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 is now drawing the sequel’s map for. Most recently Sophie has seen her artwork on the front cover of Far Horizons magazine. Sophie has also been a panellist, moderator and an exhibiting artist at BristolCon. Sophie is a shortlisted nominee in the 2018 British Fantasy Awards in the Best Artist category.
She is also a published author with BFS Award winning independent press, Grimbold Books, has been a full member of The Society of Authors and ALCS since 2013 and was an author/illustrator in the 2015 Cirencester Literary Festival. Her epic illustrated fantasy debut, ‘White Mountain’, the first of her Darkling Chronicles trilogy was re-published in December 2014 by Grimbold Books. She is still writing the sequel, ‘Darkling Rise’ and has had a number of stories published including her sci-fi short story ‘Silent Running’ featured in acclaimed anthology, ‘Fight Like A Girl’ published by Kristell Ink in 2016, and ‘The Orphan and the Iron Troll’, a dark fairytale in anthology, ‘Shadows of the Oak’, published December 2016 by Tenebris Books. Sophie also has two Darkling Chronicle novellas, ‘The Siege of Kallorm’ and ‘A Friendship Forged’, coming out later this year.
If this wasn’t enough, she has also recently opened her own Etsy store! Sophie lives in Gloucestershire with her four white wolves, and over the summer I asked her if she would take part in my continuing series of interviews about finding the time to be creative. Here is what she had to say…..
GB Tell me what a typical day looks like for you?
ST: I wake, usually after an insomniac night of between 3 – 4 hrs sleep and sit for about half an hour while my vertigo settles so I know I’m safe to stand up and walk to the bathroom. Annoyingly I get vestibular vertigo every day, some days are far worse than others, but I need to move slowly and give my brain a chance to stop swirling. My waking times vary due to my library job, so on mornings I’m working at the library I wake about 7ish on non-library days it’s nearer to 8:30 – 9 depending on how late my four doggies will let me sleep! I take them out for exercising & play for at least an hour, they then get their daily Piriton and treats, more exercise and play, then ‘fishy on a dishy’ (I have a whole embarrassing song ritual which goes with this) which involves giving them tablets/supplements in their favourite tinned salmon and tuna. Did I mention that my daily life is dominated by my four huge white wolfies? More exercise and play (and at the moment a lot of massaging my poorly dog and Photizo laser treatment). I never eat breakfast, I had forced myself for a few months but in all the heat that’s dropped off entirely. By about 10/11am after I’ve fed the birds and done my doggie stuff, I work for about 2/3 hours, either on drawing for a commission work or silk painting/other art (for sale). Sadly, I rarely do any writing these days. Before I got ill, I’d be writing for a solid 6 hours or so, now, my concentration and the mental exertion needed for writing maxs out at about 30mins. After the dogs lunch and my own, I continue working until 3pm ish when I take them all out again for a couple of hours. Back in for them to rest and more work then out again for another hour before they have their dinner. I only check emails and social media in the evenings, I’d get nothing done otherwise. After a final toilet for the dogs I head upstairs and mess around online or writing notes/little excerpts or sketching drawing ideas until about 2am. I rarely sleep much before 3.
GB: What is your biggest time challenge at the moment, and how are you dealing with it?
ST: One of my older dogs Tolly has degenerative myelopathy which paralyses his back legs and travels up the spine, so he requires so much help and attention throughout the day that it’s difficult to carve out any time for other things. I deal with it better on some days, if he’s relatively good and can walk a few steps before collapsing and worse on days when he’s bad and is just dragging himself around. The other time zapper is usually having to juggle several projects at the same time, like buses you have a quiet period then they all come at once!
GB: What tip would you give someone struggling to find time to create?
ST: Small steps. It’s obvious, but if you have a hectic life or are struggling with illness, you physically and mentally can’t take 5 or 6 hours just for yourself to go work on a project or block everything out until you complete it. No-one scales Everest in one go, tackle the small foothills first, one stage at a time. Every moment spent on a creative endeavour, no matter how short, is time well spent and is a success.
GB: Tell us a little secret about your art/writing/craft
ST: I get my best writing ideas/scenes when on the toilet or in the bath/shower, bizarre but true, and I get my best art ideas at night when I’m struggling to sleep. Actually being a total night owl my creative brain really ramps up in the wee small hours. There’s something a little magical about being awake when everyone else is asleep and just listening to the night sounds outside for inspiration.
GB: What couldn’t you do without to get you through the day?
ST: Some quiet alone time at least, which is why I’m so active at night, I rarely get quiet times during the day to just think about ideas and work out plots/scenes or artwork solutions, so my night times are essential. If I do nothing creative in a day, in whatever medium that may be in, I get really depressed, I literally need creativity for my physical and mental health!
GB: Final words of wisdom?
ST: Try to be kind to yourself. I say this as someone who beats myself up all the time over my lack of productivity, not being prolific, not writing fast enough (I’m glacially slow), not getting a project done by a deadline etc etc. Criticising yourself to the point of paralysis is self-defeating. Try not to be like me! Life throws curve balls at you all the time, it’s hard, it’s tough, shit happens, so give yourself a break if you’ve dropped a ball, missed a deadline, if you’re only writing a book once every 5 years while your friends whizz one off every few months, or if you’re only completing a few artworks every year while others manage new works every day.
Huge thanks to Sophie for her answers and insights. I love her advice to those of us struggling to find time and am a great believer in the power of small steps to move yourself closer to your artistic goals.
If you’d like to find out more, contact or commission Sophie, then all her links are below:
Website & Blog: sophieetallis.co.uk
FB page: facebook/fantasyepic
If you’d like to read more interviews about finding creative time, the previous ones can be found here: Andy Bigwood, Joanne Hall, Aliette de Bodard, Kim Lakin-Smith, Gareth L Powell, Iain Clark.