Making Hay with Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry and Chris Riddell!

On Monday 29th May 2017, I had the good fortune to drive to the beautiful Welsh/Herefordshire border town of Hay-on-Wye and its world famous Hay Literary Festival. The Hay Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, so it felt like an extra special treat. My reason for going, apart from the fact that Hay-on-Wye is a book lovers paradise, was because I had tickets to see Neil Gaiman in conversation with Stephen Fry on the subject of ‘Mythology’, two authors and people I greatly admire and a topic I love and am a little obsessed with – a perfect day out! 😀

I’ve been to Hay and its festival many times now but it always feels like the first time, that tangible sense of excitement and child like joy just stays with me every time. I’ve been wanting to see Neil Gaiman for ages but somehow had always missed him, often because I’d bought early bird tickets to see someone else before realising that Gaiman was appearing as well. As much as I love Hay it’s just too far to go twice in a week (every route there is fiddly as hell), and too expensive and booked up to even consider staying the night. Last time, I was at the festival to see Kazuo Ishiguro and his brilliant new book The Buried Giant and had once again missed Neil Gaiman. The irony was that Ishiguro was discussing the incredible snobbery he had encountered when he decided to write The Buried Giant, his first foray into fantasy, and how he had had no idea just what genre bias, prejudice and misconceptions there was in literary circles about fantasy. In fact, Ishiguro had been so taken aback by the level of snobbery towards fantasy that he ended up, with Neil Gaiman, writing a newspaper article about it!

So when the festival programme landed on my door two weeks ago and I saw Neil Gaiman would be appearing with another favourite of mine, Stephen Fry, it was a no brainer, I booked my ticket immediately. To my delight, a couple of friends had booked up the exact same event so we were able to meet up and sit next to each other. A shout out to the lovely Roz Clarke a brilliant fellow fantasy writer from Grimbold Books (who’s not only a great writer but is an amazing editor as well as being a lovely person) and Heather Ashley, another lovely mutual friend and her fabulous fringed blue shawl which I wanted to steal and two new friends I met on Monday, Ian Halverson and Amanda Beecham who was wearing the most gorgeous dress!

I drove to Hay hoping to avoid the predicted rain as well as all the poor squashed hedgehogs along the route. My accompanying soundtrack was Soundgarden’s Superunknown album, made all the more poignant by the tragic suicide of its glorious frontman and all round poetic genius, Chris Cornell less than two weeks before. The track ‘Feels Like Suicide’, a track I had always loved now seems too loaded with meaning and full of sadness to listen to. 😦

I arrived a little late (as usual), just after 1pm. Note to all people travelling to Hay-on-Wye, don’t EVER go through Hereford, REALLY not worth it! Anyway, after a security check of bags (a sad necessity these days especially post the horrific Manchester attack the previous Monday) and the armed police that were patrolling the festival, I met up with the gang in the Food Hall. What made it more joyous, is that only Heather had been to Hay before so for Roz, Ian and Amanda this was all a gloriously new experience. We wandered past the various tents, bunting and fluttering flags like Tibetan prayers to the gods, past the smells of barbecuing foods, coffee’s of every description, acoustic music, pan pipes, fiddles and the general hubbub caused by the thousands of festival goers.

We grabbed a shuttle bus into town and started our book crawl opposite Hay-on-Wye’s impressive ruined castle…by going to Shepherd’s Ice-Cream Parlour! Yes, ice cream came before books! 😀 Shepherd’s is an amazing place straight out of the 1930’s with it’s curved glass façade, mosaic floor and café chic vibe, but it’s ice cream…oh la la! The queues were totally worth it! Made from local sheep’s milk, for me, it’s the best ice cream outside of Italy. I was a little pig and had four scoops spread over two tubs! 😀

We began exploring Hay-on-Wye’s delights by visiting the famous Richard Booth’s bookshop – THIS is the sort of bookshop you dream about, all creaking dark wooden floors and interior and several levels to get blissfully lost in. Having the will power of a gnat, I succumbed and bought my first of many purchases of the day!

We went on to Addyman’s Books, Mostly Maps and one of my personal favourites, Hay-On-Wye Booksellers. The magical thing about Hay-on-Wye, is that it casts a spell over you so utterly that you lose track of time even if you’ve only been in a few of its wonderful bookshops. Which is what happened to us. We didn’t even get the chance to meander around Hay’s largest bookshop, Hay Cinema Bookshop with over 200,000 titles! Suddenly it was 5pm and with our Neil Gaiman/Stephen Fry event starting at 5:30 in the main Tata Tent, we had to move our arses. With the queue for the shuttle buses impossibly long we decided to chance walking the mile and a bit from the town centre to the festival. We made it in time and joined the expansive queue – in all my years of going to Hay, I’ve never seen a queue for anybody as long as that one! We eventually got into the Tent and in my exuberance to grab five seats together I virtually trampled on this poor woman who had sat herself at the very end of a line of empty seats. Oops sorry! :O

The event started and to our amazement we had an extra treat, up on stage joining Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry was Children’s Laureate and illustrator extraordinaire, Chris Riddell (a FB friend of mine and someone I am in complete awe of). Chris was on stage throughout actually illustrating the conversation on the spot! Amazing! I have no idea how he does it!

The conversation started with Stephen Fry asking Neil about how he first got into mythology, a subject they are both passionate about (Stephen Fry loves Greek Myths which he talked about a bit, whereas Neil Gaiman prefers Norse Myths – hence his new book, Norse Mythology). For Neil Gaiman it was Norse Mythology and its roots, not the Wagnerian Cycle stuff but the older original Eddas, tales of Odin, Thor, Loki and giant wolf Fenrir, of magic and cruelty, tricks and betrayal, that he loved so much. Certainly very inspirational stuff, no wonder Tolkien often plundered such tales for his own creations! Neil spoke eloquently about Loki’s children, particularly Týr and read a section of his new book, Norse Mythology, and how Odin had made the dwarfs make an unbreakable chain, Gleipnir, and had tricked Fenrir into being bound up by it because they were jealous of his strength and power. I won’t spoil the end of the tale for those of you who are not familiar. 🙂

Stephen Fry, as always, had a lovely relaxed style of questioning that made both men at ease, even under the intense stare of some 500 audience members and all the bright lights. Chris Riddell brought there conversations alive with beautifully drawn snapshots of both sitters and the various mythological characters they discussed, as well as some cheekily flamboyant moments of drawing hilarity!

The entire experience was utterly magical. I really wish I had brought a Dictaphone or something to record it all. It lasted just over a hour with some question and answer bits from the audience, including one girl asking if as writers did Gaiman and Fry ever feel like a God themselves? Clever question. Neil Gaiman replied “Yes, twice. Once when I was asked to write a Dr. Who script and I wrote… ‘Interior Tardis’, and once 30 years before that when I had to make Batman say something!” You can see the whole talk here.

Someone also asked if Gaiman would be interested in ever doing some Welsh Myths, like the Mabinogion…he didn’t say no! 😀 For someone like me, who ADORES any kind of mythology, but particularly Norse, Celtic and ancient Sumerian tales (Epic of Gilgamesh), this whole event was simply edible! 😀

After it finished I did my usual gazelle sprint to the festival bookshop, to queue up for the book signing. Despite my stumpy legs and swift weaving through the crowds, there were still about a hundred people in front of us, including the annoying serial fidget who was sitting next to me and could keep still for ore than a few seconds, making my chair move so much I was getting nauseous! But, we still managed to secure a good place, seeing as the queue snaked behind me by at least 2 or 3 hundred people!

Despite aching legs and complaining feet we queued and queued. Due to the number of people waiting Neil could only signed two books, but frankly he was amazing and ended up book signing for 5 hours! OMG! Anyway, being the naughty shit that I am and being a fan of his writing, I couldn’t resist in doing something cheeky. When it came to him singing the books I bought, his Norse Mythology and Stardust, I blurted out that I was a fan of his writing and wanted to give him a gift to say thank you. I wasn’t as eloquent as I wanted to be and slapped my novel, White Mountain, down on his table like a wet fish, but he was very gracious and seemed to love the cover. “Wow, lovely to meet a fellow author!” then to my amazement he stretched out his hand for a handshake! Gulp! What a moment, then he went and drew a doodle in one of the books!

After the book signing, exhausted but blissfully happy we said our goodbyes. It was nearly 8:30 but thankfully still light, so with the sun setting I left Hay-on-Wye and this my most favourite of festivals and taking a different route I drove through the majestic landscapes of the Golden Valley homeward bound.

What a magical day! 😀

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

 

Battling the Great ‘D’!

The Great ‘D’ – depression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here goes:

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

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

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

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

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Tis’ the season to be jolly…still?

Well, my lovely bloggers, visitors, friends, fellow nutty inmates…Christmas has come and already passed in a blur of sparkling drinks, party food, crisps, squashed chocolates and merriment! And now New Year has sped past too…!

SAM_5514I for one, have had a lovely Christmas so far and hope you all have too, despite some horrendous weather anomalies both sides of the Atlantic.

For once, I was actually looking forward to the New Year – a milestone I usually dread, after all, who really wants to celebrate getting a year older and reflecting on all those targets you didn’t achieve, things you failed to do or progressive steps you forgot to take? New Year has a way of focusing all the negative things that happened through the year under a fine microscope.

BUT this year…well, this year has been different. It’s been an amazing year in almost every way. Personally, I’ve taken some huge steps forward and the fruition of this should hopefully be evident this time next year…he he he! Professionally, I’ve loved every second of working for my fabulous publishers, Grimbold Books and Kristell Ink. As an author, you simply couldn’t want for more supportive lovely people, we really are all a huge gloriously weird and wacky family, which was so evident at FantasyCon in Nottingham this year. It really was the most fun you can have with your clothes on! 😀 11986568_1137863496242052_4476185573487481831_n[1]

Artistically and creatively, it’s been a great year as not only has my epic illustrated fantasy, White Mountain, been doing rather well, but I’ve been book signing up and down the West Country and Wales, moderated my first fantasy convention panel, was invited as an author and illustrator to take part in the Cirencester Literary Festival (which was awesome and a complete sell out) and managed to not only write a bunch of new short stories (which have been and are being published), but even took part and succeeded in my first ever Nano write! Nano Winner 2015 Certificate

So all in all, it’s been a frenetic, hectic, manic year and although I am completely knackered, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

So…what for 2016? Did I make any New Year’s resolutions to be broken a few weeks later?

No.

What I will say, is that 2016 will bring more creative projects. After having struggled with my illness and writing, Nano showed me that I CAN beat my stupid condition and I CAN novel write again. So with renewed vigor, I intend to finish the sequel to White Mountain, Darkling Rise, which has taken me so long (I promise to my beloved White Mountain fans that it WILL be worth the wait!), and I will finish my other dark fantasy novel, Ravenwing, that I wrote 50K words of for Nano and which I am stupidly excited about! I will also finish my first picture book, already written and in stasis while I paint the 24 full page illustrations! Wow! I had NO idea just how much work goes into a picture book when you are writing AND illustrating it…but I must say, it is something rather special. I don’t mind being uncharacteristically optimistic and saying that this could be something huge… 😀 xxx

So, whatever your plans for 2016, my advice is to…

be brave and be bold.

If the last few years have taught me anything, and I apologise for the clichés here…but life really isn’t a rehearsal, it speeds past in the briefest of flashes and before you know it all those hopes and dreams you had are fizzled into nothing. My dear fellow insomniac friend, Lindsey J Parsons, who I used to chat to late into the wee small hours, really grasped life by the horns. She had so many hopes and dreams, she achieved many of them but had many more to accomplish that tragically never came to pass as she died suddenly on 5th January 2014.

295755[1]I think of her often and try to use her wonderful example to spur me on and to ignore that self-doubt, that negative voice that cripples so many writers.

What are you hoping for in 2016?

To steal a phrase from the book and film, ‘We bought a zoo’, (which ironically I have a personal connection too as I used to teach Benjamin Mee’s nieces, so knew all about the family and there predicament and the Hollywood film based on their lives)…

“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of INSANE courage…and I promise you, something great will come of it.”

So…what 20 seconds of insane courage do you need this year to accomplish your dreams?

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As my little blog passes 45,000 visitors for which I am truly humbled, honoured and more than a little surprised…it makes me reflect on what life is and what hopes and dreams I have for it. Remember, it is NEVER too late to change your life.

Whatever 2016 brings to you, believe in yourself, be brave and bold and don’t let your fears stop you from following your dreams.

😀 xxxx

Distant Worlds – Welcomes Kay Kauffman!

This is the thirteenth outing of a new blog series, as I dabble my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews!

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

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The Distant Worlds strand started a few months ago, focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber-talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends. Check out their cool titles while they’re still at bargain prices! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

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

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

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

Right, now to our thirteenth author interview, and our first AWB interview, the princess of fantasy…

Kay Kauffman

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Kay, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

I’ve seen enough episodes of Naked and Afraid for this to be an easy question! I’d take an extra large pot with a lid, a fire starter (because Fire Whisperer Cody Lundin I am not), a machete, a mosquito net (so many uses!), and 500 feet of heavy-duty climbing rope.

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

I’d have my survival items in a backpack, all ready to go. I’d also grab a laptop full of music and family photos for those quiet, lonely moments; all the paper and pencils I can lay my hands on; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (travel tips for the win! J; and one towel large and thick enough to double as a blanket.

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

Chicken that I am, I think I’d play it safe and observe said life forms first. Then, if they seemed friendly, I’d approach them. If not, well, I’d head for the hills at warp ten!

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

Pathways by Jeri Taylor, because I love Star Trek: Voyager and this book got me through some rough times in my teen years; an omnibus set of The Banned Underground books by Will Macmillan Jones, because I’m sure to need a good laugh at some point; an omnibus set of Caroline B. Cooney’s The Time Travelers books, because – in a word – they’re awesome (despite the fourth book being rather less awesome than it could have been); The Princess Bride by William Goldman because it’s just so darn quotable, not to mention a classic; and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (yep, you guessed it, an omnibus set) because I’ve been meaning to reread them and I may actually have the time if I’m stranded on a remote alien planet.

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

“A Way Back Into Love” by Haley Bennett and Hugh Grant and “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles because they’re both uplifting, feel-good songs; the complete works of Gaelic Storm because…well, do I really need a reason? 🙂 “The Longer the Waiting (The Sweeter the Kiss)” by Josh Turner because his voice makes me melt and this song is just…I have no words to describe the epicness of this song! The same goes for “How Did I Fall in Love with You” by the Backstreet Boys. And I’d also have to take their album Unbreakable because…Well, just because. 🙂

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

I’d take the Coke – after all, I’ll need the caffeine to keep me going. And if I need to clean a battery terminal or something, I’ll be all set.

On the other hand, crash-landing on an alien planet is bound to be stressful, and vodka might help me relax. But I get sleepy when I drink.

Of course, if I had both Coke AND vodka, I’d have the best of both worlds… 🙂

Random comet question: If you had the choice, would you live in Westeros, Middle Earth or Narnia?

If I had to choose among those three, I would probably have to choose Middle Earth. Westeros sounds much too rough for my liking, and Narnia, while beautiful, also has the White Queen, whom I really don’t care to tangle with.

I’d settle in the Shire, I think. Lovely scenery, lovely people, lovely food – what more could a girl want? 🙂

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go! 

In Tuesday Daydreams and A Song for All Seasons, I use words to paint pictures of frost-covered windowpanes, snowy prairie vistas, rolling green fields, and bright blue skies. But if poetry’s not your scene, then check out my short stories in A World of Their Own and see what happens when a cancer vaccine goes terribly, horribly wrong.

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

I’d spend my time writing. After all, without my day job and all the usual interruptions, I might actually get a fair amount done!

Unless, of course, I’m plagued by unusual interruptions. In that case, I’d probably be too busy cowering in a dark cave somewhere to do much writing.

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

I’d miss all the usual things – my family, my friends, electricity, indoor plumbing, and the view from my hammock. Or rather, the view from my hammock seven years ago. But then, I already miss that.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

I would most definitely NOT miss politics (Can the 2016 election be over already? Please? Pretty please? No? Boo.). I wouldn’t miss petty drama or the people who thrive on it. I wouldn’t miss being in debt (lookin’ at you, student loans). I wouldn’t miss money or the things it does to people at all. And, last but not least, I wouldn’t miss those TV commercials for prescription drugs. They make taking the medications sound ten times worse than the diseases they’re supposed to cure. Jeff Foxworthy has a whole bit about them, and it’s funny cuz it’s true.

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

Every embarrassing moment in my life.

Seriously, though, if I could change my college experience without it affecting the life I have now, I would. I would have stayed on campus instead of going home every weekend, I would have studied abroad, and I would have finished my bachelor’s degree. At least.

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

I think so. Shows like Star Trek (all incarnations) and Futurama left me with an incurable desire to know what else is out there.

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

Well, since I already mentioned Will Macmillan Jones, I suppose that means I need to talk about other authors, don’t I? All right, then – how about Emily McKeon/C.W. Farley? Who Will Dance With Me? and What the Town Knew are both amazing; she really can write it all. Inquisitor by R.J. Blain isn’t the sort of thing I normally read, but this book grabbed me at the start and never once let go. Harriet Goodchild’s After the Ruin was a tapestry of a book – richly layered, full of details, I could reread this book a hundred times and find something new to enjoy every time, I just know it. Chasing Azrael by Hazel Butler was another such book, and I can’t wait for the next instalment in her Deathly Insanity series. And finally, Lindsey J. Parsons’ novel Vortex, the first book in her Return of the Effra series, was utterly wonderful. Again, not the sort of thing I normally read, but it was just a load of fun from beginning to end, and I wish she were still here to write more fantastic stories. (I totally agree, Vortex is one of my all time favourite reads and I SO wish dear Lindsey was still with us!)

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

Never underestimate the power of a friendly smile. 🙂

That said, one should also keep in mind Ferengi Rule of Acquisition No. 48: The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.

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

wpaviKay in her own words…

“I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world…”

Wait, that’s not me! I’m a legal secretary by day and a determined word wrangler by night. I sometimes play referee for my four kids, who keep me on my toes and a little bit out of my mind. I love a good romance and I adore bad jokes. I live in the middle of an Iowa cornfield (okay, so this year it’s a bean field, but that’s beside the point) with my handsome, handy husband, our kids, and an assortment of furry creatures both tame and wild. The geek is strong in our family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂

Bio:

A mild-mannered secretary by day and a determined word-wrangler by night, Kay battles the twin evils of distraction and procrastination in order to write fantastical tales of wuv…twue wuv…with a few bad haiku thrown in for good measure.

She is currently hard at work on the first book in a fantasy trilogy. Kay resides in the midst of an Iowa corn field with her devoted husband and his mighty red pen; four crazy, cute kids; and an assortment of adorably small, furry animals.

Care to save her from the chaos? You can find Kay in the all the usual places:

At her blog, where she shares random pictures and silly poems; on Facebook, where she shares things about cats and books; on Twitter, where she shares whatever pops into her head; on Pinterest, where she shares delicious recipes and images from her fantasy world; on Instagram, where she shares pictures of pretty sunsets; and on Tumblr, where she shares all of the above.

ASFAS-ExtraLargeECoverBook Blurbs and links

Natural poetry at its finest.

In addition to intimate portraits of family life, A Song for All Seasons paints vivid pictures of the Iowa landscape in all its glory. From frost-covered windowpanes and snowy vistas to rolling green fields and bright blue skies, each poem is a peek into a fading world of untamed beauty.

Createspace

Amazon

Amazon UK

Smashwords

Barnes & Noble

iBooks

TD-SW

Tuesday Daydreams: A Journal in Verse by Kay Kauffman

Natural poetry at its finest.

Capturing the life and imagination of the author in vivid detail, these poems touch on joy and loss, life’s everyday hassles, and the many faces of Mother Nature.

Createspace

Amazon (paperback)

Amazon (Kindle)

Amazon UK (paperback)

Amazon UK (Kindle)

Smashwords

Barnes & Noble

Nook

Kobo

***

Thank you, Kay. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing pleasure cruiser has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

Distant Worlds – Welcomes Steven J. Guscott!

This is the twelfth outing of a new blog series, as I dabble my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews!

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

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To kick off the Distant Worlds strand, over the last few weeks I’ve been focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber-talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends.

Grimbold Books were also doing a fabulous ‘Summer Promotion’ from 31st July – 4th August, where ALL of its wonderful titles were priced at only 99p/99c across Amazon platforms. Now, although summer is over, there are still great promos and bargains to be had running throughout Autumn, so grab yourself something special before the prices go back to normal! Awesome fiction at awesome prices!!!! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

Right, now to our twelfth author interview, the uber-talented, cosmically cool dude and darkly prophetic…

Steven J. Guscott

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Steven, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

What classes as essentials? Lol

Well, I guess if we’re thinking practically: a bottle of water, food, blanket, matches and a plastic bag (assuming I can afford one) OH! DARN!! I forgot the toilet roll…

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

My Pikachu teddy, my copy of Dune, Picture of my family (notice the order I thought of these, whoops!), general media device for music (hoping it was charged), My ‘little blanket’ from my aunt- I’ve had it since I was like one.

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

Life-forms! The probability is I’m screwed either way so it’s worth taking the risk to see if they are friendly. And if they aren’t, looks like we got ourselves the making of a hunter/prey space story. We shall see who is the hunter, and who is the prey. (who am I kidding? I’d be doomed!)

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

*Public Service Announcement* I have a problem!! Like serious unhealthy obsession with Frank Herbert’s Dune series.

I do love most sci/fi and Fantasy, but these stories I can read over and over and over again (currently about 11 times :/). They are just so epic! So the problem I have now is picking 5 out of the 6… I love them all for different reasons, but guess I would have to leave out… argh! I can’t do it! I’d swallow Messiah (the smallest book) and carry the other 5. Then when its time…I’d still have all 6. I warned you, I have a problem!!

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

Tool-Lateralus

Metallica- S and M

Slipknot- Slipknot

Bring Me The Horizon- Sempiternal

Disney Greatest Hits

I love all music but favourite genre is rock/metal. I just find it more inspiring and connects with me. As for Disney, well, that needs no explanation! 🙂

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

Water. Not a fan of the others. All I need is ‘good, quality H2O’

Random comet question: Marmite – love it or loathe it?

Loathe! Yuk! yuk!

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go! 

“Hey, you look familiar? Do you speak English?”

“Aarefa menaja”

“Oh, well. Here it goes any way.

The Book of Prophecy is a story about Dragatu and his family. He lives on another world and they own a secret book, The Book of Prophecy. It contains writings about the future. Dragatu is told about it by his dad, but told not to read it until he’s older. Dragatu, however, can’t help himself…

…Wait! I know why you look familiar!!

…Dragatu?”

“grilantu sikanon nis allajidus”

“Wish I could speak… hang on? Why do you want to eat my brains??”

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

Embarrassingly trying to communicate through actions that I need toilet roll. Once that’s sorted learning the language and playing out Dances With Wolves (Smurfs)/Pocahontas/Avatar.

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

Family, Friends, Orion Constellation, Aeroplanes, Game of Thrones.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Selfies, Reality TV, Racists, Celebrities, Being addicted to Facebook.

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

Nothing! Life has been brutal at times, but it has been ‘my’ brutal life and made me who I am today. I would never change that.

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

Hell, yeah!! It’s been out of this world…

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

Firehurler, by J S Morin- This was surprising good. It is very original and well thought-out (Don’t be put off by the cover- Personally, I think it’s really bad).

Spark and Carousel, by Joanne Hall- It’s so addictive and has awesome characters. It’s also a bit dark in places and I like that.

Willow, Weep No More, by various writers- This anthology is a great collection of fairy-tale stories. I love it for the diversity and creativity.

Spirit’s Destiny, by Ken Dawson- This was another very creative and original story. I love reading things that feel new and fresh and this certainly did.

The Reluctant Prophet, by Gillian O’Rourke- This is a very emotional tale and pulled at my heart strings the whole way. If you like that sort of connection this is a must.

(I do honestly recommend checking out all the authors at Grimbold. They are all amazingly talented and I am humbled to be counted amongst them)This is too hard! Books are such a matter of personal taste.

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

Writers- Write for you! Or write to honour loved ones! Or for any other innocent or noble reason. Never write just because you think it will earn you money. That’s just a bonus a lucky few get, you are likely to be very disappointed. Despite this fact, never ever give up on your dreams! Just count the cost (what it will take).

Readers- Please review and recommend indie authors you like! We need your help and every constructive and honest review makes a difference. It’s not an ego trip, it helps us out in many different ways i.e publicity.

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

12112851_10153260406805829_2120139347_oSteven in his own words…

I’m Steve (Steven J. Guscott). I enjoy many hobbies such as, writing, drawing, climbing and computer games. I’m at my happiest when being a big kid and being silly, but I do love a good deep discussion too. Family is the most important thing to me and I have been incredibly fortunate to have the family I do.

My inspirations come from all aspects of life. To quote Dune, ‘every experience carries its lesson.’ And my own little phrase is, ‘…creativity inspires creativity inspires creativity…’ The world is full of creativity so that inspires me every day and flows into my own attempts to be creative, with my own perspective at the helm.

My publishers are Kristell-Ink, part of the Grimbold publishing family. It really is a family and I could not have asked for a better publisher! Everyone involved is just incredible, especially the two women at the top who mesmerize me every day with how hard they work for us authors.

For all other info. you can visit www.stevenjguscott.com

Waterstones

Steven J Guscott’s Author Amazon Page

Amazon UK

Amazon US

12071478_10153260406225829_434316461_nLatest Book Blurb

The Book of Prophecy

No one in this quiet world knows what ignited the change; no one suspects that it all began with a secret book…

Living among the innocent, in a society that has blossomed under seven centuries of tranquility, Dragatu expects to live out his days following the same path as his father before him, without even the smallest challenge to lift the monotony. But when he and his brothers are granted incredible mythical powers, every skill they possess is put to the test. Their actions will determine the fate of their people. What has been passed on in trust threatens to tear the brothers apart.

Honour, love, power; all are at stake, and with them the only hope for a return to peace.

***

I also have stories in the anthology collections, Strange Tales from the Scriptorian Vaults (steampunk stories) and Felinity (fantastical stories with cats in).

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***

Thank you, Steven. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing exploratory vessel has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

What? You don’t want to?

You fitted in and have a family now- that was quick. Well, I guess you switch off the distress beacon and the passing freighter moves on.

Yes, I will tell your friends and family here you love them!! Enjoy you new life! I guess you always did have your head in another world!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it continued.

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

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

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

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

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

So ‘moan-fest’ over, promise.

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

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