Face to face: face those fears and show them the door!

We are all in our own way battling fears and self doubts, about decisions made, life choices, jobs, creative endeavours, pretty much everything. Yes there are those lucky few who sail through life never second guessing anything they say or do, who have unswerving self-confidence regardless of any reasons pro or against – well good for them. But for the rest of us mere mortals, especially those of us who are pursuing a creative career, writers, illustrators, actors, singers etc., crippling self-doubt kind of comes with the territory. 😦

The fact that you have chosen an entirely subjective career path which by the nature of it, is open to a great deal of criticism, speculation and even ridicule, hardly helps. Neither does the fact that most creative people tend to be very sensitive – almost a precursor to being a writer, poet or artist of any kind.

Pencil portrait of Richard E Grant

So, apart from navigating the choppy waters of crippling self-doubt and external criticism, sometimes, just sometimes you have to man (or woman) up and face your fears.

For me, some of that is allowing myself to be bold enough to actually set goals for myself. To say that this year I am going to achieve ___________.

Setting goals is a scary business, it’s laying your cards face up on a table and saying to the world – this is what I’m going to do and risk that ridicule and criticism if you don’t manage it.

But, as a brilliant writer friend of mine has said, someone who has ambitions and rightly so (watch this space people), what’s holding you back? Face those fears, fly your flag, pin your colours to the main brace and declare “I am here, and here is what I am going to do! I WILL achieve this!”

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So, I am risking the embarrassment of setting out my goals for this year – there is no try, there is only do or do not: 😀

  1. Completely finish writing and edit Darkling Rise (the very long awaited sequel to White Mountain that has taken me FAR too long to write!).
  2. Lose a minimum of two stone (hopefully three) for long-term health benefits and a major life commitment I have made to myself (before I’m too old for it to work) – I’ll be less cryptic when I’m nearer to achieving this goal.
  3. Continue writing short stories and my dark novel, Ravenwing (hopefully to a first draft stage).
  4. Continue building my illustration business. So far I haven’t had to advertise as people have been approaching me, but I need to step up my game and get more commissions going and widen my reputation.*
  5. Build a stronger online presence, as my mate calls it, sort out my ‘brand’, which will help grow followers, fans and help sales as well as getting more reviews and make me more visible to potential opportunities. Yes we’d all love the Game of Thrones success of George R. Martin (though I’ve never fancied the fame bit) but at the end of the day, most of us just want to be able to write and create full-time and make a living from it (enough to pay the bills at least).
  6. Finish my picture book ‘The Little Girl Who Lost Her Smile’ (the story is written but I need to finish drawing and painting all 24 illustrations – I had no idea just how much work is involved in making a picture book!).
  7. Bite the bullet and try subbing to agents, both for my picture book and Ravenwing (once it’s finished) and stop being afraid of success or trying to be successful!!!!
  8. Continue the daily Artmaniac Challenge, creating new art EVERY DAY for a whole year!**
  9. Pay more attention to my lovely little blog (yes, you guys) and blog more often – Sorry!

So there you go, 9 goals for the year. Will I achieve them all? Only time will tell, but I’m going to try my bloody hardest.

Face your fears…

So, what are YOU going to achieve this year?

Pencil sketch of Christopher Walken by Sophie E Tallis

* Yes, I have some exciting news to share to do with HarperCollins. I have signed a contract with them and will fill you all in very soon! 😀

** The reason for my doing portraits at the moment for the Artmaniac Challenge, is due to the wonderful inspiration that is the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year (and yes, I am thinking about doing it next year!) 😀 xxx

 

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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

The Realities of Writing…

soa_member_rgb1As a member of The Society of Authors (SoA), the longest running society helping authors (actually celebrating its centenary this year) and certainly the nearest we have to an ‘Author Union’, I received my quarterly SoA magazine ‘The Author’ a few weeks ago.

‘The Author’ is always a fascinating read, a thermometer of what’s going on in the literary world, in publishing, what’s trending and in writer’s lives themselves. It’s full of really interesting articles, all written by writers for writers on issues as diverse as copyright, publishing & publishers, literary festivals, contracts, public lending rights (PLR), author events, public liability insurance, awards and grants, writing tips, sales, bookshops, Amazon, research, booktrade news in addition to its own ‘Quarterly News’. Lol, to be honest, the first thing I always do is look to see the names of new members and if I recognise anyone. 😀

Anyway, in amongst the magazine was a ballot paper for this year’s Election to the Management Committee. Now I won’t say who I voted for, I don’t want to invalidate my ballot, but reading their candidate statements was really interesting and, considering most of these people are big names, quite surprising. I don’t know why, but I suppose we all have stereotypes that we fall into from time to time and certainly I imagine that these writers, the ‘big names’, all live a dream life of never having to worry about money or bills or mundane things again, that their writing has brought riches and fame and therefore they are a world away from the harsh realities that myself and my fellow writers live in day in day out. But, to my surprise, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is precisely because these writers have made it big, that makes them so sympathetic and empathetic to the struggles and plights of others because they remember what life was life before that bestseller.

One writer in particular who grabbed my attention was Alice Jolly, talking about writing as a career and how hard it is for most writers just to keep their head above the rising tides.

In her own words:

“The position of the writer is a paradox. On the one hand, authors appear to be powerful. The UK general public love authors. They spend approximately £2.2 billion on books a year and 60% cite ‘author’ as their dream job. The UK has approximately 250 literary festivals some of which attract audiences of 200,000.

But despite all that, the reality of an average author’s life is grim. The median annual income of authors is £11,000 (substantially below the minimum wage based on a forty hour week). The hours are unsocial and authors are continually asked to run workshops or make visits to schools for free.

So how can we writers capitalise on the power we have in order to ensure that writing is a career, not a hobby? How do we make sure that the current seismic changes in the publishing industry take us into a world where writers have more control over their careers?

There is no simple answer but that change certainly will not happen unless we all work together.”

What makes Alice Jolly’s words particularly pertinent is that she has experience in a range of fields, from teaching creative writing at Oxford University, having two novels published through Simon & Schuster, to four plays produced in the theatre to crowdfunding her latest work. It’s somehow reassuring to know that people like Alice, or Joanne Harris who are widely known and respected, are able to relate to the problems and struggles that we small press and indie authors face every day – that struggle not only to write in itself, to get published (in whatever way that means to you), but also to make ends meet, pay the bills, survive.

The romantic notion of the starving artist in their garret or isolated writer in their shed, is all well and good, but starving in reality does not help creativity – it stifles it. If your mind is continually pre-occupied by how you are going to keep the roof over your head and food on your plate, if you are literally starving, you are not going to be concerned by writing the next great tome. Your energies and efforts will be spent on trying to survive so you have a future where you can write.

I find these issues particularly relevant to me and my own situation. Not only have I found writing my second novel particularly hard (due to major writer’s block caused by health issues), though I have been able to write several short stories/novellas, my own personal circumstances are more than a little precarious in both financial and personal terms. All of which, the stress, the worry, health issues and the counting of pennies, really does not help the creative process.

So, what is the answer?

Alice Jolly is right, there are no simple solutions. As with everything in life, the randomness of luck always plays a part, simply being in the right place at the right time, and yes, sadly, the old adage of ‘who you know’ plays a major part. Would Christopher Paolini really have been published and pushed into the limelight if his mother hadn’t been in the industry and placed his novel in front of an agent rather than it doing the rounds of the slushpile? I think not. But we are also masters of our own destinies. I see the flamboyant and endless energy of self-published authors Ben Galley and Debbie Young who both simply do not settle for resting on their laurels. They are so determined, so inventive and so driven they have made it happen for them. Ben Galley recently revealed that he’s selling 400 books a month in the US and tours around the country and can be seen at most conventions, Debbie Young set up her own Literary Festival from scratch (the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival) with Katie FForde herself opening the inaugural event. She’s now planning the 3rd year of the festival next year and is also the main collaborator for ALLi – The Alliance of Independent Authors and tours the country doing talks and events.

So, is this the future and answer to making writing a career that can actually pay the bills? The honest answer is…I don’t know. I’m thrilled for both Ben Galley and Debbie Young, both of whom are not only thoroughly lovely people but also terrific writers. My problem is this, as much as I would dearly love to be a full-time writer (it’s been my dream since I was a kid) and be able to make an actual living from it as with any other career (yes, writing paying bills), I simply do not have the stamina or funds to do half the things that they do, I dearly wish I could. This year for instance, as I’ve been concentrating on writing so much, my marketing and publicity has, in all fairness, been crap. I’ve just found it far too hard to be able to do both things effectively.

So, the question remains, what is the answer? If you’re unable to travel much, are not techy at all (I’m an IT idiot tbh and still don’t understand what the hell, Thunderclap is!), and health and circumstances curtail what you can do, then how do you turn your imagination into something that can actually pay those bills?

Well, in truth I’m still working on that one. What I will say is in a strange parallel to other industries such as farming for instance, I think a big part of success or at least survival and self-sufficiency, is by diversifying. Look at what you can do, what you’re good at (apart from writing) and try using those skills to aid not only your writing but to also pay the bills.

For me, that has meant illustration work: –  Sophie E Tallis Illustrations. Being a trained traditional artist, with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and an MA place, I illustrate books and do fantasy maps (having just completed a commission for the wonderful Juliet McKenna and her fantastic ‘Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom’ and am currently working on a map commission for grimdark author, Anna Smith-Spark and her upcoming Harper Voyager book, ‘The Court of Broken Knives’). In fact as I can adapt to any illustration style wanted, I can pretty much do whatever the client wants (lol, though not digital art, my computer skills are crap!). Now, although I’m not raking in huge amounts, as far as paying for those damn bills, it is definitely helping!

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So, for we small authors to continue writing as a career not a hobby, we have to use every trick in our arsenal, diversify, think outside of the box, focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

Good luck guys, may we all succeed at that elusive goal – full-time writing AND survival! 😀 ❤ xxx

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World Book Day – Let’s Kick Some Book Ass!

Today is World Book Day! Now usually I find myself doing something cool for World Book Day. In years gone by, when I was a teacher, we’d dress up as favourite book characters and spend the day reading cool stories and playing book related games. Then, as a author and illustrator, I found myself doing book signings in Waterstones or some lovely independent bookshops (which I would always urge you all to support – use Amazon to buy other stuff, but PLEASE buy your books locally, it’s the only way to ensure that we still have local bookshops!). More recently, as I now work in a library, we have celebrated World Book Day by having cool events and art activities all with a book theme.

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This year? Well, World Book Day has fallen on a day I don’t work and as I’m concentrating on writing new material this year rather than galloping around the West Country and Wales book signing, I’m actually spending this lovely day in a peaceful creative huddle. Candles lit, music softly playing in the background, dogs asleep (shhhhh!) and laptop on my…er…lap as I type away.

Logos[1]While I wrestle with the sequel to White Mountain, which I am determined to finish in the next few months, I have been very productive on the short story front. So, what better day to tell you all about new stories and new books coming up, than to announce it on World Book Day! 😀

For White Mountain fans, you have two Darkling Tales/short novellas winging their way to you VERY soon. A Friendship Forged – charting how Mr. Agyk and Gralen first met, why dragons have disappeared from the world and the first dark inklings, has just gone through it’s last round of edits (thank you Robyn!) and is looking VERY good! The second story, The Siege of Kallorm – recounts the tragic tale of Korrun of Koralan, how one fateful mistake can change your life forever and his attempts to find redemption. Can you ever atone for your sins? Sooooooo excited about these! 😀

For lovers of dark fairytales, there’s a wonderful anthology – Shadows Of The Oak, by Tenebris Books, on its way very soon and I’ll have a sweetly dark and twisted tale in it, ‘The Orphan and the Iron Troll’ and two illustrations.

The Orphan and the Iron Troll (borderless)

And for lovers of kick-ass fiction…wow you have a treat coming! A brilliant and prestigious group of the best female sci-fi/fantasy writers in the country all gathered together for one awesome anthology – Fight Like A Girl! The theme is all about strong empowered women, female protagonists who kick ass whether they be natural born fighters, soldiers, mercenaries, assassins, hardened warriors or ordinary women thrown into extraordinary circumstances. What makes this anthology unique, apart from the talent gathered together to create it, is that all the people involved in it are women. Female writers writing about powerful females, women editors (the brilliant Joanne Hall & Roz Clarke), and uber-cool publishing house, Grimbold Books, run by two women (the galactically awesome Sammy HK Smith & Zoe Harris)!

Fight-Like-A-Girl-V2-400ppi[1]Having said all that, the book is designed to appeal to both genders. It’s choc full of battles, violence, dark humour and cool kick-ass action! The grand launch is on Saturday 2nd April at the Hatchet Inn in Bristol where there will be a panel, readings and even some swordplay! Fighting and buffet food too – grab your tickets now!* 😀

I must confess I’m rather honoured and more than a little humbled to be included in this collection amongst such prestigious writers with my own gritty sci-fi tale – ‘Silent Running’, nestled amongst a host of other great stories from luminaries like Juliet McKenna, Julia Knight, KT Davies, Kim Lakin-Smith, Gaie Sebold, Danie Ware, Dolly Garland, Lou Morgan, KR Green, Joanne Hall, Roz Clarke, Fran Terminiello, Nadine West and Kelda Crich!

It’s true that there are a lot of exciting bookish things happening this year, but being a part of this anthology is definitely one them!

*This book launch event has been kindly funded by the BristolCon Foundation
For more information: http://www.bristolcon.org/?page_id=2654
For tickets – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/fight-like-a-girl-flag-launch-event-tickets-20658444965

Wherever you are and whatever you’re reading – Happy World Book Day!!!! 😀 xxxx

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hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

Distant Worlds – Welcomes Augusta Bruce!

As 2016 continues, so too does our series of interviews. These galactic travels to ‘Distant Worlds’ are a cool way of spotlighting the very best new speculative fiction along with its creators – those hidden gems that are so often ignored by the mainstream. So, as today marks the 4th year anniversary of this little blog, we celebrate with another gem…this time an editor of fantasy fiction!

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith, Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring, but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

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The Distant Worlds strand started last year, focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber-talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends. Check out their cool titles while they’re still at bargain prices! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

Right, now to our nineteenth interview and one of the newest members of the Grimbold Books family, the mysterious editor at large and fellow cool cat…

Augusta Bruce

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Augusta, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

A kick-ass sword, a water-detector, an endless supply of raspberry jam and butter sandwiches, suncream, a light flowing scarf and a pogo stick.

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

My diary, my ink pen, my white rabbit, my guitar and my yoga mat (which transforms into a flying carpet).

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

I would definitely seek other life-forms for help, and try and make some friends along the way, but I also like the idea of trekking through arid deserts alone for a while.

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘The Slow Regard of Silent Things’ – because Auri, the book’s main character, is alone throughout the book, and deals with it brilliantly – never losing hope. Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ series, as I would probably be in need of some delectable illustrations and dark humour. Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, for its sumptuous illustrations, as well as this book’s relevance for the person who finds themselves roaming a distant world. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince’ for the same reason just mentioned. J G Ballard’s ‘The Drowned World’, for its gorgeous, surreal descriptions.

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours, Ask the Deep’ by Sóley, ‘Play’ by Moby, ‘Nomade’ by Cat’s Eyes and ‘An American Prayer’ by The Doors.

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

Vodka, the Bison grass one, a little apple juice and a lime twist wouldn’t go amiss…

Random comet question: Which fantasy world would you choose to live in and why?

A world that looks like a cartoon – I’m thinking Neil Gaiman or Studio Ghibli… Where all the people are cats…

Which villainous fantasy character would you befriend or be?

I would befriend Bellatrix Lestrange, because I think she’d be a riot, and am convinced she has a softer side.

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go! 

N / A – I am a Grimbold editor!

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

Taking things really slowly, learning some new skills or crafts, learning how to converse with aliens, becoming bad ass at survival stuff and swordplay.

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

My family and friends, the Internet, mud and rain-sodden days (for some reason I always imagine other worlds as primarily desert!), old houses, sushi, art shops.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Fast food chains, tabloid newspapers, pollution, adverts, the loading icon on YouTube.

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

I wouldn’t necessarily change anything, but I would love to have the chance to live my life over and over again in different ways, taking different paths each time.

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

Not sure what constitutes indie…

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

Do things at your own pace, heed others’ advice, but don’t let them tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, live madly, follow your instincts, love deeply, always have faith in yourself.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself, your inspirations and your publishers!

12404160_10153282860087308_1051064583_n[1]Augusta in her own words…

I am a former Sims addict who now lives in London, where I hoard books and go on city jaunts. I edit the Advaya Magazine, an online quarterly specialising in arts, activism and ecology. When I’m not editing for Grimbold, I tinker away with my own writing webs. I like stepping back, seeing the world for what it is – strange, magical, and utterly surprising. I am inspired by the visionary work of Guillermo del Toro, director of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and, most recently, ‘Crimson Peak’, as well as the work of Angela Carter.

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Bio:

Having graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Manchester, Augusta decided to take a break from institutional structures, to focus on creative writing. This brought her to a highland cottage in Wales, where the sheep did not take to her, despite her best efforts. Now she is based in London, where she edits Advaya Magazine, an online quarterly specialising in arts, activism and ecology. When Augusta is not working, she traipses the streets of London, nurturing her thirst for travel and adventure. The macabre, the eerie, the gothic and the outlandish all appeal to Augusta’s tastes. As a child she was addicted to Sims, and now she is a compulsive hoarder of books. She also greatly enjoys music, yoga, being helpful to others, and refrigerated macaroons.

***

Thank you, Augusta. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing fleet of mining drones has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

Distant Worlds – Welcomes AFE Smith!

Well, amidst a sea of tears over the devastating news that one of my all-time idols, David Bowie has died at the age of only 69, I will post this blog as planned as a little tribute to creativity for which David Bowie was such a master. RIP Davy Jones, we all love you and will feel your loss for the rest of our lives…  (1947 – 2016) 😦 ❤ xxxx

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The silly season is over and 2016 beckons with the promise of yet more great books to read and new authors to discover. I hope in some small part that this series helps to spotlight some of these hidden gems. So, for the first interview of 2016 and the eighteenth outing of this series, we have a treat…author extraordinaire, AFE Smith.

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (today’s interviewee! – see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…so today I’m a little nervous interviewing ‘Barren Island Books’ interviewer AFE Smith herself!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

Fire-Planet[1]The Distant Worlds strand started last year, focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber-talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends. Check out their cool titles while they’re still at bargain prices! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

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A World Of Their Own – an awesome anthology of fantasy, sci-fi and literary short stories, with ALL profits going to charity!

But now we’re branching out and will be zoning in on an extraordinary group of people, The Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB), who I am also VERY proud to call close friends.

The AWB – a bunch of uber-talented fantasy and sci-fi writers and artists who met on the HarperCollins writing site, Authonomy, back in 2010. We formed The Alliance of Worldbuilders, a friendly, inclusive and wacky group and our collective friendships have seen us through some very hard times, including the sad loss of one of our own, Lindsey J Parsons. In honour of Lindsey, our dear friend who tragically died in January 2014, the AWB have created an awesome anthology of short stories, which was published in glorious paperback and e-book on 4th September 2015! It makes the perfect prezzie and ALL profits go to charity, the World Literacy Fund, fighting illiteracy around the world, so grab a great book and help a great cause too! Amazon UK & Amazon US

Right, now to our eighteenth author interview and our sixth AWB member, the Spymaster general herself, the mysterious fantasy writer…

AFE Smith

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AFE, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

If this were a normal stranded-survivor story, I would probably die after about a day, because I have no practical skills whatsoever. But I’m going to assume that since I’m part of a space colony, I come from a scientifically advanced society that can supply me with some whizzy gadgets. So I’d go for:

Some kind of respiratory mask. The planet may be habitable but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got viciously adaptable micro-organisms. I don’t want to be knocked off my feet by alien flu while I’m trying to survive.

A water purifier/air-to-water distiller. For many of the same reasons. And I want to have enough to drink even if I land on a part of the planet where rain is infrequent and waterways are scarce.

A strong, lightweight tent with enough insulation to keep me warm at night.

A solar-powered survival manual so I can look up which plants are safe to eat, how to make fire, etc. If it could say DON’T PANIC in large friendly letters on the cover, that would be a bonus.

And talking of which, a Babel fish.

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

Given that I’m going to be carrying my home on my back for a while, I’d better not take anything heavy or bulky. I’d definitely take a photo of my family. And my laptop (assuming I can get a solar-powered battery pack), allowing me to keep a log of my adventures in case (a) I die horribly and future space explorers want to find out what happened to me, or (b) I survive the whole thing and can turn my experiences into a blockbuster movie starring Matt Damon. But other than that, I’ll give up all my personal possessions and stick to the survival gear, thanks.

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

It depends what my survival manual has to say about the indigenous population. If they are friendly, great. Hopefully they can help me build a transmitter to send a distress signal back to Earth. But if they’re the kind of life-forms who like to sacrifice human cattle to the great god Belzi’iar, I’ll steer well clear.

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

I guess I have a solar-powered e-reader with me too, then! Fantasy novels are BIG, on the whole, and I don’t fancy lugging them around with me.

I would take the complete works of Terry Pratchett, Robin Hobb, Diana Wynne Jones and Juliet Marillier. All of those are comfort reads and I figure I’m going to need a lot of comforting. (And yes, I know taking ‘complete works’ is a total cheat, but the beauty of e-readers is that you can fit a vast quantity of books on them, and since I’m about to be slaughtered by a worshipper of Belzi’iar I hope you’ll cut me some slack.)

I’d also take my own complete works, such as they are. Not because I think they deserve to survive over anything else, but because being stranded on an alien planet might actually give me a better chance of meeting my current writing deadline than I have right now.

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

I never get to listen to music any more, other than the Frozen soundtrack (thanks, three-year-old). Hey, this is going to be great! I’m actually looking forward to this terrible disaster now!

I reckon I should choose as wide a range of music as possible, to stand the greatest chance of bonding with the aliens over music and thereby convincing them not to dig my intestines out with a spoon. So I’d take The Beatles’ White Album, Wishbone Ash’s Argus, Steeleye Span’s Commoner’s Crown, my Max Bruch/Mendelssohn album of violin concertos … heck, and the Frozen soundtrack. It would remind me of my children.

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

I haven’t drunk alcohol for nearly five years, so it would take very little vodka to drown my sorrows. And since I haven’t yet managed to make myself a toothbrush (dammit, should have claimed that as one of my personal possessions!) I’d better avoid the Coke. So I’ll stick to water.

Random comet question: As a hard working editor and new mum to two little ones, how do you juggle your life to ensure that you have ‘writing time’?

Ha! That makes it sound like I have some sort of plan! With a full-time job and two young children, the only writing time I have is in the evenings after everyone has gone to bed. But of course, that’s the only time I have to get anything else done, too. I’d say I manage a handful of evenings per week … assuming I don’t just fall asleep, which happens far too often and proves that I’m older than I’d like to think.

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go! 

What? That’s even worse than being sacrificed to Belzi’iar!

No, wait, that didn’t count as part of my 100 words … what do you mean, these words count too? That’s not fair! I –

OK. Fine. OK.

Since I’m rapidly running out of words, I’ll just say that my latest book is a sequel to my first, and they both feature shapeshifters, pistols, an industrial city, a big chunk of mystery, a dash of romance, and people trying to kill each other in a variety of interesting ways. You ought to appreciate that, brain-eating alien.

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

Trying not to die. If I succeeded at that, I would write increasingly delirious streams of consciousness on my laptop whilst talking to a nearby tree upon which I had drawn a smiley face.

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

Chocolate. The landscapes (these long spindly purple trees are all very well, but they’re not like home). Other humans. New books. Did I mention chocolate?

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Politicians. War. Other humans. Creepy crawlies (please tell me there are no spiders on this planet). Constantly feeling like a failure (I figure if I survive this new situation, that automatically makes me a success – and if I don’t, I won’t care because I’ll be dead.)

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

Nothing. The things I’d like to change are large enough that they’d have profound knock-on effects. I’ve read and watched enough time-travel stories to know that’s a terrible idea and would probably result in my own extinction. And the smaller things wouldn’t be worth the effort (I mean, I’d like not to have been such a total disaster in secondary school, but I don’t think it’s worth the cost of a TARDIS).

If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it?

Yeah. Why not? It’s been fun, if you ignore the bloodthirsty aliens and gradual descent into madness.

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

Harriet Goodchild – beautiful, complex, poetic fantasy with a real love of language.

Evangeline Jennings – taut, gripping, often sexy and always brutal femme noir. (If you don’t know what femme noir is, you should totally go and find out.)

Hazel Butler – fascinating, myth-drenched Gothic fantasy that blends darkness and light to great effect.

S.L. Huang – action-packed sci-fi with a kick-ass mathematician heroine. (Maths-based superpowers FTW!)

W.R. Gingell – gentle, tongue-in-cheek fantasy romance mysteries. Think Georgette Heyer with magic.

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

Always know where your towel is. (Dammit! Towel! That’s another useful personal possession I could have claimed! Can I go back in time and change the answer to my time-travel question to say I’d change what personal possessions I took with me … no? Too complicated? OK.)

Don’t be like me, children. Appreciate your towel while you have it.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself, your inspirations and your publishers!

Author_photo_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithAFE in her own words…

That’s a HUGE question to end on. Er … I am a fantasy writer, an editor, a Ravenclaw and a robin, not necessarily in that order. You may already have gathered that I have a weird sense of humour (there’s a reason I don’t write comedy; no-one else ever thinks the same things are funny). I have two children, neither of whom I want to sacrifice to the great god Belzi’iar (though sometimes it’s a close-run thing).

My inspirations are as varied as life itself. That’s a nicely pretentious statement, so I’ll just leave that one there.

My publisher is Harper Voyager. They also publish people like Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin and Mark Lawrence. Which makes me feel rather like I’ve accidentally gate-crashed a celebrity party and now I’m sitting quietly in a corner, hoping no-one will notice me and tell me to go away.

Bio:

A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

AFE social media links:

Website
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads

Cover_image_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithBook Blurb:

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven.

Yet her half-brother Myrren hasn’t inherited the family’s ability to shapeshift, so their father, Florentyn, forces Ayla to take over as heir to the throne.

When Ayla is accused of Florentyn’s brutal murder only Myrren believes her innocent and aids her escape. A fugitive from her own guard, Ayla must now fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

But does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

DARKHAVEN buy links

HarperCollins Amazon (global link) Waterstones Barnes & Noble Google play iBooks Kobo

Goldenfire cover mediumAFE Smith’s new book being released by Harper Voyager this week on January 14th 2016!

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GOLDENFIRE preorder links

HarperCollins Amazon Barnes & Noble Google play iBooks Kobo

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Thank you, AFE. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing Illyrian mining vessel has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

Tis’ the season to be jolly…still?

Well, my lovely bloggers, visitors, friends, fellow nutty inmates…Christmas has come and already passed in a blur of sparkling drinks, party food, crisps, squashed chocolates and merriment! And now New Year has sped past too…!

SAM_5514I for one, have had a lovely Christmas so far and hope you all have too, despite some horrendous weather anomalies both sides of the Atlantic.

For once, I was actually looking forward to the New Year – a milestone I usually dread, after all, who really wants to celebrate getting a year older and reflecting on all those targets you didn’t achieve, things you failed to do or progressive steps you forgot to take? New Year has a way of focusing all the negative things that happened through the year under a fine microscope.

BUT this year…well, this year has been different. It’s been an amazing year in almost every way. Personally, I’ve taken some huge steps forward and the fruition of this should hopefully be evident this time next year…he he he! Professionally, I’ve loved every second of working for my fabulous publishers, Grimbold Books and Kristell Ink. As an author, you simply couldn’t want for more supportive lovely people, we really are all a huge gloriously weird and wacky family, which was so evident at FantasyCon in Nottingham this year. It really was the most fun you can have with your clothes on! 😀 11986568_1137863496242052_4476185573487481831_n[1]

Artistically and creatively, it’s been a great year as not only has my epic illustrated fantasy, White Mountain, been doing rather well, but I’ve been book signing up and down the West Country and Wales, moderated my first fantasy convention panel, was invited as an author and illustrator to take part in the Cirencester Literary Festival (which was awesome and a complete sell out) and managed to not only write a bunch of new short stories (which have been and are being published), but even took part and succeeded in my first ever Nano write! Nano Winner 2015 Certificate

So all in all, it’s been a frenetic, hectic, manic year and although I am completely knackered, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

So…what for 2016? Did I make any New Year’s resolutions to be broken a few weeks later?

No.

What I will say, is that 2016 will bring more creative projects. After having struggled with my illness and writing, Nano showed me that I CAN beat my stupid condition and I CAN novel write again. So with renewed vigor, I intend to finish the sequel to White Mountain, Darkling Rise, which has taken me so long (I promise to my beloved White Mountain fans that it WILL be worth the wait!), and I will finish my other dark fantasy novel, Ravenwing, that I wrote 50K words of for Nano and which I am stupidly excited about! I will also finish my first picture book, already written and in stasis while I paint the 24 full page illustrations! Wow! I had NO idea just how much work goes into a picture book when you are writing AND illustrating it…but I must say, it is something rather special. I don’t mind being uncharacteristically optimistic and saying that this could be something huge… 😀 xxx

So, whatever your plans for 2016, my advice is to…

be brave and be bold.

If the last few years have taught me anything, and I apologise for the clichés here…but life really isn’t a rehearsal, it speeds past in the briefest of flashes and before you know it all those hopes and dreams you had are fizzled into nothing. My dear fellow insomniac friend, Lindsey J Parsons, who I used to chat to late into the wee small hours, really grasped life by the horns. She had so many hopes and dreams, she achieved many of them but had many more to accomplish that tragically never came to pass as she died suddenly on 5th January 2014.

295755[1]I think of her often and try to use her wonderful example to spur me on and to ignore that self-doubt, that negative voice that cripples so many writers.

What are you hoping for in 2016?

To steal a phrase from the book and film, ‘We bought a zoo’, (which ironically I have a personal connection too as I used to teach Benjamin Mee’s nieces, so knew all about the family and there predicament and the Hollywood film based on their lives)…

“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of INSANE courage…and I promise you, something great will come of it.”

So…what 20 seconds of insane courage do you need this year to accomplish your dreams?

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As my little blog passes 45,000 visitors for which I am truly humbled, honoured and more than a little surprised…it makes me reflect on what life is and what hopes and dreams I have for it. Remember, it is NEVER too late to change your life.

Whatever 2016 brings to you, believe in yourself, be brave and bold and don’t let your fears stop you from following your dreams.

😀 xxxx