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! 😀

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365 days – one year ago today!

The Flight of Fantasy Award

How time flies when you’re having fun?! 😀

Exactly one year ago today, on a rather chilly and snow-covered afternoon much like this, I decided to dip my toes in the shifting sea of blogging. Being not just an technophobe but also a certified techno-idiot, I severely doubted my skills in this area. SAM_2255

When it comes to computers I tend to push random buttons and hope for the best!

However, I am a quick learner and a tenacious little bugger so I keep trying and trying and by some mysterious force and the wonderful support of YOU, my lovely internet supporters, friends and family, this personal little blog has grown into something rather special.

So, what aims did I have when I started this blog?

594Probably much like any other I suppose. For me, this was always going to be a personal blog, not a commercial site, a buy buy buy me site, I find most marketing sites a complete turn off. No, this was an odyssey of self-expression, a way of making sense of an increasingly bizarre world, and a way of sharing poetry, short stories, travelogues, writing tips, a little philosophy and my experiences with others. Octavia's Bookshop signing 2012

As a writer, we all have very different paths and journeys to follow which take us in different directions. No author’s journey is ever the same, that is what makes it so special and so unique. Advice is wonderful and helpful, but of course as with life, one size doesn’t fit all. Take what you need and leave the rest. Decide what is important to you, what works and what doesn’t.

To thine own self be true.

Try not to be derailed or bullied into producing someone else’s vision. Your vision is your vision. Be proud of who and what you are, warts and all. Nobody is perfect. As a perfectionist myself, I know that to be true especially of myself, but strive and never stop striving!

Remember, nobody ever truly fails from having high expectations, from pushing themselves that little bit harder. You may not attain the dizzying summits you are aiming for, but at least having them in your sights will bring them damn close. But if your dreams are limited, your expectation low, then so will be the results of your endeavours.

To strive and never give up no matter the odds or obstacles, believe me, there will be A LOT of them and from unexpected quarters!!!!

Yeap, one thing I can promise is that the life of a writer is never easy. Much of the time you will feel utterly alone and like you are constantly swimming against the current. You’ve just got to grow fins and be a bit of a salmon, keep swimming upstream, over waterfalls and harsh terrain until you reach your goal!

Life ain’t easy, but I guess nothing ever is. Just remember, no matter how difficult things get, you are NEVER alone, there are thousands of other little fish swimming upstream along side you. So when you can, stretch out and lend them a fin and share your journey with them. A trouble shared is not only a trouble halved, but it reminds us of our collective humanity and the ties that bind us all.

Again, a little kindness goes a long way… 😀

In the shark infested waters of the book business, where even the great can be easily swallowed by the tides and sink without a trace, it’s good to be a strong swimmer and help your fellow minnows along. There’s safety in numbers, right? 😛

To that fact, as well as thanking the 9,000 or so lovely visitors who have graciously visited this little blog over the last year and left their indelible presence behind (and to whom I owe so much), I must thank those wonderful talented fellow fantasy minnows that I first met back in November 2010. I speak of course, of The Alliance of Worldbuilders, brainchild of the Dark Lord himself, creator Tristan Mander (TRM)!!!

When I joined the Harpercollins writing site, Authonomy back in 2010, I had no idea what a profoundly wonderful experience I chanced upon. A collective group of truly amazing writers, each imbued with a generosity of spirit, a wicked sense of humour and a talent and passion for fantasy writing. These inspiring individuals have since gone on to not only take over Authonomy as by far the largest group and thread on the site, but have produced a staggering range of excellent fiction!

I am immensely proud to call myself a member of The Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB), as Tollam (Thane of Fyrrens), and though I don’t visit my talented AWBer’s as often as I’d like, they are never far from my thoughts. Their friendship and support have been simply amazing! Thank you so much guys!

Please check out The Alliance of Worldbuilders website: http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com/

and Authonomy where the magic all began: www.authonomy.com and the AWB thread itself: http://www.authonomy.com/forums/threads/99758/the-alliance-of-worldbuilders-part-iii/

So, in reverence to these amazing individuals, I (techno-idiot extraordinaire) have decided to really commemorate this special one year blog anniversary, by creating my very own blog award – The Flight of Fantasy Award. 😀

The Flight of Fantasy Award

This award is specifically intended for fantasy writers only – creators and destroyers of worlds, fantasy authors who inspire us, who thrill us with their dark imaginings, ignite our dreams and fuel our imaginations. They can be writers of urban fantasy, high/classic/epic fantasy, comic fantasy, dark fantasy, fantasy horror, paranormal fantasy (ghosts are fine but no vampire stuff please) and sci-fi fantasy.

If you are lucky enough to be nominated for this award, then CONGRATULATIONS you officially ROCK!!!

The Rules of the Award are as follows:

  1. Display the award logo on your blog.
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  3. State 11 things about yourself (it’s a Spinal Tap thing!), including why you love fantasy and your first or favourite fantasy book.
  4. Nominate 7 bloggers for this award and link to them. (If you want to link back to me as well, that would be lovely but isn’t required!)
  5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

*****

Now, as the creator of this prestigious award, I’m going to get the ball rolling by nominating the first fantasy bloggers…and yes, I’m being naughty and am nominating more than 7! 😀 xx

Please check out these extraordinary blogs and writers (in no order)!:

A.F.E. Smith  http://www.afesmith.com/

Lindsey J Parsons http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com

Will Macmillan Jones http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/

Kay Kauffman http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/

Katrina Jack http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/

Lisa Wiedmeier http://lisawiedmeier.blogspot.co.uk/

Ryan Holmes (Griffin’s Quill) http://griffinsquill.com/

Tricia Drammeh http://theclaimingwords.com/

Ashen Venema http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/

Andrea Baker http://www.andreabakerauthor.com/

Gretchen Steen http://thedragonladyofraevencliffcastle.weebly.com/

Jeremy Rodden http://www.toonopolis.com/

Hazel Butler http://aadenianink.com/

Tamara Hickman http://tamarahickman.wordpress.com/

Sam Dogra http://indigolightning.blogspot.co.uk/

Emily Rebecca McKeon http://www.theabsenteeblogger.blogspot.com

AMAZING writers and bloggers one and all, check em’ out guys! 😀 xx

The Flight of Fantasy Award

Very Inspiring Again?

Three days ago, in a maelstrom of emotions – more than a little ploughed under with work and the weather, which looks gorgeous but as we all know is utterly treacherous to drive in, I found a truly wonderful surprise waiting for me!

It really couldn’t have come at a better time, a little ray of sunshine in these wintry blustery days.

Tricia Drammeh, fellow fantasy writer, blogger extraordinaire, interviewer, reviewer, mother of four, hugely talented wordsmith and all round lovely person, nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!!!!!

http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/author/authortriciadrammeh/

If you haven’t already checked out her mindbogglingly wonderful blog, well, you’re really missing out! Get over there now folks you won’t regret it! 😀  http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/

She also has the most fantastic website: http://www.triciadrammeh.com/

I’m truly humbled and honoured to be nominated for this award by an author and blogger of such talents! A HUGE thank you to Tricia Drammeh!!! 😀 xx

*****

The Rules of the Award are as follows:

  1. Display the award logo on your blog.
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  3. State 7 things about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 bloggers for this award and link to them.
  5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

Okay, so we go…

  1. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of weird facts, especially world geography, just don’t ask me where the counties of England are!
  2. As a child I wanted to be an astronaut, writer and mermaid (2001 Space Odyssey and…er…the Splash movie had a huge influence!). Well, one out of three is pretty good?
  3. I’m happiest when I’m outside surrounded by nature, staring at the sky, horizon or the sea. It’s as important to me as breathing. Cities make me quite claustrophobic.
  4. As a young child, I started writing and drawing before I was even steady on my feet. I still have terrible balance. As I’m very bendy, I can do most of the yoga poses but cannot balance to save my life!
  5. I don’t drink at all – my taste buds are still as immature as they were when I first tried wine and I’m allergic to most of it. Yuk! But chocolate has an almost hypnotic effect on me!!!! 😛
  6. I love animals and can’t stand cruelty of any kind. I’m a member of most of the animal charities and used to campaign against circus cruelty to elephants.
  7. In fact, I can’t stand cruelty of any kind…To me there’s nothing worse than bullying and aggressive behaviour, there’s just no excuse for it. Why be rude and horrible when you can kind and tolerant? None of us are perfect but as my dear Granny used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.” A simple lesson we could all learn from.

Now for the nominees! Wow, this is really hard. Firstly a lot of my choices were quite rightly chosen by Tricia. Secondly, it’s hard picking just 15 bloggers, there are SO many great ones out there!

So…in no order at all, I nominate the following blogs for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

Please DO check out all their amazing blogs!

  1. Ryan Holmes http://griffinsquill.com/
  2. Morgen Bailey http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/
  3. Lindsey J Parsons http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/
  4. Ashen Venema (Course of Mirrors) http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/
  5. Andy Szpuk http://andyszpuk.wordpress.com/
  6. Lisa Scullard http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/
  7. Gretchen Steen http://gretchensteen.blogspot.co.uk/
  8. James Shortland http://fantasybastion.com/
  9. ashsilverlock http://ashsilverlock.wordpress.com/
  10. M T McGuire http://www.mtmcguire.co.uk/
  11. Dominick Swennen http://fantasticalimaginations.wordpress.com/
  12. Jane Dougherty http://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
  13. Freaky Folk Tales http://freakyfolktales.wordpress.com/
  14. Moment Matters http://momentmatters.wordpress.com/
  15. atoasttodragons http://atoasttodragons.wordpress.com/

Gosh…that WAS hard. I also need to mention Sheryl Browne http://sheryls-ramblings.blogspot.com/ , Debbie Young http://youngbyname.wordpress.com/ , Mandy Ward  http://welcometowherever.wordpress.com/ and the wonderful Lisa Wiedmeier http://lisawiedmeier.blogspot.co.uk/ 😀

Injustice for all? Why does dead wood float?

Listening to a friend recently, as we both collectively joined others in having a damn good moan, the phrase ‘dead wood floats’ was mentioned. It occurred to me, as we all groaned and agreed, that we have in this country such a skewed system of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and that the reason the gap between these polar opposites keeps growing, is that we applaud and even reward failure!

Look at the bankers and banking system. Take the former head honcho of Barclay’s, a man who looked the part, talked the talk, great ‘front of house’, could charm and smarm his way into any boardroom, a man of power and charisma who abused that power dreadfully, took everyone for a ride…looks like he’s going to be given an enormous golden handshake for failing in his job, in addition to his multi-million pound salary!

Words fail.

In such an unfair world, where dead wood floats to the top, while the rest of us work our fingers to the bone for a crumb at the master’s table, all we can do is continue to hope and dream and make our own worlds as beautiful as possible!

😀