Are you prepared for SUCCESS?

Despite not being well at the moment it has been a good year so far. It’s funny, I don’t know if it’s a Brit thing – being humble not ‘hooting your horn’ or wanting to be seen to show off, or if it’s just a me thing, but I’ve always been prepared for failure not success.

On the relationship front – yeap, I’m pretty much a human tsunami, a total disaster zone. It’s true I never wanted to get married or trapped as I saw it (hardly surprising given my childhood and family) but I did and do still want kids…something I’m going to have to do something about sooner rather than later.

On the professional front – I fell into a career (teaching) I never intended to do, and though to my own surprise I was very good at it, it was hugely draining and creatively very unfulfilling. But, I thank that career for my house and mortgage and the boring adult life stuff it gave me.

On the creative front – yes, I’ve always been blessed with the ability to draw and paint to a high standard, even from the age of 3 apparently. It led me to do a National Diploma in Foundation Art followed by a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art/Visual Arts, which I loved every moment of. But, having completed said degree and not having any money, I foolishly turned down the MA place I had secured at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art in London. Instead, after yet another disastrous relationship break up and a marriage proposal (yes, I still have feelings for him but no I have no regrets saying “No”), I escaped as far away as I could, 15,000 miles away to New Zealand for four months – backpacking in blissful solitude and stunning landscapes! I’d never been happier. 😀

On returning, without a job or prospects of getting one, I did a post-grad teaching course and fell into teaching for 16 long years – many of which were enjoyable but many of which were not.

Life passes so frigging quickly…how the hell did I get here?

Then, my first completed novel, White Mountain, was published. I was ecstatic, a childhood dream and passion had actually come true and to make things more perfect, I had illustrated my epic fantasy novel too, combining my two great loves.

What happened?

Well, an 8 date Waterstones book signing tour and numerous independent bookshops, sold a ton of books, which gave me my membership to the Society of Authors, newspaper interviews, things were moving fast and brilliantly and then…it all promptly collapsed. Despite my jubilation at being published, it was with such a thoroughly unscrupulous and dreadful publisher who had ruined my book (something I had taken ten years to write and research), had given me possibly the worst contract terms in the business, broken that same contract numerous times, bullied me terribly and finally shafted me out of hundreds if not thousands of pounds of royalties. I left them and after only 4 months of the book being out there on shelves and in bookshops, it was withdrawn and I skulked away badly battered and bruised by the whole ordeal.

It very nearly stopped me from ever writing again and certainly contributed to my permanent illness and my problems ‘getting the words down’. 😦

Fast forward, amazing thing upon amazing thing happened and my beloved book was taken on and re-published by another publisher, the wonderful Grimbold Books based in Banbury (and their imprint, Kristell Ink Publishing). It was re-edited, re-formatted, given an amazing new cover from the dreadful one it had been landed with and was completely overhauled and released out into the world once more as a beautiful fresh thing! 😀 ❤

I was thrilled and elated beyond words. That elusory second chance had come along and the book was how I had always dreamed it would be. BUT, despite Grimbold being utterly brilliant, which they are and the book being brilliant too, that initial momentum had been lost. Yes sales were steady, but not the fast flow they had once been and in the intervening time Waterstones had changed their policy about small press authors signing, and so suddenly, despite having sold well in every Waterstones I had signed in, the doors were slammed shut. I believe, slowly, that is beginning to change…we’ll see.

Now, with a crippling illness and mental constrictions on what I can do (short term memory loss and severe mental fatigue as part of my ME/CFS and Vestibular Neuritis), I have struggled on, writing a slew of short stories, novellas and poetry and trying my hardest to still write the second novel and follow up to White Mountain. Now at least I finally have a first draft of Darkling Rise from which to work.

I kept drawing, painting, mostly for myself and friends and started doing book illustrations. Nothing major, all very enjoyable but hardly paying the bills, especially as once my teaching career ended I found I physically and mentally couldn’t work fulltime anymore – I work part-time in a library now, a job I love.

So yes, some ups, undoubtedly, but lots of downs and certainly lots of practice for failing.

Then suddenly, this year after a strange string of ‘word of mouth’ and luck coincided, along with a large dose of THANK YOU to author, Anna Smith-Spark, I was actually approached by the big boys – HarperCollins! 😀

They had seen the hand drawn fantasy map I had done for Anna Smith-Spark and her wonderful fantasy debut, The Court of Broken Knives, and seen my other illustration work and wanted me to be one of their illustrators/suppliers! It was a strange dream, but a wonderful one.

Of course I jumped at the chance and quickly found myself doing a second commission for them only weeks later, for Anna Stephens and her highly anticipated fantasy debut, Godblind.

But here is where the – are you prepared for success?, comes in…

Because I really, REALLY was not ready. Suddenly I had HarperCollins contacting me on almost a daily basis, tight deadlines thrust on me, and yes…MONEY! They were valuing me and my work in a way I was unprepared for.

I was having to deal with purchase orders and invoices. I’d always given clients a receipt if they wanted it, but no, these were bonafide invoices, each one for a different hardback edition then paperback edition of the books the maps would be in and each for a handsome amount.

I was stunned. I still am. I just received 6 purchase orders from HarperCollins a few days ago, for me to send back with 6 different invoices. Then, I got contacted by Dutch Publishers, Luitingh-Sijthoff, who want to use the same map too, and Orbit from the USA will be using one of them as well, etc., etc. OMG!!!

It’s been utterly bewildering. For someone not used to any kind of success (other than the fleeting kind), despite all my hard work, efforts and dreams, to have this happening now is frankly bizarre.

To all of you out there, plugging away as I have been, trying to find that magical ingredient to finding a market for your work, or ‘making it big’, finding success, having your dreams realised…take some heart. Although I’d never claim that I’ve ‘made it big’ because I haven’t, I have suddenly found myself in the big leagues in illustrative terms at least, with the prospect of making a good living from what I create – there is now a small space for me at the grand table.

So keep working at it guys, keep having those dreams, don’t give in, work your ass off and grasp every opportunity that comes your way because they don’t last and may not come again.

I for one have no idea where all this will lead me and am convinced it won’t last, but I’m hanging on for the ride with every intention of staying on this rollercoaster for as long as I possibly can! 😀 xxxx ❤

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Holding Your Nerve!

A great deal of success, beyond the working your ass off, talent and smattering of luck, is also down to you ‘holding your nerve’. Recognising that moment, that opportunity which could go either way, and making sure you swing the pendulum towards the ‘YES WE WANT YOU’ direction and not the ‘THANK YOU, WE’LL PASS’.

Holding your nerve is a deep breath as you plunge through the ice and hope you don’t drown kind of a moment. It catches your breath and if you play it wrong, you’ll be self-flagellating yourself for years to come, bemoaning that one last chance, that one opportunity you had but messed up.

So, that’s the precarious limbo I find myself in now, trying to swing that pendulum my way.

Shortly after my last post about possibly getting an agent, or at least having an agent interested in me, I hit an unforeseen road block in the shape of posh celebrity funny woman, Miranda Hart!

Yes, the same Miranda Hart that used to have the TV show on BBC 1 called ‘Miranda’ and who, apart from being posh and famous, is also fabulously rich.

Well, like a slew of other celebrities, Miranda Hart has decided to go into the realms of fiction, specifically children’s fiction, after all to write a children’s book is the easiest thing isn’t it? That’s what Madonna did and David Walliams does? Sigh.

Now, normally this wouldn’t elicit much of a response from me, beyond the usual groan that once again here is a celebrity that had never written a book before they were famous and who, now they are a well known name, decide to capitalise on that fame and invade the bookshelves of our local library and bookshop (often at the expense of full time writers who depend on writing as their sole income and who don’t have the celebrity lifestyle, bling, fame, money etc., and do not have the cache of having an instantly recognisable name).

I don’t mean to sound bitter, but it does piss me off. The publishing world is tough enough for all writers, especially those like me from a small press or many of my indie author friends, so to have even well established authors squeezed off the shelves by sparkly, shiny celebrities, seems grotesquely unfair and means we have zero chance of getting there ourselves. I don’t have a problem with the endless celebrity cookbooks and autobiographies, but I do have a problem with them invading the fiction shelves with an automatic get out of jail free card – ie. an unfair advantage that no one else has. Even well established authors will not garner the massive publicity, the huge marketing budgets, the momentum, the TV interviews and media coverage that these celebs get, just for being celebs! If they always wanted to write, then why did not one of them write a book before they became famous?

Our library, like many around the country, reflects this trend. So while I’m doing my job I’m seeing Judy Finnegan, Richard Madeley, Fern Britton, Dawn French etc., etc., etc. It’s depressing tbh. Perhaps some of them are good writers, but they have used their celebrity status to get huge publishing deals most authors could only dream of, and remember, they hardly need the money!

Well, on this occasion, this latest celeb to go into fiction has made a huge and direct impact on me personally, in all the worst ways.

A few days after my last post I received a very sweet email from the interested agent giving me a head’s up. It was terrible news.

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/miranda-hart-turns-childrens-book-author-499821

The children’s book I wrote back in 2013, when after 16 years of teaching I suddenly lost my job and career through a nasty long term illness which I have for life, and when, at the same time I also left my dreadful ex-publisher and was utterly heartbroken over how they had treated me and ruined my beloved book, it was fair to say that 2013 was an awful pissing year. As such, I not only lost my way that year but I also lost my smile for a long time. It was those events that inspired me to write my children’s book, ‘The Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile’, in the hope of it helping me to find my smile again and start over.

Well, I wrote the book back then and have been slowly and meticulously designing and drawing the 24 illustrations needed for it (for a normal 32 page layout picture book). It was this same book that these agents were interested in.

What happens? Miranda bloody Hart has written a book with an almost identical title and by the sounds of it an almost identical story! So after 4 years of hard work, writing, drawing and polishing this children’s book, in one swoop it’s all gone up in smoke! Thank you Miranda millionaire Hart! To say I’m gutted and annoyed is an understatement! All that work, all those years, for nothing! 😦

I am now left in the precarious position of having to completely rework my story and illustrations for these lovely waiting agents, and yes, the pendulum has severely swung away from my direction towards the ‘Thank you but no’ side. It is up to me to now ‘hold my nerve’ and produce something amazing out of the hat to show them, something that will allay their fears about another very similar book already heading for the shelves. The only advantage I have, is that my book is aimed at a younger audience than Hart’s.

But boy oh boy, talk about bad timing, bad luck and sheer annoyance.

“Fuckity, fuckity, fuck, fuck, FUCK!”

So, here I am, holding my nerve, grasping the nettle and stepping off into the ether and hoping against hope that I’ll be able to still grab onto that fleeting opportunity.

Wish me luck folks and if you do see or know Miranda Hart, give her the middle finger for me please! 😀

The Dust Room

003

You never believe your life can change…until it does.

Kate Neilson’s life, not much of one by her own account, had bumped along in the same unremarkable way for the last three decades now. She had fond memories of being a kid, having adventures, being bold and exciting but all that changed when she was eight. A few weeks after her eighth birthday her mother had been killed in a car accident and her young life took an overnight turn from the fantasies of being a kid into the harsh realities of life. She’d given up on being adventurous after that, she’d given up on being anything really and had perfected the art of drifting – no ambition, no goals, no hassle.

Now at the age of 38, her life had drastically changed again…

Kate sat wedged in a leather chair, a blank expression on her face. She had reached brain overload about two hours before. Most of the morning had been consumed by endless papers, signing codicils, notarising documents, legal jargon and the sort of beaurocratic nonsense that she and Shaw hated. Kate knew that if his lawyer hadn’t been his friend, then Shaw would have ended up without an asset to his name. Shaw had a particular dislike, no, an outright disgust regarding paperwork especially when it came to summarising a human being’s life.

“It’s paper, just f**king paper!” he’d scream, invariably louder than he had to.

Shaw enjoyed making people stiffen in their chairs, is if he were about to assault them. Kate remembered an old friend of his, describing him as a ‘human tsunami’. That was it exactly. It was the most accurate description of him and uncannily prophetic. Shaw really was a human tsunami, whether he intended to be or not. He left people mangled in his wake. To be honest, in all their interviews together, the endless taped conversations and battles of wit, not really a battle, Kate had never won a point. But in all their meetings, she had never really been able to assess his motives. Frustratingly, right up until the end, he had remained as big a mystery as he ever had. Perhaps that was how he wanted it. He had a way of orchestrating things by invisible means, nonetheless, one always suspected Shaw of being involved.

“Right. That’s it. All signed and sealed. The realtor will sort that sign out in the morning. That was a mistake, that should never have gone up.” Shaw’s lawyer towered above her.

“Thank you, Tom.”

Tom McCrury, a great bear of a man, had been Addison Shaw’s lawyer for fifty-one years. He probably knew him better than anyone, but he was keeping tight-lipped about it. What an odd friendship it seemed. This softly spoken monolith of a man and Addison Shaw, loud mouthed, foul-mouthed and with no patience for the pleasantries of life. To Kate, Shaw had always seemed a chewed up gristly character, gristly yes, as if there was no bone or muscle and certainly no fat, just gristle…gnarled on the inside.

“Well,” McCrury drew in a long breath. “Things happen for a reason, right?” He patted Kate on the back. “Place is all yours now, kiddo, enjoy it!”

Tom was in a hurry to leave. He wrestled with the enormous cluster of keys for a moment then dropped then squarely in her hands. He strode out to his car got in and hesitated for a moment.

“Don’t forget, I’m your lawyer now. Call me if you need anything, my number’s on speed dial…lucky number seven!” he smiled, then slamming the door shut with a cursory wave, he was gone. By the rattle of his exhaust, Kate wondered if his old friend had been as generous with him. If anyone deserved to inherit, surely it had to be Tom McCrury not her?!

Kate stood on the steps for a while looking at the jumble of keys, so interconnected she’d never be able to separate them. The place was vast. There had to be a hundred rooms at least. Why on earth had Addison Shaw, reclusive heir to a fortune of billions – no single person seemed to know the full extent of his assets, why…why had he left this to her?!

She couldn’t call it a house, a mansion, or even a palace, it was just an enormous pile of rooms and turrets and grandiose staircases with nothing but the mice to waft up and down. What the hell was she going to do with it? It had to be worth… what was it Tom said?

“Oh, I don’t know, somewhere between fifteen and thirty million. Shaw refused to ever let realtors in…you know Addison.”

No, no she didn’t that was the point. She had worked at a crummy local newspaper writing minor stories and organising the ad section. A job she hated and which routinely underappreciated and underpaid her, but the plain truth was, she was a coward and couldn’t risk leaving it. Then a year ago, out of the blue, her editor had called her into his office. She’d only spoken to the guy maybe twice in five years. Anyone watching him bluster around the offices would have thought he was some hot-shot newspaper kingpin, not the king of a small town rag with an embarrassingly low readership.

Anyway, he’d lowered himself to call her insignificance in for a ‘chat’.

“I got a call this morning,” he paused. He liked pausing for dramatic effect. It just made he seem even more like the jumped up little weasel she thought he was. “A call…from Addison Shaw.”

She had no idea who he was, but she had no intention of letting him know that. One thing Kate was great at, was faking.

“Yes?”

“Addison Shaw? The multi-billionaire? He owns the Shoreside estate?”

“Yes.”

“Hmmm. Well…he wants a reporter and he has personally asked for you.”

Now she was shocked. Nobody personally asked for her, ever. The last time that happened it was over a speeding ticket.

“Me?”

“You know this guy?”

“No…no, not at all.”

Her boss eyed her suspiciously. “Really…well, he seems to know you. Wants you to go out there this afternoon.”

“What?”

“Take your camera. There are no recent pictures of this guy without those damn shades on.”

This afternoon?”

“Yeap.”

“But…but I’ve got the ads to finish.”

“Gary will have to do those. He wants you there at 2.”

“Did he say what it was about?”

“Jesus, Neilson! A story! I don’t think he’s looking for a girlfriend!”

Sarcastic little shit. That meant he’d asked and been told to f**k off. Good.

Kate left the office, for what ended up as the last time. That surreal afternoon she had meet with the mysterious Mr. Shaw and been offered a job as his biographer, a job which easily paid five times the amount she got at the Gazette. Her normal cautiousness had kicked in for about twenty seconds, until she been given a cheque for twenty thousand dollars as an advance. On her return journey home, she had stopped at the local deli, just to phone her editor and tell him to stick his job. Considering that Kate rarely swore, her exact words drew stares from the prissy woman behind the deli counter!

That was a year ago, almost to the day.

Kate stood on the steps and looked up at the colossus of a building behind her. How was she going to live here? The papers she had to sign that morning, stipulated she could not sale, rent or let the property nor could she run any business from it for a period of no less than ten years. After this ten-year enforced habitation, she would have to apply to be released from the clauses and various legal entanglements and could then eventually sell up and reap the rewards…if she refused her grand prize then this impossibly grand house would be torn down with immediate effect. She simply couldn’t abide that, to rip apart something like this for no reason, was crazy!

Yes…it would be criminal…at least after ten years she could sell up, maybe give some money to charity or something or set up a foundation for kids, something.

“Ten years, eh?” she felt the weight of it already.

The money Addison Shaw had left her, too mind-boggling to contemplate, was neatly ascribed to various maintenance areas, the roof, gardens and grounds, stonework, plaster work, upkeep of conservation work etc, then the rest into a ‘living account’, expenses, that kind of thing.

Kate slumped down on the top step. This was all too much. A week ago she still had a relatively normal life, well, sort of. She’d spend most of her days running errands for Mr. Shaw, interviewing him or doing research. Kate really had no idea how to write a biography, but her lack of credentials didn’t seem to bother her new boss.

Despite the better income, she was still living in her one bedroomed apartment trying to work out if she could afford to move to a bigger place. She had used up the advance pretty quickly, paying off debts, and though Shaw gave her the healthiest salary she could have dreamt of, she had been sensible and had squirreled it away into savings and a pension plan. She was rather proud of herself for doing that. Most 38 year olds would have blown it on an expensive house and car…but then again, most 38 year olds were married with kids. Kate didn’t fit the usual mould.

Yes…a week ago Kate was busy with an assignment Shaw had given her and was running late as usual when Mrs Forrenti had cornered her as she fumbled with her front door keys.

The old lady who lived next door to her and knew the movements of everyone in the block, was waving a crumpled envelope in her hand.

Kate smiled. “Good morning Mrs Forrenti. I’m in a bit of a rush this morning.”

“Did you see what she did with that dog?” The old woman was waving manically at her octogenarian nemesis across the balcony.

“Uh huh…I’m sure that’s right…”

“What? Are you listening to me dear?”

Kate stared at her. Why couldn’t she politely tell her to sod off and leave her alone? What did she think? That just because she was single she’d want to be best buddies with an eighty-three year old pain in the ass, who stank of garlic and lavender to hide the stench of smoke and rotten teeth? Ughh! Even now, Kate couldn’t pass a perfume counter if it had any lavender scents without wanting to throw up.

“I’m sorry Mrs Forrenti, I really can’t talk…I’m late I’ve got to go…”

“Oh my dear, you’re always late aren’t you?” she smiled. Kate got another waft of smoke-laden garlic.

“I’ll speak to you later, okay?” She turned and rushed away.

“Wait! Wait!” the old woman grabbed her arm. Why couldn’t she just leave her alone? “This is yours. That damn post boy keeps giving me your mail!” She gave her the brown envelope.

Kate stuffed it into her bag and quickly left. Shaw had asked her, on their last round of interviews to do some research for him and the woman at the records office could only see her at 9 sharp. Kate reached there with a minute to spare. She spent the rest of the day scrolling through dated microfilm and newspaper articles. It wasn’t until three, when she had left the records office to grab a sandwich, that she had remembered the envelope. It was a note in Addison Shaw’s scrawling hand. It said simply.

I am yours.

With it was a business card from Tom McCrury. On the back Tom had written – Call me today, urgent!

So she did.

That was how Kate had found out that her boss of the last year, the mysterious, reclusive billionaire, Addison Michael Shaw, had died.

At 11:30 the previous night, he had driven his Bugatti Veyron into the sea and strapped himself in the seat.

That was eight days ago.

The funeral was yesterday. Today, Kate Neilson was a billionairess…

Sophie E Tallis © 2013