Monday, 30 April 2018

Black Star - New Galaxy edition

Like Da Vinci said, "Art is never finished, only abandoned." Well, 5 years on I'm picking my baby up from the orphanage!

I've decided, before I start the working draft of Book 3, Breaking Point, I want to go back to the beginning.
Themo H Peel - Black Star - plate 2
First illustration for Book 1
Black Star was my first ever novel. I know it's not perfect but I needed to get it out there for the experience. It's a story that's lived in my head for 20 years! But now, with three other novels under my belt, I want to update it and give it the benefit of that  experience.

Worth a thousand words
First and foremost are the illustrations. The Black Star illustrations were a hodge podge of different styles. By the time I got to Spirit Shear, I'd settled on a style for the series that really works for me as an illustrator and, most importantly, adds to the story. So, Book 1 is getting all new illustrations! Here's the first of them!

Kill your kittens
When I studied I was taught that when you write there is story architecture and story scaffolding. Scaffolding are the bits of information you need to construct the story. But, once it's done you should take them away. Often times in the scaffolding are little darlings or 'kittens' - bits of information or passages of prose that you just love!

Get rid of them.

There are definitely a few kittens in Black Star (possibly a whole litter). Also, admittedly, the tone and pace are a bit uneven. I hadn't quite found my voice as a story teller and wasn't sure what would work for my target audience. I now know who I am as a writer and who I'm writing for!

The Emersus Project series has become so much more than just Gemmy's story. It's a story of his friends and family and an entire world. There are so many extras about the world and small details that could enrich the original story, but they don't belong in the book. But, that's what glossaries are for - a kitten corral! I mean, have you ever read the Silmarillion? Of course you haven't! It's all scaffolding. But, for the die hards it's an amazing world building encyclopedia. So, the new edition is going to have an enhanced glossary and some new short stories.

Draw draw draw
And just for fun here are (just) two pages of the character sketches I've done. I obviously already know what the characters look like, but it's helpful to remember where they were at the start of their journeys. And, as I edit, it helps get me back into their mindset back before everything blew up (literally and figuratively). I'm really enjoying getting to see Mhetli again with his long lanky hair, all sneers and grease!

It took me a while to get a proper style for Gemmy's wild and curly hair. The style I use for the illustrations is what I think of as detailed 'short hand'. Like with any caricature or cartoon, I try to find the most obvious feature and use simple, referential lines to give the impression of it. So, things like curls are simple swirls of the pen without drawing each individual curl. But, you still want to convey depth and texture. Sem's pony tail was another trial and error motif. I didn't want to make it so detailed that you see every hair and fly away. But, you needed an impression that it was a feat of mastery to get all her short hair pulled back.

Hope you enjoy!

Buy 'Black Star' or 'Spirit Shear' on Amazon in the UK and US
Check out Themo on Twitter and Facebook

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Albion tarot

Getting ready for the next #DVPit event tomorrow. And, with social media it's always a good idea to use an eye catching image. I'm still working on the images, adjusting some details and refining the layers of texture. But it's been a busy few months, so here's where I've gotten to in time for #DVPit tomorrow.

Themo H Peel - Ana tarot card Themo H Peel - Ash tarot card

I wanted to do something unique and interesting for Ash and Ana. I wasn't feeling particularly inspired, though. So I pulled out one of my tried and tested methods of punching through a creative block - When in doubt, copy the art of someone who inspires you.

I went through a few genres. I redrew some of my favourite comic cover art as the characters from Emersus Project. I started doodling Ash and Ana as manga characters. But, nothing seemed to hit the spot.

Then I came across my tarot card deck. The Aquarian Tarot deck illustrated by David Palladini originally caught my eye on a trip to Salem, Massachussetts many years ago. I was drawn to it because of the strong art nouveau and art deco feel.

I started flicking through the deck and was caught by the cards Temperance, Queen of Swords, The Hierophant and Strength.

Aquarian Tarot by David Palladini

I'd found my fun fantasy them for Ana and Ash!

For Ana I wanted to do something regal and strong, taking inspiration from the tribal art of Burkina Faso (which is where she's from). It's really intricate with lots of repeated angular patters and concentric circles. The extravagant detail of Temperance really captured that wild queen vibe.

For Ash I played with Pictish tribal art and added some Celtic influences. His probably follows the garb of the tarot cards though as most pictures of tribal Picts that I could find are mostly second hand accounts and feature half naked men and women covered in body paint. And, this is a children's series after all!

However, with the other influences, I wanted to keep the drawings distinctly Acquarian - elements that make them seem more ethereal than real. Firstly the mix of heavy and thin lines firmly root the drawings in art nouveau inspiration. Also, the way Palladini zooms in on the subject of the cards unlike other tarot cards that feature more elaborate scenes. I tried to keep the flat pencil sections combined with more textured painted blocks, but I was super keen to keep Ana's dark skin and the pencil lines got lost. I did manage to keep the more fantastical elements of the costumes, fighting my natural tendency towards function over form. I love Ana's starry hair and elongated neck (which is referencing the tarot card not the African people who use neck rings). Ash's overly broad shoulders.

What do you think? Will they catch an agent's eye?

Hope you enjoy!

Buy 'Black Star' or 'Spirit Shear' on Amazon in the UK and US
Check out Themo on Twitter and Facebook

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

A year in writing - Belief

2017 has been an incredibly productive, exciting, disappointing, amazing, and terrifying year. I feel like I've produced more in the last year than I ever have. I've also made the leap to putting my work out there professionally. I won't lie, it's been draining and very tough. I've had to find a reserve of resilience that I'm still not sure I actually have. But, I've pushed through it. I've become more systematic and smarter about where I'm putting my energy and pacing myself, looking at the challenges that I can legitimately take on, and recognising when I need to rest.

The year for me is pretty much summed up in the Anthony Burrill print that I bought.

Anthony Burrill - Persistence is Fruitful!
Anthony Burrill print

Regardless of the ups and downs, I've persisted. And I will continue to. More importantly, I've been my own coach, cheerleader, counsellor, and friend. I've been kinder to myself than I've ever been in my life and I can say without an ounce of shame or ego, I'm proud of myself.

Themo H Peel - Christmas card
My creative home for the holidays

Looking for the one

Sadly no agent has seen the brilliance of The Kelpie's Heart yet. The submission process is an exhausting blend of self-belief, courage, despair, fear, hope and sheer bloody-mindedness. I've submitted to more than a few agents and entered several novel competitions with no success yet. :-(

However, It's not all been discouraging. I've had some 'nice rejections' which are agents saying "I like your writing, your query is great, I'm just not keen on the idea." So, like finding a job or a relationship, I have to trust in myself, my vision, and keep going until I find the agent who fits me! I know my voice and have produced a story and manuscript that I'm super proud of. So, I have to keep going with that. Right? Right?!!!!

The truth is there are too many factors to know what is or isn't working. Maybe it's the story and I need to write something else. Maybe my writing doesn't match the genre as well as I think.  There's a large element of luck and it's a numbers games - there are hundreds of other people just like me clamouring for a spot.

There's also that nagging doubt that maybe I'm just not good enough.

After all the writing, drawing, editing, researching, submitting, getting feedback, and listening to all the voices (external and internal) telling me what to do. With no substantial leads my confidence took a serious pounding to the point where it was affecting my daily life. I had to take a step back.

Themo H Peel - The Kelpie's Heart coverThe Emersus Project is for me. I don't need validation. It's my heart and my story. But, The Kelpie's Heart was written to share. I genuinely think the book is amazing. If someone else had written it I'd be telling other people how cool it is. It's the best I've got without the direction and guidance of someone who knows the business.

I only have so much reserve of courage and ego. So I took a month off of submitting to write, read and recharge. But, I'm sticking with putting the book out there because I don't know how to (and don't want to) give up. And, if I stop, I'm terrified I'll not be able to muster the courage to start again. So, I won't stop. This is what I want it with all my heart. This is what I'm meant for.

So, here's to filling 2018 with more rejections and an eventual win?! **weeps silently in a corner**

About The Kelpie's Heart

I first drafted The Kelpie's Heart in 2015 during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It started out as an idea King Arthur and Merlin reborn in modern times. But that idea steadily grew into something more fantastic:

It became a story that I want to share with my nieces. I want them to have a brave amazing black female hero that they can relate to. She's not after a boy or some archetype counter-stereotype. She's just a girl who wants to be the best version of herself, protect her family and do what's right.
Ana and Ash - The Kelpie's Heart

She's a fighter. She's a scholar. She's a sister. She's a whole person trying to figure things out. She's bad ass!

It became a statement about the young boys face today. The main male character has a lot stacked against him. He started out as a stereotypical meat-head but, as a writer, I'm starting to see beneath his oniony layers. He's got issues he doesn't want to talk about. And, he's not sure how. As the story develops there are lots of things I want to do with his character that I want to help young boys learn to open up about.

He's loyal. He's brash. He's a brother. He's a growing person, slowly but surely. He's a hero.

It became a vehicle to explore my love of mythology and delve deeper into Scots folklore. So many people think of it as just 'Celtic' mythology. But, Scots mythology has a character and wonder all it's own. It's a love letter to Scotland. It's also a chance to draw monsters. I love drawing monsters. :)

It became part of me. The Emersus Project was the story I've had in my head since I was a kid. I didn't think there was another. Then a friend gave me this idea and it grew into something big and amazing - a new part of myself. Now I have these cool new kids and their adventures bouncing around in my head and I just wish I could take a year off to write out all of their adventures for everyone. Ash and Ana, and all of the characters, are part of my family now and I want the world to meet them too.

About Emersus Project - NaNoWriMo

The best decision I made was participating in NaNoWriMo again. In my head the Emersus Project is five books so it was such a thrill to finally bash out a draft of Book 3 - Breaking Point.
Themo H Peel - Emersus Project 3

For me, as above, the agenting process was really wearing me down. I knew that I needed to take time away from the chase and get back to the core of why I do this - I love writing and drawing. So, NaNoWriMo was a great chance to reconnect with my passion and build up my stores of confidence. I've written a lot about why I love NaNoWriMo so I won't go into that. But it was great to spend time with Gemmy, Sem and Mhetli again and see how they're growing. I genuinely hate putting them through the paces in the story sometimes.

I finished the 50,000 words like a boss then took a break. I figure if you run a marathon, you don't go for a jog afterwards. But, I'm heading to finish the draft in the next month at a slightly less fevered pace. In the meantime I'm enjoying exploring the world in drawings and short stories. When I go in for a first edit I'll have a great catalogue of information to really enrich the draft.


Themo H Peel - writing competitionWith a solid draft of The Kelpie's Heart I've been submitting the novel to various competitions as well as agents.

I got some great experience from participating in the #DVPit event in April and October. I highly recommend doing this because it really helps sharpen your skills in summarising and pitching your book. It's just as much of a skill as anything and I definitely struggle with 'less is more'. I've definitely gotten better in the last year and had some great feedback and support from Paul Campbell and Philip Vernon. I think I have a solid pitch and query letter and have had feedback from agents to that affect.

I also entered myself for several competitions and awards including the Bath Children's Novel Award and the Caledonian Award. Sadly, you don't get feedback from competitions but the experience of submitting put me through my paces in editing my synopsis and working to capture what is special about my work. The Scottish Book Trust is a great resource for opportunities.

I've also been doing the Scottish Book Trust's 50 Word Fiction competitions. It's good fun and I genuinely enjoy doing them. But, it even got to the point where a 'no thanks' on something so small was a stab in the heart. I started doubting my sensibilities and trying to second guess what type of stories they were looking for and whether I had it (To be honest there have only been 1 or 2 winners who's story I liked or 'got' the humour of). But, it's good practice so I kept writing them. I challenged myself to write something lighter or humorous or mysterious every month. But stopped submitting for a while. Some times writing can just be for me. And now, I've stopped second guessing myself, write something I find engaging (usually something a bit macabre) and submit. If it's not chosen, big deal. I actually re-listened to the RuPaul podcast, What's the Tee, with Titus Burgess where they talk about that very thing. *ohm*

I might actually illustrate some of my 50 word stories and post them at some point. There are a few I really like.


I need somebody! Help! Not just anybody!

I've had sooooooo much help and support from friends and colleagues. Not just cheering me on but offering practical and professional advice, reading drafts, looking at pictures and just being generally supporting. I couldn't have done nearly as much as I have without their advice and counsel.

Putting your work out there is terrifying. And, even when the people you love say you're good, it doesn't necessarily feel that way. But I have so many talented friends who've offered their support and advice. As respected professionals, I don't believe they'd lead me astray and it means so much that they've helped me put my best foot forward.

Hope you enjoy!

Buy 'Black Star' or 'Spirit Shear' on Amazon in the UK and US
Check out Themo on Twitter and Facebook

Friday, 8 December 2017

Trows, Trows, Trows

I had this grand idea that half way through NaNoWriMo I would take two days out and work on my annual holiday card and bing bang bosh, I'd have a beautifully drawn card and could get back to writing. And yes, I say holiday card because #AllHolidaysMatter

Well that was idiotic. During NaNoWriMo I dutifully got out my drawing pad and set about my usual process which is thinking of 'What do I want most this Christmas.' The answer came instantly, a book deal. However, the creative drawing juices weren't flowing. I came up with an idea and instantly hated it. Sketched a few other things that I hated then gave up and went back to writing.

Well, Santa still has a few days to deliver on the book deal. But, now NaNoWriMo is over and I'm less stressed out my box I've gone back to my original idea (which I now love). But, above and beyond a book deal what I really want is a nice quite holiday to sit and read and recharge and reclaim a feeling of love, wonder and excitement for my life.

The card is nowhere near done and it's looking less likely that I'll be able to get them done and printed in good time to send home (less Christmas card recycling I guess). So, I'm going to share some early drafts. Firstly, my favourite little Christmas helpers have come out to play. The trows!

Themo H Peel - Trows of Shetland
2 trows and a fairy
Shetland trows are some of my favourite Scottish mythology. They're similar to Nordic trolls with the difference that they're much more mischievous, love music and live in burrows that exist outside of normal human time. They, among other Scots beasties, feature in my new series The Kelpie's Heart

Kade Mon, King of the Trows has come out to play and one of his wee friends has joined him with a flute. I went back and forth on what colour their skin should be. I mean, they live underground so they'd be pretty pale. In the book they're described as having sallow skin. But, for Christmas I figured they needed something brighter. King Kade has a ruddy earthen skin and the other trow I've made a periwinkle blue-ish, the joke being that they're so pale they're blue! But, I definitely think green hair is a must - the colours of the forest and peat moss!

The flautist is also straight up representing Ravenclaw with his scarf! Ravenclaw ride or die!! Woop woop!!

Wishmaker, my greeting card mascot has returned for this year's card too. He's featured on most of my cards since I was 14! Every year he gets a bit of a makeover and it's one of my favourite traditions. I showed him to a friend and he asked, "So, is he some sort of a goblin?". The answer is, I have no idea. I guess he's an elf. Maybe he's a tailless trow. I don't know. Who cares. He's dressed like an old timey aviator and its awesome.

Themo H Peel - kids in bed reading a bookThe rest of the card will feature me with my characters. This is the first year Ash and Ana get in on the fun because they're now fully part of my creative family. I honestly can't think of anything more relaxing than what this drawing shows, me in bed, my teddy bears and my creative worlds brought to life. Here's the black and white outline of the scene.

My favourite part of this is probably Ash and Mhetli trying to kill each other and Lauta passed out on her back.

It's going to be a sprint to finish as the trows and Wish took me two days to paint and that was with cutting corners and just giving up on shading. In the rest of the illustrations there's a helluva lot more to do with 7 people! But, it's a labour of love. And I can't wait to share my happy holiday vision with all of you!

Persistence and proliferation!

Buy 'Black Star' or 'Spirit Shear' on Amazon in the UK and US
Check out Themo on Twitter and Facebook

Friday, 17 November 2017

Why NaNoWriMo?

I'm half way through NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the second time. This time around I'm finding it's equally challenging but far more fun and exciting than the first time.

The novel that I wrote the first time in 2015, The Kelpie's Heart, has been edited and is making it's way round agents. It's a story that I'm so in love with. And, I probably never would have done it if I hadn't set myself the challenge of doing NaNoWriMo. I'd written two novels before and I had such a laboured process. The series was just getting started and the idea of starting a new one seemed impossible. So, I did NaNoWriMo to draft this new story with nothing to lose.

This time, I've returned to my first series, The Emersus Project. I'm experiencing the highs and lows of pushing myself to write minimum 1,667 words a day. But this time I know that benefits that come with it.

Never thought I could do it
I wrote my first novel over the course of 3 years. I wrote it chapter by chapter, editing each chapter as I went. I'd make some drawings. Study each character's motivation. Then I'd reread everything before I continued. It was a laborious process (which I enjoyed). But, I was never going to be a novel writer, so it didn't matter that my 'process' was untenable.

I'm now on my 4th novel and second series. Thanks to NaNoWriMo I know that my earlier 'process' was actually just fear of failing; fear of telling people that I can't go out tonight because I'm working on my novel. I can commit to a project and pump out a draft if I need to. I have the skills and experience to go back to it and create something beautiful and fun for others to read. I got this.

Learning not to judge myself
Self-critique is part of the process. And learning how to edit your own work and 'kill your darlings' is important. However, sometimes in the creative process, it's helpful to just get it out! So often I self-censor and criticise the words before I've even written them. I agonise over whether I'm using the right word, how prosaic it should be, where I think it needs to be going. And, by the time I'm done with that 10 minutes have passed and I've already lost my train of thought.

I'm thinking of my NaNoWriMo 50k as a sketch of a novel. It's the rough draft where I've put all my ideas down on paper. I will go back afterwards and refine, redraw, discard and develop new iterations.

Great encouragement
The NaNoWriMo team produce a series of pep talks and other incredible support mechanisms when you decide to participate. I kid you not, at 10,000 words I got an email that said 'Well done' and it brought a lump to my throat. So often, as a writer, we're hidden away from our friends and family as we create. And, even when they do compliment us it goes unheard. So, having someone else cheer you on feels flipping fantastic. And the inspirational reading, advice and community support gives you a lift sometimes when  you need it most.

The difference between a professional and a hobbyist is discipline. We all use our muse as an excuse at one time or another. But, like any other job, sometimes you've got to suck it up and get on with your work.

NaNoWriMo is a great way to practice the discipline of writing every day. You have a goal. You have a fabulous non-profit and a community of other nerds cheering you on. When are you ever going to have that opportunity in any profession? Writing is hard sometimes. Even well established authors have hard days. So, if you're serious about it, why not learn how to get through it in a fun, non-judgemental way?

Rest is important
This blog post counts towards my 50k words. I've written 27k words in 14 days and I'm on story burnout. I need to recharge. But, I still have a lot of interesting amazing stories to tell. I've even planned in time to work on my Christmas card and letter. In creative work rest and revitalisation is important. If you diversify your creative writing outlets its a great way to help get through it. Using other mediums is a great way to rest up your creative chops in another area while still beefing up your skills. It's like the gym. You're trying to build up your upper body, but don't skip leg day! It's all exercise and working towards getting fit. But you need to rest a muscle if you're working it hard.

My colleagues got me a great book for my birthday that I'm using when I feel low on story creativity. NaNoWriMo also have some really great prompts and challenges if you feel like you hit a block. It all counts towards writing 50k words in one month.

It's freaking fun
Writing is fun! Over the course of two weeks I've had so many a-ha moments! I've created a scientific formula for teleportation and invented a religion. I've had dinner with some of my favourite characters and get to run with them as they grow and change.

This month I get to spend time in one of my favourite worlds with some of my favourite people. And, afterwards I'll be able to share that adventure with other people. Yes, there will be a lot of editing before anyone else sees it. But, I'll have had an incredible month hanging out with friends.

Hope you enjoy!

Buy 'Black Star' or 'Spirit Shear' on Amazon in the UK and US
Check out Themo on Twitter and Facebook

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Mhetli in the clouds

I've drafted the first illustration from Breaking Point.
Themo H Peel - Mhetli in the clouds
Mhetli - above it all

I first had this idea almost 2 years ago just before the launch of Book 2. On a plane to Barcelona for a litter R&R I had this vision of Mhetli in the clouds, high above the world and his problems.

At the end of Spirit Shear he needs a bit of R&R himself to recover from the beating they all got on Rheza. What better place to get away from it all than high in the sky, above the clouds, above the world?

I'm not 100% convinced of the greys that I've used for the sky. I'll probably end up doing several drafts as usual. But, I'm stilly pleased with how the book is already taking shape, both the writing and the fact that I already have so many great images in my head. This picture has captured my own sense of the vastness of a new beginning - a feeling that will be pervasive in Book 3.

Persistence and proliferation, friends!

Buy 'Black Star' or 'Spirit Shear' on Amazon in the UK and US
Check out Themo on Twitter and Facebook

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Understanding gender queer - NaNoWriMo 2017

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has begun!!

Themo H Peel - Emersus Project Book 3 characters
The gang - ballpoint pen and colour pencil
For this National Novel Writing Month 2017, I'm returning to the Emersus Project series. I drafted the outline over a year ago but have been working on The Kelpie's Heart, the book I drafted for NaNoWriMo 2015.

Themo H Peel - Emersus Project Book 3 character faces
Headshots of new and familiar faces
Book 3 of the Emersus Project series is provisionally titled, Breaking Point. In this book we get lots of new characters and the return of some lots of other friends. Of course Gemmy, Sem and Mhetli are back. And in this book we'll get to see a lot more of the twins, Lauta and Ilรค, and Gemmy's sweetheart, Mercy.

Pol, one of Gemmy's school pals, is back. As we learned in Book 1, Pol attends the military academy. The military plays a big part in Book 3 so in the drawing above we see him in his purple cadet uniform.

The new character that I'm most excited about is Arabella. She's the new kid in town and befriends Gemmy and Sem. This bombastic red head is a character that I've wanted to explore for ages because she identifies as gender queer.

As defined in the Equality Network glossary of terms, gender queer "refers to people who identify their gender as not conforming to the traditional western model of gender as binary. They may identify their non-binary gender as a combination of aspects of men and women or alternatively as being neither men nor women."

Themo H Peel - gender queer character, Arabella
Arabella - pencil on paper
Some who identify as gender queer prefer to use non-gender specific pronouns 'they' and 'them'. But, I'm using the pronoun 'she' for Arabella because, as the story starts, she identifies as female. However, she makes clear in the book that that's not always the case.

I haven't decided what the implications of and reactions to her gender identity will be in Arbean society. They're a culture built on logic as the rule. But I think it will reveal some interesting dynamics with Gemmy and Sem as they've both been raised in a very conservative and traditional families.

Either way, I'm so excited to have a character that will highlight some of the social topics that are close to my heart. Not only will it give the characters a chance to grow and add new depths to their relationships, it will highlight a marginalised group of people in a (hopefully) fun and cool way.

So, I won't give away too much away. But, Book 3 is coming! And it's going to be a big one!!

Hope you enjoy!

Buy 'Black Star' or 'Spirit Shear' on Amazon in the UK and US
Check out Themo on Twitter and Facebook