YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!!

When it comes to writing or any creative endeavour that you are serious about i.e. not a hobbyist, but that you actually want to make a paying career from (again not fame & fortune, if you crave that you’re in the wrong game – go join a Big Brother house or Britain’s Got (f**k all) Talent), we are so often faced with failure.

So often I feel like the Balrog on the bridge in Khazad-dûm, trying to gain access to a path closed to me, a world full of closing (or slamming) doors.

Just need to add the appropriate sentence ending:

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this slush pile.”

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this competition’s shortlist (or even longlist).”

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this agent’s/publisher’s criteria.”

even “YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this selective writing group.” etc., etc.

Trying to make a living out of any creative field in a marketplace so utterly saturated with other writers and artists, is tantamount to wading through tar to reach that Avalon-like island on the horizon. It takes a hell of a lot of hard work, some random luck, some ‘who you know’ and a decent product that you’re trying to sell.

Unfinished pencil study of James Norton by Sphie E Tallis

Of course writing and art are completely subjective, what one person considers to be masterful, another perceives as being rubbish. But I still think some basic principles apply – the mechanics of writing a good sentence or drawing a good picture, of forming those images whether in the mind or on canvas.

Sadly, the path to success is littered with amazingly talented people who never quite got to grips with marketing, social media, ‘branding’ or simply had the bad luck not to reach that agent or publisher at the right time who might recognise their genius.

Pencil portrait of James Norton.

Pencil portrait of actor, James Norton by Sophie E Tallis

Annoyingly, the path to success is also littered with those who seemingly had only a tenth of the talent needed, but who were either fabulously well-connected (all areas of working life will always have an element of nepotism, the famous name, the ‘who you know’ element etc.), or were either bloody lucky in their timing when approaching said agent/publisher, or were so fantastic at the marketing/branding side that they had tremendous success before people realised the tripe they were actually peddling.

In writing terms, the author E.L. James comes to mind, whose actual writing (aside from the dubious pro-abuser content) is simply dreadful. In terms of the art world, for me, Tracey Emin is also the perfect example of brilliant self publicity/PR with minimal talent required. As a former history of art and fine art student & artist myself, I am not anti-modern art at all, just people like Emin. Damien Hirst may not be to everyone’s taste, but like Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Saville, Rachel Whiteread etc., they had a huge underlying skill level. I actually saw Hirst’s early work before he made it big as part of the 1990’s Brit-Art explosion and the guy is actually very talented. Although I cannot pretend to like a lot of his work, the guy CAN at least draw, his draftsmanship skills are very good, he just chooses to explore abstract and conceptual art. For me, as a drawer and artist, that is my benchmark for art, as it is for writing, that the person needs to have good basic skills in their chosen art-form. Emin cannot and never could draw proficiently, even the most basic forms, her drawing ability is quite frankly poor, and no, the irony that she was employed a few years ago as the Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy of Art is not lost on me. 😦

Pencil portrait of actor, Trevor Eve

Pencil portrait of actor, Trevor Eve by Sophie E Tallis

But back to writing. At the heart of the matter, the writer/author needs to have skill at stringing words together, at spinning a yarn, telling a compelling story, writing memorable characters etc., etc.

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” goes the voice in our heads as we contemplate sending work off to the latest narrowing submission window, chasing any opportunity that passes no matter how fleeting – like too many bees chasing the one elusive queen, or in fantasy speak – butter spread over too much bread. We’re all chasing the same thing, the same elusive target – to be published, to have an agent, to make a living from what we love to create.

For me, so far this year, the successes I have seen have definitely been in my art rather than my writing. As dearly as I would love more people to read my work and review it and yes, love it, I am still yet another small voice amongst the din, I know this (I will be doing a separate post on ‘branding’ with some tips I’ve picked up and stolen!). But, my illustration work has, rather surprisingly, started to take off and accrue a real momentum of its own!

Pencil portrait of Stephen Fry

Rough pencil study of Stephen Fry by Sophie E Tallis

Some of that is due to content, to being prolific. As a writer I have always been glacially slow, I’d like to think it’s quality over quantity, but in truth I wish I found writing as easy as drawing. I struggle with illness, concentration and mental exhaustion to get the words down, it seems to use a part of the brain that simply is not needed when I’m busily drawing. I don’t have to try to thread complicated plotlines together and continue a narrative over a long period of time when I’m drawing. Art allows you to switch off the brain and just use your eyes, instincts and fingers to form the image you want. Because of this, I have been able to create new artwork every day as part of my daily 365 day Artmaniac Challenge, whereas sadly I seldom manage to write every day no matter how hard I try. 😦

So, success definitely is due at least in part, to being prolific, having more content out there for people to look at, assess, discuss etc. Something I fear I may never achieve with my writing. 😦

Another element which I have seen first hand, is the ‘luck & who you know’ factor I was talking about. In my case it was a simple snowball effect. The lovely Juliet E McKenna heard in fantasy circles and shared contacts that I was an illustrator and specialised in fantasy maps. So she contacted me and I ended up doing a fantasy map for her and her wonderful ‘Secret Histories of the River Kingdom’.

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Then, because of that and again ‘word of mouth’, the equally lovely Anna Smith-Spark asked me to do a fantasy map for her debut novel, ‘The Court of Broken Knives’, to be published in June 2017 by HarperCollins. That in turn led her editors at HarperCollins to look at the map I did and my other illustration work, which then led to the Head of Fiction Art at HarperCollins contacting me directly to say how much everyone at HC loved my work and to offer me a contract to be an official HarperCollins illustrator (supplier)! *SQUEAL* 😀

The contract came through two weeks ago and yes, I signed it straight away! 😀

Since then I have had almost daily requests from various people to do commissioned artwork for them, including from a New York literary group who want me to do the main image for their magazine and website. It’s insane, I don’t even advertise and am now having to say, “No, sorry, I can’t take anymore commissions on at the moment!”

Madness!

HarperCollins were also lovely enough to tell me that I had been MASSIVELY undercharging people and advised for me to raise my rates. I did, a little, but not as much as they were suggesting otherwise that would stop any Indie Authors from being able to afford me and I know how damn hard it is for indie and self-published authors anyway, so I’m certainly not going to price myself out of their reach. 🙂

So, yes, creating more content and having that ‘word of mouth’ and lucky break does play a massive role in creating success. Now, if only I could apply that and get the same reactions to my written work! 😀

If you’re having the same struggles or successes, do let me know! 😉 xxx

Pencil portrait of Rayleigh Ritchie

Pencil portrait of actor Rayleigh Ritchie by Sophie E Tallis

 

Face to face: face those fears and show them the door!

We are all in our own way battling fears and self doubts, about decisions made, life choices, jobs, creative endeavours, pretty much everything. Yes there are those lucky few who sail through life never second guessing anything they say or do, who have unswerving self-confidence regardless of any reasons pro or against – well good for them. But for the rest of us mere mortals, especially those of us who are pursuing a creative career, writers, illustrators, actors, singers etc., crippling self-doubt kind of comes with the territory. 😦

The fact that you have chosen an entirely subjective career path which by the nature of it, is open to a great deal of criticism, speculation and even ridicule, hardly helps. Neither does the fact that most creative people tend to be very sensitive – almost a precursor to being a writer, poet or artist of any kind.

Pencil portrait of Richard E Grant

So, apart from navigating the choppy waters of crippling self-doubt and external criticism, sometimes, just sometimes you have to man (or woman) up and face your fears.

For me, some of that is allowing myself to be bold enough to actually set goals for myself. To say that this year I am going to achieve ___________.

Setting goals is a scary business, it’s laying your cards face up on a table and saying to the world – this is what I’m going to do and risk that ridicule and criticism if you don’t manage it.

But, as a brilliant writer friend of mine has said, someone who has ambitions and rightly so (watch this space people), what’s holding you back? Face those fears, fly your flag, pin your colours to the main brace and declare “I am here, and here is what I am going to do! I WILL achieve this!”

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So, I am risking the embarrassment of setting out my goals for this year – there is no try, there is only do or do not: 😀

  1. Completely finish writing and edit Darkling Rise (the very long awaited sequel to White Mountain that has taken me FAR too long to write!).
  2. Lose a minimum of two stone (hopefully three) for long-term health benefits and a major life commitment I have made to myself (before I’m too old for it to work) – I’ll be less cryptic when I’m nearer to achieving this goal.
  3. Continue writing short stories and my dark novel, Ravenwing (hopefully to a first draft stage).
  4. Continue building my illustration business. So far I haven’t had to advertise as people have been approaching me, but I need to step up my game and get more commissions going and widen my reputation.*
  5. Build a stronger online presence, as my mate calls it, sort out my ‘brand’, which will help grow followers, fans and help sales as well as getting more reviews and make me more visible to potential opportunities. Yes we’d all love the Game of Thrones success of George R. Martin (though I’ve never fancied the fame bit) but at the end of the day, most of us just want to be able to write and create full-time and make a living from it (enough to pay the bills at least).
  6. Finish my picture book ‘The Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile’ (the story is written but I need to finish drawing and painting all 24 illustrations – I had no idea just how much work is involved in making a picture book!).
  7. Bite the bullet and try subbing to agents, both for my picture book and Ravenwing (once it’s finished) and stop being afraid of success or trying to be successful!!!!
  8. Continue the daily Artmaniac Challenge, creating new art EVERY DAY for a whole year!**
  9. Pay more attention to my lovely little blog (yes, you guys) and blog more often – Sorry!

So there you go, 9 goals for the year. Will I achieve them all? Only time will tell, but I’m going to try my bloody hardest.

Face your fears…

So, what are YOU going to achieve this year?

Pencil sketch of Christopher Walken by Sophie E Tallis

* Yes, I have some exciting news to share to do with HarperCollins. I have signed a contract with them and will fill you all in very soon! 😀

** The reason for my doing portraits at the moment for the Artmaniac Challenge, is due to the wonderful inspiration that is the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year (and yes, I am thinking about doing it next year!) 😀 xxx

 

Climbing Mountains – January blues and 31 days of madness!

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

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

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

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

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

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

painting-outside by Sophie E Tallis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Realities of Writing…

soa_member_rgb1As a member of The Society of Authors (SoA), the longest running society helping authors (actually celebrating its centenary this year) and certainly the nearest we have to an ‘Author Union’, I received my quarterly SoA magazine ‘The Author’ a few weeks ago.

‘The Author’ is always a fascinating read, a thermometer of what’s going on in the literary world, in publishing, what’s trending and in writer’s lives themselves. It’s full of really interesting articles, all written by writers for writers on issues as diverse as copyright, publishing & publishers, literary festivals, contracts, public lending rights (PLR), author events, public liability insurance, awards and grants, writing tips, sales, bookshops, Amazon, research, booktrade news in addition to its own ‘Quarterly News’. Lol, to be honest, the first thing I always do is look to see the names of new members and if I recognise anyone. 😀

Anyway, in amongst the magazine was a ballot paper for this year’s Election to the Management Committee. Now I won’t say who I voted for, I don’t want to invalidate my ballot, but reading their candidate statements was really interesting and, considering most of these people are big names, quite surprising. I don’t know why, but I suppose we all have stereotypes that we fall into from time to time and certainly I imagine that these writers, the ‘big names’, all live a dream life of never having to worry about money or bills or mundane things again, that their writing has brought riches and fame and therefore they are a world away from the harsh realities that myself and my fellow writers live in day in day out. But, to my surprise, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is precisely because these writers have made it big, that makes them so sympathetic and empathetic to the struggles and plights of others because they remember what life was life before that bestseller.

One writer in particular who grabbed my attention was Alice Jolly, talking about writing as a career and how hard it is for most writers just to keep their head above the rising tides.

In her own words:

“The position of the writer is a paradox. On the one hand, authors appear to be powerful. The UK general public love authors. They spend approximately £2.2 billion on books a year and 60% cite ‘author’ as their dream job. The UK has approximately 250 literary festivals some of which attract audiences of 200,000.

But despite all that, the reality of an average author’s life is grim. The median annual income of authors is £11,000 (substantially below the minimum wage based on a forty hour week). The hours are unsocial and authors are continually asked to run workshops or make visits to schools for free.

So how can we writers capitalise on the power we have in order to ensure that writing is a career, not a hobby? How do we make sure that the current seismic changes in the publishing industry take us into a world where writers have more control over their careers?

There is no simple answer but that change certainly will not happen unless we all work together.”

What makes Alice Jolly’s words particularly pertinent is that she has experience in a range of fields, from teaching creative writing at Oxford University, having two novels published through Simon & Schuster, to four plays produced in the theatre to crowdfunding her latest work. It’s somehow reassuring to know that people like Alice, or Joanne Harris who are widely known and respected, are able to relate to the problems and struggles that we small press and indie authors face every day – that struggle not only to write in itself, to get published (in whatever way that means to you), but also to make ends meet, pay the bills, survive.

The romantic notion of the starving artist in their garret or isolated writer in their shed, is all well and good, but starving in reality does not help creativity – it stifles it. If your mind is continually pre-occupied by how you are going to keep the roof over your head and food on your plate, if you are literally starving, you are not going to be concerned by writing the next great tome. Your energies and efforts will be spent on trying to survive so you have a future where you can write.

I find these issues particularly relevant to me and my own situation. Not only have I found writing my second novel particularly hard (due to major writer’s block caused by health issues), though I have been able to write several short stories/novellas, my own personal circumstances are more than a little precarious in both financial and personal terms. All of which, the stress, the worry, health issues and the counting of pennies, really does not help the creative process.

So, what is the answer?

Alice Jolly is right, there are no simple solutions. As with everything in life, the randomness of luck always plays a part, simply being in the right place at the right time, and yes, sadly, the old adage of ‘who you know’ plays a major part. Would Christopher Paolini really have been published and pushed into the limelight if his mother hadn’t been in the industry and placed his novel in front of an agent rather than it doing the rounds of the slushpile? I think not. But we are also masters of our own destinies. I see the flamboyant and endless energy of self-published authors Ben Galley and Debbie Young who both simply do not settle for resting on their laurels. They are so determined, so inventive and so driven they have made it happen for them. Ben Galley recently revealed that he’s selling 400 books a month in the US and tours around the country and can be seen at most conventions, Debbie Young set up her own Literary Festival from scratch (the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival) with Katie FForde herself opening the inaugural event. She’s now planning the 3rd year of the festival next year and is also the main collaborator for ALLi – The Alliance of Independent Authors and tours the country doing talks and events.

So, is this the future and answer to making writing a career that can actually pay the bills? The honest answer is…I don’t know. I’m thrilled for both Ben Galley and Debbie Young, both of whom are not only thoroughly lovely people but also terrific writers. My problem is this, as much as I would dearly love to be a full-time writer (it’s been my dream since I was a kid) and be able to make an actual living from it as with any other career (yes, writing paying bills), I simply do not have the stamina or funds to do half the things that they do, I dearly wish I could. This year for instance, as I’ve been concentrating on writing so much, my marketing and publicity has, in all fairness, been crap. I’ve just found it far too hard to be able to do both things effectively.

So, the question remains, what is the answer? If you’re unable to travel much, are not techy at all (I’m an IT idiot tbh and still don’t understand what the hell, Thunderclap is!), and health and circumstances curtail what you can do, then how do you turn your imagination into something that can actually pay those bills?

Well, in truth I’m still working on that one. What I will say is in a strange parallel to other industries such as farming for instance, I think a big part of success or at least survival and self-sufficiency, is by diversifying. Look at what you can do, what you’re good at (apart from writing) and try using those skills to aid not only your writing but to also pay the bills.

For me, that has meant illustration work: –  Sophie E Tallis Illustrations. Being a trained traditional artist, with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and an MA place, I illustrate books and do fantasy maps (having just completed a commission for the wonderful Juliet McKenna and her fantastic ‘Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom’ and am currently working on a map commission for grimdark author, Anna Smith-Spark and her upcoming Harper Voyager book, ‘The Court of Broken Knives’). In fact as I can adapt to any illustration style wanted, I can pretty much do whatever the client wants (lol, though not digital art, my computer skills are crap!). Now, although I’m not raking in huge amounts, as far as paying for those damn bills, it is definitely helping!

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So, for we small authors to continue writing as a career not a hobby, we have to use every trick in our arsenal, diversify, think outside of the box, focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

Good luck guys, may we all succeed at that elusive goal – full-time writing AND survival! 😀 ❤ xxx

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Mapping The Imagination

Maps are a subject I keep returning to again and again and for good reason. Ever since I was a child I’ve held a deep fascination for atlas’s, globes, maps and cartography in general. The mystery of distant countries with exotic names, far flung foreign lands, strange topographic features or intricate maps of fictional worlds have always captivated my imagination and I know I’m not alone in this passion. Maps, particularly when used in fiction, are more popular today than they’ve ever been.

Check out my previous map inspired posts: For the love of maps! & Mapping your fantasy

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In literary terms, the first map I’m aware of studying was probably E.H. Shepherd’s beautifully illustrated ‘100 Acre Wood’ for A.A. Milne’s glorious Winnie The Pooh, that was quickly followed by the maps in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Tove Jansson’s wonderful map of Moomin Valley and CS Lewis’s Narnia map.

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As all lovers of good fantasy fiction know, there is nothing as pleasurable as poring over a map of your favourite fantasy world, whether it be George RR Martin’s Westeros at the heart of his phenomenal Games of Thrones (Song of Ice & Fire) series, JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth in his Lord of The Rings trilogy, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. 34c29aa5e22785787f24a35d580761c71

 

Now, as an illustrator and author, I create my own detailed hand-drawn fantasy maps for my books and for other authors and publishers. I’ve only illustrated 9 books to date so far but have several projects in the pipeline, and would like to share with you, my fellow map lovers, how I created my latest commission for fabulous fantasy writer, Juliet McKenna and her awesome new River Kingdom series.

Firstly, I cannot tell you what fun it is creating these beautiful objects – “The literal and visual distillation of an author’s imagination through graphite, pen & ink and paint.” It is true that not every great fantasy novel needs a map and some authors like NK Jemisin were initially not keen on them, but for me I love them as I think they create a tangible geographical point of reference from which the story weaves its magic. Funnily enough, Joe Abercromie who apparently wasn’t keen on fantasy maps for his First Law series then included 5 of them in The Heroes (to represent the battle movements)!

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At the end of July I was approached by Juliet McKenna who was looking for someone to do a map for her latest fantasy series, the River Kingdom. That started a really interesting month of creative exploration. Juliet, much like me, is a stickler for detail, which I love. The devil’s in the detail they say and that is particularly true when creating fantasy maps, the more information the better!

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The first thing I loved, is that her River Kingdom is landlocked i.e. set in the middle of a continent, much like my Fendellin map (see left), and avoids the over used cliché of a coastline and seas. This makes total sense to me – as much as I love coastlines, not every land is going to be coastal and yet if you follow the vast majority of fantasy maps they are all either islands or coastal regions! River Kingdom is inland and is all about the rivers and the regions and peoples they dominate.

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For a starting point Juliet emailed me a few pages of notes about her fabulous River Kingdom world, the main rivers (Tane and Dore) in her kingdom, what they are like (winding? straight? navigable? deep? shallow? rapids? maelstroms? etc), how they flow, the settlements and communities along their banks, the different administrative ruling centres and fiefdoms, what the Hill Country was like and forests, a description of the Nilgeh Mire, how the land lies and towns relate to each other, etc. It was obvious from the beginning that this was going to be something rather special, as so few authors really fully imagine and realise the worlds they create down to the everyday detail.

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From this, we started a wonderful creative collaboration, back and forth. To ensure that my clients are 110% with the artwork they receive, I’m a great believer in asking questions rather than guessing, that way you are able to really crystalize what the author/client wants and are far more likely to deliver it.

More questions and details followed, the colour of the waters of the main rivers, their tributaries, what happens when the two great rivers meet, adding wharfs and quays for river folk to travel and ferries, the types of trees in the forest areas, how high are the mountains, how to represent the towns with different allegiances, motifs to be used to represent the Grainland and Grassland areas and lovely nuances like adding subtle terraces to some of the Downland hills and what the geology and terrain was of drier areas like the High Plateau. Discussions about the lovely maps of 15thC cartographer, John Speed and the red colour of towns depicted etc.

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Then, after the graphite and then inking stages were finished, a whole new conversation took place about colours and tones for the finished painted map. Mountainous regions in reality, vary hugely, another reason why I prefer to hand draw everything rather than using computer programs which just replicate the same mountain shape again and again, some smaller some bigger but none with any individuality. Were the mountainous regions alpine in nature, snow capped and grey granite or like the dry peaks of parts of the Andes or more like the Cairngorms and Snowdonia, greener lower peaks?

What about the woodland areas?

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Most forests depicted in fantasy maps tend to be one generic shape repeated infinitum and if they are coloured, one generic green shade. We decided instead to have individual shapes, colours and shades for the different tree types just like a real mixed forest canopy of deciduous and coniferous trees. Yes these are still stylised trees, drawing an accurate observational study of a tree with all it’s intertwining branches would look dreadful in a map context, like a mass of spider webs and would become too distracting to the overall effect.

captureThen you have the map’s compass. I like to do an individual compass for every map and client, so they are unique to that client’s work. In Juliet’s case, I really wanted to include some of the mythos present in her story, namely the fact that her market towns have shrines to the Sun Goddess & Moon God, so I wanted a compass rose with a sun and moon motif at the centre (lol, Juliet is apparently now thinking of using this compass rose as a cross-stitch design!).  🙂

compass

When painting the map, I found myself using some truly gorgeous pearlescent paints and gold inks for the details (there are amazing art products out there!), I only wish the sheen of these had fully translated into the final scanned map.

So, after a month and a bit of continuous work, we had a finished painted map for Juliet’s amazing new fantasy, Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, which launches at *BristolCon in less than two weeks! Pop along and meet Juliet in person and grab yourself your own signed copy from the author herself! (check out the gorgeous cover by Ben Baldwin!)

*BristolCon – is a fantastic one day SFF convention in Bristol at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on Saturday 29th October! The programme of events is here. (Juliet will be there signing copies of Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom and appearing on two panels & I’ll be there too supporting my publishers, Grimbold Books and doing a panel and reading – come along and join the fun!)

So, there you go folks…the process of actually creating and making a fantasy map, it ain’t easy but boy is it FUN!  🙂 xxx

300dpi-watermarked-finished-map-amended

🙂 xxxx

Etymology – what’s in a word? Part I – Places.

Okay, I admit it, I’m a HUGE nerd and this particular post will probably only be of interest to me and about three other people on the planet! But I love etymology and the derivation of words.

This is particularly prevalent when it comes to places and place names.

I grew up learning that place names had a beauty and a power all themselves and that they weren’t just a string of random letters but actually meant something. Places had meanings. I spent my childhood in a small village named after a Saxon chief, Alwif, who came across the megalithic stones on the high hill above the village and named the settlement after himself and the largest stone, Alwif’s Stone, which later became Alves’town and then Alveston. Greenhill, just round the corner, was a green hill, Bodyce Orchard was named after the bodies supposedly buried there during the English Civil War (1642-1651). My tumbled down cottage (circa 1577) where I grew up dreaming of dragons and adventure, was on a wonderfully named road – Wolfridge Ride, named after the wolves that used to roam the area when it was forested hundreds of years before and the wolf pits that were dug to catch them along the high ridge.

Lol, I digress…but you understand my fascination with place names and the derivation of words, the inherent mystery and magic in them.

So, here I am lifting the curtain on my weird and wonderful world and some of the strange research I did for White Mountain and for the worldbuilding behind my Darkling Chronicles trilogy.

Despite White Mountain being an epic fantasy in the traditional ‘high fantasy’ sense, it is set now within our modern world, so in addition to my invented places I also wanted to include real places too, to ground the fantasy in reality and give the book an authentic feel for the reader.

I should state here, that having taught phonetics for the last 16years, I understand the basic structures of many Indo-European languages and syntax and so when I decided, like the true nerd that I am, to invent my own Dworllian language, I wanted to make sure that it actually worked…and yes it does!

(*My Dworllian language – actually a mixture of Maori, African Bantu & Ibo dialects, Old Norse, Old English, Celtic and Old Hindi).

Map of Fendellin (colour) (2)

The Locations of White Mountain:

  • The Arctic Tundra – location of Ïssätun*, the Ice City, high within the Arctic circle. An enormous hidden city made entirely of ice where all remaining elder tribes, dworlls and magic-casters etc., can meet, trade and gather news. A cross between a huge shopping mall, a bizarre and a covered market, full of haggling stalls, bridges and walkways, squares and forums for meeting…though it hides a dark secret.

(Ïssätun* – iss or issa meaning ‘ice’ in Old Norse + tun meaning ‘town’ in Old English and Old Norse = my Ïssätun, ‘Ice Town’)

  • The Siberian Boreal forest or ‘Taiga’ (snowforest) – location of the Grey Forest and Wendya Undokki’s home, within the magical Llrinaru* trees with their tree spirits or dryads. The boreal forest is the largest forest on earth and covers an enormous area, home to many indigenous tribes such as the Nenet, Chukchi and Evenki. Like the genus behind many ancient and Anglo-Saxon names, the Grey Forest is just that, literally a grey forest of larches, alder, spruce and ancient silver birch which appear grey when flecked with snow.

(Grey – grǣg in Old English. Llrinaru* trees or ‘The Elder Wood’ – llri meaning ‘old’ or ‘ancient’ in Dworllian + naru meaning ‘forest’ or ‘wood’)

  • The Alps (Alpes – Celtic derivation) – location of White Mountain (Mont Blanc), Mr. Agyk’s ancestral home and home of Gralen, the last Eurasian dragon in existence. (Although the real location which inspired White Mountain was actually Mount Cook ‘Aoraki’ in New Zealand during my epic four month backpacking trip there back in 1997/1998).

 

  • The Amazon – location of the ‘Oracle of the West’ (one of the nine oracles from the ancient world, which included the oracles at Delphi and Cumae) and its lair, deep within the Amazonian basin. From the aerial roots of the mangrove swamps on its Atlantic coast to the black ox-bow lakes that straddle its interior like giant boomerangs, the protagonists must follow a path deep into the heart of the jungle, past dangling lianas and bromeliads and the giant buttresses of its huge mahogany trees to a dark and dangerous power.

 

  • (Democratic Republic of Congo) Congolese Rainforest – location of the huge subterranean metropolis of Kallorm* known as ‘The City of Light’, largest and oldest of all Dworllian Kingdoms, known as Dwellum in Old Dworllish (similar to Sumerian cuneiform in its written language) and Silverden in the Ǽllfren tongue. Kallorm, with its three colossal underground mountains ‘The Three Pillars of Kallorm’ which support the ground above, was founded over 120,000 years ago but has been in steady decline since the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago when the human population exploded. Only the indigenous forest people, the Ba’Aka are aware of the city’s existence. Sapele and Iroko trees and hidden forest clearings called bai’s, dot the landscape and its red iron rich soils and the impatiens that blossom beneath the dappled canopy (bai’s were only recently discovered by Westerners, still hidden in the Congo’s mythic ‘heart of darkness’). Wendya Undokki grew up in the city as a child and used to play in these bai’s (open water meadows), before leaving for the Siberian north and the Grey Forest. 

(Undokki means ‘witch’ in African Bantu languages which is apt as Wendya is a witch!)

  • Himalayas – location of the hidden land of Fendellin*. Tibetan and Indian myths tell of a magical hidden land, lost in the Himalayas, called Shambhala. It was this Shambhala which inspired James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon and the land of Shangri-La. Shambhala IS my Fendellin.

“Far East beyond heart’s lost desire

The birthplace of the eldest kin,

Through rising sun on wings of fire

Lies forgotten Fendellin.”

(Fendellin* – fen meaning a low-lying land, marshy or near watercourses from Old Norse ‘fen’ + dell meaning a hollow esp. wooded hollow from Old English ‘del’ or ‘delle’ = my Fendellin* rather simple and Anglo-Saxon in its meaning!)

  • Fendellin* – location of the mountain capital of Mund’harr* and the central plateau named after it. The capital, the Golden City, sometimes referred to as the Sky or Cloud City, sits at the top of Mund’harr, amongst its pinnacles.

(Mund’harr* – mund meaning ‘mound’ in Old English similar to munt meaning ‘mount’ in Old English + harr meaning ‘high’ in Dworllian and related to hār meaning ‘high’ in Old Norse.)

(The main river in Fendellin, ‘The Great Varuna River’ – Varuna from Hinduism, the ancient sky god, later the god of waters and rain-giver.)

(The Shudras, ‘The Silent Marshes’ – Shudras from the ancient Indian Vedas, the fourth varna from one of the sacred texts from the Rig Veda. Shudras was the lowest social class, also refers to swamps and the dark serpents who inhabit them.)

***

There…I think I’ve bored you all enough! But you get the idea.

Part II will look at myths and creatures – wargols, firewolves, oracles, fÿrrens (dragons), dworlls (dwarves), and the Gorrgos!

Below is a map of the world with White Mountain locations and the approximate routes taken to get there! 😀 xxx

White Mountain locations map with routes

 

 

Han Solo, Passing 14,000 and The Liebster Award!!!!

Han Solo

Okay, first I’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to all my amazing talented followers for pushing this little blog past 14,000 hits!!! That’s truly humbling and astounding. So, whether you’re regular visitors, weekly watchers, new to the site, fly-by, one-stop-shop, pop-in pop-out kind of visitors, or hang out pull up your chair and relax visitors, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! This blog would be nothing without your support! 😀 xx

Right, before I get too gushy on you, I’ll get on with the post.

As I mentioned in my last nomination, The Versatile Blogger award, I’ve been very forgetful regarding the awards which have so kindly been bestowed upon me, but, I’ve now caught up with this latest one, the Liebster Award. Again, huge thanks must go out to the gorgeous, talented and thoroughly lovely Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/), who nominated me for this award in May. Kay is an extraordinarily gifted fantasy author with a love of nascar, a gift for cooking and a huge heart!

Apart from being a fellow member of The Alliance of Worldbuilders – http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com/index.html & http://www.facebook.com/TheAllianceOfWorldbuilders along with myself and a bunch of fantasy/sci-fi geeks, Kay Kauffman has also established the most amazing blog which I highly recommend you all checking out! http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/  – Thank you Kay! 😀 x

As usual, there are a few rules for this:

liebsterThe Rules:

  1. List eleven random facts about yourself.
  2. Answer the eleven questions that were asked of you by the blogger who nominated you.
  3. Nominate eleven other blogs for the Liebster Award and link to their blogs.
  4. Notify the bloggers of their award.
  5. Ask the award winners eleven questions, to be answered upon acceptance of the award.

Umm…I’m noticing a pattern in the number 11!liebster-award

Okay, so here is where I bend the rules a little…ahem…okay, break the rules again. Rules are made for breaking, right? The Liebster Award is supposed to be for blogs who have 200 followers or less. Well, as the lovely Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/) suspected, I am very lucky to have more followers than that, first rule broken. but since she was kind enough to nominate me, I’m gladly accepting!

Okay…er…first eleven random facts about me:

  1. I’m a terrible insomniac and have been since I was about 14.
  2. I’m petrified of spiders but okay with snakes.
  3. I’ve nearly died at least 4 times, drowning, car crash, decapitation, run over, and that’s not counting all the times I fell twenty feet out of trees with hardly a bruise or scratch – I’ve never broken a bone!
  4. I have dreadful eyesight yet can see amazing details close up, like microscope vision, great for drawing and I ADORE looking at maps!
  5. I could talk before I could walk and was writing and drawing before 3yrs.
  6. My first crush was on Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, I even posted an airmail love letter to Jackson Hole, Wyoming!
  7. I am very much a country girl, born and bred and love nature and wild landscapes – preferably with no people around, just the elements and me!
  8. I love animals and detest cruelty of any kind. I’m anti all ‘blood sports’ like fox hunting.
  9. I love green vegetables and have a real thing for runner beans! English: runner beans
  10. Star Wars was the very first film I ever saw at the cinema. It got me totally hooked on science-fiction and fantasy, but it also seeded a deep desire in me, ever since I was 4yrs old, to be an astronaut. To this day, I still have vivid dreams of flying my own spaceship!
  11. When I was 17 I went to Communist Russia on a school trip. Our plane was diverted to an airstrip north of Moscow due to a storm and the KGB boarded our plane and took our passports. It was very scary. I was frisked by one of the guards and we were all detained for four hours in a blizzard. It was an amazing trip though. We went to Lenin’s tomb – incredible. It was like a dream. Although he’d been dead for over 70 years at the time, he looked like he had just fallen asleep! Seriously freaky!

The questions Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/) wanted answered:

  1. If you could have lunch with any one person, living or dead, who would it be and why? Probably my personal hero, David Attenborough.David Attenborough 1
  2. What is your favourite song and why? Mull of Kintyre by Wings. It was the first record I ever bought and even though I know it’s cheesy as hell, I still adore it. Something to do with being a soundtrack to nature I think.
  3. What is your dream job? Besides being a writer? Probably a film director. I love telling stories and being a highly visual person that would be ideal. Weirdly enough, my career’s advisor said ‘writer or film director’ as two of my best most suitable jobs!
  4. What is your favourite season? Spring, everything awakening, coming back to life and the promise of Summer yet to come.
  5. Why did you start blogging? Oops…I read this as ‘when’ – 26th January 2012! Why? Umm. To be honest I don’t know, I just kind of fell into it and found I loved it!
  6. What is your favourite comfort food? Bread and Marmite.
  7. If you had a time turner like Hermione’s in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, what would you do with it? Sorry, I’ve never read any HP more of a Tolkien girl, so don’t know what that is. I’m guessing it’s a time machine device or something? Uh…I’d probably go back in time and undo some mistakes, do a few things differently given the choice. I don’t live with regrets, but I’ve often made choices for other people and not for myself.
  8. If you could have lunch with one of the captains from Star Trek or one of the characters from Star Wars, who would you choose and why? Ooh, that’s hard. The 12yr old me would definitely go with Han Solo, now though, I think I’d pick Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk, he’s kinda cute and I think he’s a funny guy. It would be a fun lunch!
  9. Do you use your cell phone mostly for talking or mostly for other things? Mostly for texting, but mostly not at all. I’m an email girl not a cell/mobile phone girl.
  10. What makes you dance? Most music.
  11. And the follow-up, what makes you sing? “You’re Just Too Good To Be True…” & “Sweet Caroline…ba ba ba”, the classic drunken sing-a-long songs!

There you go! Now for my eleven nominees, as always, these really are in no order at all!

  1. Tricia Drammeh – http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/ &  http://theclaimingwords.com/
  2. Lindsey Parsons – http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/
  3. Susan Finlay – http://susansbooks37.wordpress.com/
  4. Kate Jack – http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/
  5. Andrea Baker – http://www.andreabakerauthor.com/ & http://rosewallauthor.wordpress.com/
  6. Will Macmillan Jones – http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/
  7. Jane Dougherty – http://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
  8. Lisa Scullard – http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/ & http://hardinkcafe.wordpress.com/
  9. Emily Mckeon – http://theabsenteeblogger.blogspot.com/
  10. Joanne Hall – http://hierath.wordpress.com/
  11. Ashen Venema – http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/

Wow…there are a LOT of lists on this post! Okay, now for the last fun part…he he he!

Eleven questions I would like my nominees to answer, should they choose to accept the award. Here goes!

  • What was the first book you ever read, and the last one you read/are reading?
  • What superpower do you wish you had and why?
  • Better to burn like a comet or fade away? Quick and bright or slow and dull? How best you do live your life?
  • If you were transported into a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or one of G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones stories, which character would you play and why?
  • Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams?
  • Favourite movie and why?
  • Favourite all time character from fiction and why?
  • DC or Marvel?
  • Guilty pleasure?
  • If you were granted one wish, what would it be and why?
  • What book has had the most profound affect upon you and why?

There you go, a mixture of absurdly silly, shallow questions with a few sensible ones thrown in! 😉

How would YOU answer these? Eh? Huh? Wanna give it a try? Yes, you sitting there in the corner, yes YOU! Come on over here and ask yourself these questions, come join our little nerdfest! 😀 xxx

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark