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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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’.

watermarked-300dpi-finished-map-amended-bw-version

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

 

Climbing Mountains – January blues and 31 days of madness!

As we start February I look back at the madness that was January. From the world being plunged into the realities and dangers of Trumpland to the usual January blues. At this dull time of year, after the festivities and fun of the festive period I always think of CS Lewis’s words:

“I’ve always found this a trying time of the year.  The leaves not yet out, mud everywhere you go.  Frosty mornings gone.  Sunny mornings not yet come.  Give me blizzards and frozen pipes, but not this nothing time, not this waiting room of the world.”

January inevitably, is always a pensive time, a time of anti-climax, of looking back at the past year and looking to the future – sometimes in hope, sometimes in anxiety. I suppose now with the turmeric turd (as I call him) ensconced in the White House, there is more reason than any to be anxious about what the future may bring. For me personally, being such a lover of nature, a conservationist and environmentalist at heart, I worry about his ignorant, unsubstantiated (and quite possibly insane) views and denial of climate change as merely a ‘Chinese hoax’. That instead of listening to the independent views of thousands of scientists and climate experts around the world, of proven facts about climate change resulting from human activity, that Trump’s ego and his love of money and power could easily cause unparalleled environmental damage that may take years to reverse, if it can be at all. We don’t own this world, we are merely custodians, another animal species that rely on it for life itself. This world is such a precious place, its eco systems so fragile, its wildlife under so much threat from humanity already, that 4 years or dare I say it, 8 years of Trump insanity, of arctic drilling, fracking, extra oil, gas and coal exploration and pollution, may well be too much to recover from. Only time will tell.

January is also about setting goals especially life goals which are always tricky, the positive vibes of saying to yourself that THIS year will be different, this year you will lose those annoying pounds (or stones), achieve those long held goals and dreams, that this will be YOUR year.

It’s a double-edged sword. Yes you should have aspirations, goals, dreams, things that make you happy, but the reality of not achieving them can be dreadful. January is also a time of year that I often find myself falling back into bad habits and bad thinking – the time when depression often rears its ugly head.

So, as a way to combat those feelings and that awful January inertia, back in November I had an utterly mad idea…

painting-outside by Sophie E Tallis

Being Facebook friends with the lovely Children’s Laureate, illustrator extraordinaire Chris Riddell, I’ve been watching his posts all through the year. Every day Chris draws or sketches in what he calls his ‘Laureate Log’, a wonderful visual diary of creativity. Well, as Picasso himself said “The best ideas are stolen!”, I decided to do my own daily art record – what I call ‘The Artmaniac Challenge’!

So I set up a friendly inclusive group on Facebook – the Artmaniacs – open to anyone to draw, sketch, paint, sculpt, create a new artwork EVERY DAY for 365 days, starting from January 1st 2017 – January 1st 2018 and post it online in the group and anywhere else they fancy! It was a way for focusing the mind, being productive and a way of forcing you to be creative every day, even on days when all you want is a cuppa and a duvet to hide under.

I had no idea if it would work, but it has, we already have 27 members and growing! It’s been a wonderfully positive thing, a great way of driving out those damn January blues and giving a real sense of achievement to those participating. So in the mad 31 days of January, I and others have 31 pieces of art to show for it, an ever-growing portfolio – and the lovely thing is that it doesn’t matter if they are rough sketches, finished drawings, doodles, paintings, experiments, photography, anything goes! 😀

For someone like me, who has found it so hard to put pen to paper in regards to writing, doing this daily challenge has actually helped me in my writing too, because, if I can spare a few minutes to draw every day, if I can force myself to create something every day, then I can do the same for writing! WE CAN DO THIS!!!

So, here is the gallery of my first month of art, some good, lol, some not so good! 😀 xxxx

Dragon and warrior sketch by Sophie E TallisFallen Angel by Sophie E TallisSaw Gerrera character sketch (from Rogue One) by Sophie E TallisPen & Ink sketch of my dog, Korrun by Sophie E TallisCharacter sketch from my short story, Silent Running by Sophie E TallisRough sketch of Fenn, given that he only sat still for a few seconds before moving! by Sophie E TallisHand study in pen & ink by Sophie E TallisMy rough illustration from my children's book, The Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile', by Sophie E TallisThe Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile by Sophie E TallisCharacter sketch of Lord Perral from White Mountain by Sophie E TallisDragon sketch by Sophie E TallisRough sketch by Sophie E TallisSketch in blue by Sophie E TallisCouple Portrait by Sophie E TallisFinished Couple Portrait by Sophie E TallisBenedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock character study by Sophie E TallisRough fairy study by Sophie E TallisView of Kallorm 'City of Light' from White Mountain by Sophie E TallisDragon sketch by Sophie E TallisSelf=Portrait in blue by Sophie E TallisStudy in blue by Sophie E TallisMy blue toned drawing of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia by Sophie E TallisWolf study in purple by Sophie E TallisBurnt umber and ochre study by Sophie E TallisLong-Tailed Tit by Sophie E TallisPortrait study in blue by Sophie E TallisFigure study in purple by Sophie E TallisPen & Ink pheasant study by Sophie E TallisOde to John Hurt RIP by Sophie E TallisPen & Ink drawing of my dog, Tolly by Sophie E Tallis'Do not be silenced' watercolour pencil study by Sophie E TallisChinese New Year dragon rough sketch by Sophie E Tallis

Well that’s it – the good, the bad and the ugly! Let’s see what the next month brings. 🙂

N.B. I will also let slip, that a couple of weeks ago, I had some VERY good news involving HarperCollins… I’ll let you all know once everything is signed and sealed. Watch this space…! 😉 xxx

A Year of Wonder…!

Today, is a special day – not just the 1st of a new month (pinch punch sort of thing), and the first day of the festive season (I LOVE Christmas and yes, I already have my trees up and decorated and excitedly switched the lights on this morning before work :D!) … BUT today marks the 1 year anniversary of my novel, WHITE MOUNTAIN, being published! YAY!!!!!! 😀9781909845978[1]

A year ago today, my epic fantasy was born or should I say re-born in all its glory by a fantastic publisher, Grimbold Books, who prizes quality above anything else and who truly GOT IT!

I owe them so many thanks, not least for producing a book of tremendous quality from the awesome cover to the calligraphy inside, from the production values to the formatting of text and my illustrations (a fiddly thing at the best of times…when was the last time you read an illustrated novel?), (thank you to Alex Bardy the God of Typesetting!). Everything was done with care and more than a pinch of love and I genuinely think it shows. Grimbold Books and Kristell Ink also restored my very shaken faith in the integrity and honesty of people after my dreadful first publisher experience. To say Grimbold are the polar opposite to the cretins I first signed with, would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions! So, a massive thank you to Sammy HK Smith and Zoe Harris for taking a chance on me and everyone at Team Grimbold…I love you guys! 😀 xxx White Mountain full book jacket

So, on this happy book anniversary it seems fitting to take a breath and look back at the wondrous whirlwind year its been and share a few of the highlights!

1st Dec 2014 – My reaction was as always, understated and subtle… 😀 SAM_5228

To my delight, not only did White Mountain gain lots of new readers and admirers but many fans of the first flawed book bought the second improved version too, just to read how the story should have been told. Thank you to all my fans, old and new! I really appreciate your support! ❤ xxx 10407894_10153042995986950_697215546084611716_n[1]

After my first ever Book Fair at the Welsh ICE Book Fair on 29th Nov, I followed that up by my first ever reading in Bristol at the ‘Fairies at the bottom of the garden’ event Sat 13th Dec. I was VERY nervous, but it was great fun. 😀 10614253_846486532082170_6044863703050848758_n[1]

After another successful book signing at the lovely Books & Pontyclun bookshop on December 20th where I formed a great friendship with Book Lady extraordinaire and White Mountain mega-fan, Emily Hannah Rogers now Mrs Emily Hannah King! (She’s on her honeymoon trip around the world…I was hoping to sneak inside her suitcase when I heard she was going to my beloved New Zealand!). SAM_5401

The new year brought yet more wonderful signings and ‘booky’ events. Signing at the fab Books On The Hill Bookshop in Clevedon in February with Alistair Sims and Chloe, lol, and being photographed for the Somerset Times Newspaper…gulp! My signing at Books On The Hill

In March, my second Book Fair and more signings this time at prestigious Chepstow Bookshop in the shoes of my hero David Attenborough! Thank you to Matt and to my lovely mate Will who popped along to say “Hello!”

April, saw me attending my very first Literary Festival as an author and illustrator for the inaugural Hawkesbury-Upton Lit Fest organised by self-published author extraordinaire, Debbie Young, to celebrate World Book Night. 51LK1eQJXNL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_[1]My poetry readings (my first ever) went down a storm and my White Mountain reading got people so hooked they grabbed another few sales! Yay! I also meet famous author, Katie Fforde, who posed for a photo op! 😀 SAM_6754

The month of May was busy busy busy, juggling illustration commissions and lots of events, the highlights being another signing at lovely Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester and my third public book reading as part of BristolCon Fringe alongside fellow fantasy author, Ben Galley. May also saw me going see one of my favourite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro, at the Hay Festival – where he signed two books for me and chatted about the prejudice the fantasy genre faces from the literarti, what an awesome experience! SAM_6855 (2)

In June, White Mountain continued to soar in the Amazon charts and gained yet more wonderful REVIEWS – THANK YOU! This little blog seemed to explode, with a couple of days gaining over 600 visitors each day! Yet more illustrations and yes, lots of writing, including a dark fairy-tale short story, ‘The Orphan and The Iron Troll’ The Orphan and the Iron Trollto be published in upcoming dark anthology, Shadows Of The Oak and a gritty sci-fi space opera short story, ‘Silent Running’ for the upcoming awesome Fight Like A Girl anthology alongside big fantasy hitters like Juliet E McKenna, Danie Ware, Gaie Sebold, K.T. Davies, Kim Lakin-Smith, Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall among others! Wow! Very honoured and rather humbled to be in such company. (gulp) Fight-Like-A-Girl-V2-400ppi[1]

July was hot and awesome in equal measure…but the highlight of highlights had to be the honour of being invited as an author and illustrator to take part in the prestigious Cirencester Literary Festival, running my own illustration workshop as one of the main events! The place, Bingham Gallery in Cirencester, was absolutely PACKED! The event was a tremendous success and went brilliantly, and I even managed to control my nerves! July also saw me starting my Distant Worlds author interview series on this blog, which has been such fun and has had such a tremendous response. 😀 CJi9mo3WEAAGHFn[1] (2)11059440_1736544409906170_5015057545228280997_n[1]11822572_1736544419906169_8415676657590741700_n[1]11406151_1717954358431842_1815668094057261589_o1[1]

September, apart from my birthday (gulp), saw the eventual release of the Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB) first anthology, A World Of Their Own, the fruition of four years hard work. The anthology is dedicated to my dear friend and fellow AWB member, Lindsey J Parsons who died so suddenly in January 2014, with ALL profits from the book going to charity – so it makes the perfect Christmas present. 10628434_901588523202885_688426025216875644_n[1]

I still miss Linds so much, especially late at night when my insomnia kicks in and I need to talk to someone and bounce ideas of…or chat stupidly like we often did until 3am! 😦

Anyway, after the anthology publication the rest of the month was dominated by the insanely cool BristolCon run by Joanne Hall. It took place at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel in Bristol, where I was not only attending as an author on my first ever panel (alongside Jasper Fforde) but was also CHAIRING a panel on the apt subject of Libraries. I also got to finally meet Emma Newman which was very cool as was seeing my mate, Joanne Hall, have her awesome book launch! SAM_7710

October was a mad blur of more book fairs and signings but the highlight was an epically AWESOME 5 days up in Nottingham with my fellow Grimbold band of brothers and sisters for FantasyCon!!!! WOW!!! Where to start? Such cool panels, talks, lots of fun events, me singing Blondie and Adele at my first ever Karaoke…and yes, I didn’t completely embarrass myself! Meeting Brandon Sanderson, hanging out with my new cool friends, eating copious amounts of pizza, cake and burgers (diet was on hiatus), Steven Poore (fellow Grimbold cat) having his awesome book launch at the Con, SAM_8039playing Cards Against Humanity and my 1981 board-game, Dark Tower and cheering on the wonderful Adele Wearing of Fox Spirit Books as they won Best Independent Press at the British Fantasy Awards. SAM_8064Highlights, have to be my decision to make a visual record of the Con by sketching people. Amongst some decidedly dodgy drawings (sorry Jo, I will draw you again honey and do a better job!), I got to eventually meet the very cool Jen Williams who I’d missed at BristolCon. Not only did Jen and Brandon sign the sketches I did of them, Jen very kindly posed for a piccie with it too! SO COOL!!! 😀 SAM_7981Had SUCH an amazing time! SAM_8100SAM_7917

Then, suddenly it was November and my fellow cool Grimbold cat and talented writer, Kate Coe (who I shared a hotel room with and who had to put up with my snoring!), had encouraged me to do something I have been avoiding since 1999…National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWrMo (Nano)! NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-Square[1]

Knowing what a slow sod I am when it comes to writing, yes hopefully I write quality stuff, but do I need to be so goddamn slow? – well, knowing that, how could I of all people possibly hope to write a massive 50,000 words in just one month. Geared up by Kate’s enthusiasm that I could in fact do it…I plunged into it head long! I also took part in a little sword fighting play at Kate’s place for one of the Nano Write-In’s with Adrian Faulkner, a master swordsman and very cool fantasy writer. 12196097_10153633033412254_1672540370840878677_n[1]SAM_7910

So, November was spent ignoring emails, ignoring the TV, Facebook, friends and relatives and just writing, writing, writing…and…on Sunday 29th November, a whole day early for my first ever Nano…I achieved my impossible goal, I reached 50,143 words of my new dark fantasy, RAVENWING. Ravenwing

That was two days ago, and I’m still reeling from it. For me, this Nano challenge was also a deeply personal and important one. I wasn’t just challenging myself to write a huge amount of words in a short time, I was challenging my illness and saying YES, I CAN DO THIS! Nano Winner 2015 Certificate

As many of my friends know, I was struck down by a nasty illness a couple of years ago and that has badly impacted on my writing, making me slower again but also making the sheer effort and mental strain of concentrating for the longer periods needed to write, very very difficult indeed. This has meant that the sequel to my beloved, White Mountain, has been very slow in the making (a big thank you again to my VERY patient publishers!). So…for me, Nano was also an opportunity to show myself that I can do it, to kickstart my White Mountain sequel, and that’s what I intend to do!

So…to start as I mean to continue, here is an exclusive for all my White Mountain fans…

The sequel, DARKLING RISEis coming (promise), but to tide you all over…there will be two brand NEW White Mountain short stories published next year!!!!

A Friendship Forged – is a wonderful back story of how Mr. Agyk and Gralen first meet with some awesome fight sequences and more than a few hints about Book 2 and tie-in events from White Mountain.

The Siege of Kallorm – is the back story of Korrun, why he is such an angst character. It charts his fateful fall from grace, from being a hero figure, the Captain of the Kallorm City Guard to becoming a vilified, hated figure after he makes the worst of mistakes. Can you ever atone for your sins? The Siege of Kallorm sketch

Both new stories are coming soon…watch this space!

***

So…there you go, a year of madness, mayhem, wonderful weirdness, lots of ‘firsts’, and a real personal turning point.

I wonder…what on earth will the next year bring?!

See you all there, for yet more fun…roll on 2016! 😀 xxxxx

AWB Illustration Unicorn BattleAWB Illustration Archer

😀 ❤ xxxxx

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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The Grimbold Books Kickstarter – Fully Funded!

I’m SOOOOOO thrilled that Grimbold Books have smashed their targets! *doing a happy dance now* Check out their wonderful range of fantastic books guys, soon to include mine! 😀 xxx

Joanne Hall

The Grimbold Books Kickstarter is OFFICIALLY OVER and we managed to achieve pledges that totalled over FOUR THOUSAND POUNDS – that’s around 150% funded. Thank you so much to everyone that pledged, retweeted, liked or just generally showed their support. I can’t express how much it means to me (well, to all of us really) but I did have a little cry. And then I did this :

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for about a week.

Everything is indeed Awesome, and will continue to be Awesome, so look out for more Awesome from Grimbold books coming soon!

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Are you supported? Friendship and passing 27,000 hits!

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Okay, this is not a blog post about supportive bras (sorry guys!), but it is about friendship and support. Do you have people who support you or leave you swinging in the wind?

I am absolutely THRILLED that my tiny little blog has now passed 27,000 visitors and want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who have supported this blog, whether you are a one-off fly-by visitor or a regular ‘pull up a chair and chillax’ visitor. You guys are utterly AMAZEBALLS!!!! 😀 xxx

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Well, although this is a time of great changes and sparkly new horizons, all of them positive – like the brand new job and scary new career I’ve just embarked on after having been a full-time teacher for the last 16 yrs; I admit that this post is a bit of a ‘moan-fest’, something I don’t do very often. But I’m eventually venting about something that has bugged the crap out of me for the last two years.

It’s funny, I was recently reading a very heartfelt and extraordinary post by brilliant fantasy writer, Tricia Drammeh, all about how important it is to be supported by family and friends. The post really struck a chord with me, as it did for so many other writers: http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/2014/05/21/when-your-family-doesnt-support-your-writing/ Please check out the rest of Tricia’s wonderful blog: http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/

Although writing can be exhilarating, life-changing, life-affirming and just a wonderfully fulfilling creative ride…it can also be incredibly isolating, lonely, frustrating, un-rewarding, demoralising and difficult. That rollercoaster journey of success, failure, hopes and dreams, both realised or crushed, is hard enough as it is, but the journey becomes all the more difficult if you are embarking on your creative path without the support of nearest and dearest.

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Now, I count myself as being very lucky, as my family even including Aunts and Uncles, have been incredibly supportive and encouraging of my writing journey. But, like many other writers,  I too have experienced the opposite. Despite the majority of my friends being amazingly supportive, more than I could ever have hoped for, strangely enough my oldest ‘best friend’ of the last 20 yrs+ has been pretty dreadful.

Daft I know, but it has not only plagued me, but deeply hurt and upset me. I can openly say her name, Joanna, why? Because I know that she will never ever read this. She knows nothing of my writing life and doesn’t care. She doesn’t know that I have a blog, let alone the fact that my little blog has attracted over 27,000 visitors since I started it in Jan 2012. She doesn’t know that I’m on Facebook at all, have a FB book page with over 1,000 likes, have countless followers on Pinterest, set up my own Illustration business, recently had a short story published in a wonderful anthology, Felinity by Grimbold Books41wpCDigqbL[1]She was vaguely aware (though no doubt she has forgotten) that I did a very successful Waterstone’s book signing tour in 2012, but wouldn’t know what towns and cities I visited and certainly didn’t bother attending the one just down the road from where she lives.

Again, Tricia Drammeh’s post really resonated with me. For the last 20+yrs I have supported Jo through thick and thin, for every success, every failure, every relationship, every drama – no matter how big or miniscule. I send cards to congratulate, commiserate or just to buck her up and say I’m thinking of her, even cards when she moves from one rented property in her town, to another just down the road. She is an only child, which in itself shouldn’t mean anything, except to say that in her case she is selfish and totally self-obsessed and has always been used to being the centre of attention and having people ‘do for her’. Now, the silly thing is, I never minded playing second fiddle, being the ‘listening ear’, the sympathetic shoulder, the invisible person who always supports her. I didn’t mind the fact that our friendship was always so one-sided, all about her, never about me. BUT, in 2012 something big happened in my life, the biggest thing that had ever happened to me – my first novel was published.

At the time I tried not to be hurt when I received congratulations cards and even flowers from ALL of my friends, even work colleagues and people I didn’t know well, everyone I knew EXCEPT from her. My novel was available for a limited time to pre-order, and by doing so the people who pre-ordered could have their name printed inside the book. Again, all my friends raced to purchase their pre-ordered copy, but Jo? Despite months of gentle hinting, she didn’t, eventually, with only days to spare, I plucked up the courage to be more assertive and asked her (knowing the answer), if she had bought a copy yet as the deadline was coming up. I had to literally twist her arm. Whereas my close mate, Heather (totally lovely), was the first to buy a copy, Jo was the absolute last. I couldn’t believe how totally and blatantly uninterested and unsupportive she was being, just because for once this was something to do with me and not her. Months continued like this, all my friends asking about the upcoming publication date, wanting to read excerpts, wanting to be involved in any way they could, but Jo, nothing. She never asked questions, never brought it up, it was like the 500 pound elephant in the room, all conversations reverted to the usual drone about her love life, wanting to lose weight, talking about food and Tesco’s or her long list of imagined ills and troubles – i.e. all about her as usual.

I admit, for the first time ever, my rose-tinted glasses that had been superglued to my head, actually came off and I saw clearly how completely skewed our relationship had become.

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I had visited her down in Devon in the summer of 2012, which was once again a visit ‘all about Jo’ and been shocked and embarrassed when we visited her other friend (who she see’s every few days) and Jo quickly blurted out in the car on the way there that her friend knew nothing about my book so I’d have to tell her. It just re-affirmed how unimportant it was and I was. Bear in mind too, that her ‘friend’ had dabbled in writing for years and has always been a jealous sort, so you can imagine how she reacted to the news. This, btw, was after Jo had admitted to me that she gave her copy of my book away to some guy in Totnes.

Publication day came and went and nothing, no congratulations, no acknowledgement even. Again, in very rare excerpts, I had tried talking about my writing and my new novel and told her I was having a big book launch at Cirencester. I knew she had no dates that clashed with it, but I also knew, from her total silence on the subject, that she had no intention of coming. She would rather spend the weekend with her bf of the time than support her best mate.

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The day of the book launch came and like a fool I was still hoping to see her walk through the door, of course she didn’t. Instead, ALL my family and friends came ‘en mass’, dear Heather travelled nearly two hours with her two little babies to attend, my dear dear Lindsey (who I had never met at that time) travelled for two hours to support, my wonderful close mate, Will Macmillan Jones travelled all the way from deepest darkest Wales to be there, everyone EXCEPT for Jo. The book launch was a huge success and sold out in just over an hour, but still, all I could think about was Jo.

And so it continued.

Then I got a true glimpse into why Jo was behaving the way she was. She visited my place with her chain-smoking obnoxious bf at the time. We went for lunch and during lunch I was shocked to have this bf ask me about my book, something Jo never did. I soon understood why. During the lunch I was then subjected to a full-on interrogation. The bf asked me a flurry of aggressive questions about my book, I tried to ignore his condescending tone. As soon as I tried to answer, he just interrupted me with comments like, “Humph, sounds like every other book I’ve read”, “Sounds just like Harry Potter” (which I have NEVER read and don’t personally like) “But what exactly makes it different?”, “You haven’t answered my question!”, “Who did you get your ideas from?” etc., etc. I was being bombarded, I looked across at Jo who not only hadn’t come to my rescue and told her offish bf to BACK THE F**K OFF, but was sitting there, arms folded, totally silent and with the most awful smug expression on her face. Cheshire cat comes to mind. 😦 grinning-chesire-cat[1]

It suddenly dawned on me…these disparaging remarks, the belittling, the arrogance, the condescending attitude, all of it could only have come from Jo. Those were her words spoken through him.

It was finally clear where her lack of support came from, she thought I was an idiot, an immature fool following childish dreams. Who the hell did I think I was – pretending to be a writer? Did I think I was going to be the next big thing? Delusions of grandeur or what? The feeling of disdain, palpable embarrassment towards me, her sad little friend deluding herself into thinking she had achieved something, that I was ‘an author’. I struggled through the lunch, said my courteous goodbyes and burst into tears the moment they left. I felt utterly crushed. 😦

Ever since then, even though her nasty bf then dumped her a few months later, I swore I’d never talk to her about my writing/books again, and I haven’t. It hasn’t been hard as she isn’t interested and never asks. So, we carry on, me going through the motions of a friendship that now seems so hollow. More Jo dramas to support, more imagined problems, exaggerated health issues (which magically only arose when I became ill last year), all the things that still keep Jo at the centre, where she likes to be. Meanwhile and by stark contrast, my real friends are exactly that, REAL. We support each other and can talk to each other about anything. And again, because I know Jo isn’t interested in anything other than herself, I’ve stopped talking to her about anything important to me, about my new job, my plans for the future, my family, any of it. Our last conversation was, as usual, all about her, her ‘bad back’, her problems, etc., etc.

3b61948569022d0457a6b60ad7d39393[1]Yes, I know I should have the guts to simply be honest and have it out with her, but frankly I’ve been worn down by it all. I have great friends around me, I’ve just eventually realised, despite the length of our friendship, that Jo isn’t one of them. 😦

So ‘moan-fest’ over, promise.

How do YOU deal with disappointment and lack of support from those you call friends? How do you move forward?

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THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR LISTENING TO THIS ‘LETTER TO JO’. 😀 xxxx