Meeting Deadlines – Remember to Breathe!

It’s Easter today – Happy Easter everyone! 😀

As I sit trying to recover from a very scary asthma attack I had at 4am, when I woke up suddenly unable to breathe, it’s forced me to be reflective on the last few weeks.

It was a manic March and so far April has been equally busy. Having kept up with my daily art challenge – The Artmaniac Challenge, for the whole of Jan and Feb, I fell off the art wagon in March, although ironically Sophie E Tallis Illustrations went from strength to strength – most notably being taken on by HarperCollins in February as one of their illustrators! 😀

This manicness started with a last minute dash to get a dark fantasy short story (Cern) finished for its anthology (Underskinn) deadline of Feb 28th and continued when I had the daft last minute idea of painting a self-portrait to enter the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018 (deadline March 3rd)! I blame the inspiration of a few close friends (and cake nutters) for this and their unbridled passion and enthusiasm for just ‘going for it’, taking chances, pushing boundaries, going outside of your comfort zone – “hell why not?”.

I made the deadlines on both with literally 1 minute to spare, yes 1 minute! My short story has been accepted (as far as I know) but in the end my portrait wasn’t shortlisted. But I must say I have absolutely NO regrets, other than starting the painting the day before so it wasn’t finished properly! 😀

That manic flourish seemed to encapsulate March as I started my next commission, a painting for a New York client and his literary group – for it to adorn the front cover of their literary journal/magazine and website. Seemed like a great opportunity to once again do something different and widen my skill set and reputation for quality original art.

He was a slightly unusual client in that he clearly had never commissioned any artwork before and needed everything to be explained several times. But I’m very patient and being a perfectionist by nature I always want all my clients to be 110% happy and so far they all have been. Some of that perfectionism isn’t just in the standard of the art I produce but in making sure that each client is involved in the whole creative process every step of the way. By doing that, not only are you including the client in the work and all decision making but it becomes a great creative partnership and ensures that you deliver EXACTLY what they want. 😀

Unfortunately despite going through ‘the process’ with him several times to ensure he understood exactly how each stage works and what to expect, there were often occasions where he seemed to get confused – an example being when I sent him the first inked up artwork and he asked where the colours were even though I had explained that I couldn’t move onto the final painting stage until he was 100% happy with the inked up work!

I chalked it up to a difference in culture and language causing a few blips in communication. Mmmm, I should have listened to my spidey senses.

I had purposely set aside the whole of March for his artwork commission, having at his behest moved other projects to the side (including my own picture book that I have two agents waiting to see. So I won’t be doing that again!). Throughout the entire month he kept asking me when he could see the full colour version, even at the beginning when I was only at the graphite drawing stage.

The day of the deadline came, 31st March, as always I delivered the artwork on the deadline as agreed. That’s when it quickly appeared that there was something rotten in Denmark.

I sent the finished artwork to him with a watermark, as agreed, yet he didn’t even acknowledge it and instead kept asking for the finished work without watermark. A flurry of increasingly weird and then aggressive emails came, demanding the artwork without watermark as I kept explaining that he would get it as agreed the moment payment had been made. I’d spent a whole month working my ass off on this, doing exhaustive research, sending copious sketches, colour samples, drawings, asking 101 questions, etc., just to be screwed at the end by either an incompetent idiot or a crook. I couldn’t believe it. 😩

Friday rolled into Saturday when he then switched tack and suddenly said he didn’t like the artwork. I was bereft, utterly exhausted, stressed and upset that I’d worked so hard, which he knew, had kept giving him the artwork at every stage and given him every opportunity for the work to be amended/changed etc. as required yet he had said nothing until after the deadline. It seemed yet another ploy to get the artwork without watermark so he could use it without paying and shaft me in the process – commission my services, time and artwork for free.

Finally I sent an email threatening legal action. To be honest I’d given up hope of ever being paid by this idiot. What made the situation worse was wasting a whole month of my precious time when I could have been doing other projects. In fact half way through March I had received another email from Terence the Head of Fiction Art at HarperCollins asking if I could do another fantasy map commission (for the lovely Anna Stephens and her highly anticipated grimdark debut, Godblind, published with HC in June 2017). The problem was that this one had a tight deadline.

Because of my professionalism I said I was already committed to another client so couldn’t start the HarperCollins one until after the NY commission, April 1st earliest. Boy, April 1st really ended up being a joke on me! 😩

I was so stressed out by it and upset that of course it made me ill. I didn’t sleep for two nights and was vomiting profusely with all my usual vertigo and migraine symptoms. But I had no time to be ill, I had the HC commission to do so I plunged into it, using it as a great distraction from being screwed over. It was also lovely working with Anna Stephens and Terence from HC, two thoroughly lovely and decent people, the complete opposite to the client I had just had.

The week passed with me stressed out of my gourd until the NY git, under the threat of legal action and realising that he wasn’t going to get any artwork from me for free, finally paid up! OMG!!! :O

To be honest, I was totally shocked, I still am, because of the awful way he was behaving I had completely written off ever being paid by him.

But because of his actions, it also meant that I was having to work 12/13 hour days to try and get the HarperCollins commission finished by the deadline of 14th April.

I managed it, just, and I’m really proud of the final artwork. As always I gave it my all and it does look great. Most importantly Anna and Terence love it. Phew! 🙂

But of course, all of this has taken a toll – hence my asthma attack last night. 😩

So what have I learned from all this madness?

Sadly, that I now won’t take on any new commissions from individuals I don’t know, it’s just too risky. From now on I’ll stick to HarperCollins commissions only and indie authors I know…at the end of the day life is tough enough without dealing with unscrupulous people and we all need to make a living and protect ourselves especially in the highly changeable creative arts (writing, artwork, acting, singing etc.).

So folks, whatever field you work in/make a living from, PLEASE make sure you protect yourself, your work, your skills, your time and your health!

Hopefully once my lungs start working again properly, I shall return to my picture book project which I have to get ready for the (hopefully still interested) agents who are awaiting it at the end of this month – in only 2 weeks time!

Wish me luck folks! 😀 xxxx

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 blasĂ© 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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Etymology – what’s in a word? Part I – Places.

Okay, I admit it, I’m a HUGE nerd and this particular post will probably only be of interest to me and about three other people on the planet! But I love etymology and the derivation of words.

This is particularly prevalent when it comes to places and place names.

I grew up learning that place names had a beauty and a power all themselves and that they weren’t just a string of random letters but actually meant something. Places had meanings. I spent my childhood in a small village named after a Saxon chief, Alwif, who came across the megalithic stones on the high hill above the village and named the settlement after himself and the largest stone, Alwif’s Stone, which later became Alves’town and then Alveston. Greenhill, just round the corner, was a green hill, Bodyce Orchard was named after the bodies supposedly buried there during the English Civil War (1642-1651). My tumbled down cottage (circa 1577) where I grew up dreaming of dragons and adventure, was on a wonderfully named road – Wolfridge Ride, named after the wolves that used to roam the area when it was forested hundreds of years before and the wolf pits that were dug to catch them along the high ridge.

Lol, I digress…but you understand my fascination with place names and the derivation of words, the inherent mystery and magic in them.

So, here I am lifting the curtain on my weird and wonderful world and some of the strange research I did for White Mountain and for the worldbuilding behind my Darkling Chronicles trilogy.

Despite White Mountain being an epic fantasy in the traditional ‘high fantasy’ sense, it is set now within our modern world, so in addition to my invented places I also wanted to include real places too, to ground the fantasy in reality and give the book an authentic feel for the reader.

I should state here, that having taught phonetics for the last 16years, I understand the basic structures of many Indo-European languages and syntax and so when I decided, like the true nerd that I am, to invent my own Dworllian language, I wanted to make sure that it actually worked…and yes it does!

(*My Dworllian language – actually a mixture of Maori, African Bantu & Ibo dialects, Old Norse, Old English, Celtic and Old Hindi).

Map of Fendellin (colour) (2)

The Locations of White Mountain:

  • The Arctic Tundra – location of ÏssĂ€tun*, the Ice City, high within the Arctic circle. An enormous hidden city made entirely of ice where all remaining elder tribes, dworlls and magic-casters etc., can meet, trade and gather news. A cross between a huge shopping mall, a bizarre and a covered market, full of haggling stalls, bridges and walkways, squares and forums for meeting…though it hides a dark secret.

(ÏssĂ€tun* – iss or issa meaning ‘ice’ in Old Norse + tun meaning ‘town’ in Old English and Old Norse = my ÏssĂ€tun, ‘Ice Town’)

  • The Siberian Boreal forest or ‘Taiga’ (snowforest) – location of the Grey Forest and Wendya Undokki’s home, within the magical Llrinaru* trees with their tree spirits or dryads. The boreal forest is the largest forest on earth and covers an enormous area, home to many indigenous tribes such as the Nenet, Chukchi and Evenki. Like the genus behind many ancient and Anglo-Saxon names, the Grey Forest is just that, literally a grey forest of larches, alder, spruce and ancient silver birch which appear grey when flecked with snow.

(Grey – grÇŁg in Old English. Llrinaru* trees or ‘The Elder Wood’ – llri meaning ‘old’ or ‘ancient’ in Dworllian + naru meaning ‘forest’ or ‘wood’)

  • The Alps (Alpes – Celtic derivation) – location of White Mountain (Mont Blanc), Mr. Agyk’s ancestral home and home of Gralen, the last Eurasian dragon in existence. (Although the real location which inspired White Mountain was actually Mount Cook ‘Aoraki’ in New Zealand during my epic four month backpacking trip there back in 1997/1998).

 

  • The Amazon – location of the ‘Oracle of the West’ (one of the nine oracles from the ancient world, which included the oracles at Delphi and Cumae) and its lair, deep within the Amazonian basin. From the aerial roots of the mangrove swamps on its Atlantic coast to the black ox-bow lakes that straddle its interior like giant boomerangs, the protagonists must follow a path deep into the heart of the jungle, past dangling lianas and bromeliads and the giant buttresses of its huge mahogany trees to a dark and dangerous power.

 

  • (Democratic Republic of Congo) Congolese Rainforest – location of the huge subterranean metropolis of Kallorm* known as ‘The City of Light’, largest and oldest of all Dworllian Kingdoms, known as Dwellum in Old Dworllish (similar to Sumerian cuneiform in its written language) and Silverden in the ÇŒllfren tongue. Kallorm, with its three colossal underground mountains ‘The Three Pillars of Kallorm’ which support the ground above, was founded over 120,000 years ago but has been in steady decline since the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago when the human population exploded. Only the indigenous forest people, the Ba’Aka are aware of the city’s existence. Sapele and Iroko trees and hidden forest clearings called bai’s, dot the landscape and its red iron rich soils and the impatiens that blossom beneath the dappled canopy (bai’s were only recently discovered by Westerners, still hidden in the Congo’s mythic ‘heart of darkness’). Wendya Undokki grew up in the city as a child and used to play in these bai’s (open water meadows), before leaving for the Siberian north and the Grey Forest. 

(Undokki means ‘witch’ in African Bantu languages which is apt as Wendya is a witch!)

  • Himalayas – location of the hidden land of Fendellin*. Tibetan and Indian myths tell of a magical hidden land, lost in the Himalayas, called Shambhala. It was this Shambhala which inspired James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon and the land of Shangri-La. Shambhala IS my Fendellin.

“Far East beyond heart’s lost desire

The birthplace of the eldest kin,

Through rising sun on wings of fire

Lies forgotten Fendellin.”

(Fendellin* – fen meaning a low-lying land, marshy or near watercourses from Old Norse ‘fen’ + dell meaning a hollow esp. wooded hollow from Old English ‘del’ or ‘delle’ = my Fendellin* rather simple and Anglo-Saxon in its meaning!)

  • Fendellin* – location of the mountain capital of Mund’harr* and the central plateau named after it. The capital, the Golden City, sometimes referred to as the Sky or Cloud City, sits at the top of Mund’harr, amongst its pinnacles.

(Mund’harr* – mund meaning ‘mound’ in Old English similar to munt meaning ‘mount’ in Old English + harr meaning ‘high’ in Dworllian and related to hār meaning ‘high’ in Old Norse.)

(The main river in Fendellin, ‘The Great Varuna River’ – Varuna from Hinduism, the ancient sky god, later the god of waters and rain-giver.)

(The Shudras, ‘The Silent Marshes’ – Shudras from the ancient Indian Vedas, the fourth varna from one of the sacred texts from the Rig Veda. Shudras was the lowest social class, also refers to swamps and the dark serpents who inhabit them.)

***

There…I think I’ve bored you all enough! But you get the idea.

Part II will look at myths and creatures – wargols, firewolves, oracles, fĂżrrens (dragons), dworlls (dwarves), and the Gorrgos!

Below is a map of the world with White Mountain locations and the approximate routes taken to get there! 😀 xxx

White Mountain locations map with routes

 

 

Publication Day!!!!!

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

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

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

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

White Mountain full book jacket

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

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

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

Wendya Undokki

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

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

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

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

Once lost, those precious green spaces are lost forever.

The Grey Forest

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And if the horses are lost?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other dworlls nodded grimly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, of the worst kind
” replied Tollam.

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

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

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

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

*****

Fendellin and the Encircling Mountains

White Mountain cover

White Mountain full book jacket

The writing’s on the wall…er…tablet?

I don’t usually re-blog my own posts, in fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever done it before, but I saw this post I blogged in May last year and just loved the subject matter – writing and the history of writing! Enjoy! 😀 xx

Sophie E Tallis - Author/Illustrator

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gil... The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian, circa 2nd millennium BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, the writing’s on the tablet and I’m not talking computer tablets here, in terms of writing and technology, it seems we’ve come full circle! 😀

Like many of us, when I was a child I believed that the ancient Egyptians invented writing. That hieroglyphics were man’s earliest endeavour at making sense of the world in written form.

Of course, we all know this to be untrue now, that actually Sumer (southern Mesopotamia) and the ancient Sumerians invented writing, Sumerian cuneiform by writing on clay tablets with a reed called a stylus, at least 200 years before the Egyptians.

"The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the mo...
“The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the most famous of all cuneiform tablets. It is the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and describes how the gods sent a flood to destroy the world. Like


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The writing’s on the wall…er…tablet?

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gil...

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian, circa 2nd millennium BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, the writing’s on the tablet and I’m not talking computer tablets here, in terms of writing and technology, it seems we’ve come full circle! 😀

Like many of us, when I was a child I believed that the ancient Egyptians invented writing. That hieroglyphics were man’s earliest endeavour at making sense of the world in written form.

Of course, we all know this to be untrue now, that actually Sumer (southern Mesopotamia) and the ancient Sumerians invented writing, Sumerian cuneiform by writing on clay tablets with a reed called a stylus, at least 200 years before the Egyptians.

"The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the mo...
“The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the most famous of all cuneiform tablets. It is the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and describes how the gods sent a flood to destroy the world. Like Noah, Utnapishtim was forewarned and built an ark to house and preserve living things. After the flood he sent out birds to look for dry land. ME K 3375.” In the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we grow and get older, thus our knowledge grows. What will we learn tomorrow? 😀   The reason for my focusing on ancient history, apart from the fact that I love it, study it and it continually inspires me, is simply the wonderment of the act of writing itself. That miracle of thought made manifest that we all take for granted.The Sumerians were this planet’s earliest known civilisation, although new discoveries are being made all the time so never let your knowledge be set in stone!

Clay tablet with Sumerian cuneiform script lis...

Clay tablet with Sumerian cuneiform script listing gods in order of seniority, 2400-2200 BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As well as inventing writing, the Sumerians invented the round wheel, astronomy and agriculture as we know it. A truly amazing people, thousands of years ahead of their time. Yet we know so little about them. Their great ziggurats (pyramids) have not withstood the ravages of time as well as their later Egyptian cousins, many of their stele ‘stelae’ (huge standing stones inscribed with cuneiform) are but broken fragments. Of course, time has not been the only eroding factor. Sumer as it was, lying between the great river deltas of the Tigris and Euphrates, is modern-day Iraq, a country which has been ravaged by war for hundreds of years.

English: Ruins from a temple in Naffur (ancien...

English: Ruins from a temple in Naffur (ancient Nippur), Iraq, are said to be the site for the meeting of Sumerian gods, as well as the place that man was created. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sumer’s greatest city states were Uruk, Ur, Nippur, Eridu and Kish, though these are ruins now, their history overwritten by the Babylonian Empire which followed, the Akkadians, Assyrians, Hittites and a host of other invading and overlapping peoples. In such a rich environment, it was hardly surprising that the fertile ground of the Tigris and Euphrates would be a prize worthy of fighting for.

English: Ancient cities of Sumer Español: Anti...

English: Ancient cities of Sumer Español: Antiguas ciudades de Sumeria Magyar: Ókori sumer vĂĄrosok (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But, the reason I’m focusing on the Sumerians in particular, is simply because they also gave the world its very first story, The Epic of Gilgamesh. A wonderful fantasy adventure story on an epic scale, with our hero Gilgamesh, along with his friend Enkidu, trying to defy the gods and find the secret to immortality.

Gilgamesh Sumerian King

Gilgamesh Sumerian King (Photo credit: tonynetone)

Think of it, the world’s very first story, long before the Bible, Torah, Qur’an (Koran), the ancient Vedic Rig-Veda (early Hindu sagas), Buddhist tales, Zoroastrian writings or ancient Chinese scrolls of Confucius, the Sumerians were writing about their lives and they were writing stories. We have SO much to thank the Sumerians for!

What made them first think of projecting their thoughts in written form? No doubt the need for trade pushed the need for communication between peoples.

Evidence suggests that it was this cuneiform, written on clay tablets, that travelled to Egypt and India and other parts of near/middle Asia as part of the ancient trade links of the time; and that these later inspired the Egyptian earliest proto-hieroglyphics and the written language of the Indus Valley Civilisation (centred around Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa), covering modern-day India and Pakistan.

English: Mohenjo-daro

English: Mohenjo-daro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suppose that is one of the contributing factors to my liking fantasy, particularly epic fantasy –  the fact that such sagas were written thousands of years ago, is certainly fuel for the imagination. The Sumerian King List for instance, a legendary text now where fantasy and fact certainly mix. The King List simply lists all the great rulers of the time, but it is not this which makes the record so extraordinary. It is the fact that this document cites many of those Kings as having lived and ruled for hundreds even thousands of years! Immortals? Talk about a feast for the imagination. If you’re looking for inspiration look to history.

Mace dedicated to the hero Gilgamesh (fifth ki...

Mace dedicated to the hero Gilgamesh (fifth king of Uruk, according to the Sumerian king list) by Urdun, civil servant of Lagash, Ur III. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The melding of fiction and fact is something I adore. Looking at history as we know it and daring to ask, what if this happened? For me, researching for an ancient forgotten people/culture that pre-date humanity, I had a lot of rich source material to draw from. Were these Sumerian Kings immortal exiles perhaps? Banished from their own njllfren or Dworllian kin, to live amongst lesser humans? Perhaps it was these early sun-gods with their advanced knowledge and long life that seeded our civilisations? Are they the reason for the sudden unexplained jump in technology and culture all those thousands of years ago?

For me, my mind boggled with the possibilities. Certainly a rich pre-history from which to hang the tapestry of imagination.

But, fact and fiction aside, all we do know for certain, is that as readers and writers and lovers of the written word, we owe much to that ancient civilisation and their miraculous inventions!

😀 xx

Ziggurat at Ur

Ziggurat at Ur (Photo credit: jmcfall)

Biting nails, book signing and the road to publication – Part 4

Okay, you’ve written, edited and honed your masterwork. It’s publication ready.

You’ve joined many writer’s sites, built some contacts and hopefully a lot of friends, learned not only your craft but as much as you can about the book business – and believe me there is SO much to learn! I’m still very much a novice myself!

Are you ready?

Well, while I certainly don’t advise rushing to send your work off or sitting on your novel as long as I did, there always comes a time, an indescribable time when you HAVE to take the plunge and just GO FOR IT!

This time is different for everyone.

If there’s one piece of single advice I can give it’s this – every writer’s journey is different.

Your novel is unique, as unique as you, and therefore your journey to publication will also be unique.

Yes, there are times when you find yourself doing that dangerous thing of comparing yourself to others especially those examples of wildly successful writers with inferior books (something shades anyone?), but not only is that dangerous (as it can deflate your confidence) it is also a totally futile exercise like comparing apples to aircraft!

Your writing, your novel cannot be compared directly, neither can you. By all means take advice, look at what fellow authors do, what works, what doesn’t, but in the end the path you chart has to be your own.

So, that next shaky step is approaching publishers and agents. There is a plethora of information out there regarding the good, the bad, and the dodgy.

Do your homework! You’ll regret it if you don’t!

Query letters are arduous but far worse is the waiting process involved, especially if you’re impatient like me, so be warned.

Some publishing houses want to know if you’ve sent submissions off to others. If a house is picky for goodness sake approach these first so you can honestly say that you haven’t approached anyone else…yet!

There is great advice in The Writers & Artists Yearbook on how to write a good letter and examples of bad ones. What I would say though, is use this but also make the letter individual to you. Publishers will know the standard letter, they’ll get hundreds maybe even thousands of them a week. Make yours stand out!

Give yourself the best possible chance!

There is a huge debate as to whether you need an agent or whether you should pursue an agent first or a publisher. Well, certainly I think writers DO need agents, especially if they are hoping to make writing a long-term career, but grabbing one is an entirely different matter. You will find as I said in my previous posts, that trying to get an agent is not only as hard as getting a publisher but is actually harder! A catch-22 scenario – you need an agent to send your ms off to most publishing houses but most agents won’t look at you unless you have a publishing house! Go figure!

My advice for what it’s worth, is that if you and your novel are ready, go for a publisher first. Now, that doesn’t stop you from pursuing agents, but try and get that publishing contract if you can.

Again remember the statistics… Less than 1% of all fiction published in the UK is by new authors
less than 1%!

Now is as hard a time as ever for getting published. The goal posts are continually changing. Guidelines that publishing houses wanted ten even five years ago, will not be the same now. Certainly I know when I was first writing my novel, some of the Big Six (now Big Five) were accepting unsolicited manuscripts, that certainly is NOT the case now.

Product DetailsBut it’s not all doom and gloom. Some new authors do still manage to breakthrough and snag a major house. One of them most notably is Mark Lawrence, a fellow Bristolian and fantasy writer and all round really lovely guy. His wonderfully epic and visceral novels, Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns and Emperor of Thorns, are published by Voyager, HarperCollins and is available in Waterstones, WHSmith’s, Amazon and everywhere else, including my bookshelf…but you can’t have those! 😛

However, for the rest of us the main benefit of the Big Five shutting their doors to all unsolicited (unagented) manuscripts, is that their rigidity has given rise to a whole new breed of publishers. The indie or small press publishing house. This is both a good and bad thing. These independent publishers are invariably quite new on the book scene, but don’t see that as an automatic disadvantage, it hugely depends on the individual house. Some are young, full of energy and often way ahead of the publishing curve and the big houses. They want their books to be a success because they have had to invest in them personally and risk their own money, so they should work harder and go that little bit further than those Big Boys who may have deep pockets but are also spread pretty thin and tend to ignore ‘mid-list’ authors who don’t bring in the big bucks.

BUT you must DO YOUR RESEARCH!!!!! Remember, anyone nowadays can set up a publishing house, without the merest sliver of real book publishing experience. The new author must be wary.

I’m afraid for every decent indie publisher, there is a whole sea of unscrupulous presses, which are either wildly inexperienced, incompetent, lazy, fraudulent or a mixture of all. Finding the good ones is not easy. So DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Some indie publishing houses will make highly exaggerated claims, so check the facts. If they say they have offices in London, New York, Paris or Germany, do they? Are these real addresses, real offices with staff and telephones, or are they bogus, merely a post office box in a building which has several thousand other businesses operating out of it? Remember, an ‘office’ can be someone’s living room, know what you’re getting yourself into before you sign the contract. What about their contracts? If they don’t pay advances, then the percentage should at least be good. Don’t accept anything under the standard 7%, many other houses such as Wild Wolf Publishing give 10% to all their authors. Look at their sales record. Do they have a specific sales and marketing team or are they expecting you to do everything? What about covers? Covers are SO important. Never sign with any house who doesn’t employ professional qualified cover artists. Just because someone in the company dabbles in art, doesn’t mean they’ll have the talent, skills or know how to produce a professional looking cover. So check. Check with the authors too, have any authors left them, if so why?

It is a shark infested sea out there for the inexperienced newbie, so be careful which boat you put your trust in, if it has holes, you’ll regret it!

Having said all this, don’t be afraid to take the plunge. By all means send your MS off to the Big Five and try your luck if you want. If your novel is great but you want it published before you collect your pension cheque, then try for an indie.

Then of course, the other route is also the self-publishing. Now to be honest, I really can’t give much advice here as I really don’t know that side of the book business BUT I can tell you that there is NO shame in pursuing this path and don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise. Writers are writers, books are books, no snobbery please! Again, remember this is your creation, your journey, you must follow the path that best suits you, your needs and your masterwork.

I personally have some of the most astonishing works of fiction on my bookshelves which happen to be self-published, because the author knew their vision and knew that they wanted complete autonomy over their creation and its birth in the marketplace. I tip my hat to those venturers and their wonderous creations!

Thank you to all those writers, published, self-published and yet to be, for creating fiction that you wish was real! May your dreams continue to take flight…

Good luck! 😀 xx