BristolCon 2017 – Art, Fantasy & Maps!

Last weekend was BristolCon, the largest sci-fi & fantasy convention in the west country, UK and by far my favourite con. For the last nine years BristolCon has flourished at the Hilton Double Tree hotel in the heart of Bristol, a single day SFF convention that always signifies a glorious mix of panels, events, signings, workshops, art, and of course books! Amongst the flurry of bookish activity, one the things that makes BristolCon so damn special is that feeling of inclusiveness, a welcoming family for old friends and new, with no cliques, no judgements, just a genuinely open, friendly and ultra cool ethos of – “come along folks and have a great time!”

What made BristolCon 2017 extra special for me this year, besides being thrilled that my lovely publisher, Grimbold Books (and our leader the wonderful Sammy HK Smith) has subsequently won the BFS Award for Best Independent Press, is that I wasn’t just there as an author and panellist (moderating an uber cool panel on ‘Mapping in SF & F’)…but that I was there as an artist too! 😀

*gulp*

Yes, after being talked into applying to exhibit in the famous Art Room at BristolCon by the lovely vice chair, John Bav, with extra encouragement from Mark Robinson and the lovely ex-chair, Joanne Hall, I actually plucked up the courage and applied and got in! For me this was a huge thing. Although I’ve been drawing and painting my entire life (before I could even walk apparently), and although I did a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art and had won an MA place at the Slade School of Fine Art (which I stupidly didn’t take up), I’ve only actually been illustrating for the last 2 or 3 years. In fact, it’s only since my teaching career ended due to illness that I’ve even had the time to do more art.

So, in the last 2 years, I’ve illustrated about 12 books so far (with a few current ‘in the works’ projects). The highlight undoubtedly had been creating the fantasy maps for Juliet E McKenna and the two HarperCollins commissions for Anna Smith-Spark & Anna Stephens, and now I am busy creating another cool fantasy map for Penguin Random House – Yay! 😀

But actually exhibiting my artwork was an entirely different thing. I haven’t exhibited since my art student days, twenty years ago! Despite starting prep for it months ago, finding and buying the right frames, getting all the ‘s’ hooks needed to hand them etc etc. I’d actually forgotten just how much work is involved! The framing and mounting card alone took ages, the picture prep, sorting out illustration portfolios, transporting the art and putting it up. Thank goodness for Andy Bigwood (Mr Art himself) who runs the Art Room and helped me find my feet and for the vital Friday pre-BristolCon Art Room set up time! I was there at the hotel until 11pm the night before BristolCon, knackered and nervous but I can’t explain how great it felt – being in that atmosphere! A mixture of pure fear, excitement, exhilaration and total imposter syndrome! Lol, when you’re there in the Art Room next to the likes of illustrating greats like Jim Burns and Chris Moore and BFS Award winning Sarah Ann Langton (who did the cool cover for the ‘Fight Like A Girl’ anthology), you suddenly feel very quickly out of your depth!

BUT, despite all those daft fears, the whole thing felt RIGHT. It felt like THIS is what I should be doing, coming full circle, coming home to art – my love of it, my solace, my saviour through mental health problems and depression, my relief, my method of self-expression when I can’t muster the words.

I admit, with only an hour and a half sleep, I was a walking zombie when Saturday actually came. Apologies to a couple of customers as my brain freeze took over a couple of times – so weird that when you’re that exhausted you slip into daft old sayings as your brain stops processing new information. By the end of BristolCon I was so out of it, I honestly can’t remember how I drove home! Oops!

But it was brilliant and I loved every second of it.

I’d decided to show some of my best portraits (30 of them all framed in lovely black box frames) for a cool ‘Game Of Thrones’ idea I had of having them all clustered together for a ‘wall of faces’ (aka GoT season 6) which became an interactive ‘Game Of Faces’ where people had to try to identify as many of the portraits as possible and the winner would win a piece of original artwork of their choice! Cool idea, eh? 😀

Well, it worked beautifully! I had loads of people coming to view my work and participate. I also displayed some of my silk paintings and my maps (all framed in lovely matching black frames) and one of my ‘works in progress’ (the steampunk map I’m working on for the lovely Kate Coe) so people could view my creative process at constructing them. 🙂

In fact, I had so many people coming to visit my art display that I couldn’t finish writing up my art price list! Lol, I eventually finished it after I’d already sold a load of silk paintings and was dragged off by the lovely Robyn Fulton to actually eat something before I dropped.

After a hurried but much needed lunch I went off to my ‘Mapping SF & F’ panel about one fo my favourite subjects – fantasy maps!  I was moderating the panel in the big conference room with the lovely Anna Stephens, Juliet E McKenna, Joel Cornah and Andy Bigwood. It went wonderfully, in fact myself and all the panellists could have talked for three or four hours and only got through half of my questions!

The whole day was a delightful blur of meeting old friends and new – people I’ve been friends with for years on Facebook but who I hadn’t actually met yet (like RB Watkinson, Judith Mortimore and Jessica Rydill) and chatting to the lovely people who bought my art – THANK YOU! ❤

 

 

 

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Sophie’s Adventures in Wonderland – BristolCon 2014

SAM_5104Okay, so before the week comes to a close, I want to share with you all my experiences of being a newbie at my very first convention, BristolCon!

Last weekend I ventured to Bristol, UK, town of my birth, to go to my first convention, BristolCon. It was held at the rather posh Doubletree Hotel (part of the Hilton chain) and has been running for the past six years. Its creator and chairman, fabulous fantasy writer and awesome fellow Grimboldian author, is Joanne Hall.

Joanne Hall & Paul Cornell

Being nervous as hell, the kind of nervous that seems to grow an orange in your throat so you can’t swallow, lose your voice and feel like you might pass out, I pressed on. Not only was it my first sci-fi/fantasy convention, but I would be meeting my lovely publisher too for the very first time, the extraordinary Sammy HK Smith of Grimbold Books & its imprint, Kristell Ink. I was a sweaty mess the moment I turned up, an embarrassing habit I have when very anxious and something I hoped nobody would notice though I was sure everyone would.

The daft thing was, while frantically moping my brow, I needn’t have been so worried. Within minutes my nervousness evaporated and seemed completely out of place in such a friendly environment. Everyone was SO kind, SO welcoming and utterly awesome! In fact within moments my phrase of the day was, “ten buckets of awesome!”

I arrived late, just after 11am, cursing myself for the notorious congested Bristol traffic and just missed Joanne Hall’s reading, something I had desperately wanted to see. With guest badge and lovely goodie bag in hand, which included an awesome free book by one of my favourite authors, Michael Moorcock, and a free Grimbold Books bangle, I headed to my first event – a fascinating discussion on the weather of Middle Earth! SAM_5118 For a nerd like me, it was manna from heaven. It was chaired by Bristol University’s Professor  Dan Lunt, who really brought Tolkien’s magical creation and the science of meteorology together. His climate change computer models were incredible and showed how JRR Tolkien really did have an understanding of geography, geology, meteorology and working eco-systems. Unsurprisingly, Dan Lunt found that the places on Earth most like The Shire, were areas in this country, particularly Lincolnshire and Leicestershire and an area in the south of New Zealand’s South Island. Having spent four months in New Zealand myself, backpacking in 1997/1998 (the inspiration behind my own Darkling Chronicles), I witnessed first hand what an amazing and inspiring place NZ is. The majesty and unspoilt grandeur of its landscape is so perfectly fitted to Tolkien’s Middle Earth. It still blows me away that when I watch the LOTR films, it’s like watching a personal travel movie for me, I see places Peter Jackson used that I actually stood in and that inspired me too, long before the films came into existence!

Anyway, it was a brilliant talk. I particularly loved the fact, that in climate terms and ecology, the place on Earth most like Mordor is…Los Angeles! Oh and in the darkened room, I managed to get away with shouting “Yes!” when I came across the awesome Grimbold Books advert in BristolCon’s lovely programme booklet! SAM_5102

Jim BurnsAfter the talk, I decided to try and find my very good friend and fantasy comic genius, Will MacMillan Jones, but me being me, I got rather side-tracked and ventured into the Art Room. WOW!!!!! Not only were there some seriously awesome artists and pieces of work in there, including canvases and prints by the very talented Evelinn Enoksen, and some very cool armoury, I came across a true genius of the fantasy/sci-fi world, legendary illustrator, Jim Burns! I have been a fan of Jim Burn’s work for many years and here he was in the flesh, surrounded by his astounding work! I was dumbstruck. Eventually I sidled up to him and introduced myself. We chatted for about half an hour. He talked about meeting Ridley Scott just after Alien back in 1979/1980 and how Ridley Scott was in the works to direct Frank Herbert’s epic Dune, a movie later directed by David Lynch. He talked about meeting John Hurt, an alcoholic mess at the time but lovely guy and how after the Dune project fell through, Ridley Scott’s people approached him to see if he would be interested in working on another project, my all-time favourite movie based on one of my all-time favourite books. Yes, I’m talking about Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, made into seminal epic, Blade Runner!!!!!! I was speechless…well, for about ten seconds. BLADE RUNNER!!!!! WOW!!!!!! Jim showed me the artwork used for Deckard’s flying car that he drew. AWESOME!!!! What an amazing artist and what a genuinely lovely chap. Even when our conversation was rudely interrupted by a bloke who clearly had all the social manners of a camel, Jim was the epitome of graciousness, allowing this bloke to talk brashly at him and interrupt everything he said. It didn’t matter, Jim Burns was and is a star! I immediately bought his beautiful book and had him sign it. Wow! It already has pride of place amongst my art books!

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After that, I sort of wandered around in a slight daze until I bumped into a lovely chap called Alistair Sims, who I recognised from chatting to on FB as being the owner of a gorgeous new bookshop in Clevedon, Books On A HillSAM_5025 We got chatting and went into the dealer’s room for me to find and introduce him to my friend, Will MacMillan Jones, who was one of the dealer’s at BristolCon, selling his very funny books, The Banned Underground, which had Jasper Fforde no less complimenting him on! And there in front of Will, in his cool ‘Man from Del Monte’ hat, was my lovely publisher and fellow fantasy writer, the irrepressibly cool, Sammy HK Smith and fellow Grimbold author, the wonderful Irish firestorm (and my personal Sat-Nav), Robyn Jane Fulton aka Ellen Croshain! What lovely lovely people!! Despite my sometimes loud and apparent bubbly exterior (having been a teacher for 16yrs you automatically learn to hide yourself behind facades of smiles and confidence, you couldn’t do the job otherwise), but in reality, I am actually very VERY shy and not confident at all. So for me, meeting new people is always a big thing and something I’m not terribly good at. But immediately I felt so comfortable around them and instantly really liked them both. Phew! Lol, I cannot tell you how different Sammy is from my last publishers, not just in how professional she is (she knows everyone and everything!) but in how friendly, honest, open, fun and just awesome she is. We all hugged. I’d known Sammy, a fellow AWB member (Alliance of Worldbuilders) since the Alliance started back on HarperCollins Authonomy in 2010, but it was so great to finally meet my gorgeous friend in person! 😀 Ellen, Sophie, Sammy

SAM_5018After chatting ten to the dozen, I followed my new friends through BristolCon’s plethora of wondrous tables, rooms and events. We ended up going to another panel, called ‘Influences on Authors’, (with Paul Cornell, Joanne Hall, Piotr Swietleik, John Baverstock and Jessica Rydill) which was a brilliant, spirited and humorous discussion which came up with some very unexpected topics, including Dan Brown and JK Rowling (both of whom I’m not fans of) and how different influences affect each author’s writing and their own personal ‘voice’. Listening to Joanne Hall on the panel, was a treat, and after the event I finally got to meet her!!! An amazing author and all round fantasy/sci-fi queen, I was utterly in awe of how she organises and runs this brilliant con, lol, I can hardly organise my bedroom! It’s funny what a small world it is though, I’d actually known Jo and been friendly with her for years on Authonomy, knowing her under the name of Hierath to my Tollam. It was only last year when I finally realised that Hierath and Joanne Hall were one and the same person! In amongst the audience, I also noticed another familiar face wearing a T-shirt with a quote you can’t easily forget, “Like the Wizard of Oz, only with whores and gore!” from Prince of Fools. I asked Sammy to confirm it, yes, it was Mark Lawrence! (the one in the white T-shirt in the background behind Alistair) SAM_5021

We headed back to the bar, where Sammy introduced a very shy me to an equally shy Mark Lawrence, he of the staggeringly successful Broken Empire series that has been giving GRR Martin a run for his money! I was rather in awe of Mark I don’t mind admitting and made some daft reference to him wearing a cooler T-shirt than mine (which he was). We left him and sat down giggling like naughty school children and made poor Alistair blush with our moomin (boob-age) antics! Lol, already I’d noticed how wearing my White Mountain dragon sketch emblazoned across my boobs, drew a LOT of attention! The sentinels

After some more giggles and serious writing chat, we ventured back into the con and went to see ‘The Fragmentation of Fandom’ discussion panel with, amongst others, Jasper Fforde! Ummmmm…definitely my ‘dish of the day’! I’m aware that I should have been listening to him but was just staring. Oh dear! We then grabbed a load of fabulous free books from the table outside and also met the lovely Karoliina Leikomaa who had been on the panel for Fragmentation of Fandom too and fantasy writer and reviewer, Sarah Jane Higbee, who had also been a teacher!

We retreated back to the bar and after drinks and shared chips, yum yum, we met the deliriously witty Anne-Mhairi Simpson who introduced us to her awesome card game, ‘Be the Bard’! What hysterics!!!! 😀

I cannot tell you what fun I had and just how daft I was to be so nervous.

BristolCon is TEN BUCKETS OF AWESOME and so are all the people I meet, especially my new and old friends. I shall definitely be making BristolCon a date in my diary EVERY year from now on. An absolute must for all fantasy/sci-fi fans, writers, readers and lovers of great literature and dark thrilling tales!

Highlights? All of it!

See you guys next year! 😀 xxx

SAM_5114Fenn endorsing Grimbold Books!SAM_5014Influences panel

Passing 20,000 and planting seeds of success!

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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!!! 😀

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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

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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