It’s About Time for Sophie E Tallis

The lovely and talented Gemma Beynon, a fellow artist I met last year, was kind enough to interview me over the summer and here’s the interview! 😀 If you haven’t checked out Gemma’s blog please do, it’s full of advice gems about creativity and life! 😉

Gemma Beynon

Last year at BristolCon, I had the good fortune and pleasure to meet author and illustrator Sophie E Tallis in the art room, where she was exhibiting her fantastic pencil portraits, silk paintings and incredibly detailed fantasy maps. She’s been a practising artist for over 20 years, has a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art and a Post-Grad in Education, was a teacher for 16 years and has been a freelance illustrator for the last 6 years, including working for HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and as an Artist-in-Residence for Oxford University.

Sophie has illustrated 15 books so far, specialising in hand drawn detailed pen & ink illustrations and fantasy maps, including creating the fantasy maps for Anna Stephen’s ‘Godblind’ and Anna Smith-Spark’s ‘The Court of Broken Knives’, both published by HarperVoyager 2017 and for Diane Magras’s ‘The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ by Penguin Random House, published 2018, for which she


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The Art of…Art. Diversify or Die!

The creative arts, particularly writers and artists, are littered with those who have failed to reach their own expectations, potential, dreams and goals. We all want to excel in our chosen path, all want to achieve the aim of making a living from what we love to do.

The harsh truth is that the majority of us will fail. We’ll have our lofty ideas and will fall short after a few exhaustive years of trying everything we can think of to reach that breakthrough point. We’ll cheer at the successes of others and wish with all our hearts that we could emulate just a fraction of it for ourselves.

So, for the majority of us creative types not quite finding the success we dreamt of, what are our options?

  1. Give up chasing dreams that never come true.
  2. Continue pursuing our goals in the hope that elusive breakthrough will happen.
  3. Diversify.

Take a leaf out of current business practice. The businesses that do the best do so because they have learnt to be flexible to changing demands and needs and because they DIVERSIFY!

Businesses that cannot change with the times and cannot diversify are left behind and simply die. There are enough high street shops biting the dust at the moment for precisely this reason. Look at farmers for instance, the most successful are those who also diversify into other avenues, be it artisan cheeses, deluxe ice creams or holiday lets etc.

So…if you’re running out of ideas, head butting into brick walls or are just exhausted by the endless hamster wheel that ends nowhere despite your best efforts and talents with your aims, goals and dreams still unfulfilled…how can you break the pattern and achieve some measure of success?

DIVERSIFY!!!!!

With that in mind, today I used my skillset to run my second silk painting workshop. Although I’ve only been silk painting for the last ten to fifteen years and would not consider myself an expert in the field, I have gained enough skills to share my knowledge with others and get them creating their own original silk painting artwork.

Thankfully the workshop went very well, despite my sweating bullets on a boiling hot day with a large window magnifying the heat and my nerves. 🙂 I really was not a pretty sight! But, regardless of my melting, the event was very successful with many people asking if I did workshops nearer to them (several people had travelled nearly an hour to get there!).

Now although I choose to offer these first workshops as free workshops rather than charging, they have been invaluable in paving the way for me to do paid events like this in the future and in building my reputation as not only a skilled artworker but also as a workshop artist.

Again…diversify or die – I am looking to the future to use my skills to enable me to continue making a living from my art and not be dependent solely on commission work. You gotta think ahead people!

So how do you start to diversify?

As a creative writer you might well start by delving into non-fiction for a while, trying your hand at bid writing, academic writing, writing reviews even if it’s about a brand of supermarket cheese, hell even writing manuals, obituaries, websites, educational aids, essays etc. See what is out there. There are ads for writing in every magazine and newspaper and vast amounts online. Think, how else can you use the talents you have? If your novels/stories/poetry are failing to garner any success or even attention, how else can you diversify and use those skills?

For artists/illustrators the same applies. Even if you are currently inundated with commissions, that may not always be the case and usually it isn’t reliable in the same way that those monthly bills are. So unless you want to live your life either spending lots of money on advertising which may or may not work or waiting for the phone to ring/website email to ping for your next client commission, you need to start thinking about how to diversify and use the talents you have.

 

This is particularly important if you are specialising in a niche art field. For me, I’m best known in art terms for my fantasy maps. But out of all the fiction titles, all the fantasy and epic fantasy novels published every year, how many will actually need a fantasy map? The number is surprisingly low and as there are other artists out there who also specialise in the same field, vying for the same commission, how can you carve out a slice of that action/success for yourself and ensure it’s enough to live off?

Last year was undoubtedly my best in terms of commissions, exposure, and yes, money. I took on two large commissions for HarperCollins for ‘The Court of Broken Knives’ by Anna Smith-Spark and ‘Godblind’ by Anna Stephens*. That was swiftly followed by other commissions including one for Penguin Random House for ‘The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ by Diane Magras and a massive Artist-In-Residence commission for Oxford University for a brilliant new game ‘Mycelium’ created by writer genius Dan Holloway, producing all the artwork for it (50 hand painted images) etc.

*I’ve been sitting on some VERY exciting news on that front, but cannot share it until official announcements are made. 🙂 *

So how exactly do you pay the bills when you’re between commissions?

Use your skillset to create other artworks, think about exhibiting your work in nearby galleries even restaurants – ever been to a pub or cafĂ© and seen artwork on the walls with prices on? That could be you! Contact local art centres who sell work from local artists. Of course there are ways to showcase your work online, on your website and in places like Etsy where you can sell it direct. I admit I’ve only very recently joined Etsy and am yet to set it up fully and sell any of my artwork on there…but I definitely intend to use this route to supplement my commission work.

Perhaps you too could use your talents to run a local event or workshop like my silk painting workshop? Could you charge customers a one off fee for attending such a workshop?

Diversification is the key not only to success but also to LONGEVITY! You want to be doing what you love and making a living from it for as long as you can.

Good luck everyone and embrace the change! Diversify or die!

❀ xxxx

 

 

Being Cocky in the Social Media Age

Oh the danger of author egos! A brilliant reflection here on the whole controversy surrounding ‘cocky-gate’, seriously you couldn’t make this stuff up! Thank you to the fabulous Tricia for your wonderful and insightful musings on the subject. 😉

Tricia Drammeh

By now, most of you have heard about #Cockygate. If not, let me catch you up to speed:

Romance author, Faleena Hopkins, filed a trademark on the word “cocky.” Once her trademark was approved, Faleena allegedly sent cease and desist letters to other authors who happened to have the word “cocky” in the titles of their books. There have been reports that she also asked Amazon to remove some of these books, though I’m not sure how many authors have been affected by this. Faleena has said she trademarked “cocky” in order to protect her series and her brand. She says her readers were getting confused because when they searched for her books, they stumbled upon books written by other authors.

Over the past several days, authors have been furious
 and frightened too. What gives Faleena the right to trademark a commonly used word? A word, in fact, that other


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Mistress of Wolves – the pleasures and pains of having wolfies!

I’ll be writing a blog post about making a living as an artist and my glacial progress on the writing front, but this really is a post for all of you who have fur babies, those four-legged members of the family who are so much more than ‘just a pet’, and the emotional challenges that brings.

This will also, hopefully, be an informative post for those who are dealing with the dreaded degenerative myelopathyDM (previously called CDRM – canine degenerative radiculomyelopathy) a horrendous progressive inherited disease of the spinal cord similar to multiple sclerosis (MS) in humans and which tragically has no cure at the moment. 😩 DM is caused through a breakdown of the myelin sheath protecting the neurons of the spinal cord. The cause of the demyelination itself is unclear, though it is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. 😩

As many of you know, I have four beautiful wolf babies, my two 8yr old White German Shepherds, Tolly/Tollam (our long haired boy) and his brother Korrun (short haired) + my two 4yr old Alaskan Malamute brothers, (big) Bere (our 65kg white bundle of gorgeousness) and his brother Fenn (the darkest of our handsome boys).

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love them (and I don’t care how sad that sounds!) 😀 Basically it’s a love-in at our house with them kissing and licking each other all the time and me if I’m not quick enough to avoid the occasional tongue in my ear! Eeeew! 😀

That’s not to say life is perfect. Anyone who knows malamutes knows they’re the toughest most stubborn breed to train (being the nearest dog breed to wolves) and my two are definitely Houdini’s at exploring, escaping through hedges and fences and squeezing through impossibly small places (the sole reason we had to fence in the entire stream!), not to mention being natural-born hunters so all the wildlife in our garden must beware. Cheeky boys! 😀

2 years ago we noticed that our big Alaskan Malamute, Bere, was suddenly losing weight despite having a ravenous appetite and had very loose stools. We didn’t wait, we saw the vet straight away and did a ton of research (including finding out about a cutting edge Bristol University study) and found out that he had EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency) a nasty inherited disease where the dog’s own pancreas stops working and doesn’t produce the enzymes needed for digestion and breaking down food. It’s a horrible condition where basically the dog starves to death from the inside as they eat and eat and eat but nothing is absorbed and just passes through. I came across a lot of owners who, on finding out the diagnosis, had their dogs put down. 😩 Sorry, but that ain’t us, we fight for our family and we weren’t going to just let Bere die. Lol, I’m nothing if not tenacious! Long story short, we found a solution, by liquidating pigs pancreas (a natural substitute which is full of those missing enzymes) and mixing it with every meal, Bere went from 40kg to 65kg! Although he has the condition for life, he couldn’t be happier or healthier now. No-one would ever know there was anything wrong with him. It really was like watching a miracle, and yes, a hell of a lot of daily hard work and expense, but he’s so worth it. 🙂 ❀

Then I have my two German Sheps who were rescues which, despite being amazing with wildlife, explains a lot of their social anxieties around people particularly strangers. From the little information we were given by the rescue centre, the RSPCA rescued their mum (who died shortly after) and the whole litter of 10 from what sounded like an awful puppy farm. My views on greedy unscrupulous people, who usually have no qualifications, formal training or morals for that matter, and who are just into using animals to make money, are pretty stringent. I think they’re the lowest of the low basically, often breeding 4 or more litters from a single dog too old to have anymore pups, to squeeze as much money out of them as they can, and yes, sadly, often breeding all sorts of nasty inherited diseases too, which lead to heartbreak for the animal and their owners. 😩

Sadly this time we’ve come up against one of those insidious diseases that we can’t solve – degenerative myelopathy (DM), an awful debilitating progressive spinal cord condition inherited by those carrying the DM gene and most associated with German Shepherds (in fact it used to be called the German Shepherd disease!), that leads to paralysis and sadly kills 100% of those afflicted with it. Tragically at the moment there is NO cure. 😩

We are utterly devastated that our beloved Tolly looks like he has it. 😩 It came out of the blue too which has made this even more difficult. Over Christmas I noticed a slight tremor in his hind legs. We weren’t unduly worried though, our boys do so much running around we’ve often had the odd sprain. But in January Tolly’s hind legs were noticeably shaky and weak, we contacted the vets and were initially told just to monitor him as there were no signs of pain – thankfully that is the ONLY positive thing about DM in that it is a non-painful condition. By February though he was dragging his back paws, particularly on the left side, and his hind legs were crossing over and collapsing on him once or sometimes twice a day. He is still very mobile though, still running brilliantly and is as active as ever, but after resting or sleeping, that’s when you see the back legs go – this apparently is the early stages of DM. Also, Tolly’s two middle claws on both his back feet are also worn down where he has dragged them.

To say we have researched the hell out of degenerative myelopathy would be an understatement. We’ve combed sources, websites, blogs, joined Facebook groups on the subject, sent countless emails off etc etc. So far, all evidence points to DM being an incurable fatal disease with little to no hope once a dog has it. Yes, some dogs have lived for several years with the condition, using mobility carts when their back legs give out on them, which we ourselves will do when the time comes, but in every single case the same inevitable outcome – death. 😩

Tolly is only 8yrs old, and we’re utterly heartbroken for us and him. Worse still, as DM is a hereditary disease, we think his brother Korrun may have it too as we’ve noticed a slight tremor in his hind legs! 😩 xxx

It is true that other conditions like slipped discs, arthritis and hip dysplasia which do cause pain, can have similar signs to DM and that often to gain an actual diagnosis of DM all other conditions have to be ruled out first. But we know our dogs so well, as much as I wish it wasn’t DM, we’re 99% sure it is. 😩

So, what can you do when faced with an incurable fatal disease? –  Fight! Fight like hell against it!

These are just a few of the things you can do if you think your dog has degenerative myelopathy:

  1. Get a DNA test done (which we’re doing), which can be either through a blood test or mouth swab test. Although a DNA test cannot definitively show if a dog has DM it will show if they are carriers of the faulty DM gene. If they are, then there’s a good chance they have or may develop the disease. If they are not carrying the DM gene then they CANNOT have DM, so it’s definitely worth getting a test and it’s a whole lot cheaper than an MRI/CT scan. DNA tests are generally covered by pet insurance too, but do check first.
  2. Daily exercise is key. Lack of exercise does NOT cause degenerative myelopathy, that’s a completely inaccurate wife’s tale, it is a genetic inherited condition and only dogs carrying the gene may develop it. BUT, daily exercise will hugely help keep slow down the progression of the disease and will aid in your dog’s mobility. I’ve been doing daily runs with Tolly, circuits around our 2 acre garden as well as weaving exercises around the trees. I would recommend avoiding walking on pavements and roads as this will further damage those worn down nails, walking on grass, gravel, sand (different textures is important) but they’ll also be softer on their feet.
  3. Daily leg stretches and massages. I don’t know if these actually help but Tolly certainly loves them and it helps you to feel the muscle mass in their legs, it’s also good to push against/put pressure on their paws/pads.
  4. As advised by the vet, have your pet walk on a variety of surfaces, spiky, smooth, textured, rough, etc., this will encourage the signals from the feet along the spine to the brain and encourage them to pick up their feet a bit more. I’ve done this in the past by placing socks on his feet too.
  5. Hydrotherapy – helps mobility and limb ataxia, eases any pain from related arthritis and problems caused by DM like sprains and is a great exercise for dogs as it supports their weight. BUT, it is very pricey. Our pet insurance will only cover this to ÂŁ500 so it may well be worth finding your own alternatives – we’ll be taking Tolly for walks through the stream that runs by our house, which is also good for the different textures (sand, gravel, stone, weeds) under foot.
  6. There are no medicinal cures for DM yet but daily supplements and vitamins help hugely in the general health & mobility of your dog and can help alleviate some of the symptoms (the below are for UK residents USA residents can find these from other outlets):
  • Vitamin B complex (100mg) (B12 + B6) (found in Vetzyme products UK)
  • Vitamin E (1000 – 2000mg) (found in Vetzyme products UK)
  • Vitamin C (anti-oxidant 1000 – 2000mg) (VetUK joint supplement)
  • Selenium (works with Vitamin E) no more than 200”g a day
  • Omega 3 (either fish oil, ground flax seeds or fish products are also very rich in these) (Vetzyme high strength product UK)
  • MSM (ProTreat and Vetzyme high strength) MSM is a strong antioxidant, capable of binding and inactivating harmful free radicals. MSM is also a potent anti-inflammatory for autoimmune reactions, it also crosses the blood brain barrier and allows nerve cells to excrete products
  • Turmeric is a great detoxifier (not tablets for humans as these are too strong, use VetUK as these joint supplements are specifically for dogs)
  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin sulphate (VetUK, ProTreat and Vetzyme have these)
  • Nutritional yeast as well.
  • Raw garlic is antibacterial and antifungal as well as having an anti-inflammatory and anti-biotic. Add in ginger for it’s anti-emetic and calming effect along with mustard which improves digestion and bowel function.
  1. Other alternatives to try:
  • CBD oil  – (the legal cannabis oil, stronger than the hemp oil you can buy in supermarkets for cooking but as CBD oil is VERY expensive, if you can’t afford it then please do buy the Hemp Oil). We’ve ordered this but not tried it yet, but from all the things we’ve heard, this can really help relax your dog, help with any pain caused through twisting limbs/sprains and is an antioxidant and is great at combating autoimmune associated disorders.
  • Aminocaproic Acid (EACA)now this is the closest we’ve found to finding a cure! Unfortunately for UK residents it’s nigh on impossible to get over here (but we are still trying and I will post here any that we find!). This amazing USA Vet, Dr Roger Clemmons, is an expert in DM in German Shepherds and from his WestLab facilities in Florida he has had amazing results with aminocaproic acid in 80% of his patients where it slowed down the progression of the disease and even halted it! Be aware, this is extremely expensive!
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC) – this (easier to get in the UK) was also the other medication Dr Clemmons used with aminocaproic acid for the best results.

So, at the moment we are fighting the good fight. We seem to have swayed our at first very reluctant vet (our usual amazing vet is on maternity leave) to look into aminocaproic acid in the UK as a treatment for him. We have Tolly on all those daily supplements and vitamins above, we’ve ordered the CBD oil which is on its way and will be having the vet do a DNA test hopefully next week, while we are rigorously exercising him every day, doing leg stretches and massages and generally doing everything we can to help him and slow this hideous disease. It’s the very least we can do for our darling Tolly.

We’ve even been looking into stem cell research as some progress has come through recently in regards to MS which is so so similar to DM.

So there you go. For any wolfie lovers out there facing this same awful journey, I hope some of the info on here has been helpful. I would recommend joining the Degenerative Myelopathy group on Facebook, which has been a great source of information particularly for breaking down the different stages of the disease so people know what to look out for and can prepare themselves for what is to come.

Information is always power.

For those that are owners of healthy doggies, just give them a tight squeeze and hug and keep your fingers crossed that you never have to go through this.

May the force be with Tolly and any other wolfies fighting this. We love you! ❀ xxxxxx

Magic and Mental Health

It seems both poetic and ironic that on World Mental Health Day (10th October), that my own mental health which has not been good this year (particularly of late), has turned a corner.

It’s true that I have been plagued by depression since I was 13 and have had some pretty dark times. I once described it as being a meal on a menu, once you’ve been down that dark road you’re never quite the same again and that meal option keeps popping up – an apparent ‘easy’ way out. Which of course is illusory, nothing in any aspect of life is ever ‘easy’.

But, demons aside and crippling self-doubt, it is amazing what a piece of good news can do for your self-esteem and yes, for your mental health.

It’s horrible to think that my mental health is so fragile and unstable that it can be shaken by bad news and improved by good news. I’ve always prided myself on being a very tough cookie, after all I’ve survived a lot of things that would simply have buried other people, so there is a hard tenacious streak somewhere in me.

But I suppose, when I’m feeling low, stressed and upset, that’s when mental health can be particularly fragile and susceptible to outward forces. I just have to accept that and try not to be so affected by others and the outside world. Being a hermit after all has some benefits! 😀

The trick to any mental health crisis, is not to beat yourself up. You can’t help how you’re feeling and you’re not in full control of how you behave either, I’m not talking about behaving like an asshole to others and using it as an excuse, there’s never an excuse for being a dick. But, when you’re in that dark hole, the world and everything in it is skewed, you are viewing people and situations in a very altered state. Paranoia, fear, isolation, loneliness and self-destructive thoughts run rampant and things that appear minor and trivial to others, become massively important to you, through a microscope lens.

The only advice I can offer to fellow suffers, is just that it WILL pass, if you let it. Everything in life is transitory.

Happiness never lasts, neither does love, but then neither does unhappiness either.

We are all flotsam on a tide of emotions that ebb and flow, appear and disappear. So if you are feeling miserable, take heart that you will not feel like that forever. And if you are happy or in love, make sure you treasure every moment because life is so fleeting.

So…for me, as writing has been causing me so much pain of late, I have temporarily hung up my pen. I will always be a writer and I WILL finish Book 2 of The Darkling Chronicles, Darkling Rise and the third and final book, even if no-one reads them and my other novel projects, including Ravenwing. But for now, novels and short stories (which I’m still not convinced I should do anymore of), are being temporarily shelved.

I’m concentrating on something I know I CAN do and do well – ART!

2017 has been a pretty monumental year art wise. I established the Artmaniac Challenge and FB group, where people share their art and try to do something arty and creative every day (a very hard ask), as well as videoing my first art tutorials on YouTube and doing my first art exhibition in the Art Room at BristolCon (the first exhibition since my art student days)…but I have also found myself being wooed by HarperCollins to become one of their illustrators! A dream come true! That resulted in my creating two awesome maps for their highly anticipated grimdark debut’s Anna Stephen’s Godblind and Anna Smith-Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives. The response I have had about these maps has been nothing short of phenomenal and they have made their way around the world being picked up by Random House and Orbit in the USA and by Dutch and German publishers etc etc.

Well, it’s happened again! Out of the blue, another major publisher contacted me on my illustration website and wants me to work for them! No less than Penguin Random House! 😀

I’m so chuffed! Yes I know my art skills are good and I’m a total perfectionist, but as we all know, having any measure of talent does not guarantee you a damn thing. How many multi-talented people do we all know who should be wildly successful but aren’t, while decidedly mediocre folks seem to rise to the top? 9/10 times, it’s simply who you know, your connections that get you where you want to go and not your acumen or talent. Tough but true.

But on this occasion, it genuinely seems to be my skills as a mapmaker that have brought me to Penguin’s attention. Woo and hoo! 😀

So yes, as I finish a current map commission, start work on a brilliant new project being funded by Oxford University no less, and prepare for my scary art exhibition and being on two panels at BristolCon (including moderating one)…I will also begin a scary new commission for Penguin Random House! 😀

So…dare I whisper it, but I am starting to feel a lot better and my depression is (hopefully) on the wane even as I enter a very hectic and stressful period. But that’s the thing about mental health, it can affect any one of us and at any time. So please, if you know someone who is struggling, no matter what the cause, just listen and be there for them and remember to look after yourself too.

Peace, good mental health and love to you all. ❀ xxxx

❀

 

When you’ve lost your way…

Battling depression – and losing.

As writers we all have times when we face a crisis in confidence, often being plagued by terrible self-doubts. In my case, those anxieties are magnified. Certainly out of all the friends I know, especially writer friends, I would say I’m by far the least confident as a writer. I see them saying things and doing things I wouldn’t dream of saying or doing, conducting themselves with the reassurance that they are right and know what they’re talking about. I never think that, certainly not where writing is concerned. The most confident I am, is with my artwork, I know I can draw and paint well, though I’m utterly crap at any digital art.

But writing although it has been a apart of me since I was three apparently, the earliest in the whole school to read and write, writing, particularly in recent years (since I got ill in 2013) has also been my Achilles Heel and something I admit that I am terribly insecure about.

But recently, those nagging insecurities, self-doubts and paralysing fears have been given tangible substance and I admit, it has triggered a terrible reaction in me that I’m struggling to control. Because so much of my identity of who I am and what I am, is tied up with writing, to suddenly find that something I was so proud of, something I thought was fantastic, poetically written, tense, engaging, historically accurate (I did a History A Level on the subject), something I had done exhaustive research on and which had filled my imagination for months and months…was in fact crap, has been like an earthquake to me. I honestly believed it was one of the best stories I’ve ever written. I still don’t know what is actually wrong with it, the feedback I’ve had focused on different areas, but I still don’t know what it was about it that they disliked so much, what made it a bad story, because honestly, re-reading it, I still think it’s great even though now that’s tinged with my brain saying – no Sophie it’s shit, remember, you’ve been told it’s subpar, deal with it.

Criticism is something we all get, and up til now I’d always dealt well with it, I’ve had a life time of practice after all. But something about this just broke me. I can’t put it anymore plainly than that. It triggered the very worst of those negative voices I carry around with me, and unfortunately triggered an awful lot more – my depression and the worst of my dangerous feelings and feelings of worthlessness. It symbolised that not only was I wrong, not only was my writing not good, but that my judgement was WAY off!

How can a writer continue if they can’t trust their judgement? If what they think is good is crap, or vice versa?

It also meant that a book, Ravenwing, that I have been working on (80,000 words+), which has so much of me and my life in and which when I pitched it to a couple of friends received a luke warm reception to say the least, is also crap. That book has the exact same character in it as the crap story and is written in exactly the same manner, so if one is rubbish, the other will be too.

For someone like me who struggles against an illness that robs writers of their voice, that steals away my short term memory, to the point where I can’t remember books I’ve read only months before, and that makes mental fatigue and a 30min max concentration span so overwhelming – to have yet another obstacle in my way has been more than I can deal with. I don’t need anyone else tearing me down, I do that well enough on my own, but yes, the whole experience has broken me.

I don’t know where I go from here. I can’t trust my judgement and I can’t trust any writing ability I may or may not have. Not only will I never write another short story again, I’m now left wondering if I can ever write anything again. The mountain is too high as it is, but now my hands and feet are tied and I’m blindfolded.

So yes, depression has sunk its claws into me and I would quite happily bury myself in a hole and never reappear again. My energies are spent, my confidence (such as it was, under my ‘bubbly facade’) is in tatters and I genuinely don’t know where I go from here. I’ve never felt like giving up more than I do now. Giving up on everything. What the fuck is the point?

So I’m taking a break from everything, from FB, social media and the constant whirr of noise that hits you, the ups and downs of people, the dramas, the tears and smiles, the narcissistic selfies, the congratulatory patting of backs, the woes, the worries, the inner thinkings, the copious piccies, all of it. I need a rest, I need space. I can’t take the optimism and confidence of people, especially my friends when I’m feeling as if a black hole has swallowed me.

I wish everyone well, I always do, and I love my friends. But no-one can help sort out what’s in my head. I know they’ll be back chat and talk from some people and inevitable bitchy comments of  – “really? oh ffs, what’s she making a fuss about?”

What am I making a fuss about? Nothing, absolutely nothing…that’s kind of the point.

😩

How to Make A Living as a Writer!

Apologies to all my US, NZ and Aussie writer friends, this post is very UK based so won’t apply to most of you, but feel free pick up ideas. 😀

On Wednesday 24th May 2017, I attended my first Society of Authors (SoA) event in Bristol, at the Arnolfini Gallery, a place I used to visit all the time when I was a struggling art student some twenty years ago! In fact, I first saw a young Damien Hirst exhibit his work there before he made it huge with his pickled sharks, and I marvelled at the huge architectural spiders of artist Louise Bourgeois (a thing of fear for an arachnophobe like me!). The Arnolfini itself is perched on the banks of the River Frome in the heart of Bristol and although it has changed a bit (more sleeker than I remember), thankfully it was still recognisable with it’s impressive exhibition spaces and relaxed bohemian vibe. If you’ve never visited it’s well worth a look. In fact the whole of the Bristol Docks/Quayside area is a lovely place to spend some time especially in the summer, very arty with almost an Amsterdam feel to the place with all the boats, barges and canal ferries going up and down the water, the smell of street food wafting through the air, acoustic guitar strumming in the background, cafes and restaurants spilling onto the cobbled streets, now pedestrianised, and of course the Watershed Arts & Media Centre one side of the river and the Arnolfini Gallery the other, linked by the stunning architectural Pero’s Bridge.

The SoA event was a very topical one – ‘How to Make a Living as a Writer’ – something every writer I know would like to do! As most SoA events are centralised in London, a criticism made by one of the members there, I was absolutely determined to attend this rare outside of London event. As usual my body had other ideas…as I had dared to go to a last minute Grimbold Books work/social on the Monday evening which was fab but left me exhausted the following day, I ended up paying for it on the Wednesday. Annoyingly I went to bed on the Tuesday with a migraine, woke up on the Wednesday with a terrible migraine and one that decided to get progressively worse through the day with my usual vertigo and sickness, to the extent that I was then unable to drive and had to ask for a lift in. 😩

The event was upstairs in one of the gallery ‘Reading Rooms’ and one with very little air conditioning on one of the hottest days of the year! I was shocked and delighted that the whole thing kicked off with the chair reading a quote from Gareth L. Powell, a brilliant Bristol based writer who I happen to know and who wanted to be there but the tickets had sold out! How weird and wonderful is that?

“There are two kinds of courage. There’s the kind you get from knowing that what you’re doing is right. And there’s the kind you get from knowing its hopeless and wrong, and just not giving a damn.”  ― Gareth L. Powell, The Last Reef

It began with an interesting Q&A session chaired by Sarah Baxter who advises SoA members on publishing contracts and issues, handles literary estates, including print permissions and amateur stage licences. She also administers grants for writers in need including the Authors Contingency Fund, PD James Memorial Fund and Authors Foundation grants. The SoA’s newest contracts advisor, Theo Jones, who used to work for Oxford University Press, also joined her and I had a rather nice chat to him during the break.
During the Q&A various topics were raised including issues about competing titles, the new Amazon buy button (which is worrying a lot of people), the difficulty of earning a living through writing, the rise of celebrity authors and I mentioned the problem of author signings in chains like Waterstones. To my delight I wasn’t the only person who had found a problem trying to get Waterstones to stock books from smaller authors and small presses, as well as indies and how once James Daunt took over Waterstones, their policy changed towards signing events – where now most shops only hold signing events for big celebrity names. Yet another door/opportunity closed to struggling writers. The discussion around celebrity authors was very pertinent and how even well established authors are finding themselves squeezed off the shelves in both bookshops and libraries and are finding it harder to get publishing contracts because celebrities are swamping the market. I myself mentioned the whole Miranda Hart problem I had encountered where I’ve had to completely re-write my entire picture book along with illustrations because her upcoming first foray into children’s fiction is almost exactly the same as my concept. Years of work wasted. Grrrrr. 😩
I kept taking notes and trying to listen as I battled the migraine which was now pounding away behind my eyes with a regular persistence and tried to ignore the rising temptation to vomit. No-one likes throwing up, but vomiting in public is one of my fears. We had a break for refreshments and after a brief chat to Theo Jones I scuttled off to the toilets in the hope of being sick so I’d feel better after. No go. I came back and found myself cornered by an overly enthusiastic writer putting the world to rights. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, although I’m not naturally very social, I can go into my ‘social façade mode’ and chat with the best of them. The problem here though, was that apart from my sweating profusely through a mixture of meds and unbearable heat, this particular woman was actually shouting. Obviously she had a problem hearing above the general chit chat, but shouting in an animated fashion only inches away from my banging migraine was something akin to torture! 😩

We returned to our seats for the meat of the matter – a one hour panel discussion on ‘How to Make a Living as a Writer’. Sarah Baxter was joined by Helen Chaloner (CEO of Literature Works*). Helen worked in publishing PR for over nine years, at Penguin Books, Macdonald Publishing and, latterly, at Faber & Faber. She was the National Director of the Arvon Foundation and Chief Executive of Farms for City Children. She is a lover of fiction and principal short story reader for the Bridport Prize. The panel was rounded off by writer and fellow SoA member, Patricia Ferguson, who has published seven novels and a volume of short stories so far, teaches Creative Writing for the University of Bristol, and was Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Reading University for three years.

*I admit I’d never heard of Literature Works before – a strategic literature development charity for South West England who are a National Portfolio Organisation of the Arts Council England. Literature Works’ role is to fundraise for the Literature Works Annual Fund, a support and grant scheme providing small awards for literature activity across the region, and where possible securing funding for larger regional projects with delivery partners, advice, advocacy and partnership. There mission is to support, understand and advocate regional literature in all its contexts, for everyone, for all ages, etc.

Sarah Baxter mentioned the South West Writers Directory (Literature Works) and that we should all get ourselves listed on there (something I have done this afternoon). Write Now was also mentioned as an initiative being piloted in Birmingham and Bristol – a scheme to find, mentor and publish new writers with different stories to tell and is in correlation with the BBC Writer’s Room. Writers from communities under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves. It is sponsored by Penguin Random House and I must say, anything that promotes greater diversity on our bookshelves is very welcomed by me.

I’d love to say some magic wands were discussed, some instant thing we can all do to suddenly become full time writers who can pay their bills exclusively through just writing, but if it was discussed, then those were the bits I missed…

Annoyingly, during this most crucial part of the event, I was desperately ill, teeth clenched, mouth clamped shut fighting the urge to barf, and so embarrassingly twice I had to leave in front of everyone. The second time I only just made it to the Arnolfini toilets before projectile vomiting everywhere. The only good thing is that it was with such force that I had no disgusting sick on me, it was like some comedy water canon being switched on. Apologies to the cleaners, I tried my best. 😩

Dear dear…you can imagine the state I was in, trying to concentrate and put on a professional front and write down copious notes for myself and friends while struggling with a howling migraine and nausea. Ugh. NOT my finest hour. I later made my apologies to Sarah Baxter and Poppy Rosenberg who were running the event and they were lovely. Then, exiting as quickly as I could, I found a bench overlooking the harbour, under the dappled shade of a sycamore tree and waited for my ride to pick me up as my head pulsated and swirled as if it were trying to copy Michael Ironside’s exploding cranium in horror film, Scanners.

So, what can I tell you about the outcome of all this?

Well, apart from the fact that you are not alone in struggling to make a living solely from writing, there really were no instant answers.

A few helpful hints were given though to raise your profile, perhaps get financial help and get paying writing work, so I’ll pop them here in no particular order (apologies for any obvious ones):

  • Literature Works – have resources, advice and help for writers.
  • South West Writer’s Directory – its free, get yourself on there! (sorry west country only)
  • Bid writing – Using your transferable skills ie. professional writing expertise in writing for companies, charities and organisations needing a more comprehensive and literate approach to their communications, fundraising and marketing.
  • Join a local writer’s group, not only as a means of fine tuning your own writing but as a networking tool.
  • Royal Literary Fund – The Royal Literary Fund is a UK charity that has been helping authors since 1790. It provides grants and pensions to writers in financial difficulty; it also places writers in universities to help students develop their writing.
  • National Writing Day (June 21st) – get involved with libraries and schools to celebrate this day.
  • Arvon – Was discussed a great deal and the grants and support.
  • Caroline Summerfield was mentioned and The Eugenie Summerfield Children’s Book Prize.
  • The Bath Novel Award was mentioned as well.
  • Mailing lists were discussed as a good way of building your fanbase.
  • It was discussed that as authors we needed to find a way of incentivising publishers to sign authors who are not celebrities, of finding a way to break that repeating cycle which is not only detrimental to professional authors whose sole income is writing, but also in some cases, floods the market with yet more substandard writing!
  • The organisers were very keen to start up a Bristol SoA chapter, as currently, despite there being apparently 481 SoA authors in and around Bristol, there is no Bristol group. I’d certainly be up for joining one, especially if there was a speculative fiction based one (Gareth?). Unfortunately a lot of this discussion and networking no doubt happened in the networking/socialising with drinks portion of the event, held afterwards in the Watershed bar and which I had to leave due to illness. 😩
  • Apparently the average earnings of a writer had now dropped from 18K a year to 11K. I must confess, my earnings from writing is nowhere near this. My illustration work with HarperCollins is the money maker for me, not my writing.
  • Promote your local connections through local libraries, bookshops, schools and writing groups – local radio is a resource as well as newspapers, use them.
  • Put yourself forward to teach creative writing courses at festivals etc. huge amounts of experience are not needed, it can be done with just a single published book under your belt.
  • Podcasting – as a visual means of raising your profile and getting more of your content out there on channels such as YouTube.

There, that seemed to be the majority of what was discussed. 😀

For me, a very handy contact gained, was meeting Judith Gunn who runs the Gloucestershire & Neighbouring Counties SoA group. I explained that unfortunately I’ve never been able to attend any of the meetings and events as they are always held during the day usually on Monday or Tuesday when I’m working. Judith said she had been discussing possibly opening up the group to hold an evening session every so often, so keen members like me who work day jobs, can attend. I certainly think that would be hugely beneficial not only to me, but other SoA writers I know, like lovely fellow fantasy writer, Jules Ironside who was working on Wednesday so couldn’t attend. Watch this space!