YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!!

When it comes to writing or any creative endeavour that you are serious about i.e. not a hobbyist, but that you actually want to make a paying career from (again not fame & fortune, if you crave that you’re in the wrong game – go join a Big Brother house or Britain’s Got (f**k all) Talent), we are so often faced with failure.

So often I feel like the Balrog on the bridge in Khazad-dûm, trying to gain access to a path closed to me, a world full of closing (or slamming) doors.

Just need to add the appropriate sentence ending:

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this slush pile.”

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this competition’s shortlist (or even longlist).”

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this agent’s/publisher’s criteria.”

even “YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this selective writing group.” etc., etc.

Trying to make a living out of any creative field in a marketplace so utterly saturated with other writers and artists, is tantamount to wading through tar to reach that Avalon-like island on the horizon. It takes a hell of a lot of hard work, some random luck, some ‘who you know’ and a decent product that you’re trying to sell.

Unfinished pencil study of James Norton by Sphie E Tallis

Of course writing and art are completely subjective, what one person considers to be masterful, another perceives as being rubbish. But I still think some basic principles apply – the mechanics of writing a good sentence or drawing a good picture, of forming those images whether in the mind or on canvas.

Sadly, the path to success is littered with amazingly talented people who never quite got to grips with marketing, social media, ‘branding’ or simply had the bad luck not to reach that agent or publisher at the right time who might recognise their genius.

Pencil portrait of James Norton.

Pencil portrait of actor, James Norton by Sophie E Tallis

Annoyingly, the path to success is also littered with those who seemingly had only a tenth of the talent needed, but who were either fabulously well-connected (all areas of working life will always have an element of nepotism, the famous name, the ‘who you know’ element etc.), or were either bloody lucky in their timing when approaching said agent/publisher, or were so fantastic at the marketing/branding side that they had tremendous success before people realised the tripe they were actually peddling.

In writing terms, the author E.L. James comes to mind, whose actual writing (aside from the dubious pro-abuser content) is simply dreadful. In terms of the art world, for me, Tracey Emin is also the perfect example of brilliant self publicity/PR with minimal talent required. As a former history of art and fine art student & artist myself, I am not anti-modern art at all, just people like Emin. Damien Hirst may not be to everyone’s taste, but like Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Saville, Rachel Whiteread etc., they had a huge underlying skill level. I actually saw Hirst’s early work before he made it big as part of the 1990’s Brit-Art explosion and the guy is actually very talented. Although I cannot pretend to like a lot of his work, the guy CAN at least draw, his draftsmanship skills are very good, he just chooses to explore abstract and conceptual art. For me, as a drawer and artist, that is my benchmark for art, as it is for writing, that the person needs to have good basic skills in their chosen art-form. Emin cannot and never could draw proficiently, even the most basic forms, her drawing ability is quite frankly poor, and no, the irony that she was employed a few years ago as the Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy of Art is not lost on me. 😦

Pencil portrait of actor, Trevor Eve

Pencil portrait of actor, Trevor Eve by Sophie E Tallis

But back to writing. At the heart of the matter, the writer/author needs to have skill at stringing words together, at spinning a yarn, telling a compelling story, writing memorable characters etc., etc.

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” goes the voice in our heads as we contemplate sending work off to the latest narrowing submission window, chasing any opportunity that passes no matter how fleeting – like too many bees chasing the one elusive queen, or in fantasy speak – butter spread over too much bread. We’re all chasing the same thing, the same elusive target – to be published, to have an agent, to make a living from what we love to create.

For me, so far this year, the successes I have seen have definitely been in my art rather than my writing. As dearly as I would love more people to read my work and review it and yes, love it, I am still yet another small voice amongst the din, I know this (I will be doing a separate post on ‘branding’ with some tips I’ve picked up and stolen!). But, my illustration work has, rather surprisingly, started to take off and accrue a real momentum of its own!

Pencil portrait of Stephen Fry

Rough pencil study of Stephen Fry by Sophie E Tallis

Some of that is due to content, to being prolific. As a writer I have always been glacially slow, I’d like to think it’s quality over quantity, but in truth I wish I found writing as easy as drawing. I struggle with illness, concentration and mental exhaustion to get the words down, it seems to use a part of the brain that simply is not needed when I’m busily drawing. I don’t have to try to thread complicated plotlines together and continue a narrative over a long period of time when I’m drawing. Art allows you to switch off the brain and just use your eyes, instincts and fingers to form the image you want. Because of this, I have been able to create new artwork every day as part of my daily 365 day Artmaniac Challenge, whereas sadly I seldom manage to write every day no matter how hard I try. 😦

So, success definitely is due at least in part, to being prolific, having more content out there for people to look at, assess, discuss etc. Something I fear I may never achieve with my writing. 😦

Another element which I have seen first hand, is the ‘luck & who you know’ factor I was talking about. In my case it was a simple snowball effect. The lovely Juliet E McKenna heard in fantasy circles and shared contacts that I was an illustrator and specialised in fantasy maps. So she contacted me and I ended up doing a fantasy map for her and her wonderful ‘Secret Histories of the River Kingdom’.

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Then, because of that and again ‘word of mouth’, the equally lovely Anna Smith-Spark asked me to do a fantasy map for her debut novel, ‘The Court of Broken Knives’, to be published in June 2017 by HarperCollins. That in turn led her editors at HarperCollins to look at the map I did and my other illustration work, which then led to the Head of Fiction Art at HarperCollins contacting me directly to say how much everyone at HC loved my work and to offer me a contract to be an official HarperCollins illustrator (supplier)! *SQUEAL* 😀

The contract came through two weeks ago and yes, I signed it straight away! 😀

Since then I have had almost daily requests from various people to do commissioned artwork for them, including from a New York literary group who want me to do the main image for their magazine and website. It’s insane, I don’t even advertise and am now having to say, “No, sorry, I can’t take anymore commissions on at the moment!”

Madness!

HarperCollins were also lovely enough to tell me that I had been MASSIVELY undercharging people and advised for me to raise my rates. I did, a little, but not as much as they were suggesting otherwise that would stop any Indie Authors from being able to afford me and I know how damn hard it is for indie and self-published authors anyway, so I’m certainly not going to price myself out of their reach. 🙂

So, yes, creating more content and having that ‘word of mouth’ and lucky break does play a massive role in creating success. Now, if only I could apply that and get the same reactions to my written work! 😀

If you’re having the same struggles or successes, do let me know! 😉 xxx

Pencil portrait of Rayleigh Ritchie

Pencil portrait of actor Rayleigh Ritchie by Sophie E Tallis

 

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Mapping The Imagination

Maps are a subject I keep returning to again and again and for good reason. Ever since I was a child I’ve held a deep fascination for atlas’s, globes, maps and cartography in general. The mystery of distant countries with exotic names, far flung foreign lands, strange topographic features or intricate maps of fictional worlds have always captivated my imagination and I know I’m not alone in this passion. Maps, particularly when used in fiction, are more popular today than they’ve ever been.

Check out my previous map inspired posts: For the love of maps! & Mapping your fantasy

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In literary terms, the first map I’m aware of studying was probably E.H. Shepherd’s beautifully illustrated ‘100 Acre Wood’ for A.A. Milne’s glorious Winnie The Pooh, that was quickly followed by the maps in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Tove Jansson’s wonderful map of Moomin Valley and CS Lewis’s Narnia map.

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As all lovers of good fantasy fiction know, there is nothing as pleasurable as poring over a map of your favourite fantasy world, whether it be George RR Martin’s Westeros at the heart of his phenomenal Games of Thrones (Song of Ice & Fire) series, JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth in his Lord of The Rings trilogy, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. 34c29aa5e22785787f24a35d580761c71

 

Now, as an illustrator and author, I create my own detailed hand-drawn fantasy maps for my books and for other authors and publishers. I’ve only illustrated 9 books to date so far but have several projects in the pipeline, and would like to share with you, my fellow map lovers, how I created my latest commission for fabulous fantasy writer, Juliet McKenna and her awesome new River Kingdom series.

Firstly, I cannot tell you what fun it is creating these beautiful objects – “The literal and visual distillation of an author’s imagination through graphite, pen & ink and paint.” It is true that not every great fantasy novel needs a map and some authors like NK Jemisin were initially not keen on them, but for me I love them as I think they create a tangible geographical point of reference from which the story weaves its magic. Funnily enough, Joe Abercromie who apparently wasn’t keen on fantasy maps for his First Law series then included 5 of them in The Heroes (to represent the battle movements)!

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At the end of July I was approached by Juliet McKenna who was looking for someone to do a map for her latest fantasy series, the River Kingdom. That started a really interesting month of creative exploration. Juliet, much like me, is a stickler for detail, which I love. The devil’s in the detail they say and that is particularly true when creating fantasy maps, the more information the better!

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The first thing I loved, is that her River Kingdom is landlocked i.e. set in the middle of a continent, much like my Fendellin map (see left), and avoids the over used cliché of a coastline and seas. This makes total sense to me – as much as I love coastlines, not every land is going to be coastal and yet if you follow the vast majority of fantasy maps they are all either islands or coastal regions! River Kingdom is inland and is all about the rivers and the regions and peoples they dominate.

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For a starting point Juliet emailed me a few pages of notes about her fabulous River Kingdom world, the main rivers (Tane and Dore) in her kingdom, what they are like (winding? straight? navigable? deep? shallow? rapids? maelstroms? etc), how they flow, the settlements and communities along their banks, the different administrative ruling centres and fiefdoms, what the Hill Country was like and forests, a description of the Nilgeh Mire, how the land lies and towns relate to each other, etc. It was obvious from the beginning that this was going to be something rather special, as so few authors really fully imagine and realise the worlds they create down to the everyday detail.

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From this, we started a wonderful creative collaboration, back and forth. To ensure that my clients are 110% with the artwork they receive, I’m a great believer in asking questions rather than guessing, that way you are able to really crystalize what the author/client wants and are far more likely to deliver it.

More questions and details followed, the colour of the waters of the main rivers, their tributaries, what happens when the two great rivers meet, adding wharfs and quays for river folk to travel and ferries, the types of trees in the forest areas, how high are the mountains, how to represent the towns with different allegiances, motifs to be used to represent the Grainland and Grassland areas and lovely nuances like adding subtle terraces to some of the Downland hills and what the geology and terrain was of drier areas like the High Plateau. Discussions about the lovely maps of 15thC cartographer, John Speed and the red colour of towns depicted etc.

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Then, after the graphite and then inking stages were finished, a whole new conversation took place about colours and tones for the finished painted map. Mountainous regions in reality, vary hugely, another reason why I prefer to hand draw everything rather than using computer programs which just replicate the same mountain shape again and again, some smaller some bigger but none with any individuality. Were the mountainous regions alpine in nature, snow capped and grey granite or like the dry peaks of parts of the Andes or more like the Cairngorms and Snowdonia, greener lower peaks?

What about the woodland areas?

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Most forests depicted in fantasy maps tend to be one generic shape repeated infinitum and if they are coloured, one generic green shade. We decided instead to have individual shapes, colours and shades for the different tree types just like a real mixed forest canopy of deciduous and coniferous trees. Yes these are still stylised trees, drawing an accurate observational study of a tree with all it’s intertwining branches would look dreadful in a map context, like a mass of spider webs and would become too distracting to the overall effect.

captureThen you have the map’s compass. I like to do an individual compass for every map and client, so they are unique to that client’s work. In Juliet’s case, I really wanted to include some of the mythos present in her story, namely the fact that her market towns have shrines to the Sun Goddess & Moon God, so I wanted a compass rose with a sun and moon motif at the centre (lol, Juliet is apparently now thinking of using this compass rose as a cross-stitch design!).  🙂

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When painting the map, I found myself using some truly gorgeous pearlescent paints and gold inks for the details (there are amazing art products out there!), I only wish the sheen of these had fully translated into the final scanned map.

So, after a month and a bit of continuous work, we had a finished painted map for Juliet’s amazing new fantasy, Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, which launches at *BristolCon in less than two weeks! Pop along and meet Juliet in person and grab yourself your own signed copy from the author herself! (check out the gorgeous cover by Ben Baldwin!)

*BristolCon – is a fantastic one day SFF convention in Bristol at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on Saturday 29th October! The programme of events is here. (Juliet will be there signing copies of Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom and appearing on two panels & I’ll be there too supporting my publishers, Grimbold Books and doing a panel and reading – come along and join the fun!)

So, there you go folks…the process of actually creating and making a fantasy map, it ain’t easy but boy is it FUN!  🙂 xxx

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🙂 xxxx

Distant Worlds – Welcomes Sophie E Tallis!

This is the eighth post of a brand new blog series, as I dip my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews – and as today is my birthday (gulp) and the auspicious publishing date for a very cool fantasy/sci-fi charity anthology I’m in (A World Of Their Own), it’s my turn to be in the hot ejector seat!

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

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To kick off the Distant Worlds strand, over the last few weeks I’ve been focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends.

Grimbold Books were also doing a fabulous ‘Summer Promotion’ from 31st July – 4th August, where ALL of its wonderful titles were priced at only 99p/99c across Amazon platforms. Now, although the promotion is now over, there are still great bargains to be had, so grab yourself something special before the prices go back to normal! Awesome fiction at awesome prices!!!! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

Right, now to our eighth author interview…epic fantasy writer and illustrator…

Sophie E Tallis

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Sophie, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

I always think of Ray Mears here, who undoubtedly would say fresh water, shelter, food and fire would be essentials. So, I’d take my very handy Swiss Army penknife with a ridiculous amount of useful tools in it, a waterproof and spider proof tent (essential for me!), a lighter, plastic bottle for water and warm blanket.  🙂

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

If I couldn’t take my four gorgeous white wolves with me and my family and friends, then I’d have to grab paper, pens, pencils, photos and some kind of music. If I can’t draw or write I’d go crazy pretty quickly and I need to have music.

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

I’m such an anti-social sod, I’d probably enjoy going it alone.

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

It’s almost impossible choosing only 5 books because I love so many, but I’d probably mostly choose the classics, things I know I love already and can read again and again. (There may be some cheating here!)

  1. The Complete works of Philip K Dick (I LOVE ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, ‘A Scanner Darkly’, but also his short stories are awesome, ‘Minority Report’, ‘Total Recall’)
  2. The Complete works of JRR Tolkien (are you seeing a pattern here?)
  3. The Complete works of Frank Herbert (Dune has proved a very popular choice in these interviews, why? Because it is awesome!)
  4. The Complete works of GRR Martin (these are such large tomes they should keep me going for a while.)
  5. The Complete works of Joseph Conrad (yeap, strange choice perhaps, but I love ‘Heart of Darkness’)

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

I have incredibly eclectic tastes, but will leave out my opera and heavy metal albums.

  1. OK Computer – Radiohead (this was the sound track to my 4 month backpacking trip around New Zealand in 97/98. Awesome band, awesome album.)
  2. Pure Cult – best of The Cult (also part of my NZ soundtrack)
  3. Best of Vaughan Williams – I love Fantastia on a theme of Thomas Tallis, the soundtrack to White Mountain.
  4. Ten – Pearl Jam (great album and a huge part of my student days, when all I listened to was Grunge Rock – Soundgarden, MotherLoveBone, Soul Asylum, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Live…ahhh, the endless lumberjack check shirts, youth angst and long dirty hair!)
  5. Best of Blondie – (I wanted to be Debbie Harry!)

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

Sadly water. Still can’t drink vodka since my missing 24hour memory gap from a binge when I was 17, and I don’t want Coca-Cola rotten teeth.

Random comet question: If you had to live somewhere else, would you chose Westeros or Middle-Earth?

I think Westeros would be awesome, but as much as I’d like to see myself as a strong survivor mother of dragons type, in reality I’d end up being murdered in about 5 mins by a drunk dwarf or have my head squashed by the Mountain. So I’ll be a coward and will choose a nice quiet corner in Middle-Earth, maybe the Grey Havens, and settle down with a dingy and a fishing rod.

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go!

Book 2:

Darkness spreads, as prophetic warnings come to pass and a series of disturbing murders and arson attacks on the world’s great libraries and museums, multiply across the globe.

Morreck the Corruptor, an evil changeling of terrifying strength and sworn enemy of all elder races and humanity alike, has sired a ‘darkling child’, an heir that could bring about the destruction of the world.

The hunt is on and the war to end all wars is about to begin…

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

Drawing, painting if I can make up some pigments from the surrounding materials available, and of course, writing.

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

In no order. My dogs, my family and friends, birdsong and nature in general (especially forests, Dartmoor, blue oceans).

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Where do I start? Religion, war (often caused by religion or ego), pollution (including crappy reality TV), capitalistic greed and right-wing ***holes (the Tories and Republican Party).

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it?

Yes, I think I would. 🙂

What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

Wow, there are so many things I wish I could replay and do differently. I don’t dwell on my regrets, life is too short, but…Yes, our struggles and strife make us the people we are, but I think I could have done with less character building and more happiness. I wish I could have stood up to the toxic people in my life earlier, before they caused all the damage they did, especially my ultra-violent alcoholic father, and just told him to…ahem off and then gotten on with my life.

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

Again, its so tricky to pick only 5, I have about 8 indie books on the go at the moment with a TBR pile of gargantuan proportions!

  1. Vortex – by Lindsey J Parsons. I admit that this is a sentimental choice for my dear friend who sadly passed away last year, but it’s also a great book!
  2. In Search of Gods and Heroes – by Sammy HK Smith. I haven’t finished this book yet, yes I’m slow, but it’s a brilliant book already.
  3. The Cooper Promise – Jen Williams. Okay, strictly speaking not an indie author as she is with one of the Big 5 publishers, but she’s a new writer and this was her debut and from what I’ve read…wow!
  4. The Art of Forgetting – by Joanne Hall, another awesome book I have started and am hugely enjoying.
  5. Willow Weep No More – An anthology of dark fairy tales by Tenebris Books, full of real gems.
  6. Yes, it’s my birthday so I’m picking 6 books! Songs of Seraphina – by Jude Houghton. I drew the fantasy map for this book which got me really interested in reading it. I’ve only just started, but it’s great!

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

Put the effort in and don’t rush yourself. Yes, there are plenty of authors out there who can whisk off a new book every few months and good luck to them, if you’re not one of those (which I certainly am not), then don’t rush yourself. Write the very best book you can and worry about time scales later, if it’s good enough it will be worth the wait. Do your research, treat the readers with respect, even if you only use a fraction of that research in your novel, the readers will thank you for putting the effort into your worldbuilding.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself, your inspirations and your publishers!

SAM_5206Sophie E Tallis in her own words…

I won’t use my standard bio because, hey, I’m getting bored of it!

Okay, I’m a glacially slow writer, who loves fantasy, science-fiction and most things of a nerdish nature. After 16 years of full time teaching I’ve swapped 50+ hour weeks, horrible office politics and heavy workloads for part-time, low stress work in a library surrounded by books and lovely people! Do I miss my old job? Er, no! When I’m not working, I’m juggling writing, illustrating and managing a hectic life with my four enormous white wolves who keep life very…ahem, interesting!

My inspirations are life, great writing and the natural world around me.

My publishers, Grimbold Books, well, what can say? I owe them so much. They did a beautiful job on my novel, real care taken and what a gorgeous cover! I won’t hark on about the past, but my first publishers were terrible people to deal with, just a thoroughly horrible, scarring experience, but Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books couldn’t be more different – professional, author-friendly, honest, just lovely people who have your back and want the best for you and your novel.

My debut novel, epic fantasy, White Mountain, was re-published 1st December 2014 and I’m busy writing the sequel (slowly). I also write short stories and poetry and have 7 short stories being published this year in various anthologies.

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  • A World Of Their Own – An awesome anthology of fantasy, sci-fi and literary short stories by ‘The Alliance of Worldbuilders’ (AWB) is published 4th September 2015 (TODAY!!!!!). ALL profits go to a charity, a very worthy cause – The World Literacy Fund. I have three short stories in the anthology, ‘The Wishing Tree’, ‘Happiness is a lie’, and ‘The Artist’ as well as 6 fab illustrations. Amazon UK  &  Amazon US 
  • H is for HawkesburyH is for Hawkesbury – An anthology of short stories, poetry and novel extracts from the inaugural Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival, published 19th August 2015. I did the illustration for the front cover and have one of my favourite ‘White Mountain’ excerpts in it – Amazon UK 
  • Fight-Like-A-Girl coverFight Like A Girl – A kick-ass anthology of women writers focusing on strong female protagonists who kick arse. I have an awesome sci-fi short story in this, ‘Silent Running’. To be published Autumn/Winter 2015 by Kristell Ink.
  • The Orphan and the Iron Troll (borderless)Shadows of the Oak – A wonderfully dark collection of equally dark fairy tales and sequel to ‘Willow Weep No More’. I have a magical Russian fairy tale, ‘The Orphan and the Iron Troll’, in this and the illustration I did to go with it. To be published Autumn/Winter 2015 by Tenebris Books.
  • I’ll be a little mysterious now as the details still need to be worked out, but there are two brand new ‘White Mountain’ short stories I’m hoping will tide over fans until Book 2 is ready next year. Very exciting!

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Book Blurb:

A dying world hidden from our own. An ancient people conquered by human progress. A ruthless changeling bent on revenge and power…and a sorcerer and dragon determined to stop him.

Amongst our modern world, lies another. An archaic and hidden world of tradition, sorcery and magic. Lost, long before the last Ice Age and barely surviving beneath the onslaught of human advance, it now faces its greatest challenge and its bitterest enemy.

As dark demons awaken from the past and a series of sinister disappearances and murders plague the secret cities of the few remaining elder tribes, a group of disparate travellers race against time to save a friend and destroy an evil that threatens to swallow us all…

***

Thank you, Sophie. Yes, congratulations, you are survivor! A decrepit mining transport has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xxx

Distant Worlds – Welcomes Jude Houghton!

This is the fifth post of a brand new blog series, as I dip my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews.

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

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To kick off the Distant Worlds strand, over the next few weeks I will be focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends.

Grimbold Books were also doing a fabulous ‘Summer Promotion’ from 31st July – 4th August, where ALL of its wonderful titles were priced at only 99p/99c across Amazon platforms. Now, although the promotion is now over, check out their titles to still grab a great bargain before the prices go back to normal! Awesome fiction at awesome prices!!!!

hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks

Right, now to our fifth author interview…the epically talented and enigmatic…

Jude Houghton

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Jude, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

In this order:

  1. Coffee (preferably Nespresso machine with lots of capsules, no mess, no fuss)
  2. A vegetable patch.
  3. A comfortable fleece jacket which doubles as a three person tent with handy bathroom extension. (Okay, a bit of artistic license taken with that particular “device”).
  4. Music, audio books and a kindle reader courtesy of a solar powered iPhone*. (One is bound to come out sooner or later. You have to assume the planet has a big bad sun though…)
  5. A sort of crystal thing that provides a light in dark places when all other lights go out.

*Because the iphone’s light will go out once I’ve accidentally dropped it into the puddles of primordial soup a few times. Inevitable I’m afraid.

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

The above. Assuming of course there are no other life forms on the ship. In which case they would be number 4 or 5 in the queue.What? No. Kidding. What I meant is: The above. Assuming there is not another ship, carefully stored within the ship, that can be wheeled out just before the whole thing goes poof…Does it have one of those? I can’t remember seeing any on Star Trek, but then again, I kind of didn’t watch it after Deep Space Nine. I mean what was that…?

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

“Dtay Tola! Dtay wonna wanga? Dtay wonna wan go.” Sorry random Bib Fortuna quote. You know, the guy with the pallor and weird snaky neck extension. Well that’s how aliens speak. But anyway… I’d smile sweetly, but keep the blaster cocked and ready. Yes, blaster. I did say I was going to salvage a blaster right? Well, it’s in the second ship actually, in the glove compartment, just by the warp speed lever.

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

Well…I don’t often read books twice (too many good books, too little time) so the ones that would be with me would likely be the fantasy/sci-fi on my ever growing To-Be-Read list.

However, in this specific case, I would take a couple of trusted books for insurance, just in case the new ones turned out to be stinkers. So Dune, which also seems to be a Grimbold “must have” favourite novel and…is Shakespeare, fantasy? Can we sneak in his complete works? I mean A Midsummer Night’s Dream? The Winter’s Tale? They’re pretty out there. The Tempest is the definition of early fantasy fiction… so yeh, I’m having it. Kill all the lawyers.

So… (he turns quickly to the TBR list, crosses off everything that is not fantasy and sci-fi) the next items queued on the phone and in paperback are:

Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky – it’s been 12 months in the TBR pile. It’s time has finally come!

Sophie Tallis, White Mountain – I realise that is a tad convenient, but I’m telling you the books in the queue right now! So there. Beauty is truth.

Kate Coe, Green Sky and Sparks – Another Indy I’m looking forward to.

Ernest Kline, Armada – Okay so the reviews have been terrible but I liked Ready Player One. If it turns out to be a stinker then… well… I’ll go back to re-reading Dune.

That’s six isn’t it? Well, I don’t know if I’m allowed the Complete Works. If I am, alas poor Ernest, I knew him, Horatio.

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

Why pick a song, when you can have a whole album? (very true!) So:

Nirvana, Nevermind – A cliché but…oh never mind.

The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses – Good for listening to in the baking sun if it is like the desert planet of Dune!

Massive Attack, Blue Lines – Because I believe in the one love.

Debussy, Nocturnes – More Alien than thou.

Ella Fitzgerald, Greatest Hits – For the alien moonlit nights, the whisky drinking nights, and for the times the rain comes down on the fleece-like man-tent.

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

Vodka. Sorry, is that even a serious question?

Random comet question: Gandalf or Dumbledore?

One defeats Balrogs, the other has a sorting hat… hmmm… tough one…

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go!

Aghhhhhh! You’re going to eat my brain…. Aghhhhh! Unless…

Autonomy.

It’s about two strangers, born on opposite sides of the world, on the same day in 2035. It’s about Balmoral Murraine, the maimed daughter of a struggling Battery worker, and Pasco Eborgersen, the pampered son of a Sector 1 Elite. It’s about the discovery of a truth so potent, that it will rip mankind apart. And it’s about a world lived through the intermediary of iNet, of the devotions of the Faith and the temptations of the Pleasure Houses, and about the single commodity that has become more plentiful than any other. Man.

Welcome to your future.

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

If I am alone; reading, writing, kicking a few of the softer alien rocks around. Maybe set up a couple of goals, and practice finishing with my left foot.

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

  1. Family. – Everything else is way, way, way behind. No, I mean WAY behind. There you go.
  2. Friends. Another yawning gap.
  3. The green and blue hues peculiar to earth.
  4. The feel of the wind as it whips up from the sea.
  5. The dog.

I know what you’re thinking. The dog should be MUCH higher. But I don’t want her getting a big head. She’s insufferable as it is.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Okay, this list is in reverse order. Just to mix it up.

  1. Is one allowed to say Facebook? Yes? Oh good. You are a one.
  2. Bugs that whine in your ear and then bite you!
  3. Cars of all types, especially when not moving.
  4. Money and what it does to people.
  5. Wars of religion.

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

Turn back time and change? Historical or personal? Because there was the time I wore that… No, no…can any single thing really be changed without changing everything? Where would it end? Not with a sonic screwdriver and red-lined coat I can tell you.

So if I had a time machine, I’d just observe. What? Well that is the question.

As much as I could before time caught up with me. I’d want to see Cassivellaunus and his charioteers fend off Caesar’s Romans, Henry VIII joust at the Cloth of Gold, sit in the Globe before it burned down, walk through Victorian London with a couple of coppers in my pocket for the match makers and boot blacks (hopefully that wouldn’t change too much).

If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it?

I have so many unanswered questions about this adventure that it is impossible to tell. The mad, bad and dangerous to know part of me says Yee Haa! The, where’s my life gone part, says um… let’s get in the ship, the other one, and go home and pick up a few things like…the family, the dog, a few open minded friends and pioneers, and don’t forget the droids.

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

Anything published by Grimbold Books. Seriously. I have now read: Dollywagglers, The Sea Sword Stone and In Search of Gods and Heroes and I really liked all of them. Queued I have…well all the rest. So that’s about fourteen to go. My self-imposed deadline to finish them is the end of this year. So I’m living that particular recommendation and enjoying every minute of it.

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

The future is a series of nows, so don’t wait for tomorrow.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself, your inspirations and your publishers!

Option 3Jude Houghton in his own words…

Jude Houghton developed a love of fantasy from a relatively early age after realising an innate talent for making stuff up could result in something other than detention. A somnambulist, insomniac, lover of letters, Jude writes late into the night, most nights, tumbling down the rabbit hole to dream of other lives. Jude currently lives in Pennsylvania with an over-enthusiastic family and absurdly entitled dog. And he sometimes talks in the third person.

Inspiration:

Everything around me, particularly the people I love, the books I read and the music I listen to.

Publisher:

Tenebris Books, part of Grimbold Books. www.tenebrisbooks.com

Amazon UK

Amazon US

cover_digital-191x300Songs of Seraphina blurb:

Some battles bleed so much, and for so long, that the earth never truly forgets their dead. Some battles are born of oppression, and some of greed, and some simply because it was written in the stars. Three sisters—Charlemagne, Cairo and Pendragon Agonistes—are sent from America to England to live with their eccentric grandparents after their mother disappears and their father falls to pieces. But before the girls have time to find their feet, Charlemagne is married off to a dead man, Penny takes a nap and wakes up as a boy, and Cairo is swept into a dangerous romance with a man who wants her for more than her considerable charm. With the girls wrapped up in a conflict they barely understand, they don’t notice that their grandmother is transforming, or that the two demigod assassins who took their mother are now coming for them—if one of them can get over his crisis of conscience. In this richly painted tale, at whose heart is the unbreakable bond of family and blood, the world of Seraphina collides with our own as three unique girls are dragged into twilight lives past, fighting for vengeance, retribution, and the survival of their exiled people.

***

Thank you, Jude. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing intergalactic transport has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

Space_Planet_fly_in_space_042277_[1]

 Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

Distant Worlds – Welcomes C.N. Lesley!

This is the fourth post of a brand new blog series, as I dip my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews.

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

Digital-Universe-Planets-Fantasy-Space-Wallpaper-HD-Desktop-Free-Download-9899308945[1]

To kick off the Distant Worlds strand, over the next few weeks I will be focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends.

Grimbold Books are also doing a fabulous ‘Summer Promotion’ from 31st July – 4th August, where ALL of its wonderful titles will be priced at only 99p/99c across Amazon platforms. Check it out guys, awesome fiction at awesome prices!!!!

hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks

Right, now to our fourth author interview…the fantastical…

C.N. Lesley

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C.N.Lesley, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

1) A solar panel for power. 2) A roomy hibernation capsule for if it is a long journey. 3) Preserved food for when I find a planet. 4) First aid supplies in case of sickness or injury. 5) My cat and his food as I need him to stop me going mad and this is the reason for the roomy hibernation capsule.

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

My cat, our food, first aid, water and a weapon.

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

I’d want to see what the life-forms were like before I went near them.

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

The golden oldies because I can read and reread. Frank Herbert’s Dune, J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids.

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

I like classical music and any of the great masters would be fine.

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

Water straight off a glacier. There is no sweeter drink ever.

Random comet question: Marmite – love it or loathe it?

Love. I will admit to having accumulated a hoard when it was mooted Canada might ban it.

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go!

Not fair. I am working on several. Actually I do have an elevator pitch for Serpent of the Shangrove. Here it is: Darkspire Reaches is where it started. A creature of water has many roads open. A creature of flames racing to fire. They fought. A battle of wills with an unexpected outcome. Home, an aerie in the clouds. Someone important got left behind in the Shangrove, which feeds off magic creatures. Serpent of the Shangrove, the story continues.

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

Staying alive.

What things would you miss most about Earth?

Snow.

What things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Sharks and monkeys.

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

Interfering will distort the time line and may make things worse.

If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it?

To distant planets? Yes.

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

Oh stars, there are way too many good books. Giovanni Giamatao for a great horror/detective series. Jeanne Haskins has some wonderful fantasy and sci fi. Sandra Ulbrich Almazan has a neat series about John Lennon recreated in the far future. Of course, there are loads of others. And then there are the authors in the stables of small publishers. There are some great books with Grimbold Books.

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

Good covers are the cherry on the top meaning the book has undergone a lot of love and care. The first three chapters, or thereabouts are free on Amazon. This should be enough of a taste to see if the story is good.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself, your inspirations and your publishers!

Copy of Mum_Edge_FinderC.N.Lesley in her own words…

I live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and just above the Badlands where a whole bunch of dinosaur bones are found on a regular basis. My family are my dear husband, my three daughters and their guys and my three grandsons. Other kin are scattered all over the world in France, Greece, Australia, America, Sweden and New Zealand. Inspirations? Always dreams or the tag end of them. Darkspire Reaches started off with a dream about a lynch mob coming for two helpless women, who just escaped before their rickety hut was burned to the ground. Shadow Over Avalon started with a dream about the Lady of the Lake. I got to thinking what DID happen when the king fulfilled his promise and returned to fight man’s worst enemy. Obviously, this had to be a lulu of a baddie and unlike anything that has ever gone before, so the series is set in the far distant future. I was lucky enough to be accepted by Kristell Ink, the best publishers ever!

Amazon UK – Author Page (with all available books)

Amazon US – Author Page (with all available books)

Waterstones

Final version front cover (2)

Latest Book Blurb:

Arthur and Kai have escaped the threat of Emrys, but now they must face life on the surface world—and all the fearsome creatures that dwell there. But just as they assemble the beginnings of a fighting force, they discover a vital component to their safety has been compromised. This means a return to Avalon, where Arthur has an unexpected encounter with the untrustworthy Merlin. The magician’s orders are clear: Arthur must find the sword to save the surface-dwellers and Avalon. There is no alternative. Kiri Ung, leader of the Nestines and ultimate controller of the Terran slaves on the surface, needs Arthur in order to ensure of the continuance of his species. With the Nestine Queen dying, failure means ultimate extinction. Wherever Arthur goes, so goes Kiri Ung. Whoever finds the sword first gains control over all humanity. But simply gaining possession of this powerful artifact is not enough to wield its power. Let the battle commence.

***

C.N.Lesley’s other books available through Amazon and Waterstones:

Digital CoverShadow Over Avalon (2)1

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you, C.N. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing long range mining ship has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

Distant Worlds – Welcomes Steven Poore!

This is the second of a brand new blog series, as I dip my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews.

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch series, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author series to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

slide_340827_3509310_free[1]

To continue the Distant Worlds strand, over the next few weeks I will be focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends. Grimbold Books are also doing a fabulous ‘Summer Promotion’ from 31st July – 4th August, where ALL of its wonderful titles will be priced at only 79p/99c across Amazon platforms. Check it out guys, awesome fiction at awesome prices!!!

hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

Right, now to our second author interview…the fantastic…

Steven Poore

Digital-Universe-Planets-Fantasy-Space-Wallpaper-HD-Desktop-Free-Download-9899308945[1]

Steven, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

Swiss army knife, one of those tents that spring up straight from the bag, jar of Marmite, and notebook and pen. You won’t get anywhere without a to-do list…

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

To be honest, I’d probably end up burning to death before I managed to make any sort of decision. As long as I’ve got the ipod, Kobo, wind-up charger, and the cat, I think I’m sorted.

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

Friendly aliens? That never ends well…

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

  • The Martian (Andy Weir) would be an obvious choice, but I’d go more for The Barbed Coil (JV Jones).
  • Lord of the Rings (yep, him).
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susannah Clarke) because I’d actually have time to read it.
  • Dune (Frank Herbert) for a laugh.
  • …and either Wyrd Sisters or Guards! Guards! (Pratchett, of course).

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

  • Brave by Marillion.
  • Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.
  • Disintegration by The Cure.
  • The Inception soundtrack by Hans Zimmer.
  • …and The Stone Roses.

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

I have previous with vodka, so I’d prefer a self-replenishing supply of the Thornbridge Brewery’s wonderful Jaipur IPA (*dry cough*).

Random comet question: Marmite – love it or loathe it?

Oh, love it – the yeast must flow…!

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go!

Storyteller’s daughter Cassia joins a quest to resurrect the power of an ancient Northern kingdom, hoping to become a famous storyteller herself. But her new companions haven’t told her the truth, and the curse wards around the kingdom really should never be broken, and… my, those are really big teeth… and if she isn’t careful then Cassia is going to make a very big mistake. You look hungry. Marmite on toast?

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

Trying to find the cat, with my luck…

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

Roast potatoes, bacon, conventions, narrowboats, and Marmite.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Conservatives, West Bromwich Albion, ITV Be, Sad/Rabid/Vichy Puppies, and that stupid fashion of wearing your jeans below your arse.

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it? What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

Yes, so I could have another chance to turn back time and change the fact that I hadn’t gone on this deep space adventure, otherwise all my chances to turn back time and change things would never have happened! (Possibly)

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why? (ahem…Steven chose more than 5, but hey, they’re GREAT choices!)

Jo Thomas – 25 Ways To Kill a Werewolf (Fox Spirit Books). Inventive and very comprehensive. Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains (Whippleshield Books). Claustrophobic alt-history. It won a BSFA Award for a reason. KT Davies – Breed (Fox Spirit Books). Sweary and brilliant. Andrew David Barker – The Electric (Boo Books). Like a Midlands Bradbury. Andrew Reid – Kingdom’s Fall (Wattpad). Episodic epic fantasy from a constantly epic chap. David R Lee – The Road To Thule (via Amazon). I’m cheating – intense post-apocalyptic techno-heathenry from a fellow Sheffield writer.

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

Will Wheaton said it best: don’t be a dick.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself, your inspirations and your publishers!

GetAttachment[1] (3)Steven Poore in his own words…

I’m an Epic Fantasist and SFSF Socialist! Heir to the North is the first part of Malessar’s Curse, and will be followed by The High King’s Vengeance next year, both released by Kristell Ink. I’m also working on a fantasy set on a narrowboat. Some of my short stories will be featured in forthcoming Pocket anthologies from Fox Spirit Books. I live in Sheffield with my partner, an artist and crafter. We have a three-legged cat and an ever-increasing mass of books.

If you want to know more about me, you can find me on Twitter@stevenjpoore, and on the net at stevenpoore.wordpress.com. If you’d like to know more about the SFSF Social Club, that’s on Twitter too, @SFSFSocial, and online at sfsfsocial.wordpress.com.

10382072_10155105102395375_5143104779488378448_o[1]Blurb:

The North Will Rise Again

The Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell centuries ago, murdering theHigh King Jedrell and his bride, and cursing the land itself. Since that time, the mountain kingdom has become little more than a dark legend, and the bloodline of the High Kings has been lost.

Until now.

Old soldier Baum and heroic warrior Meredith seek to defeat Malessar and his foul curse. Conscripted into their quest, young Cassia quickly realises she could make her name as a storyteller by witnessing such an epic confrontation. But neither of her companions are quite as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories Cassia has not yet heard.

By the time she discovers that both Baum and the Warlock have hidden devastating secrets from each other for centuries, it may be too late. Cassia must decide which side she will stand upon and for whom she will fight – for Malessar, or for The Heir To The North.

***

Thank you. Congratulations, Steven, you are survivor! A passing deep space explorer has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

Publication Day!!!!!

Lol, okay, I’m already late I know, but it’s taken me nearly a week to process what’s happened!

My epic fantasy, White Mountain, the first of my Darkling Chronicles trilogy, was brilliantly published by Kristell Ink Publishing and Grimbold Books last week on 1st December 2014!!!!

To say I’m ecstatic would be a gross understatement, kind of like saying that George Lucas is only vaguely fond of science fiction!

My wonderful new publishers are a world, in fact, a galaxy far far away from what I had encountered previously and the level of dedication, hard work, expertise and passion with which they have approached the publishing of White Mountain, is more than I could ever have hoped for. From the attention to detail, the editing, the formatting, the layout, the beautiful calligraphy, not to mention the AWESOME original artwork commissioned for the AWESOME new cover!!! Wow! I’ve gone from hell to heaven in one leap!

White Mountain full book jacket

I won’t dwell on the past two years, mostly because this is an incredibly happy time and I don’t want to miss a blissful second of it! I’m humble and thankful beyond words, but mostly, for the first time in ages, I am really truly excited, thrilled and proud to have my novel, a book that took ten years in the writing and researching, finally published as it always should have been!

So, before I continue gushing all over your lovely carpet, what is the book actually about?

Well, beyond the plot itself, a struggle for survival against all odds, the courage it takes to stay the course and an epic showdown between good versus evil, the book is also about identity.

Wendya Undokki

Yes, it’s an epic fantasy in the old-fashioned ‘high fantasy’ tradition, but the themes run deeper than just the action. Throughout the book, the primary issues are around identity, how do we define it, define ourselves? Are we fated to repeat history, to be slaves to our genes? What defines family? Is it the people we are related to through blood that constitute a family or the people we choose to have in our lives, people we love and trust? I have my own personal reasons for being interested in that subject matter. I have said on more than one occasion that I identify with Wendya the most, for many of the same conflicted, complicated reasons.

The book deals with another of my passions, the transformative nature of the world we live in today. Our disappearing natural planet mirrors the growing confines that many of the main characters find themselves in. Humanity is everywhere, how does an ancient pre-existing culture hope to continue surviving, in secret, under such overwhelming pressures? How can the world continue as it is, with the current level of wanton destruction? In many ways the disintegration of the natural world perfectly reflects the disintegration of the characters own archaic civilisation, long past its prime and teetering on the edge of extinction.

I don’t hate every aspect of modern life, like Tolkien generally did, how could I? Where would I be without my blog, my TV, my modern comforts?

But like so many of us armchair activists, I worry for the planet’s future, for nature and the few wild places left. Even in the small rural idyll where I grew up, the bluebell wood at the bottom of the road that I used to play bare foot in, with the little twisting stream running through it, was torn up and replaced by ten ugly Barratt houses. Instead of building much needed houses on brown field sites crying out for rejuvenation or renovating the UK’s many abandoned buildings, our precious woodlands and green spaces are being carved up.

Once lost, those precious green spaces are lost forever.

The Grey Forest

Again, loss is a running theme too. Something we all experience to varying degrees and something that each of the characters have certainly experienced. Loss is as much a part of life as life itself, it is something that can define us, if we let it, or spur us on to achieve our goals while we still have time.

Lol, I’m sounding terribly serious here when I don’t mean to be. The novel has humour and lightness, particularly in the running banter between the characters, but in many ways it is an exploration of the state of humanity through a fantasy lens. That’s probably my favourite genre, not just fantasy, but ‘magic realism’, the blending of the real world with the fantastical one.

Anyway, enough pontificating. Here is a small excerpt from White Mountain, hope you enjoy it! 😀 xxx

*****

The midday sun passed into a hazy afternoon. The last soldiers descended, and the host were on their way again, marching at a great pace to recover lost time. The landscape changed around them. Flat plains and rambling hills of tussock gave way to gnarled weather-beaten rock and thicket beds, their needle like thorns starkly black against the grey granite.

The ground sloped steadily downward before levelling, where the barren expanses of rock fell away into mud, reed and bog. They had reached the Shudras, the silent marshes.

Slimy quagmires stretched out before them as an endless sea. Troughs of stagnant water riddled their way into hazardous deep pools. Foul smelling vapours rose from the ground in choking clouds. The thought of crossing such a place lowered all their spirits.

“This was once a wondrous land,” Hallm said. “These were the water-meadows of the great Kara Kara River. The pure waters fed Fendellin’s rarest orchids here. Grass-pipers, willow larks and meadow-cranes, flitted amongst its grasses. Now, its foul mud clogs every channel and tributary with stagnant filth. Its water sprites and larks have long departed.”

“Our beasts cannot cross this!” King Baillum declared raising his hand. “The pathways should be clear at this time of year. This is the only passage through the swamps…the waters have risen! Another evil M’Sorreck has perpetrated on this land. If we try passing, we shall lose many good horses. Certainly, the wagons cannot cross.”

“How far do these marshes stretch?” Korrun asked Hallm.

“Eight and ten leagues at the shortest crossing, which is here,” he replied.

The King’s stoicism gave way to anger. “How could this happen? We sent scouts ahead to gauge the terrain. Why did they not report this? Bring them here!” he demanded.

Frell whispered into his father’s ear. The dwelf watched the King’s face change, an unmistakable flash of shock. The news was not good. Korrun glanced at Wendya and the wizard. As if reading his mind, Gralen stepped forward.

“If wheels are no use, wings will have to do,” he said boldly. “My kin can take the wagons and the oxen if the rest of you can find a way through?”

Korrun smiled. “He is right, Sire. If the fÿrrens can carry the heavier loads, we should be able to cross. I am a tracker and used to finding lost pathways. I’m sure we can find a way.”

“And if the horses are lost?”

“Then my kindred will have more burdens to bear,” replied Gralen simply. “A dworll is lighter than an ox!”

King Baillum managed a brief smile. “No obstacles too great? We shall see,” he said beckoning to Sedgewick above.

Sedgewick and the other dragons swooped down to carry the various wagons and carts, siege-rams and battle gear, too heavy for the marshes. The most careful dragons carried the nervous beasts, zebu, water buffalo and battle oxen, the eighteen leagues north, to dry land.

Following Korrun and Hallm, the army began their arduous crossing of the Shudras.

It was well into the night before the last exhausted traveller reached the delights of hard ground once more. They set up camp, the slimy mud and stench of the marshes clinging to each bedraggled member as an unwelcome reminder of the day. A deep unease fell on them.

Korrun sat quietly by one of the campfires, listening to Lord Tollam and Hallm speculate, in hushed tones on the battle to come.

“It could be a Hal’Torren’s choice all over again,” Hallm commented.

The other dworlls nodded grimly.

“Hal’Torren’s choice? What’s that?” Korrun asked.

Hallm shrugged. “It’s any situation where the outcome is pre- determined or unavoidable, and usually terrible.”

Lord Tollam poked the fire, his violet eyes reflecting the glimmer of the flames. “It is an old legend, but a true story. Hal’Torren was a nobleman, strong, incorruptible, a hero and leader to his people. He lived in Oralam, a beautiful city once. One day he returned home to find his family held hostage by his sworn enemy, M’Sorreck. Hal’Torren loved his family deeply, his wife, his three young children. He offered his life in exchange for theirs. But Morreck wanted something far more precious. He wanted to break Hal’Torren utterly.” Tollam sighed. “No matter what he did, how he bartered and begged, Hal’Torren was given a dreadful choice. Watch ten thousand of his own people perish, innocent children and families like his own, to save just one member of his family, or save his people and watch all his family die. Now Hal’Torren was a great leader, and he loved his people, but like any father, how could he sacrifice his own family?”

Korrun looked at the wise old dworll. “What did he choose?”

“To condemn ten thousand souls to a grisly death, to save one of his family.” He shook his head. “Then he had to make the worst choice of all…which member of his family to save. That is Hal’Torren’s choice. It is no choice at all. You are damned whichever path you take!”

“How did it end?” the dwelf asked quietly.

Lord Tollam sighed and glanced at his son as if thanking the gods that he never had to face such a choice. “Tragically of course…he chose to save his daughter, the youngest of his three children. They were then forced to watch his wife and two sons being murdered before them. Naturally, it traumatised the young girl. Only a few years later her father found her hanging from a willow tree. He promptly hung himself beside her. You see why Hal’Torren’s choice is impossible. Save one, sacrifice others, condemn yourself.”

“Morreck is a fengal beast, a monster!” Korrun said through gritted teeth.

“Yes, of the worst kind…” replied Tollam.

Hallm looked at his father for a moment then turned to the dwelf. “Have you ever faced a Hal’Torren’s choice?” he asked.

Korrun shifted uneasily, his face half hidden in shadow. “Once,” he whispered.

“What happened?” Hallm asked, trying to hide his surprise.

The dwelf stood up, his eyes lost in the fire. “I made the wrong choice,” he said simply, then turned and left.

*****

Fendellin and the Encircling Mountains

White Mountain cover

White Mountain full book jacket