the bunch, Benedict Cumberbatch’s sardonic聽Doctor Strange with sidekick Wong and the WHOLE of the Guardians of the Galaxy crew, Chris Pratt’s inspired Star Lord, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora (who plays a central role in the unfolding drama), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan)聽& Mantis (Pom Klementieff) AND all of the awesome Black Panther gang, including Chadwick Boseman’s powerful Black Panther himself, Letita Wright’s wonderfully loveable Shuri, Danai Gurira’s quick witted Okoye & Winston Duke’s fearless M’Baku.

And yes…we have Tom Hiddleston’s Loki as well, a treat for all Marvel fans!

As if that wasn’t enough, the Russo Brothers have been very intelligent in ensuring that the human drama and human connections are there too, so it’s not just a constant wham bang thank you mam! For instance, near the beginning of the film you have a lovely grounded聽scene set in a sunny聽New York park with Tony Stark & Peppa Potts jogging and chatting about their future plans (Tony wanting a baby with Peppa!), a really sweet moment before all hell breaks out that once again serves to remind the viewer that we actually CARE about these characters and their plans and futures. Take note DC!

Basic聽Plot…

Although the elements聽the film is juggling are complex, with so many characters and pivotal scenes all bouncing off each other and an almost dizzying density of action and effects, like trying to聽assemble a galactic jigsaw without the overlaying image to look at, it all works brilliantly and thankfully the primary plot itself is relatively simple…

An evil聽mad titan, Thanos (a suitably intimidating Josh Brolin), using his infinity gauntlet (an all powerful glove forged for him)聽races to gather all six infinity stones (enormously powerful gems created at the birth of the universe聽which each hold a specific power with almost limitless destructive abilities), and using these gems, Thanos intends to destroy half of the universe and peoples that live in it. Real end of the world stuff.

The stakes could not be higher!

We find the Avengers, after the massive events of Captain America: Civil War, splintered apart and scattered around the world (and galaxy) but they must come together聽to save the planet and聽stop Thanos!

FYI: The six infinity stones = The Space Stone/Tesseract (blue), the Reality Stone/Aether (red), the Power Stone (purple), the Mind Stone (yellow), the Time Stone/Eye of Agomoto聽(green) and the Soul Stone (orange) we know least about this one and where it is until this film…

Film Opens…

LAST CHANCE…SPOILERS AHEAD聽– leave now! Straight after the events of Thor Ragnarok and its final post credit scene, we see the remains of Thor’s ship (full of the last remnants of the Asgardian people, now refugees after Asgard was destroyed) overshadowed by a massive craft belonging to Thanos and his聽followers, the Black Order (almost as scary as Thanos himself). The camera pans over the many fallen bodies of Thor’s people, including whole families, slaughtered, lying dead or dying. Thor himself is being tortured by Thanos and head henchman Ebony Maw, as Loki is questioned by the rest of the black order. Thanos understandably is none too happy with Loki’s failure in the events of the first Avenger’s Assemble聽film. To placate his fury and save Thanos from killing Thor,聽Loki gives up the infinity stone he stole in Thor Ragnorok, against Thor’s protestations – yeap, none other than the blue tesseract itself. Thanos grabs the tesseract and crushes it to release the blue infinity stone inside and drops it into the gauntlet he is already wearing. Worse still, he already聽has the purple power stone (last seen on Xandar at the end of the Guardians of the Galaxy)!!!! Right from the beginning, the film starts at a breath-taking pace and doesn’t let up!

Now, I don’t mind revealing some spoilers in making聽this review understandable…but I ain’t going to say anything about the fates of beloved characters at this point, but we do briefly see Heimdall in the film too.

In fact Heimdall’s actions allow the Hulk/Bruce Banner to return to Earth, literally crashing through the roof of Doctor Strange’s sanctuary! Again, the Russo brothers expertly weave galactic space sequences with Earth bound ones in a cohesive way which could so easily have become disjointed and nonsensical.

Character Meet-Ups…

Banner is clearly terrified of Thanos and warns Strange of what is to come which聽in turn leads him to contact Tony Stark while he is on his New York park run with Peppa. I must admit, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film has definitely been the new character meet-ups and the interplay between them. The first of these really is the meeting of the ego’s and goatee’s in the form of genius Strange and genius Stark meeting. While they, along with Banner and Wong chat about the Thanos threat, the building shakes…no time to breathe folks, this is a massive Marvel film after all! They run outside to see the massive Q ship of the Black Order barrelling down on New York, the threat they were talking about is already here! This ties beautifully into a school bus, of course being driven by Stan Lee himself in his 35th filmic Marvel cameo, crossing the Hudson and Spidey’s senses going berserk. Again, a lovely moment of human interaction amongst the chaos with Holland’s best spidey friend, Ned, helping to distract the bus kids while Spidey swings into action.

Fighting For The Future…

A battle ensues with Stark, Dr Strange and Wong fighting the Black Order henchmen and Spidey swinging into help, against Tony’s wishes, who still wants to protect the kid. Things don’t go well and Stark ends up following the Black Order and a kidnapped Strange aboard the Q-ship (remember Strange has the Time Stone and Thanos wants it)聽and much to Iron Man’s annoyance, Spider-Man tags along. When telling him off, I loved聽Holland’s response;聽“I can’t be a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man if there’s no neighbourhood!” Very true. So here we see Spidey becoming the latest addition to the Avengers crew. While they are taken off in the ship, Banner, back in NY is calling a friend – Captain America, now in hiding. The shit has hit the fan and ALL the Avengers must fight it!

Meanwhile the Guardians, speeding through space on the Milano & responding to a ship distress call come across a scene of devastation – the bodies and remains of Thor’s ship and the Asgardian people, this is where the trailer we saw comes into play with a seemingly lifeless Thor slamming into their ship – seemingly lifeless until he opens an eye before falling unconscious again.

Humour…

Lol, the interactions are HILARIOUS, as Gamora massages聽Thor’s muscles and Drax praises the handsome stranger and points out that Star Lord is getting chubby! They awaken Thor and again the zingy one liners and twinge of jealousy on Star Lord’s part are great, especially when an insecure Star Lord starts emulating Thor’s deep voice and gets called out on it! 馃榾 I loved Thor referring to Rocket as clearly the intelligent captain of the ship and as a rabbit and referring to the others as morons…and who knew he could understand sulky teenage Groot! Brilliant!

The action swings to Edinburgh where Vision, in human form, and Scarlet Witch share a tender moment, clearly in a relationship with each other. Warning signs of something foreboding lingers though and sure enough, another of Thanos’s Black Order henchmen turn up to kill Vision and take his Mind Stone. Vision is injured and as they fight them off, good old Captain America, Black Widow聽and Falcon turn up. Captain America btw, looking more like the Nomad character he turns into in the comics, dressed in black with no visible sign of the old red & blue cap costume.

One of the hilarious touches I loved throughout the movie, which was both frustrating and refreshing, was a terrified Hulk refusing to Hulk out after his Thanos encounter, much to Banner’s exasperation! 馃榾

Wakanda Forever…

Before we know it, the action earthbound has switched to Wakanda and here we see Banner, Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine, Vision, Scarlet Witch and Cap meeting Black Panther and reuniting with Bucky who had been recuperating there since Civil War (as seen in the post credits for Black Panther, which of course signposted the ‘White Wolf’ character that Bucky later becomes in the comics).

In Space…

Galactically –聽Iron Man, Strange and Spidey manage to kill Ebony Maw and crash land the Q ship on an alien world, Thano’s old home planet! Meanwhile, realising that Xandar has been destroyed by Thanos while retrieving the power stone from the Nova Corp and that Thanos already has two infinity stones, they decide to team up and stop him before it’s too late. After a bit of comical bickering Thor splits off from the Guardians with Groot & Rocket, to get himself a Thanos killing weapon (since his beloved hammer Mjolnir was destroyed in Ragnorok), while the Guardians head to Knowwhere and the Collector who was given the red Reality/Aether stone by Thor’s friends at the end of the events of Thor: Dark World. They’re too late, Thanos is already there!

Did I mention how you’re not given a chance to catch breath during this film?! 馃榾 Seriously, it’s the ONLY movie I’ve ever been too where I was so absorbed聽and exhausted by it (in a good way), that I hardly touched my popcorn or coke for the whole movie! 馃榾

Fathers and Daughters…

In a moment of desperation, Gamora attacks and stabs Thanos in the neck. Thanos falls back, dying, bleeding heavily from his wound and asks why. Gamora bursts into tears and then all is revealed. Thanos already has the reality stone/aether and wanted to know how聽Gamora really felt! Previously to this, Gamora revealed to Star Lord that she knew where the soul stone was and because of this Thanos could not collect聽all the infinity stones. She refuses to tell Quill where it is聽and makes him promise to kill her if things go wrong. This is heavy emotional stuff guys! After she stabs Thanos & everything turns to shit, Thanos disappears dragging Gamora with him as Star Lord tries to stop him.

On board Thanos ship, Thanos had previously captured Nebula when she tried to board his ship to kill him.聽Nebula is being tortured as Thanos suspects Gamora knows the location of the soul stone (through a聽conversation Gamora had with her sister). He uses this knowledge against her, torturing Nebula to get the information he wants from Gamora. She finally gives in to save her sister. Nebula later manages to escape but events are spinning out of control.

Thanos聽drags Gamora off聽to get the soul stone. Things are looking bleak.

The Endgame…

Dr Strange, Star Lord, Iron Man & Spider-Man, still stranded on Thanos home planet after crashing the Q ship and killing Ebony Maw, realise that Thanos will HAVE to turn up there to get the time stone from Dr Strange, so they hatch a plan to stop him. Forebodingly, Strange zips into the future (actually about 14 million different futures, to see if Thanos can be beaten), in only one instance did the Avengers win…only one! As predicted Thanos then turns up to get the time stone. The plan, with the help of Mantis, almost works, then a shattering truth is revealed that pushes Star Lord over the edge and everything then goes wrong. Thanos gets the time stone and disappears, leaving the Avengers stranded and desolate. They have failed!

Stormbreaker…

Meanwhile, Thor, with the help of Rocket, Groot and an enormous dwarf, played by GoT’s Peter Dinklage, nearly dies trying to restart a dying star to create the Thanos killing weapon he needs, called Stormbreaker. Lol, btw, in a classic Rocket move, the raccoon gives Thor an electronic eye he stole from someone, so Thor is able to ditch the eyepatch. 馃檪

Preparing for the end…

Earthbound, in Wakanda preparations for war are in hand as Shuri attempts to take the mind stone out of Vision and destroy it before Thanos turns up (and without killing Vision). Too late, a host of massive ships crash down unleashing hordes of alien creations (Thanos foot soldiers), a massive battle begins as our Avengers fight their attackers and try to give Shuri time to destroy the mind stone.聽Banner, with a Hulk still refusing to fight, gets into Iron Man’s huge armour to fight the aliens off.

Eventually, just as the battle looks lost for our heroes, Thor and his awesome new stormbreaker weapon + a load of lightning of course, appears and ploughs into the alien hordes. I LOVED the moment when Thor & Cap meet for the first time since Age of Ultron and exchange repartee: “Nice beard, very manly” says Thor to Cap’s “You changed your hair, it looks good” comment. 馃榾 SO love these interactions!

Thanos…

Just when things are looking like they might be alright, Thanos himself turns up…to get his hands on the final infinity stone, the mind stone from Vision.

OMG! The stakes, the danger, the loss, the personal moments! Vision pleads with Scarlet Witch to destroy the stone even if it means killing him, as she’s the only one with the magical powers to destroy it. Gut wrenching!

Without revealing everyone’s fate…Thanos gets the final stone and inacts his plan to destroy half the universe and people in it. Think about it, 1 in every 2 people in the entire universe dying, as if they’d never existed at all. The film ends with half our heroes聽in Wakanda and the others still trapped on the alien planet, distraught as Thanos’s plan takes its dreadful toll. The final frame of the film, after Thanos has unleashed his horrifying plan, sees聽the mad titan聽peacefully enjoying a sunrise having completed his mission.

OMFG!!!!!!

This being a Marvel film, there is of course a post-credit scene, only one, at the very end. We see former Shield agent, Maria Hill & and former Shield director, Nick Fury seeing the devastation that Thanos’s plan causes – 1 in every 2 people dying as if they never existed at all. Cars crash, their drivers disappeared, planes smash into buildings, people disintegrate to ash before their eyes. The very final frame, as everything turns to shit, is Fury sending a message on a pager like device and the pager saying ‘sending’, before the star symbol of Captain Marvel flashes up! :O

There you go…the entire film story, minus some of the biggest spoilers.

Satisfying Fan Moments…

For me, apart from getting a good insight into Gamora’s backstory/past like her first meeting as a child with Thanos, which underpins so much of their complex relationship, “What’s wrong little one?” Thanos asks amidst the chaos he has unleashed on Gamora’s homeworld, the film also manages to give some really satisfying moments for the fans. For me, having Star Lord and Gamora eventually declare their love for each other was one of the biggest and most emotionally impactful. I also loved the whole teenage Groot thing, seeing Spider-Man in space with his new suit, seeing Iron Man’s new nano-technology suit and again, the personal moments…that look of relief and warmth between Black Widow and Banner, the first time they’ve been reunited since the events of Age of Ultron.

Critical response…

So far the general consensus is that this is a great film. If you don’t like Marvel movies and superheroes then you won’t like it, but if you do, then this is a film that will greatly please the majority of fans. For me, it was EPICALLY AWESOME! I’m sure some will criticise it’s frenetic pace, but with so much to stuff in there and to still keep those lovely humorous exchanges and touching personal character moments, the pace needs to be frenetic. If I was making this film it would probably be two weeks long, not two and half hours!

WOW!!!!!!!

Personal Resonance…

On a personal level, despite on the surface this being yet another ‘silly comic book film’, I think the reason it resonated so much with me, beyond my being a huge superhero and Marvel fan, was the conflicted father-daughter (Thanos-Gamora) storyline at the heart of this film. As a daughter myself聽to my own Thanos evil type monster father (happily out of my life for over 10 years now), I totally understood Gamora’s feelings, angers, self-doubts and fears. You can come from evil without being evil yourself, you CAN overcome your beginning, history does NOT have to repeat itself. So yes, despite all the massive set pieces, action, frentic pace and stunning visuals, for me, at the heart of this was a very and all too personal story of a bad father and the damaged daughter trying to better herself and break free of her poisonous past. And I guess the other message for me, is that your family can be who you CHOOSE to be your family not necessarily the people who brought you up.

Anyway, enough of that personal heavy stuff. 馃榾

Am I going to see it again? Hell yes! You bloody bet cha I am! I’m sure there’s LOADS I missed out and didn’t pick up on the first viewing, but I just wanted to share my thoughts on the whole glorious thing.

Well done to the Russo brothers for pulling together and wrestling a leviathan like this and making it work, a job I am utterly stunned that they managed to do so well.

*Now, briefly, about the lack of Hawkeye and Ant Man, it is mentioned that they are protecting their families, so this could be the primary reason why they don’t feature in Infinity War, especially for Hawkeye, there is also speculation that they may well be in Avengers 4, so the reasoning for their absence may be further聽explained then.*

Yes there are some flaws, of course, but, certainly on first viewing, they really are not big enough to impact on the sheer blissful enjoyment of this! Roll on Avengers 4!!!! 馃榾

5* stars!!!! 馃榾 #LovedIt #AvengersInfinityWarRocks

 

The Chris Pratt Challenge – Changing Your Life!

I’m no Tony Robbins, the famous motivational speaker and all round ‘Can Do’ guy, but I’ve learnt a few things about motivation, will power, tenacity and trying to change your life over the last month. Warning: This is a personal post!

On June 16th I finally decided to turn my life around – I was fed up of being overweight, unfit, tired all the time and generally feeling like crap. Although I was a skinny kid, due to a pretty聽traumatic聽home life (ultra violent alcoholic father聽& a bullying brother), I started over-eating, the classic comfort eating. By my mid twenties I was fat and have stayed fat ever since.

Following a book launch for Anna Stephen’s HarperCollins debut –聽Godblind (I was the illustrator who created the map), where聽my appalling lack of fitness ended up with me being late for the event and turning up exhausted and in a sweaty mess – I vowed ‘Never again!’.

The next day I made a very public pledge to myself and the world to change my life, no matter how hard or how long it took. It’s true I’m an incredibly stubborn and tenacious person, but like so many of us when it came to my own personal goals, I always chickened out and gave up. NOT this time!

I called this life changing endeavour, The Chris Pratt Challenge. I chose Chris Pratt, not because I have a wee crush on the guy, it was actually more profound than that. He’s a public figure聽but unlike most public figures聽who seem to聽have the luck and looks of a god or goddess, Chris Pratt has actually struggled with his weight like聽us mere mortals. He’s been 21 stones (300lbs) in fact, and turned his life around losing 60lbs in 6 months to get the role of Star-Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.

So, the Chris Pratt Challenge was born – to set a date in 6 months time to lose 60lbs and get fitter.

In truth I need to lose more than 60lbs and I know this will take me longer than just 6 months, but any life change requires a large kick up the butt, so this is mine. If I can lose 60lbs or close to it by December 16th, it will kick start the rest of my long term health and life goals.

The first month of the challenge has now passed and it’s been a huge success. Yay! 馃榾

Not only is there now a lovely support group on facebook, The Chris Pratt Challenge group, with 20+ members from around the world (and growing), but it’s been the start of something really special. All of it’s members are looking to either lose weight or get fitter/healthier or both, for hugely differing reasons too, but we’ve all been able to get together in this group and encourage and motivate each other. There are days when someone might slip with their diet, or hit a personal problem, and we are there for them every step of the way, giving them the support they need sometimes when no-one else is. It’s been the best mutually beneficial thing I’ve ever been involved with and has almost taken on a life of itself! 馃榾

For me, and one other member, we also have very important personal life goals we want to achieve but need to lose weight and get fitter to reach them, so again the group has been AMAZING!

As far as actual聽results are concerned, it’s been incredible.

I started this endeavour 6 weeks ago on the 16th June weighing a massive 17st 12lbs (240lbs). I am now 16st 11lbs (225lbs). I have now lost just over a stone (15lbs) in 6 weeks, achieving聽my first milestone of many hopefully. Although I can’t say there’s any massive noticeable change yet, though according to friends I do look slimmer, I’ve not only lost weight but I’ve also lost several inches聽from聽various body areas. Despite my CFS and Vesitibular Neuritis health probs, I have more energy than I’ve had for ages and I’ve also noticed that very slowly, bit by bit, my muscles which really haven’t been awoken or used聽for twenty years, are slowly beginning to appear. Lol, I’m definitely NOT sporting a six pack but I have muscle aches after exercising where I didn’t have muscles before! 馃榾

My first聽6 week statistics:

  • 15lbs lost + BMI: from 41.6 to 39.1
  • 5inches off midriff
  • 4 inches off waist
  • 3 inches off hips
  • 3 inches off thighs
  • 2 inches off bust
  • 2 inches off upper arms

So onwards and upwards from here, we’ll see what the next 6 weeks brings. The truly astonishing thing about all this though, has been the positive side effects聽& knock on reactions it’s created, like dropping a stone into water, the ripples just keep going! 馃榾

By setting myself these goals, I’ve also聽found myself setting other goals for the first time. Giving myself a deadline to complete a short story by, committing myself to write 10,000 words by the end of August on either my second and very long awaited sequel to White Mountain,聽‘Darkling Rise’ (apologies to my Darkling Chronicle fans, I know I’ve been dreadfully slow with this second book but it is slowly getting there!) or on my other dark paranormal thriller, Ravenwing.

So聽for any of you reading this, wanting to lose weight or get fitter/healthier or just wanting to change your life – you CAN do it! Join a support group like ours, dig deep and you’ll find resources you never thought were possible. Believe me, if someone like me who has a life long aversion to exercise and ‘healthy foods’ can start doing exercise and eating healthier foods – YOU CAN TOO! 馃榾

 

The best of luck to us all! 馃榾 鉂 xxxxx

2016 – The Year of the 4 B’s – Bowie, Brexit, Broken Friendships and Bigotry

It’s聽2017, thank the gods!聽Like many people around the world, I聽was very keen to welcome 2017 and see the back of 2016, a bloody awful year. 馃槮

This year has seen the last vestiges of any innocence die a death, of what remained of life’s rosy tints fade to a newer, harsher reality of what the world is really like rather than what we’d like it to be or thought it was. I’ve always teetered between being daftly optimistic on life or聽darkly聽pessimistic, this year has definitely brought out the latter.

That’s the reason I have written this very long post – to cathartically and finally put 2016 and all its negativity behind me, so I can start the new year afresh. To聽move on, live, love and find the beauty in life again.

Warning: If you’re feeling low at all, just skip on down to the positive stuff at the bottom! 馃榾

bowie_on_tour[1]The year started terribly, the death of one of my all time heroes who I affectionately described聽when I was聽a 6 year old dressing up like him, as聽my ‘space pirate’, yes, the death of David Bowie hit a lot of people hard. He was this insanely exotic and magical figure, my space pirate, then the聽Goblin King then as a teenager, he was a refuge, an outsider聽just like me, someone who didn’t fit in. He looked different and felt different and celebrated that diversity rather than trying to adhere to other’s rules. As a teenager I聽withdrew from friends, from everyone, from life, the weight of dealing with a family imploding聽in on itself, was too much to bear,聽an ultra violent alcoholic and abusive father who was determined to destroy his family and tear his children down. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t worrying about make-up, exams聽and boyfriends, I was worrying about what lies to tell my friends when they asked why the police were around our place again, why we were seen being chased down the road in bare feet and聽our bedclothes as he wielded a knife, an axe, a broken bottle. I was worried about being killed, throat slit or head caved in as he threatened聽or having my mum killed, yet another dreadful statistic of domestic violence. So yes, I sought refuge in fantasy fiction, in writing and drawing聽and my beloved Bowie, the ultimate outsider.

After Bowie passed, the year saw more of our heroes fall, one after the other, unrelentingly so, most recently Carrie Fisher our beloved Princess Leia and her mother just the day after.

5dea49e85d1672067a19ae1306b8ba353e1eac91be17d09a3ee9a50c3fa7db8d1I admit my mental health has not been great this year. I’ve battled with extreme depression on and off for most of 2016, swinging from manically happy to manically low, and I’m sure this has skewed many things and heightened my reactions to things. The thing about depression is that you can be surrounded by friends yet feel utterly isolated and alone. A couple of times this year things have been very bleak indeed and I’ve teetered on the edge. I’m not excusing myself, even in my blacker moments I’ve never attacked those I love or anyone. But I know I’ve been incredibly angry this year, not like me at all, and the whole Brexit debacle has definitely played a huge role in that.

In February, I was driving to work when a woman smashed into my car ploughing聽it off the road and writing it off in the process. I was gutted, out of pocket and in pain. As anyone knows who is involved in an accident even a clear cut case like mine where the other party admitted culpability, it drags on for months! 馃槮 Crash

The year wore on and with it my physical health continued to dip, several trips to the doctors, a couple of collapses聽and a couple of low key hospital visits聽together with a shed load of meds later.聽It’s a drag but it’s not life threatening, pain is something you learn to deal with, its聽just when the vertigo and vomiting kicks in that you feel like an invalid as you truly can’t聽walk or even stand and can聽do nothing but crawl on all fours like a howling toddler. Sigh. But, I know people have it far worse, so I’m grateful for the health that I do have.

The war in Syria continued to escalate, the sheer cost of human suffering is almost unfathomable and yet the West seems utterly unable to help the innocent who are paying the cost with their lives. The world is a very scary place right now. 馃槮

51s1l6rh6cl-_sx311_bo1204203200_1In April came a wonderful highlight, the launch in Bristol for the awesomely awesome anthology, Fight Like A Girl (a strangely prophetic title given how the year turned out!). Wow, what a wonderful day! Martial arts, gritty readings, a panel and a mass signing, it was like a glorious mini-con and I eventually got to meet fellow AWB matey, the lovely AFE Smith who had travelled all the way to Bristol to support the launch. It was lovely meeting her after nearly 6 years of knowing her! Thank you to BristolCon, Joanne Hall, Roz Clarke and the amazing Sammy HK Smith for everything, I do feel very blessed to have聽you all聽in my life. Love to you all. 鉂

Then we had the toxicity of Brexit. OMG, what can I say?

First, lovely Jo Cox, an amazing聽Labour MP, thoroughly decent human being and mother to two young children, was brutally murdered by a fascist right wing nut. She was a staunch supporter of the Pro-Remain side along with the rest of her party, leader and the vast majority of left wingers and Labour party supporters. She died for what she believed in, an inclusive, forward thinking and compassionate country, not an inward looking, anti-immigrant聽island of ‘them and us’.聽聽It was an utterly brutal and horrific attack. jo-cox-labour-mp1

Did it change the outcome of the Brexit Referendum? No, not one jot.

13510824_10153736311815840_6984061545886519550_n1Myself, along with 16 million other people, the 48% of people in Britain who rejected the right wing rhetoric, the xenophobia, narrow mindness, racism, bigotry and poison spouted during the ‘campaign’, not to mention the endless fear mongering and lies (拢350 million going to the NHS eh? Uh, no), truly believed that we lived in a better country than we do. We were proved wrong. I’ve never been so sad and so ashamed of my country. 馃槮

Massive divisions opened up, and yes, there was mud slinging on both sides. No-one escaped Brexit untouched and unsullied. But what was shocking to me was how intelligence was suddenly vilified, experts in fiscal studies, economics, trade, heads of business, the IMF, corporate CEO’s, scientists, academics, all聽of them were聽ignored while ignorance itself and mistruths were applauded, the ‘now we have our country back’ brigade were out in force.

Brexit was utterly toxic, divisive and聽caused deep rifts in families, friendships and communities up and down the country, rifts that still remain today. lr-by-party1

On a personal level, which I admit has really shaken me, it also聽heralded the end of聽a close friendship I had for nearly 5 years. I won’t mention his name, I’m not into ‘outing people’, it’s unfair and unnecessary so most of you will have no clue who I’m talking about, only a very small handful will know and they know anyway.

It was a strange friendship, granted, but a good one I thought. Despite often telling me that we were basically the same age (thanks for that), there聽was actually 18 years between us, he is nearer to my Mum’s age than mine. Age never mattered to me though, anyone who writes fantasy tends to be young in themselves regardless of the passing of time, but in this case it seemed to play a part. As with much of the country, we fell into the age demographics of Brexit. He was聽a vehement Pro-Leaver/Brexiteer as most of his ‘baby boomer’ generation were (the 60yr olds +, the ones who benefitted from free education, early retirement, golden handshakes, low cost housing, plentiful jobs etc., opportunities the younger generations could only dream of) and I was a staunch Pro-Remainer along with most people in their聽40’s and younger (many of them unable to get on the housing ladder and crippled by huge debts). Of course there are exceptions, my mum and her friends in their early 70’s were all left wingers and Pro-Remainers and a percentage of younger people also voted to Leave, but generally the vote was pretty clear along age, political聽and educational lines.image1

 

13498097_1209717079039636_4890768423205541922_o1Running up to the Referendum, for weeks we had had awkward conversations on FB, especially privately. He’s a very forceful personality and was actively interjecting his opinions all over FB most notably and deliberately on Pro-Remain posts, to such a degree that a mutual friend threatened to defriend and even block him! It didn’t seem to diminish his fervour, in fact he seemed to actively enjoy the arguments as if it were mere banter. I hated it. I admit I was very fervent myself, very angry, but unlike him I was ONLY commenting on my fellow pro-Remainers posts, a mutual commiserating and supporting of each other during a traumatic time. I’d no sooner start trolling Pro-Brexit posts than fly to the moon!聽Suffice to say, he was rubbing quite a few people up the wrong way and was either blissfully聽oblivious or found it a strange ego-boost in some way. I can’t fathom that kind of thinking to be honest, I hate confrontations, I’ve had a lifetime of them and they make me ill,聽but then I don’t have聽his unrelenting self-confidence.

With each new comment聽I became more shocked at how entrenched he was, which of course, only made me equally intractable, that’s how arguments escalate, like sides in a war. brexit-shorthand-charts-1_11

Things came to a head when, after he had pushed me to the point of breaking, ignoring my repeated pleas to him not to discuss politics聽(he’s one of those characters that think of themselves as being very sensitive to others when in reality they are utterly clueless and just bulldoze over people) I had asked him to back off, stating that I would not discuss politics with him, that I would walk away every time he commented on something. Fine.

Then came the vote itself. Despite feeling awful at the outcome, he, on the winning side, still continued to blissfully push his opinions on everyone, cheerily telling Remainers聽who were in shock, dismay and were mourning the result, that things would be rosy and fine, that their genuine fears were wrong聽– NOT the thing to do! Again, a mutual friend had to forcibly tell him聽to BACK OFF. Despite all this, I private messaged him offering the olive branch, trying to reconnect with him and explain why I had asked him to back off and had been so emotional.

What did he do? He verbally attacked me. I never knew he had a nasty side, I do now. Among other things, he accused me of calling him a racist, something he knows damn well I never said and never would. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. I knew full well his reasons for voting the way he did, he saw the EU as some all聽evil Empire, it had nothing to do with immigration. I was deeply hurt, outraged, bloody furious, how dare he? After all the crap I’ve put up with from him, the bullshit, the exaggerations, the lies, the ulterior motives. I’d never blamed him for聽repeatedly recommending me to join our old awful ex-publishers, for pushing them so hard, it was my mistake not his, I had signed with them without checking them out first because I had trusted the opinions of him, my friend. He’d later admitted that he wanted as many people to join them as possible to make them successful and help his own books. The experience scarred me more than I can say and almost stopped me from ever writing again, but I never once blamed him for my own misfortune. It was my mistake, not his. I’d always been supportive, putting my own personal feelings to one side when he did things I didn’t聽like, as I’m sure he did for me, after all, that’s what friends do, they respect each聽other’s differences and idiosyncrasies. Having been cheated on myself in the past, I find聽adultery abhorrent regardless of the circumstances, but when he got involved with a married woman (whose husband was apparently dying), I was genuinely thrilled and supportive for him, because I just wanted to see him happy – again聽that’s what friends do!

I asked him to show proof of where I had accused him of such a heinous thing (knowing he wouldn’t be able to). He ignored my message for two long weeks. I was devastated. How could a close friend be so vicious, so unkind, so untruthful? I聽shared my shock聽on FB, being careful not to mention his name, as I was so upset and聽needed the comfort of friends. What did he do? – attack me again for sharing my feelings on FB – and here’s where it gets truly nasty. He had done the exact same thing to me, but worse, he had done it the day before (when I was in ignorant bliss of his awful feelings towards me) he had openly vented over FB on a mutual friend’s post, spreading lies about me, about how a close friend of his had called him a racist and how he’d been battling with racism his whole life etc etc. Then in a typically underhanded and hypocritical move of him, he had secretly contacted the mutual friend and asked him to remove the thread, when that friend refused, he then went in and edited out all the crap he said about me – but too late, I had already seen it!聽To then have the聽audacity to pretend he was somehow the victim instead of the attacker and accuse me of something he himself had done the day before just beggared belief!

I know how terribly聽trivial this all sounds, especially given the dreadful global things that have happened this year – the聽crumbling of a friendship is聽hardly worth moaning about. But it was one of the worst most hurtful things I’ve gone through in quite a few years, made worse because I was in a vulnerable state and hadn’t expected a friend to behave like that.

To be honest, politics, deceitfulness and verbal attacks aside, the thing that has devastated me the most is the fact that running up to this whole horrible debacle, I had repeatedly told him that I was in a bad head space, that the whole Brexit thing was actually making me ill, that I was really struggling etc., and he couldn’t give a shit.聽From someone who has been afflicted by depression himself, the ‘black dog’ as he fashionably likes to call it, and as a close friend he knew I had struggled with bad depression for years, including two suicide attempts. I had always been SO fucking supportive of him when he was in a bad head space, even though I know he exaggerates everything, I’d been on the same drugs as him which hadn’t affected me at all, but none of that mattered. I know when it comes to mental health everyone deals with it differently and gets affected by it differently. But here was the crux, I’d always been very supportive and caring of when his bad times hit, and to a certain extent he had been relatively supportive of mine. Yet, when it came to Brexit, he had ignored every single one of my pleas, he didn’t give a shit that I was struggling, that I was repeatedly telling him I was in a bad way, none of that mattered, only that he was right and me along with 16 million others were wrong. His ego, his unwavering self-belief was far far more important than a friend in need. It was the final demonstration, if I needed it, that this was a man so utterly up his own arse that if anyone needed help, he’d be the last person to see it. Like a teenager desperately seeking attention, only HE was the one that mattered, only his depression, his feelings, his opinions.

After two weeks passed he eventually responded to my private message. I admit, I never read it. I was too hurt by the whole thing and could tell straight away that it wasn’t an apology or anything like it. He had attacked me in such a nasty way, he had hurt me terribly to assuage his own bruised ego聽over聽most of聽our mutual friends saying how wrong he was over his Brexit stance and he had taken his frustrations out on me, a soft target. Ironically I saw how he reacted to our mutual friend who had threatened to defriend and block him and who quite rightly told him where to stick his opinions in a hilariously forceful way. Did he attack him back? No, of course not, he replied with a聽single word answer, “Peace”. Strange how differently he had reacted to me, but then our mutual friend wasn’t a soft target and聽I was.

To me, that was pretty unforgiveable. Like a divorce, the end of a friendship is never easy and always painful. Things went on. We didn’t speak or communicate at all. When my birthday rolled around I knew I wouldn’t be getting a birthday card from him, but I admit, seeing him active on FB that day and not bothering to even press a button to send one of those automatic FB birthday messages, something that takes no effort to do, I finally realised that things were over for good. The pretence that we were friends was over, what was the point of hanging on and just being continually kicked in the gut? So the day after my birthday I finally defriended him. It hurt, it still does to a certain extent, maybe that will give him some pleasure, I don’t know and I no longer care. I only know that after a lifetime of being hurt, of being kicked in the guts physically and figuratively, that I am too old and too worn down to allow so called friends to hurt me, my tolerance for cruelty is zero. I’ve never knowingly hurt anyone in my life, never attacked anyone, never cheated, never lied about someone. I have been a carpet, I admit,聽but my fiery temperament is definitely taking over now and I’m not prepared to take anymore shit.

None of us deserve to be treated badly, none of us.

I’m all for forgiving people, god knows I’ve forgiven people a hell of a lot and then been shitted on again. But in the end, life is too short, too hard, too fucking difficult to keep climbing that hill with all our baggage while those we hold dear kick us as we stumble. I am very fortunate to have a few very very dear friends, Heather who I’ve known for years and who made me godmother to her first child; Sammy, my amazing publisher but far far more importantly, an amazing and very dear friend who I share so much with, Kate Coe and Jo, two of the truly loveliest people you could meet, Roz too and actually all my fellow Grimbold authors who are such darlings and such truly remarkable and wonderful people. I love them all and am very thankful to have them in my life. 鉂

But I admit, more than the awfulness of Brexit, of Trump’s hideous bigotry and election win, of our heroes dying, what has marked this year as being particularly awful for me, was the ugly end to what I thought was a great friendship. It leaves me feeling wary, jaded and nervous of trusting people again and I know that is not a good disposition to have.

So…my New Year’s Resolution is simply this – to be open, to be positive and to be happy.

Darkness won in 2016, but even in the dark there is always a light.

So, looking to the positives…this year has also seen a very close family friend of some 50 years, battle and survive cancer, which is to be celebrated! We are so thrilled she has made a full recovery and is doing so well. 馃榾 鉂 The growing closeness of my other friends is something I am so so thankful for and as some of them embark on a whole new chapter in their lives, I am so excited and thrilled for them. shadows-of-the-oak

This year has also seen the publishing of two books with my stories in, the wonderful,聽Fight Like A Girl in April (with an amazing book launch in Bristol), and most recently, Shadows Of The Oak which also has two of my illustrations in. I am so聽happy for聽improved health and happiness of those I hold dear too, especially my mate Sammy who has overcome so many things and is an inspiration to all of us. Love you sweetie. 鉂

My illustration business has continued to flourish with great word of mouth keeping me very busy. My most prestigious commissions to date were for the wonderful Juliet McKenna and her Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, and now Anna Smith-Spark and her new HarperCollins book due out next year, The Court of Broken Knives.

nano-winner-2016

I also managed to win my second NaNo this year (50K words in a month) which I was thrilled about and have just wrangled into existence a first rough draft of my second novel, Darkling Rise,聽after struggling for two years with it!

Now, I have two more short stories to write this month for two different anthologies, yet more illustration commissions lined up and Book 2 to knock into shape. 2017 also heralds a very personal milestone that I am going to try my hardest to achieve…watch this space! 馃榾

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So, I hope you guys have had a better year than me and wish you a gloriously happy 2017. But if you have had a tough year too, then take heart, things always change and WILL get better. I know 2017 will have a lot of struggles of its own, after all we will all be entering Trumpland, but I truly believe if we remember to treat each other well and not give into hate, that we can make the next year a great one.

Love to you all and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!! 馃榾 鉂 xxxxx

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Battling the Great ‘D’!

The Great ‘D’ – depression.

I’ve battled with this nasty bottom dweller since I was a teen, not just the usual teenage angst but something fundamentally more serious and frightening. Well, it’s true to say that I have been struggling again these last few months.

The problem with depression isn’t merely the ‘being down’, the negative thoughts, the brain paralysing fears and paranoia’s and the black pit of despair, it is also the straight jacket, the feeling of having your hands and feet tied whilst being asked to continue with ‘normal’ daily life. A total impossibility. Depression is a paralyser of creativity, ideas, ‘normal’ cognitive function, it skews and sours everything.

There’s that awful word again – ‘normal’, as when you’re in the grip of聽depression you feel anything but normal, you imagine your head enlarged, a sign scrawled across your forehead, a big pointy neon sign following you around. Did I mention paranoia? You feel out of control, scrutinised, attacked, beaten, bruised, defeated all at once. It’s the sensation of speeding in an open top car at 110mph with no seat belt while the driver wears a blindfold, yet at the same time feeling as if you’re stuck neck deep in treacle – unable to move, to progress, to do anything. It’s debilitating.

It’s such an insidious condition. I’ve known it’s been creeping up on me for the last few months, that sinking feeling聽as聽life’s little or big crisis’s become increasingly more difficult to deal with. None of us can stop life being damn hard, from bad things happening. But when you have depression, you are completely incapable of dealing with them. You become instantly overwhelmed by the smallest thing, and completely smothered by anything larger.

It’s for this reason that I’ve neglected my own lovely blog for so long. I’ve found it virtually impossible to get the energy to blog anything this year and have been utterly incapable of following any of my friend’s wonderful blogs. Every time I saw聽one of their聽blog posts pop up on my emails, it just stayed there, accumulating with all the others along with hundreds of emails, probably thousands now. 馃槮

So,聽a huge apology to any and all of my friends if I’ve been a bit weird of late. I’m usually a great one for doing a ‘swan impression’, appearing in control, the effortless gliding swan, while in truth the legs are聽peddling manically聽beneath. That’s me to a T – so busy trying to convince others and myself that everything is okay, that I’m my usual social, bubbly, happy self, when聽the reality is anything聽but that. It’s exhausting and a dreadful ‘Catch-22’ cycle,聽one I find聽almost impossible聽to break. Perhaps it’s a confidence issue, but I’m just so used to putting up a front, the happy exterior that I don’t seem to be able to let that slip and allow people to see me down. Reality bites.

I think the only time in my life that I’ve really ever broken down and cried in public was at my friend’s funeral. So, to anyone who suffers from depression, whether you put on a brave face like me or are able to be open and honest about it, you have my heartfelt sympathies. It sucks. And to anyone who knows someone who is struggling, please be patient with them and if they appear okay, look a little closer. No-one builds a wall better than someone battling depression, we’re experts at hiding from the world, our friends, ourselves.

At the moment, I admit I am drowning slightly. Life worries are weighing heavily and those worst dark impulses are louder than ever. So, trying to be positive and drag myself out of this cycle, I have promised myself to try and list 5 things every day that are positive or make me happy, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant.

So here goes:

  1. A notable and prestigious writer has approached me to do a fantasy map commission for her amazing books. I am both thrilled and honoured.
  2. I have a lovely meeting of my gorgeous fellow Grimbold authors and friends at my place this Sunday for a big BBQ. I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this and what a light in a dark tunnel it’s been.
  3. I am perpetually thankful for the family that I do have. I love them all dearly.
  4. My four gorgeous doggies bring me laughter and light every day.
  5. Despite my job being terribly low paid, I do absolutely love it and love the people I work with.

There, 5 things to be thankful for. If you are struggling with any kind of depression, mental illness or anything else, then please take the time to breathe, look around you and find 5 things that make your life better/easier/happier. It’s so so easy to be swamped in a negative mire and forget to look up and really see what you have.

I will also try to blog again and when I can (without beating myself up anymore), read and support my lovely friend’s blogs…it may just take me a little time.

Take care and remember to be kind to yourself as well – you can’t help others if you’ve fallen yourself. 鉂 xxxx

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Pancake Galore!

It’s Sugar and Lemon Day, so I had to reblog this from an earlier post I did!

Yeap鈥t鈥檚 Shrove Tuesday. The one day a year where we dust off the frying pan with the dodgy teflon coating and the wobbly handle.

Flour, milk and an egg later, I鈥檓 whisking my batter like no batter has been whisked before!

Freshly cut lemons waiting on the side, dogs out of tossing range鈥r鈥 hope. Only one thing left鈥鈥檝e GOT to sing the song my late Granny taught us:

鈥淪hrove Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday,

Poor Jack went to work.

His mother made him some pancakes,

But she didn鈥檛 know how.

She tossed them, she turned them,

She made them quite black鈥

She put so much pepper in

That she poisoned poor Jack.鈥

That鈥檚 a little 鈥楪rimm鈥檚 Fairy Tales鈥 for you like the old nursery rhymes which were rather dark really, but I鈥檝e been hearing that song my whole life and a pancake just isn鈥檛 a pancake without it! 馃槢

Happy Pancake Day everyone, may your flipping and tossing be mighty! 馃榾 xxx

FryingPan

Distant Worlds – Welcomes AFE Smith!

Well, amidst a sea of tears over the devastating news that one of my all-time idols, David Bowie has died at the age of only 69, I will post this blog聽as planned as a little tribute to creativity for which David Bowie was such a master. RIP Davy Jones, we all love you and will feel your loss for the rest of our lives…聽 (1947 – 2016) 馃槮 鉂 xxxx

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The silly season is over and 2016 beckons with the promise of yet more great books to read and new authors to discover. I hope in some small part that this series helps to spotlight some of these hidden聽gems. So, for the first interview of 2016 and the eighteenth outing of this series, we have a treat…author extraordinaire, AFE Smith.

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (today’s interviewee! –聽see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section聽and Susan Finlay鈥檚 Meet the Author聽to name a few of the best 鈥 please check out their wonderful blogs), I鈥檝e always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring鈥o today I’m a little nervous interviewing聽‘Barren Island Books’ interviewer AFE Smith herself!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier鈥檚 鈥楢lpha Centauri鈥. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4鈥檚 鈥楧esert Island Discs鈥 and AFE Smith鈥檚 brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series 鈥 Distant Worlds.

Fire-Planet[1]The Distant Worlds strand started last year, focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink聽and Tenebris Books聽鈥 a bunch of uber-talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends. Check out their cool titles while they鈥檙e still at bargain prices! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks聽

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A World Of Their Own 鈥 an awesome anthology of fantasy, sci-fi and literary short stories, with ALL profits going to charity!

But now we鈥檙e branching out and will be zoning in on an extraordinary group of people, The Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB), who I am also聽VERY proud to call close friends.

The AWB 鈥 a bunch of uber-talented fantasy and sci-fi writers and artists who met on the HarperCollins writing site, Authonomy, back in 2010. We formed The Alliance of Worldbuilders, a friendly, inclusive and wacky group and our collective friendships have seen us through some very hard times, including the sad loss of one of our own, Lindsey J Parsons. In honour of Lindsey, our dear friend who tragically died in January 2014, the AWB have created an awesome anthology of short stories, which was published in glorious paperback and e-book on 4th September 2015! It makes the perfect prezzie and ALL profits go to charity, the World Literacy Fund, fighting illiteracy around the world, so grab a great book聽and help聽a great cause too!聽Amazon UK聽& Amazon US

Right, now to our聽eighteenth聽author interview and our聽sixth AWB member, the聽Spymaster general herself, the mysterious fantasy writer…

AFE Smith

25[1]

AFE, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod鈥檚 life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world鈥

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

If this were a normal stranded-survivor story, I would probably die after about a day, because I have no practical skills whatsoever. But I’m going to assume that since I’m part of a space colony, I come from a scientifically advanced society that can supply me with some whizzy gadgets. So I’d go for:

Some kind of respiratory mask. The planet may be habitable but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got viciously adaptable micro-organisms. I don’t want to be knocked off my feet by alien flu while I’m trying to survive.

A water purifier/air-to-water distiller. For many of the same reasons. And I want to have enough to drink even if I land on a part of the planet where rain is infrequent and waterways are scarce.

A strong, lightweight tent with enough insulation to keep me warm at night.

A solar-powered survival manual so I can look up which plants are safe to eat, how to make fire, etc. If it could say DON’T PANIC in large friendly letters on the cover, that would be a bonus.

And talking of which, a Babel fish.

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

Given that I’m going to be carrying my home on my back for a while, I’d better not take anything heavy or bulky. I’d definitely take a photo of my family. And my laptop (assuming I can get a solar-powered battery pack), allowing me to keep a log of my adventures in case (a) I die horribly and future space explorers want to find out what happened to me, or (b) I survive the whole thing and can turn my experiences into a blockbuster movie starring Matt Damon. But other than that, I’ll give up all my personal possessions and stick to the survival gear, thanks.

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

It depends what my survival manual has to say about the indigenous population. If they are friendly, great. Hopefully they can help me build a transmitter to send a distress signal back to Earth. But if they’re the kind of life-forms who like to sacrifice human cattle to the great god Belzi’iar, I’ll steer well clear.

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

I guess I have a solar-powered e-reader with me too, then! Fantasy novels are BIG, on the whole, and I don’t fancy lugging them around with me.

I would take the complete works of Terry Pratchett, Robin Hobb, Diana Wynne Jones and Juliet Marillier. All of those are comfort reads and I figure I’m going to need a lot of comforting. (And yes, I know taking ‘complete works’ is a total cheat, but the beauty of e-readers is that you can fit a vast quantity of books on them, and since I’m about to be slaughtered by a worshipper of Belzi’iar I hope you’ll cut me some slack.)

I’d also take my own complete works, such as they are. Not because I think they deserve to survive over anything else, but because being stranded on an alien planet might actually give me a better chance of meeting my current writing deadline than I have right now.

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

I never get to listen to music any more, other than the Frozen soundtrack (thanks, three-year-old). Hey, this is going to be great! I’m actually looking forward to this terrible disaster now!

I reckon I should choose as wide a range of music as possible, to stand the greatest chance of bonding with the aliens over music and thereby convincing them not to dig my intestines out with a spoon. So I’d take The Beatles’ White Album, Wishbone Ash’s Argus, Steeleye Span’s Commoner’s Crown, my Max Bruch/Mendelssohn album of violin concertos 鈥 heck, and the Frozen soundtrack. It would remind me of my children.

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued鈥o you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

I haven’t drunk alcohol for nearly five years, so it would take very little vodka to drown my sorrows. And since I haven’t yet managed to make myself a toothbrush (dammit, should have claimed that as one of my personal possessions!) I’d better avoid the Coke. So I’ll stick to water.

Random comet question: As a hard working editor and new mum to two little ones, how do you juggle your life to ensure that you have ‘writing time’?

Ha! That makes it sound like I have some sort of plan! With a full-time job and two young children, the only writing time I have is in the evenings after everyone has gone to bed. But of course, that’s the only time I have to get anything else done, too. I’d say I manage a handful of evenings per week … assuming I don’t just fall asleep, which happens far too often and proves that I’m older than I’d like to think.

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 鈥 screw up and he鈥檒l eat your brains! Go!聽

What? That’s even worse than being sacrificed to Belzi’iar!

No, wait, that didn’t count as part of my 100 words 鈥 what do you mean, these words count too? That’s not fair! I 鈥

OK. Fine. OK.

Since I’m rapidly running out of words, I’ll just say that my latest book is a sequel to my first, and they both feature shapeshifters, pistols, an industrial city, a big chunk of mystery, a dash of romance, and people trying to kill each other in a variety of interesting ways. You ought to appreciate that, brain-eating alien.

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

Trying not to die. If I succeeded at that, I would write increasingly delirious streams of consciousness on my laptop whilst talking to a nearby tree upon which I had drawn a smiley face.

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

Chocolate. The landscapes (these long spindly purple trees are all very well, but they’re not like home). Other humans. New books. Did I mention chocolate?

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Politicians. War. Other humans. Creepy crawlies (please tell me there are no spiders on this planet). Constantly feeling like a failure (I figure if I survive this new situation, that automatically makes me a success 鈥 and if I don’t, I won’t care because I’ll be dead.)

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

Nothing. The things I’d like to change are large enough that they’d have profound knock-on effects. I’ve read and watched enough time-travel stories to know that’s a terrible idea and would probably result in my own extinction. And the smaller things wouldn’t be worth the effort (I mean, I’d like not to have been such a total disaster in secondary school, but I don’t think it’s worth the cost of a TARDIS).

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

Yeah. Why not? It’s been fun, if you ignore the bloodthirsty aliens and gradual descent into madness.

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

Harriet Goodchild 鈥 beautiful, complex, poetic fantasy with a real love of language.

Evangeline Jennings 鈥 taut, gripping, often sexy and always brutal femme noir. (If you don’t know what femme noir is, you should totally go and find out.)

Hazel Butler 鈥 fascinating, myth-drenched Gothic fantasy that blends darkness and light to great effect.

S.L. Huang 鈥 action-packed sci-fi with a kick-ass mathematician heroine. (Maths-based superpowers FTW!)

W.R. Gingell 鈥 gentle, tongue-in-cheek fantasy romance mysteries. Think Georgette Heyer with magic.

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

Always know where your towel is. (Dammit! Towel! That’s another useful personal possession I could have claimed! Can I go back in time and change the answer to my time-travel question to say I’d change what personal possessions I took with me 鈥 no? Too complicated? OK.)

Don’t be like me, children. Appreciate your towel while you have it.

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

Author_photo_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithAFE in her own words…

That’s a HUGE question to end on. Er 鈥 I am a fantasy writer, an editor, a Ravenclaw and a robin, not necessarily in that order. You may already have gathered that I have a weird sense of humour (there’s a reason I don’t write comedy; no-one else ever thinks the same things are funny). I have two children, neither of whom I want to sacrifice to the great god Belzi’iar (though sometimes it’s a close-run thing).

My inspirations are as varied as life itself. That’s a nicely pretentious statement, so I’ll just leave that one there.

My publisher is Harper Voyager. They also publish people like Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin and Mark Lawrence. Which makes me feel rather like I’ve accidentally gate-crashed a celebrity party and now I’m sitting quietly in a corner, hoping no-one will notice me and tell me to go away.

Bio:

A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn鈥檛 mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible 鈥 getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn鈥檛 have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she鈥檚 powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she鈥檚 busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

AFE social media links:

Website
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads

Cover_image_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithBook Blurb:

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven.

Yet her half-brother Myrren hasn鈥檛 inherited the family鈥檚 ability to shapeshift, so their father, Florentyn, forces Ayla to take over as heir to the throne.

When Ayla is accused of Florentyn鈥檚 brutal murder only Myrren believes her innocent and aids her escape. A fugitive from her own guard, Ayla must now fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

But does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

DARKHAVEN buy links

HarperCollins Amazon (global link) WaterstonesBarnes & Noble Google play iBooks Kobo

Goldenfire cover mediumAFE Smith’s new book being released by Harper Voyager this week on January 14th 2016!

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GOLDENFIRE preorder links

HarperCollins Amazon Barnes & Noble Google play iBooks Kobo

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Thank you, AFE. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing聽Illyrian mining vessel聽has honed in on your distress beacon, you鈥檙e going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 馃榾 xx