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! 😀

*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! 😀

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? 😀

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. 🙂

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! ❤

 

 

 

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New Horizons!

SAM_4591Okay, yesterday was my birthday and I’ve never been fond of birthdays, but the last few days have been glorious. All in all 2014 is shaping up to be an amazing year, despite having one hell of a bumpy start. As we pass into out of summer, with its sunshine drenched buzz of activity, and into the darker evenings of Autumn, it is a time of excitement for what is to come and a time to reflect for what has gone.

The beginning of the year couldn’t have been worse. After having spent most of 2013 very ill, I had no choice but to leave my teaching job of the last 12 years. I have always worked, even through college I worked (actually it was a pretty cool job working in a video shop, surrounded by great films all day!), so the prospect of suddenly being unemployed through no fault of my own, was very daunting and pretty scary.

Martin-Hobb-1024x457[1]We haven’t worked out all the kinks yet and things are still tighter than I’d like, certainly the prospect of spending £45 to go and see Robin Hobb and George RR Martin in London on the 19th August, plus travel and hotel expenses, was simply out of my price range.

However, worries over jobs, money and financial matters paled into insignificance when my good friend and fellow fantasy writer, Lindsey J Parsons suddenly died on the 5th January 2014, only days after I had spoken to her to wish her a Happy New Year and talk excitedly about what 2014 would bring. Lindsey had so many plans for this coming year. She was going to write and release her third book, Shegal, the final book in her wonderful Return of the Effra trilogy. She and I were planning to go off to Las Vegas together, to a writing convention there. That’s where I would have been this summer if things had turned out differently.

Lindsey’s passing was a dreadful shock to all who knew and loved her, and the sadness of her passing has haunted all of us this year. I have always been an insomniac and so, in the wee small hours of the night when I used to chat to Lindsey til 2 or 3am, I miss her the most.

But her tragic death also did something else. It was a tannoy (loud speaker to my US friends) to the rest of us, that none of us know how long we have on this planet, none of us know which breath will be out last, and so the imperative is upon us to STOP WASTING TIME!!!!

It was then, that I decided to get on with the rest of my life. Put my dreadful experiences of 2013 behind me, not just my illness and having to leave my job, but also some thoroughly rotten experiences with my ex-publishers (who shall remain nameless), but who almost put me off writing anything ever again. Once bitten by a shark, you are very wary to dip your toes in the water again! I won’t spend anymore time or energy on them, as quite frankly they’re not worth it.

I also decided to be more proactive. There has been one really huge accomplishment in my life that I have wanted, really since I turned 30, some ten years ago now, and I am eventually doing something about it. This time next year, I hope to share a very different life story with you.

Another part of being pro-active, was deciding not to be ruled over by fear. I had been paralysed by fear pretty much all of last year. Fear that I would never recover and get better, fear that my goals were simply not achievable, fear of losing my job, of losing my way. One of my fears was that I would never be able to write again.

I’m not talking about the commonal garden variety ‘writer’s block’ which plagues many authors, I’m talking about total physical and mental incapacity! Part of my vestibular illness, apart from the migraines, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and head pain, was short term memory problems and a complete inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. My brain simply couldn’t cope with it. It took me days to write a simple letter, because I couldn’t concentrate for longer than 3 or 4 minutes, and the mental exertion and sheer exhaustion it caused, would flare up my symptoms again.

I’d try reading or writing and I’d be staring at a page of text like a zombie for 40mins, my mind simply ‘zoned’ out. Apparently this was very common with severe vestibular conditions, where the concentration needed to read and write was tantamount to asking a person on crutches to climb a mountain! So the whole of last year, I was crippled by thoughts that I’d never be able to climb back on that horse again and write. That my first novel would be my last!

But, after Lindsey, I decided to stop letting that fear rule me. I WOULD write again, and now, I AM!

69190_4684701805703_297748057_n[1]A HUGE part of that, has been the incredible support I have received from family and friends. A massive shout out to all my Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB) brothers and sisters – without you guys, I’d be a sad little shadow of myself and certainly wouldn’t be sat here writing this. smiling-cat[1]

Another incredible turn of fate and good fortune, was finding the most amazing new publishers who were willing to take a chance on me and wanted to publish my first novel, despite it having been published (badly) before.

Again, because of dear Lindsey, I was pro-active and approached this very cool publishing house. To be honest, I felt it was a long-shot and didn’t hold much hope, but hell it was worth a go! I loved the books they produced, how friendly, approachable, honest and professional they were and how they put authors first (the total opposite of the experiences I had had before!).

grimbold-182x300[1]To my utter delight, I signed with them in June! I cannot tell you just what that has meant to me – to have my cherished work taken on and see new life breathed into it (and new life breathed into me!), by unbelievably passionate people who love books and prize quality above everything…wow! I owe Sammy HK Smith and Zoe Harris of Grimbold Books and Kristell Ink, more than I’ll ever be able to express in words…thank you, thank you, thank you! 1782001_779354595426279_1544248234_n[1]

 

2014 is turning out to be utterly AWESOME year after all! White Mountain – Book 1 of the Darkling Chronicles will be published this Autumn with a brilliant new cover and short stories, and I am eventually writing again!!!!

 

ea1ab-10582915_874217609273310_7073274247011447578_o5b15dSo, this week I celebrate not only my birthday, but a year full of promise and opportunities. At the beginning of August it was also the 5th Anniversary of getting my beautiful boys. 5 years ago, two gorgeous white wolves came into my life and it has never been the same since! Happy times and clear skies ahead! 😀 xxxx

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