Welcome to the five hundred and twelfth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with novelist, short story author, poet and illustrator Sophie E Tallis. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Sophie. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Sophie: Well, I’m a thirty-something dreamer, which is kind of how I’ve spent most of my life. As a young child, I could draw and paint before I could walk and was writing stories from an early age. I always wanted to be an author and illustrate my own books and now that it’s finally happening, I can’t quite believe it! I must say, to all those dreamers out there – everyone prepares you for life’s knocks and rejections but if your dreams start to come true…it is simply the most surreal experience! A strange mixture of hyper-excitement and numbness!
As well as being an author and illustrator, I’m a full-time high kicking, light-sabre wielding teacher who spends my days trying to inspire the young children in my care. What could be a better job than that? The hours are long and it’s a lot of hard work, but I love it. I just wish I could juggle my time better and squeeze a few more hours out of every day. Never enough time, eh?
I live with my family in the Cotswolds, UK, in a leafy corner of Gloucestershire with my two crazy white wolves (German Shepherds) and an assortment of wildlife including a stroppy moorhen family and a load of wild ducks that fly in and out and basically run the place!
Morgen: It’s a beautiful part of the country to live, plenty of inspiration I’m sure. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Sophie: I generally write fantasy. Life can be tough and certainly I’ve been through some pretty tough times, which is why my ethos has always been – that if you can’t claw your way out of your reality, you can grow wings and soar instead! Fantasy can be a wonderfully cathartic escape not just for the reader but for the writer too! Lol! However, yes, I do write in other genres, primarily science fiction, short stories and literary fiction.
Morgen: Ah, short stories, my first love. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Sophie: White Mountain – book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles, is my debut novel. I generally write under my real name, but my pseudonym on a lot of writer sites is Tollam, the name of one of my characters in White Mountain and the name of one of my dogs!
Morgen: 🙂 Is your book available as an eBook?
Sophie: Yes. My publisher, Safkhet Publishing LLP, will be doing an eBook version of White Mountain.
Morgen: Safkhet’s been very supportive of this site, inviting me to interview Sheryl Browne, Will Macmillan Jones, Bruce Moore, and at the helm Kim Sutton and Will Sutton, and now yourself, hopefully there’ll be more to come. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Sophie: I love all of the book projects I have in progress, but White Mountain being my first published novel and the one I have spent the most number of years working on, will always be my baby.
As for characters? Boy, that’s hard to choose. Could anyone pick their favourite child? I love them all for different reasons and my favourite tends to change depending on my mood. I love Mr. Agyk’s quirkiness, his depth of knowledge and ultimately his humanity. I love Gralen’s unswerving loyalty, his rudeness and his huge heart…or should I say hearts. I find myself drawn to Korrun’s loneliness, his angst and his courage and I love Wendya’s fragility, her self-doubt and ultimately her strength.
Wow! Well, yes, The Darkling Chronicles would make an amazing series of films, as they are so cinematic in scope with some truly epic set pieces. I’m working on a film script for White Mountain so we’ll have to see!
As for actors, well Patrick Stewart would make a great Mr. Agyk, in fact he is almost perfect for the role! I’ve always seen Morreck, the arch villain of the books, as a mixture of Brad Pitt and Pol Pot – an outwardly handsome, golden haired and seductive character with magnetic-like charisma, but a figure who is as cruel, ruthless and rotten as he is beautiful. So, why not have Brad Pitt playing him? True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard would also be wonderful in the role. As for Korrun, he is a trickier one to cast. James Purefoy would be brilliant in the role as would a younger Rufus Sewell, though I think Tom Hardy and Henry Cavill would also bring a much needed brooding presence. Gralen would require an actor with great vocal talents, a gravitas but a younger voice than Mr. Agyk, maybe Rufus Sewell for that part, and new British actress, Felicity Jones, is the epitome of Wendya…right…just need to find a director, eh? Lol!
Morgen: It’s funny how many authors see their characters as children. It just goes to show how fond we are of them (even the antagonists… or sometimes especially!). Which authors would you compare your writing to?
Sophie: Epic fantasy authors often get comparisons to David Gemmell, Raymond E. Feist, Terry Goodkind, David Eddings, GRR Martin and a host of other wonderful writers, all of which I would be honoured to be compared with. I’m not sure that I would necessarily compare my writing to any single author, although I certainly love the poetic nature of Tolkien and the darkness and gift for character of Philip Pullman.
Morgen: A great cast list. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sophie: Book 2 of The Darkling Chronicles, which I am absolutely loving! I do admit though, that it is difficult juggling writing in the evenings with promoting White Mountain, a full-time job with long hours and the normal demands of life. But hey, I’m learning to juggle!
Morgen: I’m lucky in that I left my job in March (swapped it for two lodgers) so I can spend my days at home. I do wonder how I did both. Do you manage to write every day?
Sophie: I really try to write everyday no matter how exhausted I may be. It’s so important to try and make the time, even if it’s just scribbled notes, bits of dialogue, an action sequence, something, anything… just get it down on paper. But I have no illusions. You are always fighting the clock and as I often don’t get home until late, those precious few hours really are precious.
Morgen: Aren’t they, but then I found when I had time off I probably didn’t get (proportionately) much more done because I wasn’t then conscious of having a limited time. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Sophie: Yes, unfortunately I have suffered from writer’s block, usually when I’m overly tired and trying to force a story rather than let it flow naturally. I remember from my college days, that creativity and deadlines don’t mix, but we’ve got to have them, right?
Morgen: They do help. I’ll be doing my fifth NaNoWriMo this year and knowing I have to get 50,000 words or more in a month is a great focus. Last year was my first year doing it and the blog and I struggled (but then doing 3,000 words on day one then nothing ’til day 22 didn’t help. This year I have the daily short stories too so I may have to pause those for a month, or let the emails stack up even more than they do (currently 223 vying for my attention because I’ve been concentrating on getting one of my novels done… which I have and am moving on to final edits of another :)). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sophie: Both. White Mountain was an organic idea that just grew over a matter of time and once seeded, it just blossomed and kind of took me over. But there were elements of it which were plotted out, especially the battle sequences – ‘the choreography of war’ as I call it. For books 2 & 3 though, I’m plotting my stories out as I know where I want them to go and I don’t have the luxury of developing them in my bedroom over a matter of years like White Mountain!
Morgen: 🙂 Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sophie: My characters names are a mixture of pure idea, inspiration and research. Wendya Undokki for instance, the word ‘undokki’ is derived from the African Bantu for witch or witchcraft, which is very appropriate as Wendya is a witch and grew up in Kallorm, beneath the Congolese jungles of central Africa! Many character names also follow the linguistic rules I have for the races to which they belong, as dworll characters and places all have either double ‘r’s or ‘l’s in them.
Morgen: That’s the great thing about fantasy, although I don’t write it, you can really do anything with anywhere. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sophie: Again both. Your writing naturally improves the more you write and experience always plays a part in that. You learn what works and what doesn’t. However, the perfectionist in me means that I’m never completely satisfied with a work and always do a lot of editing during and after principal writing. I must have edited White Mountain a 100 times, tightening, tweaking, trying to make it perfect which of course is an impossible task. Perhaps that’s the point, to keep striving, keep aiming for the stars…even if you can’t reach them, you can get close!
Morgen: I do know now (having written over the obligatory, according to Jerry Pournelle, million words) when I’m starting to waffle, or repeat myself (repetition is a particular bugbear of mine). Do you have to do much research?
Sophie: Lol! Yes, yes, and yes, but I LOVE it! Research is key for me and for any genre / book, whether it’s a crime drama or an epic fantasy. For White Mountain, my research was pretty exhaustive from looking at the geography of the real places used in the book, to the indigenous people, dialects even botany of those locations. The boreal forests of Siberia, the setting for the Grey Forest, are populated by Amur leopards, elk and capercaillie. The Congolese jungles of Africa have native iroko and sapele trees, wild begonias and swallowtail butterflies etc etc. Then the research into ancient cultures. civilisations, mythologies and the etymology of words, was just great fun!
Morgen: I’m so glad we don’t all like the same things; research and editing are my least favourite. You mentioned your short stories earlier, do you write any poetry or non-fiction?
Sophie: Yes, poetry and non-fiction in the form of New Zealand travelogues.
Morgen: Having seen Lord of the Rings I can see why you love New Zealand. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sophie: Not really. I did have some interest from Pan Macmillan several years ago when I did what many rooky writers do, and sent an incomplete and very rough manuscript. They were interested but eventually passed. I wasn’t surprised, it really was in a rough state! But to be honest, I really hadn’t approached any publishers when a friend recommended Safkhet.
Agents though? Oh yes, I’ve had rejections from them, or actually non-responses, which is always fun. As with most things, it’s always the time wasted waiting and waiting that you regret, but hey, nothing worth achieving is ever easy. Just dust yourself off and try again and above all things, stay positive and never give up!
Morgen: It’s a shame about Pan but I know some authors have had mixed experiences with the larger publishers (they tend to feel under the thumb) and enjoy the flexibility and a closer working relationship with smaller presses. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Sophie: Last year shortly after finishing my final round of edits, I entered the ABNA competition. I got to the quarterfinals before being knocked out at the semi’s. It was a good experience which I would recommend to anyone and I took some valuable advice away from it.
Morgen: I used to enter competitions (I struggle for time and prefer to submit to markets instead) particularly those with a theme as invariably it got me writing something new which I’d then have to send elsewhere if I didn’t get anywhere. You’ve tried to find an agent (as most of us have), do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Sophie: Not yet! I think they undoubtedly help, not only do they have invaluable connections and contacts but they fight for the author’s rights and can help bridge the gap between authors and publishers to help authors to get the best deal possible for their cherished work. Also, in such a tough market, having an agent is often the golden key to getting your foot through the door and getting that elusive publishing deal… of course, the catch-22 is, that getting an agent is now every bit as hard as getting a publisher!
Morgen: Harder in many cases. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sophie: A lot – or as much as I can as my time is always limited. The market has changed hugely. Gone are the days when authors can just write their books then relax and let the publisher do all the rest. Every author, even those with the ‘Big Six’ publishing houses, have to put the hours in and help to promote and market their work. For authors with small publishing houses or self-published writers, that is even more prescient. Simply put, if you don’t put the hours in to help promote your work, then your sales will reflect it. Back to that juggling game again!
Morgen: I’ve only had one author say their publisher does all their marketing but she’s very active on Twitter and Facebook and they are major outlets for marketing these days. I’d always recommend an author be on both… the more the merrier in fact because even if you only pick up one contact it’s got to be worth it (unless you’re spending half your days on that one site of course). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Sophie: My favourite aspect will always be actual the act of creating, of making something special from thin air, of writing itself… yes, I’m an old fashioned gal and I always write longhand, pen on paper. There’s nothing better. Creating and destroying worlds, bringing characters you love to the abyss and deciding whether you push them over the edge or not…utterly thrilling!
My least favourite? That’s tricky. Someone once described the process of bringing a book to publication as a ‘birthing process’ and I think that’s a good analogy. It’s always difficult to relinquish a much cherished work and see changes made. Some changes you will agree with and some you will not. That’s life. It’s a necessary process, yes, is it an easy process, no. But everything in life is a learning process, right?
Morgen: I run a fortnightly writing workshop and realise how slow I am at longhand compared with a keyboard but apparently they use different parts of the brain. It’s a shame we can’t write the same idea from scratch via both methods and see how different they would actually be. Maybe if you left enough time in between you’d have forgotten the original story to write something fresh? But then you may do that with either format. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sophie: Well, I’m not keen on the term ‘aspiring’. For me, either you are a writer or you are not, regardless of whether you are published or not. It’s all about the mind-set. Be what you want to be…BE WHAT YOU WANT TO BE! That’s so important. I’d also say, never give up, clichéd yes, but true.
Morgen: Absolutely. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Sophie: Lol! That’s impossible to answer! 🙂 I’d love to invite so many people. I’d probably plump for Tolkien, Pullman… (that would create lively debate!) and the person who first inspired me to be a writer by actually filling out a questionnaire I sent to her, the lovely Lynda la Plante!
Morgen: Oh wow. I might see if she’d like to do an interview. Maybe my 600th or 700th? 🙂 If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Sophie: That’s easy. Standing on the top of a mountain in New Zealand, with the Franz Glacier and a hundred snowy mountaintops stretching below me and nothing but pure blue above. The most magical and humbling experience I have ever had and truly inspiring!
Morgen: With a notebook. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Sophie: Be what you want to be. First, do no harm…
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Sophie: I’m one of those freaky people with a thousand interests and hobbies, but unfortunately very little time to do them in. When I’m not writing, I’m usually drawing or painting or taking photographs. I still have a huge 9ft by 6ft oil canvas I want to finish, a leftover from my art degree days, and I’d love to do more sculpture and go back to playing the piano which I foolishly quit after stage 4. I’d love to use my telescope more and learn more about the constellations and do some more travelling.
Morgen: I’m with you on the painting and playing the piano. I have boxes of art equipment and two electronic keyboards in my loft waiting for a gap in my schedule… maybe when all my novels and short story collections are out. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Sophie: Well, obviously yours, Morgen! So many writers find your site utterly invaluable and I definitely count myself as one of them. Competitions, interviews, advice, insights into the publishing and writing business, fiction, poetry, etc etc… Just an amazing resource!
Morgen: :*) Thank you very much.
Sophie: In absolutely NO order, these are all amazing sites and I can’t recommend them enough:
I’m sure I’m missing loads though.
Morgen: Some new ones to me. I had some of my writing on Authonomy a few months back but I struggled with the time to critique anyone else’s writing which defeated the object. You Write On (http://www.youwriteon.com) is a similar venture, except Random House & Orion read the top voted choices instead of Harper Collins. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sophie: Anything that writer wants it to be. The only limit is your imagination.
Morgen: It is and some of us are lucky enough to have (so far) limitless imaginations. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Sophie: My blog: http://sophieetallis.wordpress.com.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Sophie: Yes! How on earth do you manage to juggle your time? You’re the hardest working writer I know and I’m in shocked awe of you!!! For me, I always feel I could more and as I’m not very IT literate, everything takes me SO long! How do you manage it all?!
Morgen: <laughs> By doing little else. I was a secretary for 20+ years so it helps with the typing speed and organisational skills. The emails do tend to take over but I make sure I write something every day, having the 5pm Fiction slot guarantees that at least but, like you, I do with there were more hours in the day (and night!). Thank you, Sophie.
I then invited Sophie to include an extract of her writing and this is an excerpt taken from White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles: Chapter Four – Escape From Ïssätun
Amidst the blackness the old man could now hear a strange scratching and scrabbling sound, very faint but drawing nearer. He moved away from the bars as the noise approached, closer and closer, and braced himself, hardly daring to breathe. He strained his aged eyes into the darkness, expecting to see another horror, another mindless thing with black eyes staring back at him, when he suddenly caught sight of it. There, almost indistinguishable from the pitch came a little moving shadow, shuffling and scampering along the walls, nervously venturing through bars, looking and sniffing for food.
“Hello little fellow,” whispered the wizard crouching down and outstretching a hand.
A rat appeared out of the darkness. Slowly, driven by curiosity or hunger, it crept forward.
“Come, I promise I will not hurt you…Now, where did you come from, eh?”
The rodent hesitated then cautiously slipped through the bars and over to Mr. Agyk’s hand. It was a half-starved thing but somehow its bony frame gave comfort to the old man. No fleshy diet at least he thought.
“No food I am afraid, and no enchantment I see,” he sighed, hoping that this little visitor might suddenly start talking to him. “If you help me find a way out, I will make sure you have enough cheese for ten lifetimes!”
The wizard wondered if rats were as partial to cheese as mice. He stroked the creature, an emaciated scrawny little thing with the ridge of its spine and the contours of its ribs poking out from beneath its velvet fur.
“Why you idiot!” he exclaimed, louder than he intended. “If I cannot break the bars…I will go through them!”
He stared down at his nervous little friend as if seeking some counsel.
“If I do this, I doubt I will have the strength to return to full size…”
The rat tilted his head, its dark eyes darting to the side, as if startled by something, then suddenly he scampered off back through the bars.
And a synopsis of her book…
A dying world hidden from our own. An ancient people conquered by human progress. A ruthless changeling bent on revenge and power…and a sorcerer and dragon determined to stop him.
Amongst our modern world, lies another. An archaic and hidden world of tradition, sorcery and magic. Lost, long before the last Ice Age and barely surviving beneath the onslaught of human advance, it now faces its greatest challenge and its bitterest enemy.
As dark demons awaken from the past and a series of sinister disappearances and murders plague the secret cities of the few remaining elder tribes, a group of disparate travellers race against time to save a friend and destroy an evil that threatens to swallow us all…
One review said “An epic fantasy onion – multi-layered and prone to cause tears!”
Sophie E Tallis, originally from a sleepy village north of Bristol, currently lives in the Cotswolds with her family and her two enormous white wolves! She works as a full-time teacher and has been inspiring young children for the past 14 years. However, her first passion has always been for writing stories and poetry, which she has done since she was a child. A painter and artist, she divides her time between writing, teaching and her artwork. She adores travelling when she gets the chance, and has a profound love of landscapes, particularly those of New Zealand and Dartmoor, which she finds very inspiring. She enjoys stargazing, playing chess, watching films and buying yet more bookcases for her growing library! She describes herself as a lover of wild places and the written word and is a bit of a self-confessed nerd! When asked what her interests are, she usually smiles and replies, “EVERYTHING!”
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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