Meh – Dealing with Despondency.

How you do you deal with those flat moments? Times when you’re just not feeling it, when you’ve lost or misplaced your mojo, find yourself in a rut or a creative desert, drained of energy, ideas or just dealing with extreme prolonged fatigue.

Those blank moments you find yourself struggling in, like wading through tar, can really test your mettle. Creative endeavours regardless of whether it’s writing, illustrating, art or craft and trying to run a business with those creative endeavours is tough at the best of times but nigh on impossible when you’re hitting that wall.

I’ve tried all the handy tips and tricks to ‘work through the impasse’, I’ve set achievable goals, organised my time and materials better, managed to say ‘no’ to people when their commissions clash with other projects I already have lined up (rather than always saying ‘Yes’, which just leaves you like a blue arsed fly dashing around trying to please everyone as you run yourself ragged then crash).

The 2019 Maker’s Yearbook by Nicola Taylor that I bought in January and wrote my last blog about has hugely helped BUT, even with it’s support, it’s fab daily goal setting and organised tasks, it can’t give you energy, stretch the time space continuum and find that lost mojo, and when you throw illness into the mix then you really struggle.

Antibiotics for a nasty chest infection which then triggered severe asthma bouts in addition to the usual vestibular neuritis, M.E, and fibromyalgia etc basically wiped out the whole of February. The only goals I managed to achieve is to have set up my first series of silk painting workshops in a local Arts Centre later in the year, where I’ll be tutoring people in how to use and apply silk paints.

I managed to send out some feelers too regarding local arts exhibitions, shops to sell my work in and competitions, but again besides continuing the map work I’m committed to, I haven’t been able to do any new work for either my Etsy shop or for the art fair I have coming up in a few weeks. Not producing new work is a major stresser when you’re working in a highly competitive field like the Arts, where your work and name is up against hundreds of thousands of other artists (of varying talents) who may be able to churn out new work far quicker than you and therefore gain an advantage in keeping their work high in the public eye.

Competition is good but it can also be a barrier if you find yourself slipping behind and trying to play ‘catch up’.

The only solution I can see, besides self flagellation (which I’m an expert on), is of course to take a leaf out of Maya Angelou‘s wonderful book ‘Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now’ (an astounding book to live your life by full of such wisdom!).

“If you can’t change a situation, change the way you think about that situation.”

I can’t get back the month of February and the work I wasn’t able to do, so I wipe the slate clean and start afresh in March, onward and upward.

Don’t look behind, keep your eyes on the horizon ahead!

If your year has faltered somewhat, don’t worry, it’s never too late to make a fresh start and go from there.

So to that end, as we leave Winter behind and head into Spring, have a blossoming 2019 everyone and may your goals and dreams come true! ❤ xxxx

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Organising your arse and getting serious about your business!

Being a creative nerd I’ve never had a head for business or even considered anything I do as being a business and I know I’m not alone in that thinking.

Last year I took a deep breath and followed Lady Gaga and “jumped in at the deep end” by opening my first Etsy ShopSophie’s Artisan Arts. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and while I haven’t exactly set the world alight, I have had a solid first year, helped no end by my incredibly awesome and supportive friends – THANK YOU!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤

I admit I always thought that creativity and business weren’t harmonious bedfellows. But anyone creative who needs or wants to make a viable career from doing what they love (whether it’s writing, art, design, making crafts, photography etc etc), needs to develop a head for business.

Trust me, nothing makes me squirm more than the thought of dull accountants, business records, paperwork, profit margins, checklists etc etc., to me those are the antithesis of living a spontaneous and creatively fulfilled life. It’s just not how my brain works! 😀

 

But in simple terms, if you love what you do and you want to make a sustainable and consistently reliable living from what you do, then you need to sell what you create/make and that means developing a business brain and a strategy to help you achieve your goals.

Once you’ve realised this, then the next step is working out how the hell you go about doing that, especially when your chosen field is absolutely swamped by thousands of others doing what you do or something very similar (though no doubt to a poorer standard). 😉

Standing out from the crowd is the obvious first step, but to do that not only must the product you create be original and brilliantly created (quality NOT quantity – sadly so often talent only gets you so far and not to the winning post), but you need to market it expertly, get people to take notice of it and you. You need to approach what you do as a business not a hobby.

If people don’t know about the amazing things you create how can you sell any of them and make a successful business?

It’s the difference between being an amateur hobbyist and someone who is a professional in their field and is serious about pursuing their dream of making a career and a whole life based around what they love to do.

Not approaching your creative life seriously is a massive obstacle to your success, so snap out of it!

After a long chat with my fellow arty mate, Linda (and fellow giggly work colleague), where we discussed business plans and what we hoped to achieve this year and in the future, I followed Linda’s advice by getting the Maker’s Yearbook 2019, by Nicola Taylor, a goal setting workbook and planner specifically for artists, makers and handmade business owners.

WOW!!!! MIND BLOWN! 😀

Unfortunately I was too late to get the book which sold out, so I bought the PDF version and printed it off at home on 120gsm quality paper and popped it in a folder. I’d never heard of this Maker’s Yearbook before and even though I didn’t purchase it until halfway through January, I’ve been addicted to it ever since!

For a scatterbrain like me, who has all the business acumen and ICT proficiency of a fish on a bicycle, this has helped me no end!

I cannot recommend this enough. It breaks everything down into small achievable goals, so straight from the beginning you’re achieving something positive and succeeding rather than failing. It helps you to structure your business, your thinking, to get you to work more effectively and efficiently rather than just working harder and chasing your own tail while making no actual forward progress and burning yourself out. It makes you review the previous year (2018) and really identify what worked, what didn’t, what mistakes you made, what expenses and costs you had, what money and actual profits you made and how you divided your time between actually doing the creative thing you love and just flitting around like a headless chicken trying to gain attention in the hope of some sales.

It was a very interesting and reflective exercise. It made me realise how terrible my time keeping is, how unbalanced my life is, how disorganised and chaotic I am, how exhausted I’ve been and ground down, and how little progress I made, despite all my efforts, compared to the previous year (2017).

What a jolt to the senses!

Already, at the end of this first month (after only 2 weeks of having this Maker’s Yearbook), I have already booked an Art/Craft fair for March, have contacted numerous art centres, shops, exhibitions etc,. will be meeting the head of an art centre next week and have a clear plan and strategy about the year ahead – something I’ve NEVER had!

The moment I finish the long term map commission I’ve been working on for far too long, then the rest of my plans will start to kick in. For possibly the first time in my life, I actually feel that my creative life can actually have a viable commercial/business future and I actually will be able to make a career from doing what I love. It’s very early days, but finally… I HAVE A PLAN!!!! 😀

So to all my creative buddies out there trying to live off the thing you create, many of you struggling as I have, some of you on the brink of giving up while others are enjoying successes, DON’T GIVE UP or GIVE IN.

KEEP GOING, get yourself organised, set yourself real weekly and daily goals which all take you one step further to achieving your overall aim and GO FOR IT!

No-one can climb a mountain in one go, you start by climbing a low foothill first. Get that first achievement under your belt then move on and the same applies here.

Is it easy? Of course not, nothing important ever is. For me personally, one of my biggest challenges is overcoming my social anxieties and crippling self-doubts. This goes WAY beyond ‘imposter syndrome’ for me, this is more like paralysing fears, actually having to winkle myself out of my hermit hole and converse with actual real human beings, having to cold call places, put myself forward, try to exude confidence while my nervous sweats start in.

People that don’t know me well imagine I’m the height of confidence, the big bubbly girl, but I’m collapsing inside. Yes I know I have some measure of artistic talent, I could always draw and paint better than most of my friends even from an early age, but I am NOT a professional at networking, marketing, at selling my products to the actual public. Just doing one Art Fair last year showed me just how out of my depth I was. To me it seemed that everyone knew what they were doing, these were people who had been setting up stalls and selling their goods for years and had it down to a fine art. Their tables were eye catching and professional looking, they had prints of all their work so even if a customer can’t fork out a large amount for something they’ll still buy something small for £4, ie. they still make a sale and the stall exudes success which draws more people in. It was both awe inspiring and utterly terrifying!

Any introvert will know what I’m talking about. You just want to shrink into the background or hide under your tablecloth, but you have to sell yourself and your work and do both justice – so no, it’s definitely NOT easy, but like most things, it is a skill you can learn and improve on with practice. ❤

After all, we learn from failure and success.

 

Wishing you all the very best for 2019, may it make our dreams and goals come true!

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

 

Reality Bites – A Year of Art, Wolf Problems and Hard Decisions

2018 has, for many people I know myself included, been a really tough year. In terms of family, we’ve been through a lot of hard times, worst than most, and survived it, though it’s fair to say that my family now is considerably smaller. That means that close family friends we’ve had for years, and in some cases my entire life, really do mean the world to us! ❤

I learnt years ago that family is not about blood, it’s about who loves you unconditionally and who you love unconditionally, about special friends, people you can rely on in good times and bad and people you’d do anything for. I’d jump in front of a bullet for either of my darling Goddaughters and would do anything for my lovely supportive mates in deepest darkest Wales who I feel such a kinship with.

So when we faced the prospect of losing several very close and dear family friends to various cancers, including my lovely Godmother (who thankfully beat all the odds and the grim prognosis she was given); it makes you reassess things and clarify what is really important – a case of “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”.

While I’m able to produce a lot of high quality art relatively quickly, something I admit has always come easily to me, I must stop beating myself up for being less prolific in my writing. As much as I love writing and it’s always been a part of who I am, it does take a greater toll on my health and tends to burn me out quite badly.

Part of recovering from illness is being honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do and not castigating yourself for your limitations. Too many of us are our worst critics and being too critical of oneself can be tantamount to creative paralysis!

So despite being the world’s slowest writer (George R.R. Martin ain’t got nothing on me!) I’m determined not to spend 2019 procrastinating over how slow I am. I WILL finish Book 2 and Book 3 and finish the series, but I’ll have to do that at a pace I can cope with. Ironically, I actually have two brand new short novellas out, A Friendship Forged and The Siege of Kallorm, published by Grimbold Books on December 1st 2018, which are set before the events in my novel White Mountain, so at least that’s something new for my incredibly patient and loyal fans. 😀 ❤

This year it’s been great to see my illustration business take off and how ridiculously busy I’ve been with commissions, but the dominating factor has been the sadness surrounding one of my four wolfies becoming disabled. Anyone that knows me, knows how important my boys are to me, I’m called the ‘Mistress Of Wolves’ for a reason! So facing a horrible inherited disease that has no cure, that we can do nothing about and that is always fatal, Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), has been a devastating blow. 😦 My two white German Shepherds turned 9 years in June, not exactly old dogs, but long before that my beloved Tolly was diagnosed with DM.  😦  We’ve spent thousands we can’t afford on trying to fight this horrific disease but to no avail. The only comfort we have is the fact that we’ve tried our very best even using the latest cutting edge veterinary techniques like Platelet Rich Plasma to help combat this disease. It’s been heartbreaking to see Tolly’s startlingly swift decline over the year from running around in the snow in February to being unable to walk or stand by the end of August when he lost the use of his back legs completely and had to have a doggie wheelchair. We now face another devastating realisation that his biological brother, Korrun, is also now showing clear signs of having DM too. 😦

In a strange way, it was Tolly’s illness that pushed me onto creating more artwork this year (to pay for extortionate vet bills) and was the catalyst to me eventually opening my first Etsy Shop – Sophie’s Artisan Arts, which has really helped since setting it up in July. The highlight of the year though was being a shortlisted ‘Best Artist’ in the 2018 British Fantasy Awards and being an Artist-In-Residence for Dan Holloway‘s fabulous Oxford University funded game, Mycelium, which was launched in October and for which I created all the artwork (50 images in total). Still so proud to be involved in such an amazing project.

The other unsaid thing, which will remain unsaid by me for a while until I’m ready to talk about it, has also been all consuming this year. I’ve battled it alone as I just haven’t been in a place where I feel comfortable sharing it with anyone or asking for help (something I’ve always been bad at).

What the future brings, I don’t know…lol, but my life has certainly never followed a conventional path! 😀

Even when I was a kid I knew that certain paths were not for me. I never wanted that fantasy princess day, walking down the aisle in a white dress, centre of attention, to exchange one man’s name for another. Hell no. I know it works for most people, so good for them, but it’s not for me. I’m a great believer in personal freedom and in everyone choosing the path that suits them best rather than ‘doing the norm’. Life’s too short to waste it following someone else’s idea of how to live rather than what works for you and makes you happy.

With that in mind…I’ve decided NOT to make any New Year resolutions. 😀

2019 will bring what it will bring. I have aspirations I’d like to achieve, but I know life rarely follows the route you think it will, so I’m just going to plod on, try to learn to say “NO” to people when I know I don’t have time to do something (rather than killing myself to get it done in time) and just ‘roll with the punches’!

So…Happy New Year everyone, I hope 2019 brings you happiness and peace in whatever form that means to YOU.

😀 ❤ xxxx

Frantic Fun at FantasyCon and BristolCon!

The last two weeks have been a manic blur of fun, meeting friends, train frustration, award nominees, artwork, dizzyness and desperately trying to get something to dry! 😀

This year I was humbled and honoured to be shortlisted as Best Artist in the 2018 British Fantasy Awards, held on the last day of FantasyCon in what is always a fun awards ceremony. This year it was held in Chester, a town drenched in Roman history that I’d never been to before. The Queen hotel where the event was taking place was COLOSSAL! You kind of felt that you had dropped into Pan’s Labyrinth itself!

I was staying at the hotel in a beautiful Chinese decorated room with a shower door that didn’t close properly and a Nespresso machine, so despite flooding the bathroom floor twice I at least started every day fully caffeinated!  🙂

FantasyCon itself was a manic blur, but in the nicest way. Meeting up with most of my fellow Grimmies (Sammy, Jo, Roz, Steven P, Steven G, Pete, Kate, Joel, Jason) and seeing other friends (Adele, Chloe, Juliet McKenna, Cheryl, Rosa, Anna Smith-Spark, Anne Stephens, Jen Williams – such cool people!) is always so lovely. The Grimbold Books table looked fab, (we have SO many awesome books!) and the panels I went to were so interesting. There were many highlights, but for me it was probably the panel on artists working in the SFF genre, as an illustrator myself I was keen to hear author and publisher thoughts on artwork in books and the process of using an illustrator.

I was flabbergasted though when Joanne Harris (of Chocolat fame) came into the room and sat down as a panellist! She wasn’t on the programme at all so it was a fab surprise and yes, I had to blurt out in a geekish fashion that “I love your books!”. 😀  Ian Whates, head of NewCon Press, was there as the panel moderator and hearing his thoughts on commissioning illustrators and artwork was really interesting. SUCH an incredibly useful talk and at the end of it I actually got to speak to Joanne Harris and give her my business card – it seems she’s on the look out for an illustrator for her next book! Eeeek! Fingers crossed! I also got to chat briefly with Ian Whates and his wife from NewCon who are always looking for new illustrators to use too, so some really useful contacts made there! He he he!

The only irritation, and I know I sound like an old fart here, is that a young 17ish kid decided to gravitate towards me, showed me her (ahem) drawings, which I dutifully smiled, nodded and praised, then continued to draw throughout the panel, not listening to what was being said and actually kept interrupting proceedings to languidly talk about her father writing a poetry book that she did some drawings in!!!!! WTH? If you’re going to be rude enough to interrupt rather than listen, then at least ask a question about what was being said, don’t interrupt in a totally inane and bizarre manner! Ian and Joanne were incredibly sweet and kind natured over the whole thing and probably guessed as did I, that this young girl had some problems. Hey ho.

But that’s the great thing about Cons, not only are you meeting friends, making new ones, soaking up the creative atmosphere like a sponge, making connections and contacts, expanding your own business reach and hanging out with lovely like-minded folk, but cons are incredibly welcoming and open to everyone, that’s their strength, so you get to meet people who may not ordinarily cross your path which is always very cool! 😉

FantasyCon ended in the awards ceremony and no, I didn’t win Best Artist. That accolade went to a very well established American illustrator from New York, Jeffery Alan Love, who has won several other awards and whose work is great. I was disappointed naturally but really didn’t expect to win so it wasn’t a surprise. I was just genuinely chuffed to bits to be shortlisted amongst such amazing artists! I was also thrilled that Jen Williams won Best Fantasy Novel for Ninth Rain, Well done Jen! 😀 ❤

FantasyCon ended I only had a few days breather before BristolCon, where I was exhibiting my artwork in the Art Room there. I showed a selection of my fantasy maps, silk paintings (many of them SFF themed) and my portraits which I set up on the Friday before the Con. I decided to show my portraits in a Game of Thrones style ‘Wall of Faces’ or ‘Rogue’s Gallery’ again but with new portraits in, including one of fab sci-fi writer, Gareth L Powell who spotted himself! 🙂

To add to the manic art making, I’d been asked by Vice Chair, John Bavistock in August to do a secret portrait of BristolCon’s Guest Of Honour this year, my lovely mate Joanne Hall (who is not only a kick arse uber-talented writer, but actually ran BristolCon for 8 years!). It took me about 4 weeks of full on painting to complete as, to make it extra special, I decided to do an oil painting portrait on canvas rather than my usual pencil portraits. Lol, BUT, that meant I HAD to get it finished before I left for Chester to give it a week and a half to dry in time for BristolCon! Hairdyers were definitely used in the last manic hours! 😀

BristolCon went brilliantly well as did the Silk Painting Workshop I ran there, where my lovely 5 students produced some gloriously wonderful silk paintings, and yes I’m looking at you Roz Clarke & Rosa – your work was sublime!!!!! ❤ It was lovely to see fellow Grimbold Books mate, Pete Sutton launch his awesome new book, Seven Swords, which I can’t wait to read (having been mesmerised by Pete’s short story collection A Tiding of Magpies which I read on the train home from Chester) and it was fab to watch the Q&A panel with Roz grilling Jo on subjects as diverse as writing, running BCon, life on the farm etc.

But I admit my highlight was seeing Jo being honoured as Guest of Honour for all her incredible hard work over the last 8 years as well as her amazing writing achievements…and seeing her reaction to her surprise secret portrait was just comedy gold!!! 😀

A gloriously lovely two weeks all round…now time to REST!!!!! 😀 ❤ xxxxx

❤ ❤ ❤

When time is the enemy – manically juggling!

Well it’s true to say that I started 2018 on the ground running – it’s been an utterly manic year already and we’re only a few months in!

As with most people, I find myself constantly juggling. For me, working part time in a library, means juggling that with working full time as an illustrator, trying to find some time for writing and personal artwork, as well as home responsibilities, personal goals (particularly for this year – more details later in the year on that one) and having four huge wolfies who require a LOT of time and attention. I’m not called the ‘Mistress of Wolves’ for nothing!

Cover artwork by Antonio Javier Caparo.

But recently even I admit that things have been insane. Basically from November 2016 to now, I haven’t stopped. As the writing has taken a back seat, my illustrating has never been in more demand. After a couple of HarperCollins’s commissions and a hastily short deadline for Penguin Random House (for ‘The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ by Diane Magras, published March 2018) and a few individual commissions, I happily signed up for a very exciting and MASSIVE commission funded by Oxford University and created by writer, self-publishing guru and Creative Thinking World Champion, Dan Holloway. Basically Dan has invented a brilliant new game, Mycelium’, as an amazing training tool and fun game to promote and expand creative thinking. To say its clever and inventive, like it’s creator, is a colossal understatement.

Dan Holloway is one of those rare people you only meet once in a blue moon, a true inspiration. I first knew of him as a fellow writer on the now defunct HarperCollins online writing site, Authonomy, then met him in the flesh at the second Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival founded by Debbie Young. Think of Elon Musk, Bob Dylan and Basquiat and you get close to how talented this chap is. He’s a huge brain, an amazing performance poet, writer and…well, in my opinion, a bit of a genius!

Mycelium final logo which will be on the back of each card.

Anyway, he liked my artwork and wanted me to create the visuals for this amazing game, starting with producing 50 images for the first playing pack of cards. I can’t reveal the artwork I’ve done for this yet, but will as soon as I’m able. 😉

So this is where the juggling really comes in, with time becoming an enemy that you’re constantly chasing.

The irony is that ‘chasing time’ has become a bit of a metaphor for my life, particularly at the moment.  Time has flown by so quickly and suddenly your life and life decisions are reduced down to a tiny window of opportunity in an alchemist’s grand experiment! Blink, and you’ll miss that window forever.

Although I’ve done allsorts of commissions and projects which usually take a month to complete, due to fitting illustration work in with a job etc., I’ve never done 50 images for one project before. Gulp! Being the idiot optimist I am, the deadline seemed reasonable, 60 days for 50 images and small images too. Easy, eh? Lol, well of course, me being me, I just cannot rush through anything crap so I created 50 folders, one for each image and trawled through countless books and the internet gathering inspirational images for each piece of artwork before drawing them. Once drawn, they then had to be inked up in permanent ink and then hand painted.

It really has been one of the most amazing, inspiring, varied and challenging commissions I’ve ever done and I have loved every second of it BUT…being such a perfectionist I should have known that creating 50 pictures in only 60 days just wasn’t possible. Unfortunately, despite my very best efforts of time pacing, doing the more complicated images first, I only really realised the sheer amount of work involved when I was already halfway through the commission! My juggling skills were put to the test and I’m afraid they failed me entirely.

For the last 60 days my four wolfies have not had much of a mum, my daily walks with them have all but stopped to just a few hours playing and exercising in the garden, my normal home chores have fallen by the wayside, my library job has, if I’m being honest, not had the best of me, I’ve been absent from all social media and friends and I’ve become somewhat of a stranger to sleep. But try as I have, to my own disappointment and for the first time, I missed my deadline. I was gutted, having worked so damn hard. Dan was wonderful of course and I’ve made sure I’ve rewarded that kindness with awesome images, but yes, I was several weeks late in delivering all 50 finished painted images and only finally finished them a few days ago!

So what do you do when time becomes the enemy, when juggling manically still doesn’t work?

Lol, I really wouldn’t recommend what I have done several times now, drawing in bed on a light-box until 4 or 5am when you suddenly realise that it’s getting light outside and you haven’t slept at all!

The only thing I can think of to help pace your time, when you have an insane amount of things to do and no time to do them in, is, to be honest, create a detailed colour coded weekly schedulebreaking your time into 2 hourly chunks, giving yourself time to eat, do chores, do housey things then back to work. As daft as it seems, it really helps to organise you and maximise productivity from each time period. I’ve also started using an alarm clock set in hour or 2 hour slots, trying to finish one section of work in that time frame before the buzzer goes!

I’m seriously not complaining here, I’m very thankful for all the work I get especially as I don’t advertise and do recognise that it’s far better to be incredibly busy than to have time on your hands, but once, just once, I wish I really could stretch the space/time continuum! 😀

On a personal note too, I’ve spent the last year climbing Everest and trying to stretch time to achieve my goals. So yes, as much as we are powerless to stop the march of time, perhaps a healthier more mindful approach to the passing of time would be more beneficial to us all. As clichéd as it is, we only have one life and it flies past so damn quickly that we owe it to ourselves to take stock and really notice what is happening around us.

Mindfulness has been a key word that has entered the zeitgeist in the last few years, but the principles behind it can be applied to every area of our lives. As an M.E sufferer (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) it’s a very important concept that helps us to regulate our condition and pace ourselves and the daily tasks we do.

As someone who has been overweight for most of my adult life and has decided to make a permanent life change at last, having committed myself to losing weight and getting fitter (my Chris Pratt Challenge) – mindfulness plays a key rolebeing aware and present in thought over everything you do. Being mindful of everything you put into your body so there is NO mindless snacking, everything is focused on, thought about.

The same too with life and time. Being mindful of your life, of each passing day, each hour, each minute, making you more aware of the choices you make, of the time you are using, of the time you have left.

Don’t sleep walk through your life. Be mindful of it.

So yes, being mindful and applying that to this commission also helped, particularly latterly, in making sure that the work I did was not only the best it could be but that I was working as productively as possible in each timed slot.

In an age of such mindlessness – Trump bigotry & idiocy, Brexit xenophobia & lies, political cruelty, government corruption and inherent unfairness – being mindful has never been more important!

❤ xxx

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a magical day! 😀

Agents and Taking Chances!

This is kind of a follow on from my last post about the randomness of good luck and how ‘word of mouth’ can set off a chain reaction of happy outcomes. For me last month that started with HarperCollins approaching me because they loved the fantasy map I created for one of their new authors, Anna Smith-Spark, and that led to them wanting me to be an official HarperCollins illustrator!

Pencil portrait of poet Ben Okri by Sophie E Tallis

Pencil portrait of poet Ben Okri by Sophie E Tallis

Well, what I didn’t mention, as it happened so soon afterwards, is that I was also approached by an agent! Yes, an agent! Again, how this happened was so so weird.

I work at a library, a very inconspicuous job and one I love – who wouldn’t love being surrounded by books all day?! Now, apart from doing my normal library duties, I also paint murals on the huge glass panels of the library windows, which not only brighten the whole library up but do encourage kiddies and more people through the doors. I did a Christmas scene from Narnia, a huge homage to Roald Dahl and the latest one, my own version of ‘Twas the night before Christmas’, complete with my old cat, Kitty.

My mural interpretation of Quentin Blake's Roald Dahl character, Fantastic Mr Fox by Sophie E Tallis

My mural interpretation of Quentin Blake’s Roald Dahl character, Fantastic Mr Fox by Sophie E Tallis

Anyway, one random day last year, just before Christmas, a customer came into the library and asked if I did the windows. I said yes, then she asked if I was an illustrator, again I said yes, then she revealed that she worked in publishing, specifically children’s publishing and loved my artwork! I was gobsmacked. I told her I had written a children’s book and was busy illustrating it and she was very keen. We exchanged email addresses and emails then after Christmas she contacted me again and asked to see the book. I sent her the text, layout and a few sample illustrations then waited. About two weeks ago she got back to me. They loved it. It wasn’t an immediate “yes we’ll take it now”, but it definitely wasn’t a “no”, they gave me really detailed feedback to tweak and improve it then want me to re-submit it to them in the next few weeks. OMG! 😀

Pencil portrait of poet Benjamin Zephaniah by Sophie E Tallis

Pencil portrait of poet Benjamin Zephaniah by Sophie E Tallis

It’s just such a bizarre set of circumstances!
So, all this arty madness and my continuing daily Artmaniac Challenge on Facebook, got me thinking…yes luck plays a great part in getting opportunities, what were the chances of an agent coming into the library and approaching me? Zero I would have thought. But, by that same token, we can do more to try and maximise and even create those opportunities. Ten years ago I would never have had the confidence to speak up, if a agent had complimented my work I would have said thank you and left it at that. So yes, we do have to push ourselves out there whenever we can.

Pencil portrait of musician Rick Wakeman by Sophie E Tallis

Pencil portrait of musician Rick Wakeman by Sophie E Tallis

Simple truth – shrinking violets don’t get anywhere.
All that lovely good stuff got me thinking about taking chances, being more proactive beyond the usual internet stuff we all do, which let’s face it, doesn’t really get us anywhere beyond having a good time chatting to our friends.

So, in a mad flurry, I decided to enter the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018, a national art competition which is televised of all things, where professional and amateur artists have four hours to paint a celebrity sitter then have their work judged. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is expose my wobbling chins on television, but this was something so totally out of my comfort zone I just felt I had to at least try.

Pencil portrait of actor Al Pacino by Sophie E Tallis

Pencil portrait of actor Al Pacino by Sophie E Tallis

First stages of my self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

First stages of my self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

Given that I haven’t actually painted in years (and many of my oil paints are so old they’ve gone hard!) and it’s been twenty years since I painted a self-portrait (the pre-requisite for entering the competition), it was a totally mad idea! So, with the deadline being Friday 3rd March midday, I started an oil on canvas self-portrait the day before! INSANE!

Next stage of the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

Next stage of the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

With literally a minute to go (and yes I mean one minute), I finished the portrait Friday morning, quickly filled out the online form and submitted it before I could think too much about it.

Work in progress of the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

Work in progress of the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

A few minutes later, I got the confirmation email saying they had received it, wow, I actually did it! I also got another lovely email from one of their assistant producers asking for a higher res photo of my artwork, which I did.

Now, I have no delusions of grandeur here, the likelihood is that my art won’t even be longlisted let alone shortlisted, but you know what, that almost doesn’t matter. I took a chance, a mad chance and really pushed myself out there. I’ve learnt that things I thought I couldn’t do anymore I actually can.

Progress on the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

Progress on the self-portrait by Sophie E Tallis

So…the next challenge? I HAVE to put that same energy, that same risk taking, chance taking in my writing. I’ve been frozen on the writing front for so long it’s now a joke. Yes I eventually managed to get to the dodgy first draft stage with my second novel, but I know it’s such a long way from being finished – what the hell has been holding me back? Illness plays a large part, but not all, I’ve been using that as a crutch, I realise that now. It’s fear. Fear that I can’t do it anymore, that all I can do is short stories not novels, fear that the second book will be a failure, that it won’t be as good as the first book, that it will be crap. FEAR.

So folks, this has been my very round about way of saying…

TAKE CHANCES GUYS!

You may fail, most likely we all will, but by god it will help you, inspire you, push you out of that rut you’ve fallen into without even noticing. If you fail, fail gloriously, fail having taken that chance not having stayed on the couch and ‘what if’d’.

So there you go. Opportunities are what we make of them, be brave and challenge yourself. Good luck guys, good luck to all us creative crazies! 😀 ❤ xxx

Final oil on canvas self-portrait completed Friday 3rd March 2017 by Sophie E Tallis

Final oil on canvas self-portrait completed Friday 3rd March 2017 by Sophie E Tallis