Frantic Fun at FantasyCon and BristolCon!

The last two weeks have been a manic blur of fun, meeting friends, train frustration, award nominees, artwork, dizzyness¬†and desperately trying to get something to dry! ūüėÄ

This year I was humbled and honoured to be shortlisted as Best Artist in the 2018 British Fantasy Awards, held on the last day of FantasyCon in what is always a fun awards ceremony. This year it¬†was held in Chester, a town drenched in Roman history that I’d never been to before. The Queen hotel where the event was taking place was COLOSSAL! You kind of felt that you had dropped into Pan’s Labyrinth itself!

I was staying at the hotel in a beautiful Chinese decorated room with a shower door that didn’t close properly and¬†a Nespresso machine, so despite flooding the bathroom floor twice I at least started every day fully caffeinated!¬† ūüôā

FantasyCon itself was a manic blur, but in the nicest way. Meeting up with most of my fellow Grimmies (Sammy, Jo, Roz, Steven P, Steven G, Pete, Kate, Joel, Jason) and seeing other friends (Adele, Chloe, Juliet McKenna, Cheryl, Rosa, Anna Smith-Spark, Anne Stephens, Jen Williams Рsuch cool people!) is always so lovely. The Grimbold Books table looked fab, (we have SO many awesome books!) and the panels I went to were so interesting. There were many highlights, but for me it was probably the panel on artists working in the SFF genre, as an illustrator myself I was keen to hear author and publisher thoughts on artwork in books and the process of using an illustrator.

I¬†was flabbergasted though¬†when Joanne Harris (of Chocolat fame) came into the room and sat down as¬†a panellist!¬†She wasn’t on the programme at all so it was a fab surprise and yes, I had to blurt out in a geekish fashion that¬†“I love your books!”. ūüėÄ ¬†Ian Whates, head of NewCon Press,¬†was there as the panel moderator and hearing his thoughts on commissioning illustrators and artwork was really interesting. SUCH an incredibly useful talk and at the end of it I actually got to speak to Joanne Harris and give her my business card – it seems she’s on the look out for an illustrator for her next book! Eeeek! Fingers crossed! I also got to chat briefly with Ian Whates and his wife from NewCon who are always looking for new illustrators to use too, so some really useful contacts made there! He he he!

The only irritation, and I know¬†I sound like an old fart here,¬†is that a young¬†17ish kid decided to gravitate towards me, showed me her (ahem) drawings, which I dutifully smiled, nodded and praised, then continued to draw throughout the panel, not listening to what was being said and actually kept interrupting¬†proceedings to languidly talk about her father writing a poetry book that she did some drawings in!!!!! WTH?¬†If you’re going to be rude enough to interrupt rather than listen, then at least¬†ask a question about what was being said,¬†don’t interrupt in a totally inane and¬†bizarre manner! Ian and Joanne were incredibly sweet and kind natured over the whole thing and probably guessed as did I, that this young girl had some problems. Hey ho.

But that’s the great thing about Cons, not only are you meeting friends, making new ones, soaking up the creative atmosphere like a sponge, making connections and contacts, expanding your own business reach and hanging out with lovely like-minded folk, but cons are incredibly welcoming and open to everyone, that’s their strength,¬†so you get to meet people who may not ordinarily cross your path which is always very cool! ūüėČ

FantasyCon ended in the awards ceremony and no, I didn’t win Best Artist. That accolade went to a very well established American illustrator from New York, Jeffery Alan Love, who has won several other awards and whose work is great. I was disappointed naturally but really didn’t expect to win so it wasn’t a surprise. I was just genuinely chuffed to bits to be shortlisted amongst such amazing artists! I was also thrilled that Jen Williams won Best Fantasy Novel for Ninth Rain, Well done Jen! ūüėÄ ‚̧

FantasyCon ended I only had a few days breather before BristolCon, where I was exhibiting my artwork in the Art Room there. I showed a selection of my fantasy maps, silk paintings (many of them SFF themed) and my portraits which I set up on the Friday before the Con. I decided to show my portraits¬†in a¬†Game of Thrones style ‘Wall of Faces’ or ‘Rogue’s Gallery’ again but with new portraits in, including one of fab sci-fi writer, Gareth L Powell who spotted himself! ūüôā

To add to the manic art making, I’d been asked by Vice Chair, John Bavistock in August to do a secret portrait of BristolCon’s Guest Of Honour this year, my lovely mate Joanne Hall (who is not only a kick arse uber-talented writer, but actually ran BristolCon for 8 years!). It took me about 4 weeks of full on painting to complete as, to make it extra special, I decided to do an oil painting portrait on canvas rather than my usual pencil portraits. Lol, BUT, that meant I HAD to get it finished before I left for Chester to give it a week and a half to dry in time for BristolCon! Hairdyers were definitely used in the last manic hours! ūüėÄ

BristolCon went brilliantly well as did the Silk Painting Workshop I ran there, where my lovely 5 students produced some gloriously wonderful silk paintings, and yes I’m looking at you Roz¬†Clarke¬†& Rosa – your work was sublime!!!!! ‚̧ It was lovely to see fellow Grimbold Books mate, Pete Sutton launch his awesome new book, Seven Swords, which I can’t wait to read (having been mesmerised by Pete’s short story collection A Tiding of Magpies which I read on the train home from Chester) and it was fab to watch the Q&A panel with Roz grilling Jo on subjects as diverse as writing, running BCon, life on the farm etc.

But I admit my highlight was seeing Jo being honoured¬†as Guest of Honour for all her incredible hard work over the last 8 years as well as her amazing writing achievements…and seeing her reaction to her surprise secret portrait was just comedy gold!!! ūüėÄ

A gloriously lovely two weeks all round…now time to REST!!!!! ūüėÄ ‚̧ xxxxx

‚̧ ‚̧ ‚̧

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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! ūüôā 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¬†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¬†(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! ūüėÄ

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

Best Artist
· Ben Baldwin
· Jeffrey Alan Love
· Victo Ngai
· Daniele Sera
· Sophie E Tallis
· 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¬†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¬†(an¬†imprint¬†of¬†Grimbold¬†Books). Congrats to Joshua Cornah another fellow Grimmie from Kristell Ink, who has been nominated for Best Comic/Graphic Novel¬†for his hilarious Grim¬†& 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¬†for ‘The Court of Broken Knives’! Way to go Anna! ūüėÄ 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! ‚̧ ‚̧ ‚̧ xxxxx

‚̧

The Art of…Art. Diversify or Die!

The creative arts, particularly writers and artists, are littered with those who have failed to reach their own expectations, potential, dreams and goals. We all want to excel in our chosen path, all want to achieve the aim of making a living from what we love to do.

The harsh truth is that the majority of us will fail. We’ll have our lofty ideas and will fall short after a few exhaustive years of trying everything we can think of to reach that breakthrough point. We’ll cheer at the successes of others and wish with all our hearts that we could emulate just a fraction of it for ourselves.

So, for the majority of us creative types not quite finding the success we dreamt of, what are our options?

  1. Give up chasing dreams that never come true.
  2. Continue pursuing our goals in the hope that elusive breakthrough will happen.
  3. Diversify.

Take a leaf out of current business practice. The businesses that do the best do so because they have learnt to be flexible to changing demands and needs and because they DIVERSIFY!

Businesses that cannot change with the times and cannot diversify are left behind and simply die. There are enough high street shops biting the dust at the moment for precisely this reason. Look at farmers for instance, the most successful are those who also diversify into other avenues, be it artisan cheeses, deluxe ice creams or holiday lets etc.

So…if you’re running out of ideas, head butting into brick walls or are just exhausted¬†by the endless hamster wheel that ends nowhere despite your best efforts and talents with your aims, goals and dreams still unfulfilled…how can you break the pattern and achieve some measure of success?

DIVERSIFY!!!!!

With that in mind, today I used my skillset to run my second silk painting workshop. Although I’ve only been silk painting for the last ten to fifteen years and would not consider myself an expert in the field, I have gained enough skills to share my knowledge with others and get them creating their own original silk painting artwork.

Thankfully the workshop went very well, despite my sweating bullets on a boiling hot day with a large window magnifying the heat and my nerves. ūüôā I really was not a pretty sight! But, regardless of my melting, the event was very successful with many people asking if I did workshops nearer to¬†them (several people had travelled nearly an hour to get there!).

Now although I choose to offer these first workshops as free workshops rather than charging, they have been invaluable in paving the way for me to do paid events like this in the future and in building my reputation as not only a skilled artworker but also as a workshop artist.

Again…diversify or die – I am looking to the future¬†to use¬†my skills to enable me to continue making a living from my art and not be dependent solely on commission work.¬†You gotta think ahead people!

So how do you start to diversify?

As a creative writer you might well start by¬†delving into non-fiction for a while, trying your hand at bid writing, academic writing, writing reviews even if it’s about a brand of supermarket cheese, hell even writing manuals, obituaries, websites, educational¬†aids, essays¬†etc. See what is out there. There are ads for writing in every magazine and newspaper and vast amounts online. Think, how else can you use the talents you have? If your novels/stories/poetry are failing to garner any success or even attention, how else can you diversify and¬†use those skills?

For artists/illustrators the same applies. Even if you are currently inundated with commissions, that may not always be the case and usually it isn’t reliable in the same way that those monthly bills are. So unless you want to live your life either spending lots of money on advertising which may or may not work or waiting for the phone to ring/website email to ping for your next client commission, you need to start thinking about how to diversify and use the talents you have.

 

This is particularly¬†important if you are specialising in a niche art field. For me, I’m best known in art terms for my fantasy maps. But out of all the fiction titles, all the fantasy and epic fantasy novels published every year, how many will actually need a fantasy map? The number is surprisingly low and as¬†there are other artists out there who also specialise in the same field, vying for the same commission, how can you carve out a slice of that action/success for yourself and ensure it’s enough to live off?

Last year was undoubtedly my best in terms of commissions, exposure, and yes, money. I took on two large commissions for HarperCollins for ‘The Court of Broken Knives’ by Anna Smith-Spark and ‘Godblind’ by Anna Stephens*. That was swiftly followed by other commissions including one for Penguin Random House for ‘The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ by Diane Magras and a massive Artist-In-Residence commission for Oxford University for a brilliant new game ‘Mycelium’ created by writer genius Dan Holloway, producing all the artwork for it (50 hand painted images) etc.

*I’ve been sitting on some VERY exciting news on that front, but cannot share it until official announcements are made. ūüôā *

So how exactly do you pay the bills when you’re between commissions?

Use¬†your skillset to create other artworks, think about exhibiting your work in nearby galleries even restaurants – ever been to a pub or caf√© and seen artwork on the walls with prices on? That could be you! Contact local art centres who sell work from local artists. Of course there are ways to showcase your work online, on your website and in places like Etsy where you can sell it direct. I admit I’ve only very recently joined Etsy and am yet to set it up fully and sell any of my artwork on there…but I definitely intend to use this route to supplement my commission work.

Perhaps you too could use your talents to run a local event or workshop like my silk painting workshop? Could you charge customers a one off fee for attending such a workshop?

Diversification is the key not only to success but also to LONGEVITY! You want to be doing what you love and making a living from it for as long as you can.

Good luck everyone and embrace the change! Diversify or die!

‚̧ xxxx

 

 

BristolCon 2017 – Art, Fantasy & Maps!

Last weekend was BristolCon, the largest sci-fi & fantasy convention in the west country, UK¬†and by far my favourite con. For the last nine years BristolCon has flourished at the Hilton Double Tree hotel in the heart of Bristol,¬†a single day SFF convention that always signifies a glorious mix of panels, events, signings, workshops, art, and¬†of course books! Amongst the flurry of bookish activity, one the things that makes BristolCon so damn special is that feeling of inclusiveness, a welcoming family for old friends and new, with no cliques, no judgements, just a genuinely open, friendly and ultra cool ethos of – “come along folks and have a great time!”

What made BristolCon 2017 extra special for me this year, besides being thrilled that my lovely publisher, Grimbold Books (and¬†our leader the¬†wonderful Sammy HK Smith) has subsequently won the BFS Award for Best Independent Press, is that I wasn’t just there as an author and panellist (moderating an uber cool panel on ‘Mapping in SF & F’)…but that I was there as an artist too! ūüėÄ

*gulp*

Yes, after being talked into applying to exhibit in the famous Art Room at BristolCon by the lovely vice chair, John Bav, with extra encouragement from Mark Robinson and the lovely ex-chair, Joanne Hall, I actually plucked up the courage and applied and got in! For me this was a huge thing. Although I’ve been drawing and painting my entire life (before I could even walk apparently), and although I did a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art and had won an MA place at the Slade School of Fine Art (which I stupidly didn’t take up), I’ve only actually been illustrating for the last 2 or 3 years. In fact, it’s only since my teaching career ended due to illness that I’ve even had the time to do more art.

So, in the last 2 years, I’ve illustrated about 12 books so far (with a few current¬†‘in the works’ projects). The highlight undoubtedly had been creating the fantasy maps for Juliet E McKenna and the two HarperCollins commissions for Anna Smith-Spark & Anna Stephens, and now I am busy creating another cool fantasy map for Penguin Random House – Yay! ūüėÄ

But actually exhibiting my artwork was an entirely different thing. I haven’t exhibited since my art student days, twenty years ago! Despite starting prep for it months ago, finding and buying the right frames, getting all the ‘s’ hooks needed to hand them etc etc. I’d actually forgotten just how much work is involved! The framing and mounting card alone took ages, the picture prep, sorting out illustration portfolios, transporting the art and putting it up. Thank goodness for Andy Bigwood (Mr Art himself) who runs the Art Room and helped me find my feet and for the vital Friday pre-BristolCon Art Room set up time! I was there at the hotel until 11pm the night before BristolCon, knackered and nervous but I can’t explain how great it felt – being in that atmosphere! A mixture of pure fear, excitement, exhilaration and¬†total imposter syndrome! Lol,¬†when you’re there in the Art Room next to the likes of illustrating greats like Jim Burns and Chris Moore and BFS Award winning Sarah Ann Langton (who did the cool cover for the ‘Fight Like A Girl’ anthology), you suddenly feel very quickly out of your depth!

BUT, despite all those daft fears, the whole thing felt RIGHT. It felt like THIS is what I should be doing, coming full circle, coming home to art – my love of it, my solace, my saviour through mental health problems and depression, my relief, my method of self-expression when I can’t muster the words.

I admit, with only an hour and a half sleep, I was a walking zombie when Saturday actually came. Apologies to a couple of customers as my brain freeze took over a couple of times – so weird that when you’re that exhausted you slip into daft old sayings as your brain stops processing new information. By the end of BristolCon I was so out of it, I honestly can’t remember how I drove home! Oops!

But it was brilliant and I loved every second of it.

I’d decided to show some of my best portraits (30 of them all framed in lovely black box frames) for a cool ‘Game Of Thrones’ idea I had of having them all clustered together for a ‘wall of faces’ (aka GoT season 6) which became an interactive ‘Game Of Faces’ where people had to try¬†to identify as many of the portraits as possible and the winner would win a piece of original artwork of their choice! Cool idea, eh? ūüėÄ

Well, it worked beautifully! I had loads of people coming to view my work and participate. I also displayed some of my silk paintings and my maps (all framed in lovely matching black frames) and one of my ‘works in progress’ (the steampunk map I’m working on for the lovely Kate Coe) so people could view my creative process at constructing them. ūüôā

In fact, I had so many people coming to visit my art display that I couldn’t finish writing up my art price list! Lol, I eventually finished it after I’d already sold a load of silk paintings and was dragged off by the lovely Robyn Fulton to actually eat something before I dropped.

After a hurried but much needed lunch I went off to my ‘Mapping SF & F’ panel about one fo my favourite subjects – fantasy maps!¬†¬†I was moderating the panel¬†in the big conference room with the lovely Anna Stephens, Juliet E McKenna, Joel Cornah and Andy Bigwood. It went wonderfully, in fact myself and all the panellists could have talked for three or four hours and only got through half of my questions!

The whole day was a delightful blur of meeting old friends and new – people I’ve been friends with for years on Facebook but who I hadn’t actually met yet (like RB Watkinson, Judith Mortimore and Jessica Rydill) and chatting to the lovely people who bought my art – THANK YOU! ‚̧

 

 

 

Magic and Mental Health

It seems both poetic and ironic that on World Mental Health Day (10th October), that my own mental health which has not been good this year (particularly of late), has turned a corner.

It’s true that I have been plagued by depression since I was 13 and have had some pretty dark times. I once described it as being a meal on a menu, once you’ve been down that dark road you’re never quite the same again and that meal option keeps popping up – an apparent ‘easy’ way out. Which of course is illusory, nothing in any aspect of life is ever ‘easy’.

But, demons aside and crippling self-doubt, it is amazing what a piece of good news can do for your self-esteem and yes, for your mental health.

It’s horrible to think that my mental health is so fragile and unstable that it can be shaken by bad news and improved by good news. I’ve always prided myself on being a very tough cookie, after all I’ve survived a lot of things that would simply have buried other people, so there is a hard tenacious streak somewhere in me.

But I suppose, when I’m feeling low, stressed and upset, that’s when mental health can be particularly fragile and susceptible to outward forces. I just have to accept that and try not to be so affected by others and the outside world. Being a hermit after all has some benefits! ūüėÄ

The trick to any mental health crisis, is not to beat yourself up. You can’t help how you’re feeling and you’re not in full control of how you behave either, I’m not talking about behaving like an asshole to others and using it as an excuse, there’s never an excuse for being a dick. But, when you’re in that dark hole, the world and everything in it is skewed, you are viewing people and situations in a very altered state. Paranoia, fear, isolation, loneliness and self-destructive thoughts run rampant and things that appear minor and trivial to others, become massively important to you, through a microscope lens.

The only advice I can offer to fellow suffers, is just that it WILL pass, if you let it. Everything in life is transitory.

Happiness never lasts, neither does love, but then neither does unhappiness either.

We are all flotsam on a tide of emotions that ebb and flow, appear and disappear. So if you are feeling miserable, take heart that you will not feel like that forever. And if you are happy or in love, make sure you treasure every moment because life is so fleeting.

So…for me, as writing has been causing me so much pain of late, I have temporarily hung up my pen. I will always be a writer and I WILL finish Book 2 of The Darkling Chronicles, Darkling Rise and the third and final book, even if no-one reads them and my other novel projects, including Ravenwing. But for now, novels and short stories (which I’m still not convinced I should do anymore of), are being temporarily shelved.

I’m concentrating on something I know I CAN do and do well – ART!

2017 has been a pretty monumental year art wise. I established the Artmaniac Challenge and FB group, where people share their art and try to do something arty and creative every day (a very hard ask), as well as videoing my first art tutorials on YouTube and doing my first art exhibition in the Art Room at BristolCon (the first exhibition since my art student days)…but I have also found myself being wooed by HarperCollins to become one of their illustrators! A dream come true! That resulted in my creating two awesome maps for their highly anticipated grimdark debut’s Anna Stephen’s Godblind and Anna Smith-Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives. The response I have had about these maps has been nothing short of phenomenal and they have made their way around the world being picked up by Random House and Orbit in the USA and by Dutch and German publishers etc etc.

Well, it’s happened again! Out of the blue, another major publisher contacted me on my illustration website and wants me to work for them! No less than Penguin Random House! ūüėÄ

I’m so chuffed! Yes I know my art skills are good and I’m a total perfectionist, but as we all know, having any measure of talent does not guarantee you a damn thing. How many multi-talented people do we all know who should be wildly successful but aren’t, while decidedly mediocre folks seem to rise to the top? 9/10 times, it’s simply who you know, your connections that get you where you want to go and not your acumen or talent. Tough but true.

But on this occasion, it genuinely seems to be my skills as a mapmaker that have brought me to Penguin’s attention. Woo and hoo! ūüėÄ

So yes, as I finish a current map commission, start work on a brilliant new project¬†being funded by Oxford University no less, and prepare for my scary art exhibition and being on two panels at BristolCon (including moderating one)…I will also begin a scary new commission for Penguin Random House! ūüėÄ

So…dare I whisper it, but I am starting to feel a lot better and my depression is (hopefully) on the wane even as I enter a very hectic and stressful period. But that’s the thing about mental health, it can affect any one of us and at any time. So please, if you know someone who is struggling, no matter what the cause, just listen and be there for them and remember to look after yourself too.

Peace, good mental health and love to you all. ‚̧ xxxx

‚̧

 

Fantasy Maps, Book Launches and Chris Pratt!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For The Love Of Maps!

Mapping Your Fantasy

Mapping The Imagination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT…this experience became the lightning bolt I needed.

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

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

What the hell was I doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Good luck to us all! ūüėÄ xxxx

 

Are you prepared for SUCCESS?

Despite not being well at the moment it has been a good year so far. It’s funny, I¬†don’t know if it’s a Brit thing – being¬†humble not ‘hooting your horn’ or wanting to be seen to show off, or if it’s just a me thing, but I’ve always been prepared for failure not success.

On the relationship front – yeap, I’m pretty much a human tsunami, a total disaster zone. It’s true I never wanted to get married or trapped as I saw it¬†(hardly surprising given my childhood and family) but I did and do still want kids…something I’m going to have to do something about sooner rather than later.

On the professional front – I fell into a career (teaching) I never intended to do, and though to my own surprise I was very good at it, it was hugely draining and creatively very unfulfilling. But, I thank that career for my house and mortgage and the boring adult life stuff it gave me.

On the creative front – yes, I’ve always been blessed with the ability to draw and paint to a high standard, even from the age of 3 apparently. It led me to do a National Diploma in Foundation Art followed by a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art/Visual Arts, which I loved every moment of. But, having completed said degree and not having any money, I foolishly turned down the MA place I had secured at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art in London. Instead, after yet another disastrous relationship break up and a¬†marriage proposal (yes, I still have feelings for him but no I have no regrets saying “No”), I escaped as far away as I could, 15,000 miles away to New Zealand for four months – backpacking in blissful solitude and stunning landscapes! I’d never been happier. ūüėÄ

On returning, without a job or prospects of getting one, I did a post-grad teaching course and fell into teaching for 16 long years – many of which were enjoyable but many of which were not.

Life passes so frigging quickly…how the hell did I get here?

Then, my first completed novel, White Mountain, was published. I was ecstatic, a childhood dream and passion had actually come true and to make things more perfect, I had illustrated my epic fantasy novel too, combining my two great loves.

What happened?

Well, an 8 date Waterstones book signing tour and numerous independent bookshops, sold a ton of books, which gave me my membership to the Society of Authors, newspaper interviews, things were moving fast and brilliantly and then…it all promptly collapsed. Despite my jubilation at being published, it was with such a thoroughly unscrupulous and dreadful publisher who¬†had ruined my book (something I had taken ten years to write and research), had given me possibly the worst contract terms in the business, broken that same contract numerous times, bullied me terribly and finally shafted me out of hundreds if not thousands of pounds of royalties. I left them and after only 4 months of the book being out there on shelves and in bookshops, it was withdrawn and I skulked away badly battered and bruised by the whole ordeal.

It very nearly stopped me from ever writing again and certainly contributed to my permanent illness and my problems ‘getting the words down’. ūüė¶

Fast forward, amazing thing upon amazing thing happened and my beloved book was taken on and re-published by another publisher, the wonderful Grimbold Books based in¬†Banbury¬†(and their imprint, Kristell Ink Publishing). It was re-edited, re-formatted, given an amazing new cover from the dreadful one it had been landed with and was completely overhauled and released out into the world once more as a beautiful fresh thing! ūüėÄ ‚̧

I was thrilled and elated beyond words. That elusory second chance had come along and the book was how I had always dreamed it would be. BUT, despite Grimbold being utterly brilliant, which they are and the book being brilliant too, that initial momentum had been lost. Yes sales were steady, but not the fast flow they had once been and in the intervening time Waterstones had changed their policy about small press authors signing, and so suddenly, despite having sold well in every Waterstones I had signed in, the doors were slammed shut. I believe, slowly, that is beginning to change…we’ll see.

Now, with a crippling illness and mental constrictions on what I can do (short term memory loss and severe mental fatigue as part of my ME/CFS and Vestibular Neuritis), I have struggled on, writing a slew of short stories, novellas and poetry and trying my hardest to still write the second novel and follow up to White Mountain. Now at least I finally have a first draft of Darkling Rise from which to work.

I kept drawing, painting, mostly for myself and friends and started doing book illustrations. Nothing major, all very enjoyable but hardly paying the bills, especially as once my teaching career ended I found I physically and mentally couldn’t work fulltime anymore – I work part-time in a library now, a job I love.

So yes, some ups, undoubtedly, but lots of downs and certainly lots of practice for failing.

Then suddenly, this year after a strange string of ‘word of mouth’ and luck coincided, along with a large dose of THANK YOU to author, Anna Smith-Spark, I was actually¬†approached by the big boys – HarperCollins! ūüėÄ

They had seen the hand drawn fantasy map I had done for Anna Smith-Spark and her wonderful fantasy debut, The Court of Broken Knives, and seen my other illustration work and wanted me to be one of their illustrators/suppliers! It was a strange dream, but a wonderful one.

Of course I jumped at the chance and quickly found myself doing a second commission for them only weeks later, for Anna Stephens and her highly anticipated fantasy debut, Godblind.

But here is where the¬†– are you prepared for success?, comes in…

Because I really, REALLY was not¬†ready. Suddenly I had HarperCollins contacting me on almost a daily basis, tight deadlines thrust on me, and yes…MONEY! They were valuing me and my work in a way I was unprepared for.

I was having to deal with purchase orders and invoices. I’d always given clients a receipt if they wanted it, but no, these were bonafide invoices, each one for a different hardback edition then paperback edition of the books the maps would be in and each for a handsome amount.

I was stunned. I still am. I just received 6 purchase orders from HarperCollins a few days ago, for me to send back with 6 different invoices. Then, I got contacted by Dutch Publishers, Luitingh-Sijthoff, who want to use the same map too, and Orbit from the USA will be using one of them as well, etc., etc. OMG!!!

It’s been utterly bewildering. For someone not used to any kind of success (other than the fleeting kind), despite all my hard work, efforts and dreams, to have this happening now is frankly bizarre.

To all of you out there, plugging away as I have been, trying to find that magical ingredient to finding a market for your work, or ‘making it big’, finding success, having your dreams realised…take some heart. Although I’d never claim that I’ve ‘made it big’ because I haven’t, I have suddenly found myself in the big leagues in illustrative terms at least, with the prospect of making a good living from what I create – there is now a small space for me at the grand table.

So keep working at it guys, keep having those dreams, don’t give in, work your ass off and grasp every opportunity that comes your way because they don’t last and may not come again.

I for one have no idea where all this will lead me and am convinced it won’t last, but I’m hanging on for the ride with every intention of staying on this rollercoaster for as long as I possibly can! ūüėÄ xxxx ‚̧