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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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

Sophie’s Adventures in Wonderland – BristolCon 2014

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

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

Joanne Hall & Paul Cornell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights? All of it!

See you guys next year! 😀 xxx

SAM_5114Fenn endorsing Grimbold Books!SAM_5014Influences panel

Versatile, yes…but very forgetful – The forgotten awards!!!

Okay, to my regular visitors, you lovely shiny happy people, you’ll know that due to illness I have not been the consistent blogger I used to be, and have been rather sporadic in my posts over the last few months, something I hope to correct soon.

Anyway, to my delight I was nominated for two blog awards! –  The Versatile Blogger award and the Liebster Award. Amazing, yes, fantastic and humbling, definitely, but here comes the embarrassing bit…

The gorgeous and very talented writer, Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/), kindly nominated me for the Liebster Award back in May – thank you Kay! But it was, ahem…over a year ago when she nominated me for The Versatile Blogger award! *cringes* Oops, sorry!

I really am the definition of the absent minded blogger! So, VERY belatedly, I’m accepting The Versatile Blogger award first. 😀

So, here are the rules:

I have to say seven things about myself and nominate fifteen others for the award, so here goes! *gulp*

  1. I’m a complete nerd with a deep love of comic book superheroes, dragons, and basically anything to do with fantasy and science-fiction. Yes, I love DC and Marvel comics EQUALLY, how could I really choose between my spidey and batman? However, I hate Dr Who, I like my sci-fi/fantasy to be ultra high quality (BSG – Battlestar Galactica & Games of Thrones girl here). But I still have a fondness for the wobbly sets of Blake’s 7 and Red Dwarf! English: Opening logo to the Star Wars films
  2. The first film I ever saw at the cinema, was Star Wars in 1977, I was 4yrs old (yes, I am that old!). I screamed and ducked down in the seat during the opening titles because I thought the starship was going to hit my head! That was it – I was HOOKED!!!! I still have some of my original Star Wars figures!
  3. One of my dreams, other than being able to fly like Man of Steel or kick butt like Buffy, is to go to America at least once and attend the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, a feast for any fanboy and fantasy freak! I hear the marvellous Henry Cavill is attending a panel and signing autographs there Saturday 20th July…mmmm…sigh! 🙂

    A Comic Con sign.

    A Comic Con sign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  4. I’m an avid film buff with an enormous collection of films, including some wonderfully obscure ones. My favourite actors are Al Pacino, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Christian Bale. My favourite actresses are Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Juliette Binoche and Judy Dench, though I think Jennifer Lawrence is great. Favourite film? …oh that changes so much! Betty Blue, Les Enfants du Pont Neuf, Star Wars & Empire Strikes Back, Godfather 1 & 2, Leon, Blade Runner, Three Colours Blue, The Dark Knight Trilogy, 2001 Space Odyssey, Gladiator, LOTR trilogy, Watchmen, Man of Steel, Insomnia, Memento (yes, I love Christopher Nolan movies) Frankie & Johnny – did I say I have eclectic tastes? Chinatown, London. Benedict Cumberbatch during...
  5. I LOVE New Zealand after having spent four glorious months there back in 1997/1998, just travelling around with my backpack and loving every second of it! Not only was it a life changing experience, the adventure, the freedom, the people, the amazing landscapes, but that 4 month odyssey also inspired my debut novel, White Mountain. Without that trip, my Darkling Trilogy would never have come to pass. A few years later, after I’d already begun writing the novel, I saw my beloved New Zealand again when watching the LOTR films. A truly mesmeric and freaky experience, as unlike the majority of the audience watching it with me, I had actually BEEN to most of the locations they filmed in, and the same extraordinary landscapes that inspired Peter Jackson, had inspired me! His Mordor was parts of my Fendellin, his Fangorn was my Grey Forest, and Aoraki itself – Mount Cook, WAS my White Mountain!  75
  6. I’d love to travel more as I used to, revisit Russia, Andorra, Italy and New Zealand. I’d especially love to do the world’s longest and wildest train journey, the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladisvostok. I’d also love to go to Tibet and Mongolia and rent a car and drive across America, road trip style. More adventures needed! 😀
  7. I ADORE my two white wolves, my family & friends, Marmite, my lightsabre, my ability to dream in 3 dimensions and cinema surround sound – which doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep but wow are my dreams vivid! (I’m an awful insomniac), my book collection, my gorgeous garden, nature, landscapes, the ocean, art, photography, chess, maps, the stars…life!

There you go! 😀

Right, now for nominating others, this is really hard as I know SO many great bloggers out there that deserve this award…in NO order whatsoever!

  1. Lindsey Parsons – http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/
  2. Tricia Drammeh – http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/ &  http://theclaimingwords.com/
  3. AFE Smith – http://www.afesmith.com/blog.html
  4. Kate Jack – http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/
  5. Will Macmillan Jones – http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/
  6. Andrea Baker – http://www.andreabakerauthor.com/ & http://rosewallauthor.wordpress.com/
  7. Gretchen Steen – http://www.gretchensteen.com/ & http://gretchensteen.blogspot.com/
  8. Ryan Holmes – http://griffinsquill.com/
  9. Jane Dougherty – http://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
  10. Susan Finlay – http://susansbooks37.wordpress.com/
  11. Debbie Young – http://youngbyname.wordpress.com/ & http://offtheshelfbookpromotions.wordpress.com/
  12. Emily Mckeon – http://theabsenteeblogger.blogspot.com/
  13. Lisa Scullard – http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/ & http://hardinkcafe.wordpress.com/
  14. Ashen Venema – http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/
  15. Lisa Weidmeier – http://lisawiedmeier.blogspot.com/ & http://lisawiedmeier.com/
  16. Okay, I know I’m not allowed more than 15 nominees, but some of these were previously nominated for this same award so I HAVE to include a couple more. The wonderful multi-talented and extremely versatile, Morgen Bailey – http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/
  17. And the marvellous fantasy author, John Lucas Hargis – http://johnlucashargis.wordpress.com/

A HUGE thank you to fellow member of the Alliance of Worldbuilders http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com/index.html, the wonderful Kay Kauffman – fantasy author extraordinaire, for her very kind nomination!

Please check out Kay’s stunning blog, full of heart warming poetry that leaps off the screen, tips on writing and her journey to becoming a published author and much much more! Thank you honey – http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/ 😀

‘The Next Big Thing’ – I’ve been tagged!

Still chasing my tail here, but a few weeks ago I was very kindly tagged in “The Next Big Thing” – a blog hop where you answer a series of questions about your work in progress or your NEXT BIG THING, before nominating others for the same award. http://youngbyname.me/2012/11/14/my-next-big-thing/

I was tagged by fellow indie author, Debbie Young, who had her first book, ‘Sell Your Books!’ published only two weeks after my own.

Product DetailsDebbie Young also works for Readathon UK http://www.readathon.org an amazing national organisation that promotes children’s reading in schools and libraries across the country. I was utterly thrilled when Debbie and Readathon UK approached me to do an interview, especially considering the literary giants such as Michael Morpurgo, Anthony Horowitz, Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo) who support them. Great company to be in! http://www.readathon.org/blog/2012/11/author-teacher-joins-forces-with-readathon/

Anyway, back to ‘The Next Big Thing’!

Ummm, right, my next project/work in progress…well, I have many (head stuffed with ideas thankfully), but I am currently writing the second book of my epic fantasy trilogy!

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The sequel to White Mountain and Book 2 of The Darkling Chronicles? Well to be honest that is a tricky question to answer. I had always envisioned and planned for the book to be called ‘Darkling Rise’, a title I love and an appropriate one for the story, as it revolves around the rise of a ‘darkling’ – a growing dark power. However, this may not be the final title…

2) Where did the idea come from for your book?

032Years ago, when I first had the genus for White Mountain, I knew the general direction the story was heading in. I actually have the ending for Book 3 in my head, though the journey to get there isn’t worked out yet! A lot of The Darkling Chronicles story was inspired by my four-month odyssey around New Zealand back in 1997, an astounding country of epic scenery and breathtaking views. This was truly an inspiring and life-changing experience and one I have written about in my series of travelogues on this blog. The other ideas for the story simply came from my own personal life and experiences, many of which have been rather traumatic and verging on the melodramatic to say the least. I am very pleased to say that those times are behind me and life is now a myriad of happy days…or should I say…a happy daze! 😀

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Chapter Twenty-One - Into The LightEpic fantasy! Sometimes referred to as ‘classic’ or ‘high’ fantasy. Having said that, it is also a contemporary fantasy as the story is set now within our modern world. It is also an adventure story, a mystery, a romance, an adrenaline fuelled action thriller, a children’s book, a Young Adult (YA) novel and a poetic saga!

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

To be honest, I do have a rough screenplay of White Mountain. It would make an AMAZING film as it is so epic and cinematic in scope, so who knows? Maybe one day…

But I do LOVE this game! Christopher Plummer or Patrick Stewart would be my first choice for Mr Marval Agyk due to his natural gravitas, similar appearance and receding hairline not to mention that wondrous voice! Besides the wonderful Sir Ian McKellen has portrayed Gandalf so well, that any other wizard part would draw too many comparisons. Rufus Sewell would be stunning for the voice of Gralen, that lovely blend of age and sulkiness. Either Henry Cavill, James Purefoy or Tom Hardy as brooding Korrun and new British actress, Felicity Jones or Gemma Arterton or even Anne Hathaway as Wendya. Peter O’Toole would be simply perfect as eccentric and frail King Dorrol and maybe even Gary Oldman as King Baillum? As for my arch-villain, Morreck, I always saw the character as a mixture of Brad Pitt and Pol Pot! A character electrifying, charismatic and handsome, described as ‘perilously fair’, a person you would be instantly attracted and drawn to, but a figure who despite his beauty, is rotten to the core. I’m sure Brad Pitt is a lovely person, but as he is a great actor and is, let’s face it, gorgeous to look at – he would be PERFECT to play Morreck The Corruptor! 😀

If I had my pick of directors…it would have to be Christopher Nolan or Ridley Scott, two real visionaries!

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

For White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles:

Attacked and drained of most of his powers, a dying sorcerer must race against time to save himself and the fate of all, from an enemy intent on cleansing the planet and destroying humanity…

For ‘Darkling Rise’ – Book 2 of The Darkling Chronicles:

Darkness spreads as prophetic warnings come to pass and a series of disturbing murders and disappearances multiply across the globe – the hunt is on and the war to end all wars is upon us…!

6) When will your book be published?

Book 2 will be published in September/October 2013, with Book 3 due for publication in 2014.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Ahem…I’m still writing it! My first book had a gestation of over 10 years, yes, 10 years! – creating the back story, the world and universe that the story takes place in, not to mention my exhaustive research. My time frame for writing Book 2 is considerably shorter! 😀

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Wow! That’s hard. Certainly readers of Book 1 have compared it to J.R.R. Tolkien, David Gemmell, Terry Goodkind, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, C.S. Lewis, Rick Riordan even G.R.R.Martin in it’s epic scope. I would place my work somewhere in there, hopefully between the poetic nature of Tolkien and the dark gift for character of Pullman and George Martin.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Again, personal life experiences good and bad. Places I’ve been to, natural landscapes hold a real magic for me and of course, I had an epic story I wanted to tell. Book 1 is the beginning of that story and is an inspiration in itself, but now the story has a life of its own and it wants to come out!

Humanity beware – you’re in for a nasty awakening!

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The fact that it is an epic fantasy in the classic sense but with a contemporary twist and that it is set within our modern world. Humans and millenia old magic are about to clash…head on! Can our technology save us from an ancient force determined to cleanse the planet of the plague of humanity?

*****

Now to highlight and ‘tag’ some other writers for “The Next Big Thing”! In no order…

Product DetailsAndrea Baker – A great writer of paranormal fantasy, Worlds Apart’ – Leah, from deepest darkest Warwickshire! Check out her wonderful debut novel…

Leah knows that her mother died in a car accident when Leah was small and that her father, who used to be the gentlest dad in the world, has become increasingly controlling and occasionally violent. She also knows that her recurring dreams are telling her something more about how and why her mother died, and why her dad turned nasty, but they are becoming progressively more disturbing and confusing. When Leah meets Ben, she is excited to have a friend she can confide in and have fun with, but is he what he seems? The voice of Leah’s mother repeatedly tells her to rely on her instincts, but when Leah is run over in a freak accident and Ben’s family take over her welfare, are they protecting her or using her? And why would anyone, good or evil, bother with an ordinary girl just about to go to university? http://www.andreabakerauthor.com/
*****
Image of Lindsey J Parsons

Lindsey Parsons – A fantastic fantasy writer with a huge imagination! Check out her debut novel…

Product DetailsVortex is a fantasy romance novel aimed at the upper teen/young adult market. It is the first book in a trilogy called The Return of The Effra. Back cover description: On a night when prophecies stir, an outraged dragon vents his anger, Damian is ripped from everything he knows and Sam’s nightmares become real… Sam isn’t enjoying university life, she’s disillusioned with her course and having second thoughts about her future. It doesn’t help that she keeps having a scary, recurring nightmare and when she thinks things couldn’t get worse a creepy man follows her back to her room. Damian is unique, he has silver eyes, horns and wings, he is also being visited by a ghost girl. She looks so sad and frightened he feels compelled to help her, but the night he reaches out to save her from a dragon’s fiery breath he gets ripped from his life, his world, from everything he knows. Now it’s Damian who’s lost in an unfamiliar world that’s devoid of magic and full of strange monsters. His only connection with home is Sam who he recognises as the ghost girl. Sam has to put aside her fear and disbelief in Damian’s explanations about himself to try and help him find his way home. But in a world without magic is this possible? http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/

*****

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct DetailsWill Macmillan Jones – A prolific razor-sharp wit and laugh a minute purveyor of comic fantasy. He makes Sir Terry Pratchett seem only mildly funny! Check out his latest novel, the third in his wildly hilarious and anarchic, The Banned Underground series…! http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/

The Vampire Mechanic, the third book in the Banned Underground series, is a unique mix of fantasy and Terry Pratchett-style humor for the rock generation and their kids. Different from other comedic fantasies, it parodies the touring music scene, bureaucracy, taxation and with its tongue-in-cheek slapstick humor, witty puns and word games.

*****

Katrina Jack – An excellent writer of gritty urban fantasy. Land of Midnight Days (The Silver Flute Trilogy) available in Kindle Edition and soon to be released as a hardback! Check out her first novel…Product Details

What would you do if your life was filled with fear: hide, run away – or would you fight back?

In a city at war with itself, Jeremiah Tully already knows how to survive, now he must learn how to live. Mute from birth, of mixed race heritage and his only possession a charmed flute, Jeremiah tries to
discover where his remarkable talent as a musician will take him. http://kateannejack.wordpress.com

*****

Many thanks again to the lovely Debbie Young for tagging me! It’s been great fun and a real honour.

Please check out her websites: http://youngbyname.me/ & http://offtheshelfbookpromotions.wordpress.com/newsblog/

Techno-idiot gets another award – One Lovely Blog Award!

Okay… *hangs head in shame* nearly two months ago, 24th September in fact, I was nominated by my good friend, fellow fantasy writer and dragon lover, Lindsey J Parsons, for the One Lovely Blog Award.

I was utterly thrilled at the time and thanked Lindsey, intending of course to pay the compliment on as soon as I could. Then, only a few days later my debut novel was published and all hell broke loose…well actually, a glorious, manic, wondrous, bewildering, overwhelming and amazing rollercoaster from which I am only now catching my breath!

But I would love to say a MASSIVE thank you to the lovely Lindsey J Parsons, for very kindly nominating me for this award. Lindsey Parsons is an extraordinary writer, a real visionary with a gift for characterisation, plot and that magical something that makes you fall in love with a story, and I’m very proud to call her my friend. If you haven’t already, please check out her wonderful blog: http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com AND please check out her astonishing debut novel, Vortex, available on Amazon.co.uk & Amazon.com in paperback, hardback and ebook:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vortex-Vol-1-Return-Effra/dp/0957283806/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1352656297&sr=8-2

Product Details

Here are the rules:

Include the blog award logo in your post.

Thank the person who nominated you.

Provide 7 random facts about yourself.

Nominate 7 other blogs and let them know you have done so.

*****

So,  7 random facts!

1. I am absolutely and irrationally PETRIFIED of spiders!!!!! Snakes don’t bother me, neither do sharks, heights (though I get a bit wobbly in the knees), mice, the dark, jellyfish etc. But let me come across an eight legged freak of nature walking on the ceiling (ready to drop on my head), dangling from a web or scuttling across the floor at a startlingly demonic pace and I FREAK OUT!!! Ughhhhh! What makes matters worse, is that I seem to be incredibly attractive to the horrible little blighter’s. Seriously, if there is a spider in a room or a seven mile radius, it WILL head straight for me – it’s even been noticed by others that I’m like cat-nip for the nasty things….ughhhh!

2. My beautiful gorgeous white wolves, Korrun and Tolly (Tollam), are named after characters in my debut novel, White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles…oh, and my last house, Fendellin, was named after a hidden kingdom in the book! 😀

3. I have a profoundly deep connection to nature and natural landscapes that I can’t quite explain and which often brings me to tears (daft I know), but I’m never happier than when I’m ‘lost in a landscape’…preferably with no humans around, just silence and water and birdsong…ahhhh!

4. Despite my sensible exterior and very sensible job, I am completely immature and I LOVE the fact that I’ve never grown up and lost that childlike innocence and sense of wonder. I love showing my kids cool lightsabre moves, high-kicking in class, discussing Star Wars etc, I love go-karting, I love watching fantasy and sci-fi films and am obsessed by Marvel and DC comics and films! Really…I want to be a Buffy the Vampire Slayer or a comic book superhero!

5. I know I’ve said this before…but I LOVE Marmite! A very British phenomenon, but I grew up with it and still adore it! 😛

6. I love Italy, the country, the people, the culture, the language, the food…everything about it!

7. If I were ever to emigrate, I’d definitely live in New Zealand. I spent four months travelling around that wondrous country, falling in love with every inch of it and letting the road take me where it wanted…a truly magical place! If you’re lucky enough to go…IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!!!!!

*****

Now to nominate 7 other great bloggers for this lovely award…tricky to pick only 7!

Right, well I’ve got to mention the lovely Lindsey Parsons who so kindly nominated me and I’d also like to mention her list of wonderful bloggers too: Will Macmillan Jones http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/  Kay Kauffman http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/  Katrina Jack http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/  and Lisa Wiedmeier http://lisawiedmeier.blogspot.co.uk/ .

Now for my 7 nominations (in no order)

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

Tricia Drammeh http://theclaimingwords.com/

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

Morgen Bailey http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/

Debbie Young http://youngbyname.me/

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

That Fantasy Blog http://thatfantasyblog.com/

I know it’s bending the rules, but I would also like to mention Mandy Ward’s great blog (Welcome To Wherever) http://welcometowherever.wordpress.com/ and Fantasy in Motion http://fantasyinmotion.wordpress.com/

Again HUGE thanks to Lindsey J Parsons for her very kind nomination, thanks honey! 😀 xx

New Zealand Odyssey Part IX – Pancakes, White Mountain and The Wonders of the South…

Feeling myself dissolving into the sands of Maraharu, the endless blue horizon before me and the exotic delights of the Abel Tasman rainforest, I felt once more the pull of the road.

Dragging myself away, my heart full of a strange tranquility I had never known, I rejoined my odyssey…afterall, who knew what wonders might lie around the next corner?

I took the winding hill roads and said goodbye to the sun-kissed vineyards of the Nelson and Marlborough regions. Passing through the thick coastal rainforests I joined the main highway and turned south towards the wildness of the South Island’s craggy coastlines and mountain ranges. That is New Zealand’s beauty and its magic…the drama of its ever-changing landscapes. Nowhere on earth, do you have a country only the size of Britain and yet with such varied geology. White sandy beaches and deserted islands, tropical jungles, active volcanoes, mountains, grasslands, fiordlands, moorland, temperate rainforests, huge freshwater lakes, giant sandhills…New Zealand has it all!

Leaving my rental car in Murchison, a small isolated town surrounded by towering hills in the heart of the Nelson Lakes National Park, I took a cheap bus and followed the highway west towards the coast, feeling the temperature visibly cool. With so few roads, dictated by the mountainous landscape, so many places I passed through felt like frontier towns, places completely out of time.

I hit the coast just south of Westport. Here the State Highway hugged the shoreline like a ribboning snake, giving the most amazing views out to sea. Again, with nothing but the wild ocean for thousands of miles, you were instantly reminded of just how remote New Zealand is and just how beautiful.

With the impenetrable forests of the Paparoa National Park on my left and long stretches of wind-blown beaches on my right, the landscape grew evermore wild and evermore spectacular. Not being much of a coach passenger, I stopped off at the suitably named Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes of Punakaiki. A weird and wonderful natural geological formation of…well…pancake stacked rocks, perched right on the water’s edge!

After whiling away most of the day, scrabbling over the rocks and trying not to fall into one of the many gaping holes that opened up before you, I caught another bus and continued south, my eyes inextricably drawn to the far off snowy peaks of the Southern Alps.

Trundling into Greymouth, the largest town I’d seen since leaving Nelson, I managed to find a lovely holiday cabin right on the beach, my base for the next few nights. Named after the mighty Grey River-Mawheranui, whose mouth Greymouth literally straddles, it was a strange sort of town. A mismatch somehow, of grey urban sprawl and border town with a dour kind of feel.

Nonetheless, my little beach hut was just the thing, going to sleep and waking with nothing but the sound of the waves! Utter bliss! Half the time I felt as if I had stumbled into Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or an Ingmar Bergman film, so hauntingly barren was the place!

Doing the touristy thing, I headed for the Kumara Junction and boarded a train on one of the world’s most spectacular train rides, the famous Arthur’s Pass. Linking Greymouth and the west coast of New Zealand to Christchurch in the east, it bestrides the country and takes in the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. What a trip! Following the valley floors, with mountainous peaks rising either side, the train climbed and took us up to the alpine heights of Arthur’s Pass, snaking its way through the lofty terrain, before plunging down to the flat Canterbury Plains surrounding Christchurch.

I spent a few hours wandering the very civilised and surprisingly English feeling city of Christchurch, before boarding the train for the spectacular return journey. One incredible journey I’ll never forget…but the best was to come.

Spending a few lazy days beach combing and exploring the area I set off again and headed for Hokitika, famous for its greenstone or jade, determined to buy some locally carved jewelery. But always, the looming mountains of the Southern Alps were calling to me in a way I just couldn’t explain.

And so, hauling my backpack and picking up another rental car, I succumbed to the pull of the mountains and headed towards the Franz Josef glacier. Taking the state highway once more, as it left the coast and wound its way inland over rushing rivers, valley basins and beside beautiful lakes, I felt myself falling in love once more with the sheer unspoilt majesty of the landscape.

Reaching West Coast, the nearest settlement to the glacier, I found a cheap place to stay and started my next adventure…

It was a bright February morning. The sky was the kind of electric blue you never really believe is real somehow. A perfect day. Cold but full of sunshine and possibilities.

I took my car, a run-down automatic transmission thing, down to this little air field…and then I saw it. The tiniest aeroplane I had ever seen! My banged up jalopy looked bigger!

Without much regard, I climbed into the small seat beside the pilot and off we went! Soaring  above the lower slopes of the Southern Alps. Trying desperately not to vomit all over the cock-pit, I stared out of the window, nodding at the pilot’s remarks while I kept my mouth firmly shut! (doesn’t happen often)

Rivers snaked beneath us. As we flew over the snow-capped mountains, Mount Cook loomed in the distance – New Zealand’s tallest mountain and the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere. Utterly stunning in its grandeur. Nausea disappeared. I looked on in astonishment as we circled Mount Cook’s flanks. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. All I could think of was…”I’ve found it! I’ve found my White Mountain!”

We left Mount Cook, Aoraki in Maori, and landed on a pristine snow field just above the Franz Josef glacier. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

This was nature at its simplest and purest. Nothing but white and the startling blue above. The snow here had a covering of ice crystals which crunched beneath my feet as I left the plane and went walking. I followed the contours of the peaks around me and looked down to the glacier below with its gaping crevasses.

This was a once in a lifetime moment and the real stuff of magic.

With Mr. Agyk whispering in my head, the story of White Mountain began to unfold…