Holding Your Nerve!

A great deal of success, beyond the working your ass off, talent and smattering of luck, is also down to you ‘holding your nerve’. Recognising that moment, that opportunity which could go either way, and making sure you swing the pendulum towards the ‘YES WE WANT YOU’ direction and not the ‘THANK YOU, WE’LL PASS’.

Holding your nerve is a deep breath as you plunge through the ice and hope you don’t drown kind of a moment. It catches your breath and if you play it wrong, you’ll be self-flagellating yourself for years to come, bemoaning that one last chance, that one opportunity you had but messed up.

So, that’s the precarious limbo I find myself in now, trying to swing that pendulum my way.

Shortly after my last post about possibly getting an agent, or at least having an agent interested in me, I hit an unforeseen road block in the shape of posh celebrity funny woman, Miranda Hart!

Yes, the same Miranda Hart that used to have the TV show on BBC 1 called ‘Miranda’ and who, apart from being posh and famous, is also fabulously rich.

Well, like a slew of other celebrities, Miranda Hart has decided to go into the realms of fiction, specifically children’s fiction, after all to write a children’s book is the easiest thing isn’t it? That’s what Madonna did and David Walliams does? Sigh.

Now, normally this wouldn’t elicit much of a response from me, beyond the usual groan that once again here is a celebrity that had never written a book before they were famous and who, now they are a well known name, decide to capitalise on that fame and invade the bookshelves of our local library and bookshop (often at the expense of full time writers who depend on writing as their sole income and who don’t have the celebrity lifestyle, bling, fame, money etc., and do not have the cache of having an instantly recognisable name).

I don’t mean to sound bitter, but it does piss me off. The publishing world is tough enough for all writers, especially those like me from a small press or many of my indie author friends, so to have even well established authors squeezed off the shelves by sparkly, shiny celebrities, seems grotesquely unfair and means we have zero chance of getting there ourselves. I don’t have a problem with the endless celebrity cookbooks and autobiographies, but I do have a problem with them invading the fiction shelves with an automatic get out of jail free card – ie. an unfair advantage that no one else has. Even well established authors will not garner the massive publicity, the huge marketing budgets, the momentum, the TV interviews and media coverage that these celebs get, just for being celebs! If they always wanted to write, then why did not one of them write a book before they became famous?

Our library, like many around the country, reflects this trend. So while I’m doing my job I’m seeing Judy Finnegan, Richard Madeley, Fern Britton, Dawn French etc., etc., etc. It’s depressing tbh. Perhaps some of them are good writers, but they have used their celebrity status to get huge publishing deals most authors could only dream of, and remember, they hardly need the money!

Well, on this occasion, this latest celeb to go into fiction has made a huge and direct impact on me personally, in all the worst ways.

A few days after my last post I received a very sweet email from the interested agent giving me a head’s up. It was terrible news.

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/miranda-hart-turns-childrens-book-author-499821

The children’s book I wrote back in 2013, when after 16 years of teaching I suddenly lost my job and career through a nasty long term illness which I have for life, and when, at the same time I also left my dreadful ex-publisher and was utterly heartbroken over how they had treated me and ruined my beloved book, it was fair to say that 2013 was an awful pissing year. As such, I not only lost my way that year but I also lost my smile for a long time. It was those events that inspired me to write my children’s book, ‘The Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile’, in the hope of it helping me to find my smile again and start over.

Well, I wrote the book back then and have been slowly and meticulously designing and drawing the 24 illustrations needed for it (for a normal 32 page layout picture book). It was this same book that these agents were interested in.

What happens? Miranda bloody Hart has written a book with an almost identical title and by the sounds of it an almost identical story! So after 4 years of hard work, writing, drawing and polishing this children’s book, in one swoop it’s all gone up in smoke! Thank you Miranda millionaire Hart! To say I’m gutted and annoyed is an understatement! All that work, all those years, for nothing! 😦

I am now left in the precarious position of having to completely rework my story and illustrations for these lovely waiting agents, and yes, the pendulum has severely swung away from my direction towards the ‘Thank you but no’ side. It is up to me to now ‘hold my nerve’ and produce something amazing out of the hat to show them, something that will allay their fears about another very similar book already heading for the shelves. The only advantage I have, is that my book is aimed at a younger audience than Hart’s.

But boy oh boy, talk about bad timing, bad luck and sheer annoyance.

“Fuckity, fuckity, fuck, fuck, FUCK!”

So, here I am, holding my nerve, grasping the nettle and stepping off into the ether and hoping against hope that I’ll be able to still grab onto that fleeting opportunity.

Wish me luck folks and if you do see or know Miranda Hart, give her the middle finger for me please! 😀

2016 – The Year of the 4 B’s – Bowie, Brexit, Broken Friendships and Bigotry

It’s 2017, thank the gods! Like many people around the world, I was very keen to welcome 2017 and see the back of 2016, a bloody awful year. 😦

This year has seen the last vestiges of any innocence die a death, of what remained of life’s rosy tints fade to a newer, harsher reality of what the world is really like rather than what we’d like it to be or thought it was. I’ve always teetered between being daftly optimistic on life or darkly pessimistic, this year has definitely brought out the latter.

That’s the reason I have written this very long post – to cathartically and finally put 2016 and all its negativity behind me, so I can start the new year afresh. To move on, live, love and find the beauty in life again.

Warning: If you’re feeling low at all, just skip on down to the positive stuff at the bottom! 😀

bowie_on_tour[1]The year started terribly, the death of one of my all time heroes who I affectionately described when I was a 6 year old dressing up like him, as my ‘space pirate’, yes, the death of David Bowie hit a lot of people hard. He was this insanely exotic and magical figure, my space pirate, then the Goblin King then as a teenager, he was a refuge, an outsider just like me, someone who didn’t fit in. He looked different and felt different and celebrated that diversity rather than trying to adhere to other’s rules. As a teenager I withdrew from friends, from everyone, from life, the weight of dealing with a family imploding in on itself, was too much to bear, an ultra violent alcoholic and abusive father who was determined to destroy his family and tear his children down. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t worrying about make-up, exams and boyfriends, I was worrying about what lies to tell my friends when they asked why the police were around our place again, why we were seen being chased down the road in bare feet and our bedclothes as he wielded a knife, an axe, a broken bottle. I was worried about being killed, throat slit or head caved in as he threatened or having my mum killed, yet another dreadful statistic of domestic violence. So yes, I sought refuge in fantasy fiction, in writing and drawing and my beloved Bowie, the ultimate outsider.

After Bowie passed, the year saw more of our heroes fall, one after the other, unrelentingly so, most recently Carrie Fisher our beloved Princess Leia and her mother just the day after.

5dea49e85d1672067a19ae1306b8ba353e1eac91be17d09a3ee9a50c3fa7db8d1I admit my mental health has not been great this year. I’ve battled with extreme depression on and off for most of 2016, swinging from manically happy to manically low, and I’m sure this has skewed many things and heightened my reactions to things. The thing about depression is that you can be surrounded by friends yet feel utterly isolated and alone. A couple of times this year things have been very bleak indeed and I’ve teetered on the edge. I’m not excusing myself, even in my blacker moments I’ve never attacked those I love or anyone. But I know I’ve been incredibly angry this year, not like me at all, and the whole Brexit debacle has definitely played a huge role in that.

In February, I was driving to work when a woman smashed into my car ploughing it off the road and writing it off in the process. I was gutted, out of pocket and in pain. As anyone knows who is involved in an accident even a clear cut case like mine where the other party admitted culpability, it drags on for months! 😦 Crash

The year wore on and with it my physical health continued to dip, several trips to the doctors, a couple of collapses and a couple of low key hospital visits together with a shed load of meds later. It’s a drag but it’s not life threatening, pain is something you learn to deal with, its just when the vertigo and vomiting kicks in that you feel like an invalid as you truly can’t walk or even stand and can do nothing but crawl on all fours like a howling toddler. Sigh. But, I know people have it far worse, so I’m grateful for the health that I do have.

The war in Syria continued to escalate, the sheer cost of human suffering is almost unfathomable and yet the West seems utterly unable to help the innocent who are paying the cost with their lives. The world is a very scary place right now. 😦

51s1l6rh6cl-_sx311_bo1204203200_1In April came a wonderful highlight, the launch in Bristol for the awesomely awesome anthology, Fight Like A Girl (a strangely prophetic title given how the year turned out!). Wow, what a wonderful day! Martial arts, gritty readings, a panel and a mass signing, it was like a glorious mini-con and I eventually got to meet fellow AWB matey, the lovely AFE Smith who had travelled all the way to Bristol to support the launch. It was lovely meeting her after nearly 6 years of knowing her! Thank you to BristolCon, Joanne Hall, Roz Clarke and the amazing Sammy HK Smith for everything, I do feel very blessed to have you all in my life. Love to you all. ❤

Then we had the toxicity of Brexit. OMG, what can I say?

First, lovely Jo Cox, an amazing Labour MP, thoroughly decent human being and mother to two young children, was brutally murdered by a fascist right wing nut. She was a staunch supporter of the Pro-Remain side along with the rest of her party, leader and the vast majority of left wingers and Labour party supporters. She died for what she believed in, an inclusive, forward thinking and compassionate country, not an inward looking, anti-immigrant island of ‘them and us’.  It was an utterly brutal and horrific attack. jo-cox-labour-mp1

Did it change the outcome of the Brexit Referendum? No, not one jot.

13510824_10153736311815840_6984061545886519550_n1Myself, along with 16 million other people, the 48% of people in Britain who rejected the right wing rhetoric, the xenophobia, narrow mindness, racism, bigotry and poison spouted during the ‘campaign’, not to mention the endless fear mongering and lies (£350 million going to the NHS eh? Uh, no), truly believed that we lived in a better country than we do. We were proved wrong. I’ve never been so sad and so ashamed of my country. 😦

Massive divisions opened up, and yes, there was mud slinging on both sides. No-one escaped Brexit untouched and unsullied. But what was shocking to me was how intelligence was suddenly vilified, experts in fiscal studies, economics, trade, heads of business, the IMF, corporate CEO’s, scientists, academics, all of them were ignored while ignorance itself and mistruths were applauded, the ‘now we have our country back’ brigade were out in force.

Brexit was utterly toxic, divisive and caused deep rifts in families, friendships and communities up and down the country, rifts that still remain today. lr-by-party1

On a personal level, which I admit has really shaken me, it also heralded the end of a close friendship I had for nearly 5 years. I won’t mention his name, I’m not into ‘outing people’, it’s unfair and unnecessary so most of you will have no clue who I’m talking about, only a very small handful will know and they know anyway.

It was a strange friendship, granted, but a good one I thought. Despite often telling me that we were basically the same age (thanks for that), there was actually 18 years between us, he is nearer to my Mum’s age than mine. Age never mattered to me though, anyone who writes fantasy tends to be young in themselves regardless of the passing of time, but in this case it seemed to play a part. As with much of the country, we fell into the age demographics of Brexit. He was a vehement Pro-Leaver/Brexiteer as most of his ‘baby boomer’ generation were (the 60yr olds +, the ones who benefitted from free education, early retirement, golden handshakes, low cost housing, plentiful jobs etc., opportunities the younger generations could only dream of) and I was a staunch Pro-Remainer along with most people in their 40’s and younger (many of them unable to get on the housing ladder and crippled by huge debts). Of course there are exceptions, my mum and her friends in their early 70’s were all left wingers and Pro-Remainers and a percentage of younger people also voted to Leave, but generally the vote was pretty clear along age, political and educational lines.image1

 

13498097_1209717079039636_4890768423205541922_o1Running up to the Referendum, for weeks we had had awkward conversations on FB, especially privately. He’s a very forceful personality and was actively interjecting his opinions all over FB most notably and deliberately on Pro-Remain posts, to such a degree that a mutual friend threatened to defriend and even block him! It didn’t seem to diminish his fervour, in fact he seemed to actively enjoy the arguments as if it were mere banter. I hated it. I admit I was very fervent myself, very angry, but unlike him I was ONLY commenting on my fellow pro-Remainers posts, a mutual commiserating and supporting of each other during a traumatic time. I’d no sooner start trolling Pro-Brexit posts than fly to the moon! Suffice to say, he was rubbing quite a few people up the wrong way and was either blissfully oblivious or found it a strange ego-boost in some way. I can’t fathom that kind of thinking to be honest, I hate confrontations, I’ve had a lifetime of them and they make me ill, but then I don’t have his unrelenting self-confidence.

With each new comment I became more shocked at how entrenched he was, which of course, only made me equally intractable, that’s how arguments escalate, like sides in a war. brexit-shorthand-charts-1_11

Things came to a head when, after he had pushed me to the point of breaking, ignoring my repeated pleas to him not to discuss politics (he’s one of those characters that think of themselves as being very sensitive to others when in reality they are utterly clueless and just bulldoze over people) I had asked him to back off, stating that I would not discuss politics with him, that I would walk away every time he commented on something. Fine.

Then came the vote itself. Despite feeling awful at the outcome, he, on the winning side, still continued to blissfully push his opinions on everyone, cheerily telling Remainers who were in shock, dismay and were mourning the result, that things would be rosy and fine, that their genuine fears were wrong – NOT the thing to do! Again, a mutual friend had to forcibly tell him to BACK OFF. Despite all this, I private messaged him offering the olive branch, trying to reconnect with him and explain why I had asked him to back off and had been so emotional.

What did he do? He verbally attacked me. I never knew he had a nasty side, I do now. Among other things, he accused me of calling him a racist, something he knows damn well I never said and never would. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. I knew full well his reasons for voting the way he did, he saw the EU as some all evil Empire, it had nothing to do with immigration. I was deeply hurt, outraged, bloody furious, how dare he? After all the crap I’ve put up with from him, the bullshit, the exaggerations, the lies, the ulterior motives. I’d never blamed him for repeatedly recommending me to join our old awful ex-publishers, for pushing them so hard, it was my mistake not his, I had signed with them without checking them out first because I had trusted the opinions of him, my friend. He’d later admitted that he wanted as many people to join them as possible to make them successful and help his own books. The experience scarred me more than I can say and almost stopped me from ever writing again, but I never once blamed him for my own misfortune. It was my mistake, not his. I’d always been supportive, putting my own personal feelings to one side when he did things I didn’t like, as I’m sure he did for me, after all, that’s what friends do, they respect each other’s differences and idiosyncrasies. Having been cheated on myself in the past, I find adultery abhorrent regardless of the circumstances, but when he got involved with a married woman (whose husband was apparently dying), I was genuinely thrilled and supportive for him, because I just wanted to see him happy – again that’s what friends do!

I asked him to show proof of where I had accused him of such a heinous thing (knowing he wouldn’t be able to). He ignored my message for two long weeks. I was devastated. How could a close friend be so vicious, so unkind, so untruthful? I shared my shock on FB, being careful not to mention his name, as I was so upset and needed the comfort of friends. What did he do? – attack me again for sharing my feelings on FB – and here’s where it gets truly nasty. He had done the exact same thing to me, but worse, he had done it the day before (when I was in ignorant bliss of his awful feelings towards me) he had openly vented over FB on a mutual friend’s post, spreading lies about me, about how a close friend of his had called him a racist and how he’d been battling with racism his whole life etc etc. Then in a typically underhanded and hypocritical move of him, he had secretly contacted the mutual friend and asked him to remove the thread, when that friend refused, he then went in and edited out all the crap he said about me – but too late, I had already seen it! To then have the audacity to pretend he was somehow the victim instead of the attacker and accuse me of something he himself had done the day before just beggared belief!

I know how terribly trivial this all sounds, especially given the dreadful global things that have happened this year – the crumbling of a friendship is hardly worth moaning about. But it was one of the worst most hurtful things I’ve gone through in quite a few years, made worse because I was in a vulnerable state and hadn’t expected a friend to behave like that.

To be honest, politics, deceitfulness and verbal attacks aside, the thing that has devastated me the most is the fact that running up to this whole horrible debacle, I had repeatedly told him that I was in a bad head space, that the whole Brexit thing was actually making me ill, that I was really struggling etc., and he couldn’t give a shit. From someone who has been afflicted by depression himself, the ‘black dog’ as he fashionably likes to call it, and as a close friend he knew I had struggled with bad depression for years, including two suicide attempts. I had always been SO fucking supportive of him when he was in a bad head space, even though I know he exaggerates everything, I’d been on the same drugs as him which hadn’t affected me at all, but none of that mattered. I know when it comes to mental health everyone deals with it differently and gets affected by it differently. But here was the crux, I’d always been very supportive and caring of when his bad times hit, and to a certain extent he had been relatively supportive of mine. Yet, when it came to Brexit, he had ignored every single one of my pleas, he didn’t give a shit that I was struggling, that I was repeatedly telling him I was in a bad way, none of that mattered, only that he was right and me along with 16 million others were wrong. His ego, his unwavering self-belief was far far more important than a friend in need. It was the final demonstration, if I needed it, that this was a man so utterly up his own arse that if anyone needed help, he’d be the last person to see it. Like a teenager desperately seeking attention, only HE was the one that mattered, only his depression, his feelings, his opinions.

After two weeks passed he eventually responded to my private message. I admit, I never read it. I was too hurt by the whole thing and could tell straight away that it wasn’t an apology or anything like it. He had attacked me in such a nasty way, he had hurt me terribly to assuage his own bruised ego over most of our mutual friends saying how wrong he was over his Brexit stance and he had taken his frustrations out on me, a soft target. Ironically I saw how he reacted to our mutual friend who had threatened to defriend and block him and who quite rightly told him where to stick his opinions in a hilariously forceful way. Did he attack him back? No, of course not, he replied with a single word answer, “Peace”. Strange how differently he had reacted to me, but then our mutual friend wasn’t a soft target and I was.

To me, that was pretty unforgiveable. Like a divorce, the end of a friendship is never easy and always painful. Things went on. We didn’t speak or communicate at all. When my birthday rolled around I knew I wouldn’t be getting a birthday card from him, but I admit, seeing him active on FB that day and not bothering to even press a button to send one of those automatic FB birthday messages, something that takes no effort to do, I finally realised that things were over for good. The pretence that we were friends was over, what was the point of hanging on and just being continually kicked in the gut? So the day after my birthday I finally defriended him. It hurt, it still does to a certain extent, maybe that will give him some pleasure, I don’t know and I no longer care. I only know that after a lifetime of being hurt, of being kicked in the guts physically and figuratively, that I am too old and too worn down to allow so called friends to hurt me, my tolerance for cruelty is zero. I’ve never knowingly hurt anyone in my life, never attacked anyone, never cheated, never lied about someone. I have been a carpet, I admit, but my fiery temperament is definitely taking over now and I’m not prepared to take anymore shit.

None of us deserve to be treated badly, none of us.

I’m all for forgiving people, god knows I’ve forgiven people a hell of a lot and then been shitted on again. But in the end, life is too short, too hard, too fucking difficult to keep climbing that hill with all our baggage while those we hold dear kick us as we stumble. I am very fortunate to have a few very very dear friends, Heather who I’ve known for years and who made me godmother to her first child; Sammy, my amazing publisher but far far more importantly, an amazing and very dear friend who I share so much with, Kate Coe and Jo, two of the truly loveliest people you could meet, Roz too and actually all my fellow Grimbold authors who are such darlings and such truly remarkable and wonderful people. I love them all and am very thankful to have them in my life. ❤

But I admit, more than the awfulness of Brexit, of Trump’s hideous bigotry and election win, of our heroes dying, what has marked this year as being particularly awful for me, was the ugly end to what I thought was a great friendship. It leaves me feeling wary, jaded and nervous of trusting people again and I know that is not a good disposition to have.

So…my New Year’s Resolution is simply this – to be open, to be positive and to be happy.

Darkness won in 2016, but even in the dark there is always a light.

So, looking to the positives…this year has also seen a very close family friend of some 50 years, battle and survive cancer, which is to be celebrated! We are so thrilled she has made a full recovery and is doing so well. 😀 ❤ The growing closeness of my other friends is something I am so so thankful for and as some of them embark on a whole new chapter in their lives, I am so excited and thrilled for them. shadows-of-the-oak

This year has also seen the publishing of two books with my stories in, the wonderful, Fight Like A Girl in April (with an amazing book launch in Bristol), and most recently, Shadows Of The Oak which also has two of my illustrations in. I am so happy for improved health and happiness of those I hold dear too, especially my mate Sammy who has overcome so many things and is an inspiration to all of us. Love you sweetie. ❤

My illustration business has continued to flourish with great word of mouth keeping me very busy. My most prestigious commissions to date were for the wonderful Juliet McKenna and her Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, and now Anna Smith-Spark and her new HarperCollins book due out next year, The Court of Broken Knives.

nano-winner-2016

I also managed to win my second NaNo this year (50K words in a month) which I was thrilled about and have just wrangled into existence a first rough draft of my second novel, Darkling Rise, after struggling for two years with it!

Now, I have two more short stories to write this month for two different anthologies, yet more illustration commissions lined up and Book 2 to knock into shape. 2017 also heralds a very personal milestone that I am going to try my hardest to achieve…watch this space! 😀

14481949_10157461243935375_3364092516786540302_o1

So, I hope you guys have had a better year than me and wish you a gloriously happy 2017. But if you have had a tough year too, then take heart, things always change and WILL get better. I know 2017 will have a lot of struggles of its own, after all we will all be entering Trumpland, but I truly believe if we remember to treat each other well and not give into hate, that we can make the next year a great one.

Love to you all and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!! 😀 ❤ xxxxx

_original1

Depression is a Bastard: How Scott Lynch Faced His Demons and Became a Bestseller

Thank you to the brilliant Joanne Hall for bringing this to my attention and to Michael Senft for this great interview and the very talented Scott Lynch for his incredible honesty. What an amazing post and one I really relate to. 🙂

Relentless Reading

“I realized that as of this moment I had to be totally honest, or I would be dancing around this question for the rest of my natural life.”

Scott Lynch (third from left) at Tucson Festival of Books. With Beth Cato, Brian Keene and Jeff Marriotte (L-R). Scott Lynch (third from left) at the Tucson Festival of Books. With Beth Cato, Brian Keene and Jeff Mariotte (L-R).


Scott Lynch is an inspiration. In 2006 he was the hot young voice in fantasy, riding high on the success of his novel The Lies of Locke Lamora. Its sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies seemed to fulfill the promise of the series, about a pair of thieves known as the “Gentlemen Bastards.” But death, divorce and depression derailed his career.

But Lynch didn’t hide his problems — since 2010 he has been forthright with his readers, sharing the harrowing experiences that nearly destroyed his career, and as a result he has become an ambassador for victims of depression. And his…

View original post 3,750 more words

Perseids and the pursuit of time.

A multicolored, long Perseid meteor striking t...

So, September has drawn to a close and with it, the last glimpse of hazy summer days of green, full of the flutter of butterflies and the promise of warmth, long before the trees shed their leaves in time for the frosts of dark winter, I find myself pondering the meaning of time.

I find myself staring at the calendar, October…really? Where did the year go?

The grass will only need another cut, maybe two before it’s growth stops for the season. Mushrooms and toadstools sprout like Autumn flowers from every nook and cranny, pushing their heads through the thick carpets of acorn and horse-chestnuts that seem to litter our garden. I’ve managed to pick a few highly exotic looking pink toadstools which I can’t identify in any of my nature books, with billowing tops like frilly edged bolero skirts!

A few fleeting Speckled Wood and Small White butterflies still linger in the margins, their brief lives coming to a close soon, but delighting in the odd sunny day we still have and the harvest of Autumn fruits to feed upon. Only a few blooms still remain, the odd rose, some Michaelmas daisies, but mostly the garden looks barren now compared to the riotous colour that has dazzled us through spring and summer. Now the golden hues of Autumn are the palette of the day, beautiful in their own right, but a reminder that winter is coming. Time is passing.

I’m not just thinking of the literal meaning of passing time – minutes, hours, years of our lives ticking away as surely as those grains of sand in an hour glass, grey hairs appearing, wrinkles creeping or deepening, a paling of the skin, a yellowing of the eyes, spots on hands, or gravity working it’s inevitable magic. But the abstract form of time as well. Is time our friend or our enemy? A steady hand who guides and follows us through the ups and downs of our life? Enriches us with the experiences we share, that shape who we are? Or a nasty bully snidely reminding us how short our brief lives actually are, no more than a fleeting spec in the cosmic soup of the universe and how many precious years we have wasted…and how few we have left in which to achieve our dreams/goals? Time – friend or foe? I’m not sure where I fall on this one.

Certainly, like so many of us, I’ve always felt myself doggedly pursuing time, much like a hamster stuck on a spinning wheel, trying to cram far too much into every 24 hours and cursing myself when I couldn’t achieve the impossible. Most of our lives are spent in this endless juggling game – juggling jobs, families, life, and the stresses and workloads inherent with them, then trying to squeeze anything else in the few hours left, such as writing, creating or …er…breathing!

My reason for this ‘timely preoccupation’ is simple. Not only was last year the first time I unexpectedly found myself with nothing but time on my hands, and it was not been a welcome companion (thankfully I am VERY busy now and manically juggling things again), but this year is proving to be a pendulum of highs and lows.

From working a very full-time and responsible job, which certainly clocked in excess of 50 hours a week, not counting work on weekends and evenings, after 16 years of juggling my job and constantly chasing time, my body suddenly said, “NO!”. Yes, there were a lot of factors involved in it, and yes, I should have received support and didn’t, especially when I asked for it. Stress and overwork can have devastating results if left unchecked, a year later and I am still struggling to regain my health fully. The last two years have undoubtedly been the strangest and most traumatic years of my life, but as I was looking back over this lovely summer I remembered an event I witnessed nearly two months ago that kind of put things in perspective for me, as well as bringing as smile to my face.

I was fortunate to see one of nature’s true spectacles, through my own somewhat scratched and blurry glasses. I speak of course, of the annual event of the Perseid meteor shower which hurls its cascade of dust and small rocky particles across our atmosphere every summer (July 23rd – August 20th 2014), with the peak usually falling around August 11-13th. The Perseids are named after the Greek deity, Perseus, whose constellation they appear to come from.

I’d been having serious insomnia problems again, and ended up going downstairs. It was August the 12th and I remembered the Perseids were happening, so with my white wolves and a warm fleece, I snuggled in a chair and gazed up at the clear heavens. Living out in the sticks has its definite advantages, no light pollution. Not only do we have the most amazing sunsets here, uninterrupted across the fields, but the skies here are the clearest I’ve seen for miles around. Seeing as my wobbly legs and dizzy head prevent me from standing and gazing up without toppling over, the chair was a great idea. Wow! Apart from the few faint streaks I saw whizzing through the sky, I was amazed by three blazing fireballs, really bright, and only forty minutes or so apart. Truly spectacular!!!

It just reminded me how small my problems are, how vast and beautiful the universe is, how we never truly know what is out there or what life will throw our way and how precious time is…every single second of it. As precious as air, as rare as love, and totally priceless. Every second counts. It doesn’t matter if you think you’ve messed up the last few years, or want to re-run the last fifty years, it’s never too late to make the most of the time you have, every day, every moment of it.

Life is beautiful, don’t let worries or the daily grind make you forget it.

😀

http://youtu.be/KQlOAXF4T60

http://youtu.be/vTXA5gYWtXs

For more meteor showers coming your way, here are some dates for the next of nature’s spectacles! 😀 xxxx

Thanks to Meteor Watch for this: http://www.meteorwatch.org/

Capture

Passing 20,000 and planting seeds of success!

971

Spring has finally sprung and thank the gods that it has!

Everywhere, I see the signs of winter being discarded like a weary woollen coat that has out-stayed its welcome – too heavy, too grey and too oppressive for the youthful zest of crocus colours, the flash of dazzling daffodil yellow and the yearning of the trees to sprout new growth. Spring is here! YAY!!! 😀

936

Well, with all the wonderful signs of nature being awoken and the inherent hope and optimism that brings, together with the oh-so-welcome warmth of our first sunny days, I too have begun to plant some seeds of my own, in the hope of them growing into fresh shoots of success! A few of these seeds I shall keep private for now, but others I wanted to share with you straight away.

So, as my little blog passes the heady heights of 20,000 visitors (for which I am hugely grateful and tremendously humbled), I begin another chapter in my strange little life and take somewhat of a spring leap!

890Having completed a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art, way back in the mists of time when my hair was blonde and I was…ahem…a little lighter on my feet, I was an artist. Yes, a takes-herself-way-to-seriously-full-of angst-entirely-black-clad-deep-and-meaningful-and-more-than-a-little-pretentious artist!

998It was the 1990’s. I was seriously into grunge music, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, even Mother Love Bone and Soul Asylum, as well as heavier rock bands like Guns N’ Roses and Metallica. I took to wearing all black, apart from the odd green or red lumberjack loose shirt, a kind of torn uniform for all us Seattle-loving-grunge-rockers. I had the usual paraphernalia in my student room – incense burner with sticks and various yellowed bottles of pungent fragrance, a load of melted candles (much of the wax embedded into the carpet fibres), LOTR posters and music posters, my ‘ghettoblaster’ and Hi-Fi with a large selection of tapes and vinyl and near the end of my student days, some new fangled CD’s, an Indian throw with other ‘very cool and multi-cultural’ objects around the room and yes…the ubiquitous bright orange flashing traffic cone! Don’t ask me why, but every student HAD to have a traffic cone! But amongst all this ‘stuff’, there was me and my ‘art’. Huge canvases, some way too large to transport in my VW Beetle, ‘Mr. Jiffy 2’, even with the roof off, and so these had to be carried right through the centre of Cheltenham up to the art college – a prized moment to show off to people, as the plastic wrappings to protect the canvas would invariably waft open, revealing snatches of the masterwork beneath…dear dear!

050 - CopyAnyway, despite the pretentiousness of all art students, and yes, we’re ALL like it, I really did just love to draw and paint. Above everything, any crap that was happening in my life, any traumas and dramas (for which there were many) …for me, I was never happier than when I was either reading a book, writing a story or holding a paintbrush. I still LOVE the smell of linseed oil, liquin medium (alkyd resin), white spirit…ahhhhh….glorious concoctions in messy jars, palettes so encrusted with paint you could hardly use them but always did, brushes stiff from hardened oils, the excitement at the sight of the massive roll of canvas…then stretching them like giant sails across the floor. A quick trip to B&Q with some tw0-by-fours, a handful of nails, a saw and a staple-gun, and suddenly you had a stretched canvas panel, ready to be primed in white wash, ready to be made into something…astonishing. A world of possibilities just there in that bobbled linen fabric! 🙂

013 (3)Yes, I loved it, every single moment of it. In fact, back then, without the life experience I have now, the only thing I didn’t like about art college, was the selling part – having to ‘talk the talk’, sell yourself as ‘creator extraordinaire’ and your work, as the next big undiscovered super-talent. I simply couldn’t do it back then. I didn’t have the confidence or the inclination. I saw other ‘artists’ who couldn’t draw a damn, had no idea about composition, had lousy technique and really just couldn’t paint to save themselves, excel far above those of us who did have the talent and skills. Why? Because they understood the dynamics of it better than we did. Art to them was a business not a vocation, not a way of soulful expression, but a way of getting ahead, getting to where they wanted to be. They could ‘talk the talk’, spout poetic jargon phrases that made no sense to those of us that knew, yet elicited the cooing responses of the ‘art world crowd’. They made contacts, and used them effectively, they succeeded where the rest of us failed.

Am I bitter? Certainly not. For me, my art was never about being ‘in fashion’, and I was never about being the focus of attention. I wanted the work to speak for itself, rather than me spout some pretentious twaddle about what a certain brush stroke meant! So no, I had several very successful exhibitions, beat off those art schmoozers and over 10,000 other students across the country to get second place in a very prestigious national photography competition with my work exhibited in London, and sold a few paintings to very happy customers along the way. The point is, I never fell out of love with art, because I never viewed it as a business. I was and am simply small-time me, not showy, not shouting, not glaringly anything. Just little old me, now wearing other colours rather than just black, still listening to my music at ear-splittingly loud levels, still lighting candles and standing in my garden staring at the stars at 2am, still forgetting to wash my brushes properly and sniffing linseed oil like it was Chanel No.5. Just me! 😛

So…why all this elaborate walk down memories past?

Because, finally I get it! Chapter Twenty-One - Into The Light (4)

Much like life itself, things are never really just black or white, we all live in shades of grey…er…no, not that crappy book, lol, I mean…life is beautiful and complex and full of hard edges and soft fuzzy bits…it’s a messed up fruit salad of emotions and happenings and all we can really do, despite our yearnings for control out of chaos, is simply to dip our spoon into the bowl and see what fruit lands on our plate!

In other words…all these years later, I still LOVE to draw and paint, it’s still a huge part of who I am and how I function, but I don’t need to get so damned pernickety about it. Art and business CAN live together, without one diluting the other. I finally got what those students were dong all those years ago, using their heads as well as their hearts.

Sophie E Tallis Watermark - CopyAnd so, with head and heart in tow, I have decided to combine what I love to do with how to make a living. I have started a business, Sophie E Tallis Illustrations!!! Yes, a business, albeit in tiny baby steps, but a business of illustrating books and producing original commissioned artwork for other authors…and I absolutely LOVE IT!!!!

I’ve only done a few commissions so far, one of which involved creating 7 pen & ink illustrations for a children’s book, Snort and Wobbles http://www.willmacmillanjones.com/snort–wobbles.html, by multi-talented author, Will Macmillan Jones http://www.willmacmillanjones.com/, but I adored every second of it. Already, with just a few illustrations on LinkedIn and some other places, I have a small publishing house in Kingston-Upon-Thames who is interested in having me on their books as an illustrator, have several authors asking me to do some illustrations and book covers for them and I have just set up a sparkly new website http://sophieetallisillustrations.weebly.com/ (and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SophieETallisIllustrations) and loaded some of my illustrations and paintings on there! Already the response has been tremendous and utterly overwhelming! Why oh why didn’t I do this years ago???!!!! 😀

Finished Chapter 1 S&W

So, my little Spring seeds…it is never too late to change direction and change your life, to shake things up and remember what it was that you loved all those years ago. For me, it was remembering my loving and wanting to do something creative for a living, and now it is finally happening. What better way to make a living than to combine the two things I cherish most in the world – books and art!!!

Lol, Spring is definitely in the air, as I plant my little art seeds and see them take root and grow…who knows what tomorrow will bring! Check out my new website guys! http://sophieetallisillustrations.weebly.com/ 😀 xxxxxxx

SET photo

A HUGE thank you to all my family and friends and my lovely fellow bloggers, all 20,000 of you, who got me through my illness and the last difficult year and who have helped me to stay positive and to see all the marvellous possibilities of life…!

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! 😀 xxxxxxxx

730 days…Tempus Fugit!

master-class-maya-angelou-3-600x411[1]

It’s a strange time. Tomorrow I go to the funeral of my dear friend, Lindsey J Parsons, who tragically passed away earlier in the month. To say her passing was sudden and shocking, would be a huge understatement. At times like these, it’s hard not to be reflective. It’s strange and unsettling, but somehow death has a way of magnifying life and making you realise what is important. c33c5842e5e71ebeff5fc9fcb5a97b5f[1]

Tempus fugit, how time flies! Don’t waste a moment of it.

Talking of passing time, on Sunday it was the 2nd Anniversary of my little blog. 26th January 2012 I plunged head long into the daunting waters of blog writing.

file000174095712

A hell of a lot has happened in those 2 years.

I’d love to think that I have learnt 730 new skills, grown 730 days wiser, or happier. My life has undoubtedly moved on and changed in that time, which is both good and bad. I have gained wonderful new friends and tragically, lost one dear dear friend.

9979197_orig[1]

I have known tremendous success and faced failure up close. Achieved my dreams, and seen them fly away. Been on the highest mountain, the highest pinnacle and found myself completely lost and wandering the wastelands with no cause or direction.

I have battled ill-health and bullies, won and lost, fought for justice and been swamped in confusion. Certainly, it’s true to say that my life has never followed a conventional path, but these past 2 years, have certainly seen it meander into some very strange waters!

maya-angelou-quote[1]Now, believe me, I am as big a coward as they come. I’m not feeling sorry for myself, but in my life I have been treated very badly but never seemed to have the courage to face my attackers and tell them what I think. But, somehow, my celtic courage seems at last to be awakening… 167125836141739827W2MFYYTkc[1]

I have been able to break free from a very bad situation where my creativity was being attacked by what I can only describe as a couple of decidedly unstable, unprofessional and wholly nasty little bullies, I won’t name them, frankly I don’t need to. But I feel so immensely relieved to be free of them and disassociated from their poor standards.

I have also somehow found the courage and strength to change my circumstances, to give up a long-term and very stable career to jump into the void and try something new. Will I land on my feet? Only time will tell. Do I miss my old job? Honestly…no. Illness forced me to leave, but in hindsight it may have been a blessing. I loved it for a long time, and still love the teaching side of things and working with children which is always memorable and life affirming, but…it was time to move on. I shall miss my good friends and will keep in touch with them, but I shan’t miss ‘It’.

images279JVYNQ

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the life lessons and wisdom of Maya Angelou, one of my personal heroes.

So…what lessons and wisdom, if any, have I learnt that I could pass on and share with you lovely people?

  • Don’t be afraid – afraid of change, afraid of changing. Maya Angelou, an amazing writer and a personal hero of mine, said in her book, ‘Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now’, that if you don’t like a situation, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Seemingly simplistic advice but full of meaning. imagesGZD6YSB7
  • Take risks – You never know, it may fail but it may work! What have you really got to lose?
  • Life is too damn short – If you’re not living it…then what the hell are you waiting for? Believe me, I’ve wasted time like it’s an Olympic Sport and I’ve been going for gold. Chase your dreams. Don’t wait until tomorrow, because tomorrow may never come… None of us know how much time we have on this Earth, so you owe it to yourself to make the most of it.
  • Rise above it – You can’t always avoid what I call ‘toxic’ people, recklessly unkind, brutish, deceitful or selfish individuals but you CAN choose to rise above them. Always strive to do the right thing by your own moral compass, don’t be sucked into negative thoughts. Share the love. Life is too short to spend it in negative situations or with negative people, break free, be free!
  • Relish the moment – Try not to take anything for granted. Relish the things and people who make you happy. That’s what life is about.
  • Health is everything – An obvious bit of advice but so so important. Without your health, life is meaningless. This last year has taught me that. Illness prevents you from functioning, limits your freedom and enjoyment of life. So do what you can to look after your health. Avoid stress where you can and stressful people. Be kind to yourself.

I know all this sounds like obvious cheesy advice, but a cliché is a cliché precisely because it’s true.

827e711c41030a7f023505.L._V144210053_SY470_[1]

With the sudden and shocking passing of my dear friend, Lindsey J Parsons, at such a tragically young age, a lot of things suddenly became crystallised.

There is NO time to waste.

imagesYTIE3WWFEmbrace life, in whatever way that means to you. No frivolous New Year resolutions that get instantly broken. This is life stuff – the stuff of life! Promise yourself, that this year you will do what it takes to be happier and more fulfilled than the last year. If you continue to do that every year onward, think what a happier person you’ll be.

I’ve taken some huge steps already, but I intend to continue this year and take as many challenges, opportunities and chances as I can.

I-can-be-changed-by[1]

So…there you go.

730 days have given me purpose and direction. But most of all, I’ve really, finally, understood what is important in life and what is not. quote-each-of-us-has-the-right-and-the-responsibility-to-assess-the-roads-which-lie-ahead-and-if-the-maya-angelou-323351[1]

Would you rather be richer or happier? You know the answer. Good luck my friends, I hope you all find your paths and we wander through journeys with bigger smiles than before.

Love Sophie 😀 xxxxxxxx

maya-angelou-quote-favethingcom-1386278548gk84n[1]

003

😀 xxx

Farewell to Friends…

020 (2)Why do we set ourselves up for heartache? If you are a loving human being with half a heart, then why do we embrace having four-legged family members when we know that when the inevitable comes, the grief is terrible?

We have always had animals, ‘pets’ seems the wrong word, too insignificant, too trivial somehow. Yes, you can tell I’m one of these soppy humans who deeply love my four-legged friends. For me and my family, they are not pets, they ARE family members and when the dreadful time comes, it is totally crushing. I know we are not the only people that feel this way, so why oh why do we put ourselves through the trauma of it all?

Well, we have been very lucky over the years that all of our four-legged friends have been long-lived and happy. 17 years seems to be the common denominator, as our last dog (Fluff) and our last cat (Kitty) both died at the age of 17. One by a reoccurrence of the cancer that had taken one of her legs three years prior, and the other was killed by idiot teenagers racing through our sleepy village at 80 miles an hour! If a child had been crossing the road at the time, they would have been killed too. One death we could prepare for, the other was shockingly quick with no-time to say goodbye, which does make it worse somehow. But nonetheless, when the end comes, it’s simply terrible.

Well, last Friday 15th November, our beloved cat, Mimi, who we had for 17 years, died after a shockingly quick illness. We weren’t prepared, any of us. 😦

17 years ago, only a day or so after a particularly horrific episode with my violent alcoholic father who had yet again attacked my poor mum, we were shopping at the local Tesco’s supermarket. It was a late Friday evening in early November, pitch black, full of smoke from the bonfires and fireworks going on around us. Everyone having fun, getting on with their lives, as we were trying to pick up the pieces of ours. A difficult time to say the least. We came out of the store to the mostly empty carpark. I was vaguely aware of some kids on bikes with firecrackers, shouting and hollering at each other, they seemed to be chasing something. Then, out of the darkness I heard what I thought was a baby crying. I couldn’t work out where it was coming from. The kids came closer, still chasing something. Then suddenly I saw this tiny black thing run across the carpark towards me. I bent down. It was a little cat, a poor half-starved thing, all bones and long black fur. She looked like a new-born, she was so miniscule.

I picked her up, and she immediately snuggled into me and started purring. It was then that I realised that this tiny little kitten was the thing that those awful kids had been chasing and throwing firecrackers at. She didn’t have any collar or tags, and clearly whoever owned her, had neglected her terribly. We took her into Tesco’s, really not knowing what to do. The security guard, a huge bear of a man, just melted when he saw her, but said that she wouldn’t belong to anyone there and that the best thing was to take her to the vets.

She was so emaciated, no bigger than the size of a grapefruit and as light as cotton wool, that we really didn’t think she’d survive the night. But, right from the beginning, she was a little fighter. We took her to the vets the next day and was shocked to be told that was at least six months old and could be nearly a year old, she’d been so starved that she was half the size she should be and if she survived, she would always, as a result, be a small cat. We decided then and there, that we had to look after her.

We took her home and this tiny thing immediately showed how much gutsy fight she had in her. Despite her size she boldly waltzed up to our soft-hearted Border Collie, Fluff, and showing no fear, hissed in her face! But, despite the bumpy beginnings, Fluff and Mimi soon became the very best of friends, an inseparable duo.

Two weeks passed and Mimi steadily gained weight and health and was fighting fit, albeit still tiny, and then the poor little thing went into season. Warned by the vets, that due to her initial starvation, she would never be big enough to carry kittens, we regrettably did the responsible thing and had her neutered. But my, what gorgeous kittens she would have had, a feisty half Persian, half Siamese constantly talking, long-haired beauty! 254

The strange reality of all this, is that, that little cat needed us and we needed her just as much.

After all the horrific things that had happened, Mimi may have been a rescue cat, but she had actually rescued us too.  She gave my Mum a much-needed distraction and something to love and look after when college called. She healed many of the wounds that had been inflicted on us by my monster of an ex-father. For me personally, after the death of my beloved cat, Kitty, I had sworn to never have a cat again, it was just too painful and Kitty was irreplaceable. But here, suddenly, was this little thing. She found us.

015Years passed, things change, sadly our dog Fluff died and so Mimi was the only family pet for a while. More bad times, more upset, more drama, but still she was there. Then two boisterous huge white wolves came along and we moved house and Mimi, now an old but lively lady, took it all in her stride. In fact, her last twelve months were her best. Suddenly she had a new lease on life, instead of spending her days eating and sleeping, she was a kitten again – climbing trees, running across the garden at full speed, jumping ever higher heights, playing games with the boys including lying in wait for them to poke their heads through the dog flap so she could pounce on them. She even put up with one of my dogs, Tolly, and his obsessive love for her, following her around like a love-sick stalker, only inches from her face, smiling and sighing at she passed, hoping she would reciprocate his affection.

Yes, she had the perfect life. Log fires, roasting radiators, 2 acres to roam in, and a plethora of places to play, sunbathe, hunt and sleep in. Life was good. We were all convinced that we had at least another 5yrs with her. Even three months ago, the vets described her as amazing for her age, with brilliant health results. 705

So when she suddenly seemed off her food, we weren’t too alarmed. Nonetheless, we took her to the vets promptly. They seemed worried, she wasn’t eating and showed no sign of wanting to. Anything she did eat she sicked up again. She lost weight dramatically over just two days. She stayed in the veterinary hospital for three days. It was sudden liver failure, nothing we could have foreseen or prevented, but the sudden nature of it was shocking given how fit and healthy she had been only days before. By last Thursday we were told the worst, nothing they had done had worked, all the meds, all the procedures, nothing. She was dreadfully weak and jaundiced. The liver had failed completely and couldn’t be repaired. We took her home in a daze of tears. We stayed with her all night in the living room, in front of the open fire, just stroking her and trying to give her water.

Even at the end, she was such a fighter. She didn’t die peacefully in her sleep as we had hoped, she still kept fighting despite her body failing her. By Friday afternoon, there was nothing more we could do…she died in our arms in front of the fire she loved so much. 333

We placed her on her favourite pillow. The boys, who knew she was very ill and had been so gentle and calm with her, came in to say goodbye. Korrun immediately started whimpering when he saw her and backed away, but Tolly kept nudging her with his nose and pawing her, trying to wake her up. He misses her terribly.

In tears amongst the rain and the dimming light, we dug a hole in the garden, said a prayer and buried her beneath the flowering cherry tree, with her favourite toys and cushion.

A couple of days later, when we felt strong enough, we took the boys with us in the car and drove to a very special place, Teckels Animal Sanctuaries http://www.teckelsanimalsanctuaries.co.uk/ that take in and look after rescue animals. In Mimi’s memory we wanted to help other rescue cats like her, so we donated the remaining toys, food, litter and other items to them. They were very grateful for the donation and so very kind. But for us, it was also a way of recognising that we’ll never have another cat. Mimi is and was truly irreplaceable. 011

I’m sure for those of you who don’t have animals and perhaps even for some of you that do, this must all seem very silly and over-the-top. All this fuss over an old cat? But she has been such a central part of our family for so long, and though she only occupied a small space, the hole she has left is enormous.

004

The household is quieter now. No constant cat chattering, no infatuated love-struck doggy. Tolly in particular has taken it very badly and whimpers, which he never did before. He still looks for her, convinced she is merely hiding from him, and cried when he saw her cat basket. It will take time and lots of hugs for us to all feel better and heal our sad hearts. But it certainly makes you realise how short all our lives are and how important it is to love and care for those dear to us, whether they have two legs or four!

So, in memory of a beautiful, small, determined, sassy, demanding, uniquely special little cat who ruled the roost and kept us all in line, I say thank you and I love you.

I should take this opportunity to thank our amazing veterinary hospital, Vale Vets http://www.valevets.co.uk/ and our wonderful vet, Ella Robotham, who has always taken such great care of the boys and Mimi, and who worked tirelessly to try to save her. Thank you for all your care, kindness and sensitivity, we owe you a debt of gratitude. xxx

Please support your local animal charities, particularly those who look after rescued and abused animals and take such wonderful care of them. For people wishing to help Teckels Animal Sanctuaries: http://www.teckelsanimalsanctuaries.co.uk/  Please donate as little as £1 by sending a text from your mobile phone. Simply text ‘PETS10’ followed by the amount you wish to donate (up to £10) to 70070 i.e. text ‘PETS10 £5’ to 70070 would donate £5 to Teckels Animal Sanctuaries.

072

Rest in peace sweet girl. xxxxx