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! 😀

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! 😦

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 café, 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. 😦

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 – suddenly 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 – to 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! 😀

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

 

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

Good luck to us all! 😀 xxxx

 

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Distant Worlds – Welcomes AFE Smith!

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

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

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (today’s interviewee! – 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…so today I’m a little nervous interviewing ‘Barren Island Books’ interviewer AFE Smith herself!

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.

Fire-Planet[1]The Distant Worlds strand started last year, focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink 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 

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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!

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.

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

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

AFE Smith

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AFE, 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?

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

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

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

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

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

And talking of which, a Babel fish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK. Fine. OK.

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

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

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

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

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

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author_photo_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithAFE in her own words…

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

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

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

Bio:

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

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

AFE social media links:

Website
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads

Cover_image_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithBook Blurb:

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven.

Yet her half-brother Myrren hasn’t inherited the family’s ability to shapeshift, so their father, Florentyn, forces Ayla to take over as heir to the throne.

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

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

DARKHAVEN buy links

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

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

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GOLDENFIRE preorder links

HarperCollins Amazon Barnes & Noble Google play iBooks Kobo

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

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx