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! ūüėÄ

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!¬† ūüôā

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 Рsuch 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!”. ūüėÄ ¬†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! ūüėČ

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! ūüėÄ ‚̧

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! ūüôā

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! ūüėÄ

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!!! ūüėÄ

A gloriously lovely two weeks all round…now time to REST!!!!! ūüėÄ ‚̧ xxxxx

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The Realities of Writing…

soa_member_rgb1As a member of The Society of Authors (SoA), the longest running society helping authors (actually celebrating its centenary this year)¬†and certainly the nearest we have to an ‘Author Union’, I received my quarterly SoA magazine ‘The Author’ a few weeks ago.

‘The Author’ is¬†always a fascinating read, a thermometer of what’s going on in the literary¬†world, in publishing, what’s¬†trending¬†and in writer’s lives themselves. It’s full of really interesting articles, all written by writers for writers on issues as diverse as copyright, publishing & publishers, literary festivals, contracts, public lending rights (PLR), author events, public liability insurance, awards and grants, writing tips,¬†sales, bookshops, Amazon, research, booktrade news¬†in addition to its own¬†‘Quarterly News’. Lol, to be honest, the first thing I always do is look to see the names of new members and if I recognise anyone. ūüėÄ

Anyway, in amongst the magazine was a ballot paper for this year’s Election to the Management Committee. Now I won’t say who I voted for, I don’t want to invalidate my ballot, but reading their candidate statements was really interesting and, considering most of these people are big names, quite surprising. I don’t know why, but I suppose we all have stereotypes that we fall into from time to time and certainly I imagine that these writers, the ‘big names’, all¬†live a dream life of never having to worry about money or bills or mundane things again, that their writing has brought riches and fame and therefore they are a world away from the harsh realities that myself and my fellow writers live in day in day out. But, to my surprise, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is precisely because these writers have made it big, that makes them so sympathetic and empathetic to the struggles and plights of others because they remember what life was life before that bestseller.

One writer in particular who grabbed my attention was Alice Jolly, talking about writing as a career and how hard it is for most writers just to keep their head above the rising tides.

In her own words:

“The position of the writer is a paradox. On the one hand, authors appear to be powerful. The UK general public love authors. They spend approximately ¬£2.2 billion on books a year and 60% cite ‘author’ as their dream job. The UK has approximately 250 literary festivals some of which attract audiences of 200,000.

But despite all that, the reality of an average author’s life is grim. The median annual income of authors is ¬£11,000 (substantially below the minimum wage based on a forty hour week). The hours are unsocial and authors are continually asked to run workshops or make visits to schools for free.

So how can we writers capitalise on the power we have in order to ensure that writing is a career, not a hobby? How do we make sure that the current seismic changes in the publishing industry take us into a world where writers have more control over their careers?

There is no simple answer but that change certainly will not happen unless we all work together.”

What makes Alice Jolly’s words particularly pertinent is that she has experience in a range of fields,¬†from teaching creative writing at Oxford University, having two novels published through Simon & Schuster, to four plays produced in the theatre to crowdfunding her latest work. It’s¬†somehow reassuring¬†to know that people like Alice, or Joanne Harris who are widely known and respected, are able to relate to the problems and struggles that we small press and indie authors face every day – that struggle not only to write in itself, to get published (in whatever way that means to you), but also to make ends meet, pay the bills, survive.

The romantic notion of the starving artist in their garret or isolated writer in their shed, is all well and good, but starving in reality does not help creativity – it stifles it. If your mind is continually pre-occupied by how you are going to keep the roof over your head and food on your plate, if you are literally starving, you are not going to be concerned by writing the next great tome. Your energies and efforts will be spent on trying to survive so you have a future where you can write.

I find these issues particularly relevant to me and my own situation. Not only have I found writing my second novel particularly hard (due to major writer’s block¬†caused by¬†health issues), though I have been able to write several short stories/novellas, my own personal circumstances are more than a little precarious in both financial and personal terms. All of which, the stress, the worry, health issues and the counting of pennies, really does not help the creative process.

So, what is the answer?

Alice Jolly is right, there are no simple solutions. As with everything in life, the randomness of luck always plays a part, simply being in the right place at the right time, and yes, sadly, the old adage of ‘who you know’ plays a major part. Would Christopher Paolini really have been published and pushed into the limelight if his mother hadn’t been in the industry and placed his novel in front of an agent rather than it doing the rounds of the slushpile? I think not. But we are also masters of our own destinies. I see the flamboyant and endless energy of self-published authors Ben Galley and Debbie Young who both simply do not settle for resting on their laurels. They are so determined, so inventive and so driven they have made it happen for them. Ben Galley recently revealed that he’s selling 400 books a month in the US and tours around the country and can be seen at most conventions, Debbie Young set up her own Literary Festival from scratch (the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival) with Katie FForde herself opening the inaugural event. She’s now planning the 3rd year of the festival next year and is also the main collaborator for ALLi – The Alliance of Independent Authors and tours the country doing talks and events.

So, is this the future and answer¬†to making writing a career that can actually pay the bills? The honest answer is…I don’t know. I’m thrilled for both Ben Galley and Debbie Young, both of whom are not only thoroughly lovely people but also¬†terrific writers. My problem is this, as much as I would dearly love to be a full-time writer (it’s been my dream since I was a kid) and be able to make an actual living from it as with any other career (yes, writing paying bills), I simply do not have the stamina¬†or funds to do half the things that they do, I dearly wish I could. This year for instance, as I’ve been concentrating on writing so much, my marketing and publicity has, in all fairness, been crap. I’ve just found it far too hard to be able to do both things effectively.

So, the question remains, what is the answer? If you’re unable to travel much, are not techy at all¬†(I’m an IT idiot tbh and still don’t understand what the hell, Thunderclap is!), and health and circumstances curtail what you can do, then how do you turn your imagination into something that can actually pay those bills?

Well, in truth I’m still working on that one. What I will say is in a strange parallel to other industries such as farming for instance, I think a big part of success or at least survival and self-sufficiency, is by diversifying. Look at what you can do, what you’re good at (apart from writing) and try using those skills to aid¬†not only your writing but to also¬†pay the bills.

For me, that has meant illustration work: – ¬†Sophie E Tallis Illustrations. Being a trained traditional artist, with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and an MA place, I illustrate books and do fantasy maps (having just completed a commission for the¬†wonderful Juliet McKenna and her fantastic ‘Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom’ and am currently working on a map commission for grimdark author, Anna Smith-Spark and her upcoming Harper Voyager book, ‘The Court of Broken Knives’). In fact as I can adapt to any illustration style wanted, I can pretty much do whatever the client wants (lol, though not digital art, my computer skills are crap!). Now, although¬†I’m not raking¬†in huge amounts, as far as paying for those damn bills, it is definitely helping!

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So, for we small authors to continue writing as a career not a hobby, we have to use every trick in our arsenal, diversify, think outside of the box, focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

Good luck guys, may we all succeed at that elusive goal – full-time writing AND survival! ūüėÄ ‚̧ xxx

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