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

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New Horizons!

SAM_4591Okay, yesterday was my birthday and I’ve never been fond of birthdays, but the last few days have been glorious. All in all 2014 is shaping up to be an amazing year, despite having one hell of a bumpy start. As we pass into out of summer, with its sunshine drenched buzz of activity, and into the darker evenings of Autumn, it is a time of excitement for what is to come and a time to reflect for what has gone.

The beginning of the year couldn’t have been worse. After having spent most of 2013 very ill, I had no choice but to leave my teaching job of the last 12 years. I have always worked, even through college I worked (actually it was a pretty cool job working in a video shop, surrounded by great films all day!), so the prospect of suddenly being unemployed through no fault of my own, was very daunting and pretty scary.

Martin-Hobb-1024x457[1]We haven’t worked out all the kinks yet and things are still tighter than I’d like, certainly the prospect of spending £45 to go and see Robin Hobb and George RR Martin in London on the 19th August, plus travel and hotel expenses, was simply out of my price range.

However, worries over jobs, money and financial matters paled into insignificance when my good friend and fellow fantasy writer, Lindsey J Parsons suddenly died on the 5th January 2014, only days after I had spoken to her to wish her a Happy New Year and talk excitedly about what 2014 would bring. Lindsey had so many plans for this coming year. She was going to write and release her third book, Shegal, the final book in her wonderful Return of the Effra trilogy. She and I were planning to go off to Las Vegas together, to a writing convention there. That’s where I would have been this summer if things had turned out differently.

Lindsey’s passing was a dreadful shock to all who knew and loved her, and the sadness of her passing has haunted all of us this year. I have always been an insomniac and so, in the wee small hours of the night when I used to chat to Lindsey til 2 or 3am, I miss her the most.

But her tragic death also did something else. It was a tannoy (loud speaker to my US friends) to the rest of us, that none of us know how long we have on this planet, none of us know which breath will be out last, and so the imperative is upon us to STOP WASTING TIME!!!!

It was then, that I decided to get on with the rest of my life. Put my dreadful experiences of 2013 behind me, not just my illness and having to leave my job, but also some thoroughly rotten experiences with my ex-publishers (who shall remain nameless), but who almost put me off writing anything ever again. Once bitten by a shark, you are very wary to dip your toes in the water again! I won’t spend anymore time or energy on them, as quite frankly they’re not worth it.

I also decided to be more proactive. There has been one really huge accomplishment in my life that I have wanted, really since I turned 30, some ten years ago now, and I am eventually doing something about it. This time next year, I hope to share a very different life story with you.

Another part of being pro-active, was deciding not to be ruled over by fear. I had been paralysed by fear pretty much all of last year. Fear that I would never recover and get better, fear that my goals were simply not achievable, fear of losing my job, of losing my way. One of my fears was that I would never be able to write again.

I’m not talking about the commonal garden variety ‘writer’s block’ which plagues many authors, I’m talking about total physical and mental incapacity! Part of my vestibular illness, apart from the migraines, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and head pain, was short term memory problems and a complete inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. My brain simply couldn’t cope with it. It took me days to write a simple letter, because I couldn’t concentrate for longer than 3 or 4 minutes, and the mental exertion and sheer exhaustion it caused, would flare up my symptoms again.

I’d try reading or writing and I’d be staring at a page of text like a zombie for 40mins, my mind simply ‘zoned’ out. Apparently this was very common with severe vestibular conditions, where the concentration needed to read and write was tantamount to asking a person on crutches to climb a mountain! So the whole of last year, I was crippled by thoughts that I’d never be able to climb back on that horse again and write. That my first novel would be my last!

But, after Lindsey, I decided to stop letting that fear rule me. I WOULD write again, and now, I AM!

69190_4684701805703_297748057_n[1]A HUGE part of that, has been the incredible support I have received from family and friends. A massive shout out to all my Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB) brothers and sisters – without you guys, I’d be a sad little shadow of myself and certainly wouldn’t be sat here writing this. smiling-cat[1]

Another incredible turn of fate and good fortune, was finding the most amazing new publishers who were willing to take a chance on me and wanted to publish my first novel, despite it having been published (badly) before.

Again, because of dear Lindsey, I was pro-active and approached this very cool publishing house. To be honest, I felt it was a long-shot and didn’t hold much hope, but hell it was worth a go! I loved the books they produced, how friendly, approachable, honest and professional they were and how they put authors first (the total opposite of the experiences I had had before!).

grimbold-182x300[1]To my utter delight, I signed with them in June! I cannot tell you just what that has meant to me – to have my cherished work taken on and see new life breathed into it (and new life breathed into me!), by unbelievably passionate people who love books and prize quality above everything…wow! I owe Sammy HK Smith and Zoe Harris of Grimbold Books and Kristell Ink, more than I’ll ever be able to express in words…thank you, thank you, thank you! 1782001_779354595426279_1544248234_n[1]

 

2014 is turning out to be utterly AWESOME year after all! White Mountain – Book 1 of the Darkling Chronicles will be published this Autumn with a brilliant new cover and short stories, and I am eventually writing again!!!!

 

ea1ab-10582915_874217609273310_7073274247011447578_o5b15dSo, this week I celebrate not only my birthday, but a year full of promise and opportunities. At the beginning of August it was also the 5th Anniversary of getting my beautiful boys. 5 years ago, two gorgeous white wolves came into my life and it has never been the same since! Happy times and clear skies ahead! 😀 xxxx

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Farewell to Friends…

020 (2)Why do we set ourselves up for heartache? If you are a loving human being with half a heart, then why do we embrace having four-legged family members when we know that when the inevitable comes, the grief is terrible?

We have always had animals, ‘pets’ seems the wrong word, too insignificant, too trivial somehow. Yes, you can tell I’m one of these soppy humans who deeply love my four-legged friends. For me and my family, they are not pets, they ARE family members and when the dreadful time comes, it is totally crushing. I know we are not the only people that feel this way, so why oh why do we put ourselves through the trauma of it all?

Well, we have been very lucky over the years that all of our four-legged friends have been long-lived and happy. 17 years seems to be the common denominator, as our last dog (Fluff) and our last cat (Kitty) both died at the age of 17. One by a reoccurrence of the cancer that had taken one of her legs three years prior, and the other was killed by idiot teenagers racing through our sleepy village at 80 miles an hour! If a child had been crossing the road at the time, they would have been killed too. One death we could prepare for, the other was shockingly quick with no-time to say goodbye, which does make it worse somehow. But nonetheless, when the end comes, it’s simply terrible.

Well, last Friday 15th November, our beloved cat, Mimi, who we had for 17 years, died after a shockingly quick illness. We weren’t prepared, any of us. 😦

17 years ago, only a day or so after a particularly horrific episode with my violent alcoholic father who had yet again attacked my poor mum, we were shopping at the local Tesco’s supermarket. It was a late Friday evening in early November, pitch black, full of smoke from the bonfires and fireworks going on around us. Everyone having fun, getting on with their lives, as we were trying to pick up the pieces of ours. A difficult time to say the least. We came out of the store to the mostly empty carpark. I was vaguely aware of some kids on bikes with firecrackers, shouting and hollering at each other, they seemed to be chasing something. Then, out of the darkness I heard what I thought was a baby crying. I couldn’t work out where it was coming from. The kids came closer, still chasing something. Then suddenly I saw this tiny black thing run across the carpark towards me. I bent down. It was a little cat, a poor half-starved thing, all bones and long black fur. She looked like a new-born, she was so miniscule.

I picked her up, and she immediately snuggled into me and started purring. It was then that I realised that this tiny little kitten was the thing that those awful kids had been chasing and throwing firecrackers at. She didn’t have any collar or tags, and clearly whoever owned her, had neglected her terribly. We took her into Tesco’s, really not knowing what to do. The security guard, a huge bear of a man, just melted when he saw her, but said that she wouldn’t belong to anyone there and that the best thing was to take her to the vets.

She was so emaciated, no bigger than the size of a grapefruit and as light as cotton wool, that we really didn’t think she’d survive the night. But, right from the beginning, she was a little fighter. We took her to the vets the next day and was shocked to be told that was at least six months old and could be nearly a year old, she’d been so starved that she was half the size she should be and if she survived, she would always, as a result, be a small cat. We decided then and there, that we had to look after her.

We took her home and this tiny thing immediately showed how much gutsy fight she had in her. Despite her size she boldly waltzed up to our soft-hearted Border Collie, Fluff, and showing no fear, hissed in her face! But, despite the bumpy beginnings, Fluff and Mimi soon became the very best of friends, an inseparable duo.

Two weeks passed and Mimi steadily gained weight and health and was fighting fit, albeit still tiny, and then the poor little thing went into season. Warned by the vets, that due to her initial starvation, she would never be big enough to carry kittens, we regrettably did the responsible thing and had her neutered. But my, what gorgeous kittens she would have had, a feisty half Persian, half Siamese constantly talking, long-haired beauty! 254

The strange reality of all this, is that, that little cat needed us and we needed her just as much.

After all the horrific things that had happened, Mimi may have been a rescue cat, but she had actually rescued us too.  She gave my Mum a much-needed distraction and something to love and look after when college called. She healed many of the wounds that had been inflicted on us by my monster of an ex-father. For me personally, after the death of my beloved cat, Kitty, I had sworn to never have a cat again, it was just too painful and Kitty was irreplaceable. But here, suddenly, was this little thing. She found us.

015Years passed, things change, sadly our dog Fluff died and so Mimi was the only family pet for a while. More bad times, more upset, more drama, but still she was there. Then two boisterous huge white wolves came along and we moved house and Mimi, now an old but lively lady, took it all in her stride. In fact, her last twelve months were her best. Suddenly she had a new lease on life, instead of spending her days eating and sleeping, she was a kitten again – climbing trees, running across the garden at full speed, jumping ever higher heights, playing games with the boys including lying in wait for them to poke their heads through the dog flap so she could pounce on them. She even put up with one of my dogs, Tolly, and his obsessive love for her, following her around like a love-sick stalker, only inches from her face, smiling and sighing at she passed, hoping she would reciprocate his affection.

Yes, she had the perfect life. Log fires, roasting radiators, 2 acres to roam in, and a plethora of places to play, sunbathe, hunt and sleep in. Life was good. We were all convinced that we had at least another 5yrs with her. Even three months ago, the vets described her as amazing for her age, with brilliant health results. 705

So when she suddenly seemed off her food, we weren’t too alarmed. Nonetheless, we took her to the vets promptly. They seemed worried, she wasn’t eating and showed no sign of wanting to. Anything she did eat she sicked up again. She lost weight dramatically over just two days. She stayed in the veterinary hospital for three days. It was sudden liver failure, nothing we could have foreseen or prevented, but the sudden nature of it was shocking given how fit and healthy she had been only days before. By last Thursday we were told the worst, nothing they had done had worked, all the meds, all the procedures, nothing. She was dreadfully weak and jaundiced. The liver had failed completely and couldn’t be repaired. We took her home in a daze of tears. We stayed with her all night in the living room, in front of the open fire, just stroking her and trying to give her water.

Even at the end, she was such a fighter. She didn’t die peacefully in her sleep as we had hoped, she still kept fighting despite her body failing her. By Friday afternoon, there was nothing more we could do…she died in our arms in front of the fire she loved so much. 333

We placed her on her favourite pillow. The boys, who knew she was very ill and had been so gentle and calm with her, came in to say goodbye. Korrun immediately started whimpering when he saw her and backed away, but Tolly kept nudging her with his nose and pawing her, trying to wake her up. He misses her terribly.

In tears amongst the rain and the dimming light, we dug a hole in the garden, said a prayer and buried her beneath the flowering cherry tree, with her favourite toys and cushion.

A couple of days later, when we felt strong enough, we took the boys with us in the car and drove to a very special place, Teckels Animal Sanctuaries http://www.teckelsanimalsanctuaries.co.uk/ that take in and look after rescue animals. In Mimi’s memory we wanted to help other rescue cats like her, so we donated the remaining toys, food, litter and other items to them. They were very grateful for the donation and so very kind. But for us, it was also a way of recognising that we’ll never have another cat. Mimi is and was truly irreplaceable. 011

I’m sure for those of you who don’t have animals and perhaps even for some of you that do, this must all seem very silly and over-the-top. All this fuss over an old cat? But she has been such a central part of our family for so long, and though she only occupied a small space, the hole she has left is enormous.

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The household is quieter now. No constant cat chattering, no infatuated love-struck doggy. Tolly in particular has taken it very badly and whimpers, which he never did before. He still looks for her, convinced she is merely hiding from him, and cried when he saw her cat basket. It will take time and lots of hugs for us to all feel better and heal our sad hearts. But it certainly makes you realise how short all our lives are and how important it is to love and care for those dear to us, whether they have two legs or four!

So, in memory of a beautiful, small, determined, sassy, demanding, uniquely special little cat who ruled the roost and kept us all in line, I say thank you and I love you.

I should take this opportunity to thank our amazing veterinary hospital, Vale Vets http://www.valevets.co.uk/ and our wonderful vet, Ella Robotham, who has always taken such great care of the boys and Mimi, and who worked tirelessly to try to save her. Thank you for all your care, kindness and sensitivity, we owe you a debt of gratitude. xxx

Please support your local animal charities, particularly those who look after rescued and abused animals and take such wonderful care of them. For people wishing to help Teckels Animal Sanctuaries: http://www.teckelsanimalsanctuaries.co.uk/  Please donate as little as £1 by sending a text from your mobile phone. Simply text ‘PETS10’ followed by the amount you wish to donate (up to £10) to 70070 i.e. text ‘PETS10 £5’ to 70070 would donate £5 to Teckels Animal Sanctuaries.

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Rest in peace sweet girl. xxxxx

Wow! My fifth interview!!!

It’s been less than two weeks since the publication of my debut novel, White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles, and what a wondrous whirlwind it has been, with hardly a moment to catch breath!

I guess that’s symptomatic of life really. Remember of the old saying about waiting for a bus then three come along at once?

Well, I’ve been in the very VERY fortunate position of having been on the most magical bus ride in recent weeks, with a few bumps in the road, the occasional pit stop and some breathtaking views along the way…not to mention the magical destination!

So, I must share with you (a few days late I’m afraid) the wonderful interview I did with the multi-talented writing powerhouse that is Morgen Bailey.

For those of you unfamiliar with Morgen with an ‘e’ Bailey, you simply MUST check out her amazing writing blog/website: http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com

An astonishing site and resource for writers of any genre. The multi-talented interviewer extraordinaire showcases poetry, short stories, flash fiction, competitions, forums, events, submission info., writing exercises,  author spotlights, blog interviews, writing tips, podcasts you name it! An emporium of everything a writer and reader could possibly want.

Where Morgen finds the time, I have no idea.

As frequent visitors to my blog will know, I really struggle on a daily basis to juggle the demands of life, work, writing and promoting…just never enough hours in the day!

So, sit back for a moment, relax, make sure that coffee or tea is piping hot and you’re nicely snuggled with your arrangement of cushions, for my 5th interview and Morgen’s no.512!!! Wow!

Check it out guys: http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/daily-interview-no-512-with-writer-sophie-e-tallis

Short link:  http://wp.me/p18Ztn-43V

😀 xx