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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6 months of magic and mayhem…with more to follow!

Today’s post is a rather reflective one, so apologies for getting a little misty-eyed and overawed!

Six months ago on the 1st December 2014 my debut novel, White Mountain, the first of my Darkling Chronicles trilogy, was gloriously published by Grimbold Books & their imprint Kristell Ink Publishing. I knew at the time that the merry-go-round of madness was about to begin, but boy what a rollercoaster ride it’s been!

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White Mountain, as most of my friends, family and supporters know, was a complete labour of love that took over ten years to write, research and worldbuild (yes, I am a VERY slow writer! I promise that Book 2 WILL be finished and ready next year, so no decade to wait!). All my interests in ancient history, world mythology, geography, geology, natural history, ecology, anthropology etc., etc., dripped into the history and worldbuilding behind the story of White Mountain; and my personal experiences and complicated relationships seeped into the characters and their lives.

No matter what genre you write in, no matter how fantastical or other-worldly it may be, use your life in what you write.

For me it was a wonderful cathartic experience of writing about dysfunctional relationships I knew, about friendships, inner turmoil, feelings of atonement, guilt, rage, loneliness and yes, it was liberating to write my villain, a thoroughly nasty, manipulative, violent and cruel character who I have openly admitted is based on my father. Do I have baggage to write about? Hell, yes…don’t we all?

Anyway, White Mountain was born into the world with its awesome new cover and that’s when all the fun began!

My signing at Books On The Hill

The last six months has been a manic ride. I attended my very first fantasy/sci-fi convention, BristolCon, (huge thanks to the multi-talented and fellow fantasy writer, Joanne Hall who founded & runs it brilliantly). I went to my first book fair and did my first public reading (terrifying but brilliant!). I then embarked on a hectic book-signing tour around Wales and the West Country, signing in some truly gorgeous and prestigious bookshops and meeting some terrifically awesome people along the way. Best of all though, has to be that sense of tingling excitement when someone buys your book! I don’t think I’ll ever feel blasé about that, it’s a truly humbling experience chatting to customers, signing and dedicating books to them and loved ones. Simply put, it’s just one of the most magical experiences and completely eclipses the awkwardness and embarrassment of sitting in a bookshop feeling like a lemon waiting to be squeezed! SAM_6855 (2)

Chepstow BookshopAmongst the book-signing tour and newspaper articles I went to my first literary festival as an author, to do a poetry and fiction reading. The tiny but potent, Hawkesbury Upton (HULit) Literary Festival, founded by local indie author, Debbie Young, who is a one-woman self-publishing whizz and who managed to not only organise the whole event but to even attract big name authors such as Katie Fforde – who opened the event, read from her book and graciously took a photo op with little old me!

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White Mountain, continued to pick up momentum and great reviews, including gaining a 5 star review and shiny medal from Reader’s Favorite and from very popular websites, Girl Who Reads and Brainfluff among others. Of course we authors are always desperate for more reviews as we know that getting reviews is absolutely crucial to whether a book succeeds or fails. So if you read a book you love, help that book and author and post a review! Reader's Favorite review

Then, amongst the book signings and readings, I was asked to participate in the Cirencester Literary Festival in July, as an author and illustrator and run my own illustration workshop for children in Bingham Gallery!

Cirencester event on Octavia's

Octavia's Cirencester eventWow!

With more bookshop signings and book fairs on the horizon in addition to BristolCon 2015 and FantasyCon coming up in the Autumn, it has been a gloriously nutty few months!

Then…to top it all off, White Mountain, has been shortlisted in The People’s Book Prize! The People’s Book Prize is the only major literary award voted by the people, as a way of finding new books and new talent which may have been overlooked by mainstream markets. Founded by Dame Beryl Bainbridge and with Frederick Forsythe as it’s current Patron, it is wonderful to be nominated.

People's Book Prize page

Do I have a chance of winning?

I’d certainly LOVE to win as it’s a fantastic way of raising your book’s profile, with the awards ceremony even being televised on SKY News, but honestly I don’t hold out much hope. White Mountain is in the Children’s category and the competition is very stiff with the most likely winner being a larger mainstream author who sells in Waterstones, has a larger fanbase and has won it before. BUT, you never know…could David defeat Goliath?

People's Book Prize capture

So here’s my shameless plugging bit…can I ask EVERYONE reading this to PLEASE lend your support and give the underdog a chance by voting for White Mountain? It only takes a few moments of your time, is totally FREE and really would make all the difference to a little indie author like me. Voting continues until August, but every single vote counts! Just pop on the website, register by giving your name and email, they will then send you a password. Then click back onto my book, put in your name, password, VOTE and leave a short comment. http://www.peoplesbookprize.com/book.php?id=1295

A MASSIVE THANK YOU to everyone who has already voted, especially those who have left comments too, and to those who are going to vote. It really is hugely appreciated, so thank you guys, you are the best! Lol, I won’t hold my breath, but I’ll quietly keep my fingers, toes and dragon wings crossed! 😉

So, there you go…as my little blog passes 39,000 visitors (a truly humbling number for such a tiny online diary about writing), I can only wonder what the next six months will bring… 😀

A HUGE thank you to all of you who keep the fires burning in this quiet cloister of the internet! You are all amazing and uber-cool dudes and dudettes! THANK YOU!!!!!! 😀 xxxx

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OMG! The word is spreading…!

It is true that the world is a strange and bizarre place, but wow, sometimes it can surprise you in an utterly delightful way!

Firstly, there seems to be a small but growing ‘word-of-mouth’ about my book. Exclamations like, “It’s better than Rick Riordan and Harry Potter!”I never read fantasy but I loved this!” “Beautifully written and captivating!” etc. All wonderful comments that fill you with butterflies and a nervous kind of energy you can’t quite explain.

Reviews? The ones I’ve had so far have all been great, but like any author, I’m desperate for more. Reviews after all are what people turn to when deciding what book to pick off of a shelf. They are also essential in spreading the word about your book.

Well, all of these are fantastic but what about the gritty reality of how your book is doing?

I’ve had a little inkling that my debut novel, White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles, is selling well. But of course, as an author you are a little removed from the hard-line of sales figures.

Instead, we tend to focus on what people think of our books – Did they like it? Were they swept along with the story? What were their favourite characters? Did they like the way it was written? etc etc.

We naturally love our stories and want others to love them too, for an author, there is no greater feeling than having a reader tell you how much they loved your creation. So, actual hard sales don’t really enter the consciousness…maybe they should, but I’m just not a business type person, my brain is far too chaotic for that!!!!

Anyway, imagine my joy when out of curiosity I popped onto Amazon and looked at epic fantasy paperbacks for the last 30 days and found my own book on the first page at No.12!!!!

I couldn’t believe it! My novel was higher in the charts than established authors like David Tallerman, Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time),  A. E. Marling and even G.R.R. Martin! It won’t last of course, and by tomorrow I’m sure it will change…but WOW!

Totally unbelievable!!!!!! 😀 xx

The rollercoaster continues…another newspaper article!

Okay, so all good things come to an end, right?

I’m expecting the same to happen here too, and the anvil to drop on my head at any moment…that’s the pessimist in me trying to be optimist by the way!

My debut novel was published exactly three weeks ago and in that time I have had three wildly successful author signing events, several interviews and have been in three newspapers and even mentioned in the Cotswold Life magazine.

Now, I really am not expecting this momentum to continue, but I do intend to hang on to the rollercoaster ride for as long as I can, or at least until someone pops the brakes on and I go splat! 😀

So, on Tuesday I have another interview, this time with the lovely Debbie Young of Readathon UK – a wonderful charity that promotes reading for pleasure in schools and libraries across the country and raises money for sick children. What’s not to love, eh? Readathon UK has also had some huge literary names supporting it, such as honorary chairman Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, current Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson, Frank Delaney and Micheal Rosen to name but a few. Little old me will be somewhat overwhelmed in such company, but I’m looking forward to the interview.

As for now, I’m thrilled to share with you guys, that The Stroud News & Journal newspaper has featured my book in their ‘Books Special’ (Wednesday 17th October 2012, p26) and in their Arts & Entertainment section on their website!

Check it out guys! :

http://www.stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk/leisure/9990207.Beaudesert_teacher_pens_fantasy_novel/

Many thanks to the Stroud News & Journal for their support. Thank you guys! 😀 xx

Michael Morpurgo & Me!

Strange things have been happening…very strange things. It seems that I am stalking Michael Morpurgo!

9260_433372556719113_86475080_nSince my debut novel was published or should I say born into the world on 30th September, I’ve been lost in a wondrous maelstrom of writing, promotion, marketing, newspaper articles and my first book signings.

To date, I have just had my third author signing event, this time at the huge Waterstones branch in Cardiff. Even though each signing is akin to standing in the sports hall of your school during your final year prom, waiting for someone to pick you to dance, i.e. exhilarating and embarrassing in equal measure – talking to people has been wonderful.

I’d like to thank an especially lovely couple yesterday who bought a copy of White Mountain and were so enthusiastic and full of energy about my book and our shared love of writing, illustrations and fantasy, that I could have chatted to them all day!

But yes, life recently has been a complete whirlwind and something of a surreal dream. Surreal is a good word to describe it, though perhaps unreal is nearer the mark.

We all live, for the most part, little innocuous lives. I certainly have for the last 3o something years. Just a quiet bumbling sort of life, lurching from one mishap into another. Fumbling my way through life while I studiously and anonymously scribble away at my stories, dreaming one day that they will proudly sit upon the bookshelves of my lovely local independent bookshop, Waterstones or WHSmith’s, hopefully next to another great literary work.

We all dream, right?

Well, I know I’m never going to be the astronaut I wanted to be (…er…or space pirate!) and dreams of being a mermaid have slipped away as I’ve grown older (notice I don’t say wiser). But being a writer was always a dream I believed would happen…and eventually it has. All good things come to those that wait, eh?

Anyway, during a rare moment of lucidity, I took a camera with me and popped into some of the local bookshops which are so kindly stocking and supporting my book. What did I find? Well, apart from the indescribable feeling of ACTUALLY seeing your own book on a bookshelf, a feeling I still can’t fully express, one worrying aspect arose…

White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles, may be an epic fantasy for the 21st century full of adventure, dark magic, love, loss, friendship and betrayal, but it would also appear that my beloved novel is somewhat of a stalker!

Yes, a STALKER!!!!!

Everywhere I look, White Mountain is determinedly following and sidling up to the wonderful Michael Morpurgo! Yes, my novel is stalking Michael Morpurgo – the illustrious and critically acclaimed writer I have admired for many years who, after the film of his novel ‘War Horse’, is also in great demand!

There, in every shop I visited, sat my novel sitting proudly next to one of his. I can’t tell you the thrill of that!

So…I would like to take the opportunity of not only thanking Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester (www.octaviasbookshop.co.uk), The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Nailsworth, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury (www.yellow-lightedbookshop.co.uk) and Stroud Children’s Bookshop…but I would like to thank a total stranger who is also a bit of a hero for me, the multi-talented, Michael Morpurgo!

Thank you, Michael. Even though you don’t know me from Adam, Eve, or a dude called Bob, my novel and I want to thank you from the bottom of our dragon fuelled hearts!

*deep sigh*

Life can be hard as iron, but sometimes, just sometimes…it can be utterly lovely! 😀 xx

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

My first author signing and book launch event!!!

Okay, on a scale of 1 to 10 about how excited, terrified, thrilled, bewildered, and nervous I am…I’m floating somewhere around the thousand mark!

On Saturday 6th October 2012, I will be having my very first book launch and author signing event. *gulp*  Yes, I’m the author in question (still have to pinch myself over that one).

Well, the lovely talented Octavia Karavla, bookworm, advocate of the written word and owner of the most magical little bookshop I’ve ever been to, Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester, is hosting my event this Saturday.

Octavia’s Bookshop (24 Black Jack Street, Cirencester) may be small but it’s perfectly formed. A really buzzing prestigious and child friendly bookshop with oak lined shelves, bohemian soft furnishings and a lovely relaxed vibe.  http://www.octaviasbookshop.co.uk

It was runner-up in the Telegraph’s Best Small Shops in Britain Awards, was then shortlisted for Best Children’s Independent Bookshop in The Bookseller Industry Awards and Octavia herself was shortlisted for Young Bookseller of the Year and has just been named one of The Bookseller’s ‘Rising Stars’! Wow!

So, this is the wonderful place where little old me, nervous jelly in waiting, will be from 11am until 4pm, talking to customers and signing books!

whoa.

Seriously thrilled to be having the book launch for White Mountain, book 1 of the Darkling Chronicles, in such an awe inspiring venue. Thank you, Octavia!

*gulp*