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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Hope, Hot Cross Buns and Easter Surprises!

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It’s Easter already? Where did the year go?

Well, I feel I should share a few of our family rhymes at this time of year:

“Hot cross buns,

Hot cross buns,

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns.

If you have no daughters,

Give them to your sons,

One a penny, two a penny

Hot cross buns.”

Lol, although those that know me well know that I’m not a religious person at all, in fact I’m an atheist, I do respect all cultures and religions and people’s personal belief systems. But, despite my non-religious status, I’ve always found Easter to be such a hopeful time. It’s probably to do with Spring being in the air, the first warm days of the year, the first azure blue skies (though not today!), the first new flowers of the year.

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SAM_3701Walking round the garden with my four doggies becomes an almost spiritual experience at this time. The sheep with their baby lambs frolicking in the fields behind, the first green shoots on trees, the swaying sturdy stems of daffodils, the delicate drooping heads of the snake’s head fritillary, the first butterflies and countless birds nesting in every nook and cranny. We love nature and the cyclical nature of life is not lost on us. We put out peanuts and wild bird seed every day for the woodpeckers and various little birds which live with us and corn for the moorhens, but the best thing is brushing all our dogs and placing the discarded fur out on the lawn, then sitting back and watching. It takes literally seconds before the first birds swoop down and start picking out bundles of the white fluffy stuff in their beaks to line their nests. It really is such a wonder to behold. Tiny little chiff chaffs, blue tits, chaffinches, robins and sparrows all sporting long white beards and moustaches, like little miniature mandarins. SOOOOO sweet!

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If you have any pets, cats or dogs (though dogs are best), now is the time to brush them and put out the fur for the birds in your garden, you’ll be amazed by the results! Within an hour, there was no fur left, and it just got me thinking about how important it is to be in harmony with nature and give it a hand whenever you can. SAM_3711

I just love the thought of all our nesting birds having a doggy fur lining to snuggle up in!

But, I digress… SAM_3725

Easter and Spring is about hope, whatever your religious or non religious beliefs. A year of promise and opportunities stands before you. So, what will you do to seize those opportunities?

For me, apart from pursuing my creative endeavours, including setting up my new illustration business http://sophieetallisillustrations.weebly.com/ and hopefully getting back to novel writing, I am also pursuing some personal goals too. One of those I’ll keep quiet about for now (don’t want to jinx myself), but I do want to share a struggle so many of us have – with our weight.

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A few weeks ago I weighed myself, something I’ve learnt not to do often to avoid bad news, and had a nasty surprise – since my illness last year when I really couldn’t do much of anything, I’d put on a whole stone!!! I was shocked when I worked out my BMI. 😦

Although I was a skinny kid and slim in my early teens, after a few traumatic years I started eating for comfort and the pounds piled on. As an adult I have struggled with my weight like many of us. Name a diet and I’ve done it, Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Rosemary Conelly, Atkins, fasting, Dukan diet, etc., etc. The best I’ve ever managed to lose is about a stone and a half then plateau for four/five months before giving up utterly dejected and eventually putting the weight back on. 😦

This year, after a year of huge life change, I eventually had an epiphany… SAM_3719

Yes a lot of it was to do with having turned 40, having left a 15 year solid career and embarking on a whole new one, and a lot of it was to do with the sudden shocking death of my dear friend, Lindsey J Parsons, in Jaunary 2014. 827e711c41030a7f023505.L._V144210053_SY470_[1]

My epiphany was simple – life is too damn short to waste a moment of it. Don’t just think about your dreams, or plan for tomorrow, DO SOMETHING about it!

MAKE IT HAPPEN!!!!!!

With that in mind I mentally slapped myself and VOWED to lose weight and get healthier. No, I don’t expect to get back to my former skinny self, 22inch waist and all, but it’s not about capturing the past…it’s about creating a future – a healthier, happier future.

SAM_3691I made a schedule for myself, three small healthy meals, eating breakfast (for the first time since I was 13), not eating after 6pm, doing three bouts of exercise daily. No counting calories, carbs, points or anything else, just regulating what I eat, making sure it’s healthy, and smaller portions of course.

Well, only two weeks later since I started and I’ve lost 10lbs so far!!!!!

I have a loooooong journey ahead of me, but I know I can make. For the first time ever, I have HOPE. I’m not sure if it’s Easter hope or Spring hope, but I know I’ll get to where I want to get.

You know the saying, “Hope Springs Eternal.”

So, for all of you out there, whatever your goals, 2014 will be the year you achieve them, just believe in yourself, be pro-active and have HOPE!

😀 xxxxx

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