Today, as part of the Great Grimbold discount weekend, I’m very happy to welcome my fellow Kristell Ink author Sophie E Tallis to Making Things Up For A Living. Sophie’s novel White Mountain was published in December, and she’s agreed to submit to some gentle questioning on here. Hello Sophie!
Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a writer, illustrator, insomniac and artist and a bit of a nerd – that may be an understatement. I’m a fantasy/sci-fi geek and ex-teacher who got paroled after sixteen years and I now work in a library. I’ve always written and illustrated stories, have a thirst for learning and have far too many interests and never enough time. I’ve lived in a few places but have now settled, sort of, in the wilds of Gloucestershire off a lane with no name, with my family and four huge white wolves who I adore. I’m a lover of wild places and solitude and am quite a nomadic character. My best trip still remains the four month backpacking odyssey I took around New Zealand in 1997-1998 which changed my life. That’s me!
Your novel, “White Mountain” is the first in a series. Could you tell us a little bit about the book – no spoilers!
White Mountain is a classic tale of good versus evil in many ways, an epic fantasy in the high tradition, but with a twist. Amongst the secret cities hidden from humanity for so long, an ancient pre-existing culture finds the greatest threat is from within their own ranks, as a ruthless changeling hell bent on revenge and power is hunting and murdering the last wizards who could oppose him. As dark demons awaken from the past, a group of disparate travellers race against time to save a friend and face an enemy intent on destroying them all and the plague of humanity.
Basically anyone who loves worldbuilding and dragons, will love this book!
How have you developed your characters? Do you have a favourite character?
Well virtually all my characters are based on people I know. I’ve been honest about saying how my central villain is based on my estranged ultra-violent father. That’s a character burned onto your consciousness I tell you, but he was great to write and the experience was very cathartic. There’s even a couple in there, based on some neighbours I knew. My favourite characters tend to change though. There’s a lot of me in the three central characters – the oddity and eccentricity of Mr. Agyk and hopefully his warmth; I am quite a passionate, quick tempered person and probably have Gralen’s eating habits but I love Wendya the most I think. She’s had a tough time in life and is guarded and somewhat of a hermit like me. I definitely have her flaws and fragility but some of her strength too I hope.
What is your favourite part of writing? Which parts do you find easy? Is there any particular aspect of writing that you struggle with, and how have you overcome it?
I love seeing plot strands suddenly come together before my eyes and how the jigsaw pieces slot together, you get a tremendous sense of excitement and achievement and before you know it the story unfurls into quite a different direction!
I am a very slow writer and always have been, so I do struggle not to compare myself to others when I have friends who can whizz off one, two or even three books in a year. It can really knock your self-confidence and can be quite debilitating as I slowly plod on. Unfortunately, that has only become worse since I got ill in 2013 and my brain now burns out after 30 mins of intense concentration. It’s been very difficult to reconcile myself with that, but I am a tenacious bastard so if I can only write for thirty minutes max, then that’s what I do!
What made you want to be a writer? What were your favourite books growing up?
I’ve just always written. According to my family, I was writing and drawing before I could walk properly. By the time I was ten, I had bags and bags full of short stories, most of it rubbish I’m sure. When I was 15 I wrote to Lynda la Plante and asked her about her writing habits, to my astonishment she replied and filled out my questionnaire! I still have the letter. It really inspired me and by 18 I finished my first novel, a sci-fi opus I will return to one day.
Favourite books growing up was basically anything by Tolkien, CS Lewis, Mary Stewart and latterly, Philip K Dick, David Gemmell, HP Lovecraft, Frank Herbert and Joseph Conrad. I haven’t read LOTR for many years, but it still resonates with me as I’m such a lover of nature and worldbuilding and I love the darkness of ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, ‘Legend’ and ‘Dune’.
Your blog is hugely successful. What do you think makes a good blog, and do you have any tips for fellow bloggers?
I’m really not an expert but I would say put quality above quantity. We all live such busy hectic lives, who has the time to either write or read a new blog post every single day? I’m sure it works for some, but I find it completely overwhelming and a bit of a turn off. Adversely, post a new piece only once every few months and it will most likely fall on a diminishing audience. I try to blog every two weeks, sometimes more sometimes less, but I’m very picky about what I write about or re-blog. I don’t post trivia, what I ate for breakfast kind of thing, who cares about that? I like to chop and change it, sometimes a short story or a poem, sometimes writing advice or a personal experience. Keep it fresh, make it visual – a picture says a thousand words so illustrate your blog posts and make your titles quirky so they catch the eye.
I understand you had quite an eventful (putting it charitably!) journey to publication before you ended up in the friendly Grimbold embrace? Would you like to share your experiences and what you’ve learned, and what advice can you give other writers who are just starting out?
Wow, where do I begin? I’ll try to be as brief as I can. I could probably write a novel on my first experiences, in fact that’s not a bad idea! Yes, I fell into the trap that many naïve writers fall into – jumping first, regretting it later.
I’d taken an inordinate amount of time writing and re-writing my novel and had subbed it years before to Pan Macmillan and received serious attention before they finally passed. It was too rough, which I knew, so I kept working on it. Pan Macmillan in the meantime changed their submission rules; which meant that White Mountain could no longer qualify (too high a word count). When I eventually finished editing, before I had even considered who to sub it to, I was approached completely out of the blue by a so-called ‘UK based publisher ’, now very much based in Germany. They had heard about my book through a friend and were incredibly interested and enthusiastic about it. I was thrilled, overawed, flattered, basically every emotion you can think of – a publisher was actually chasing me! Shouldn’t it have been the other way round? Dear dear…if only I had asked myself that question, if only I had done any research!
It was ridiculous, I’d taken ten years meticulously researching and building the world around White Mountain, yet was willing to sign to a publisher I didn’t know anything about? Totally crazy! So, yes, I do have to accept a good portion of blame there. Of course every small publisher has to start somewhere, but if I had researched them I would have found out that within months of starting their business they had already lost the very first author who signed with them, already had a bad reputation on Absolute Write, were claiming a London office that turned out to be nothing more than a PO Box, had a dreadful looking website and worst still, terrible covers. When I think back, I really must have had a moment of insanity. I didn’t check anything, I didn’t even look at the books they were producing, the poor editing, the poor formatting, the tiny fonts, the cheap quality, the enforced ‘Global English’ – spelling and grammar which was a mish-mash of both UK & US English, leaving readers completely confused on what the hell they were reading. The contract terms were dreadful too and very author unfriendly. But to be honest, that was the least of it. Yes, it was heartbreaking to see a book I had cherished become an embarrassing mess, a 500 page book squeezed into 280 pages, with what I could only describe as a white artichoke on the cover and in a font so tiny you needed a microscope to read it! But by far the worst, was their treatment of their authors. What I would describe as bullying, despotism, a total lack of consultation or consideration and a shocking level of arrogance and ego, yet without any competent reason for being so self-deluded. Dictatorial demands, author contracts broken, terms changed on a whim and if any authors didn’t agree to them they were threatened with termination. It was a terrible and scarring experience which I was very lucky to have escaped. Several others have not been so fortunate.
Believe me I could say so SO much more!
My advice? Simple – DO NOT SIGN ANY CONTRACT before getting it thoroughly checked first and before thoroughly checking out who you are signing with! You wouldn’t buy a house or car without checking it, don’t give away your hard work and what could be years of your life to just anyone. There are lots of publishers out there who are honest, friendly, professional, honorable people who place quality first, like wonderful Grimbold Books. Thank the gods for publishers like that! BUT, there are also a lot of charlatans who at best are totally incompetent and will ruin your book just to make the largest profits for themselves, or who at worst, are just dishonest crooks that will con you out of royalties, try to continue selling your book even after the termination date or try to claim copyrights they have no right to.
Be mindful…better no publisher than the wrong publisher!
Can you share some of your favourite books and movies of the last few years?
I must mention a fellow fantasy indie author and my friend, Lindsey J Parsons, who sadly passed away last year but whose first book, Vortex, I absolutely loved! I’m not into paranormal romance at all, but she totally hooked me. I’ve recently started reading Jen Williams, Copper Promise, ahem, on a recommendation by a certain Joanne Hall, and am really enjoying it, but I must also mention my own publisher’s brilliant book, Sammy HK Smith’s In Search of Gods and Heroes, which is on my bedside table and is responsible for my not sleeping! I blame my eye-bags on her!
What are your plans for your next book?
The second book picks up where the last one ended. The characters are profoundly changed after their experiences. This book really starts to bring their world and our human world together, that clash of cultures as things start to shift irrevocably towards war. Writing the scenes that take place in Bristol, city of my birth, have been particularly fun! I’m really excited with how the story is progressing, though I wish I could write faster, and am hoping to have it ready for publication next year.
As you know, it’s the Great Big Grimbold Discount Weekend, where all Grimbold titles across the Amazons are 99p / 99c. The two Grimbold imprints – Kristell Ink and Tenebris – have a wonderfully varied output, from pure SF to Steampunk to Paranormal Romance (over twenty titles now, so they have something for everyone!) Which 3-5 Grimbold books would you recommend for people who have enjoyed White Mountain?
Oh, that’s not fair, can’t I have them all? That’s really tricky, like trying to choose between my favourite sweets or between Buffy or Starbuck…I’d have to go for In Search of Gods and Heroes as I’m enjoying it so much, I’d love to choose Kate Coe’s new book, Green Sky and Sparks for its originality and steampunk edge, I’d also have to go with your Art of Forgetting and Nomad for your worldbuilding and strong characters (see how I snuck two titles in there!) and probably Willow Weep No More which is a magical collection of dark fairytales.
I think people who love White Mountain would love all of those titles!
Amongst our modern world lies another, an archaic and hidden world of tradition, sorcery and magic.
As dark demons awaken from our past, the last remaining wizards are being hunted and murdered by a changeling of terrifying strength.
Attacked and drained of most of his powers, a dying sorcerer must race against time to save himself, and the fate of all, from an enemy intent on cleansing the planet of humanity…
Darkness spreads as friendships, betrayals and horrifying truths await…
Sophie E Tallis
Author & Illustrator of epic fantasy, White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles, and other thrilling tales!