Meet the Author – Meg Cowley

Something a little different for the blog today. I’m doing a Q&A with Meg Cowley, one of the lovely bunch of people in my writers’ group.
Meg Cowley

Meg is an indie author and illustrator. She’s written two YA fantasy novels in her Tales of Caledan series – The Tainted Crown and The Brooding Crown, and has recently published two colouring books (The Wild Colouring Book and The Calm Colouring Book) *and* a children’s book, The Diary of a Secret Witch. Phew. Busy!

Meg lives in Yorkshire with her partner and their two cats (aka overlords). Her favourite genre is fantasy and her illustrations are mainly inspired by nature. She’s a lover of margherita pizza, earl grey tea, sleep, and pro-dragons. Find out more at her website: www.megcowley.com

So, without further ado, onto the questions!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a daydreamer through and through and fairly unsuited to the ‘real world’! I joke that if everyone was like me, the world would be screwed because we’d have no useful people like doctors or firefighters (etc).
I haven’t found a day job I like yet (I trained as an accountant and then a teacher). Writing and drawing – or creating in general – is really the only thing I’ve ever loved. It’s taken a while for me to realise and accept that… and decide to pursue it. Thanks to modern technology and the opportunities now available, I’m giving it my best shot to do that as my full time job.
My mantra for life is that you only have one shot, so you have to make it count: follow your dreams and have no regrets.

When did you start writing, what sort of things do you like writing?
I’ve written since I learnt to write. I wrote all sorts of terrible things back then, mainly poor rip offs of whatever I enjoyed at the time, from Beatrix Potter, to Tolkien, to Rowling, but I suppose that’s how we learn, by studying the masters of the craft.
These days I enjoy writing fantasy fiction after growing up reading the genre avidly. I’m working on a children’s fantasy series currently, but I personally enjoy YA fantasy fiction (think magic and dragons!) most of all.

What prompted the decision to move into colouring books?
Partly curiosity, partly the opportunity at the time! I saw the success others were having and thought to myself “I could do that”. So the first colouring book was a gamble – luckily, one that paid off.
I’ve also been quite ill in 2015, too ill to write much (I need a clear head to write, but illustration comes much more easily to me without needing clarity of thought). Therefore, illustrating colouring books was perfect to keep me occupied, and luckily it also pays the bills!

What else are you working on at the moment?
Currently I’m working on my third colouring book, The Exotic Colouring Book. That will feature many endangered species from around the world and a significant amount of profits from the book will be donated to a conservation charity. Conservation of biodiversity is important to me because I believe that we have a moral responsibility to look after our planet, so this is one big way I can support that. It’ll be out in February 2016.
I’m also working on my children’s fiction series “Diary of a Secret Witch” for children aged 8 – 12. The second book should be out at the end of December! That’s quite fun to write – it’s a lot lighter in tone than my YA fiction!

What are you reading now?
I’m currently reading The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – enjoying it so far! It’s outside of my typical genre but I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code so I thought I’d try the third book.
Next up on my reading list is Clariel by Garth Nix.

Can you recommend a good book you’ve read recently?
Asking a bookworm to recommend just one book is impossible!!
I can particularly recommend:
Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn, a fantasy series set in a Japanese feudal style society
The Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix, a magical fantasy (great magic system here!)
The Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis, a hilarious Roman mystery series,
and pretty much anything by Rachel Aaron who writes fantasy (The Eli Monpress Series), sci fi (the Paradox series under pen name Rachel Bach) and also urban fantasy (Heartstriker series).

Thanks Meg!

Interested in Meg’s work? Good news, as she has lots of free books and samples on her website. You can try her young adult fantasy novel The Tainted Crown for free, download her children’s fantasy fiction Diary of a Secret Witch: Wackiest Week (also for free), and try samples from her bestselling colouring books too. By downloading these freebies, you’ll be signing up to her newsletters where you’ll also have the chance to win new books and receive more free samples.

Artists at work

I love watching artists at work. For novices like me, it’s a great insight into how to structure a drawing.

Here’s Graham Pilling from armyofcats.com working on an illustration of an abandoned manor house based on an image by Polish photographer Pati Makowska (http://patimakowska.deviantart.com)

And if wildlife is more your thing, here’s my wonderfully talented cousin Jina from Jina Gelder Illustrations drawing a bluetit

RHA MA750 in-ear headphones – review

I’ve owned a fair number of in-ear headphones over the years from various different companies. Sennheiser, Shure, Klipsch, I’ve tried them all.

RHA MA750 in-ear headphones

None of them come even close to the sound that the MA750 from British headphone company RHA produce. The difference is quite simply astonishing – it’s as if I’d been listening to music through a doorway, with a curtain pulled across.

Put these earbuds in and the curtain comes back and suddenly you’re in the room with the musicians. The sound stage expands. Instruments and voices take on a new level of clarity and you realise you’ve been listening to music through a fog all these years.

I’ve found myself digging through my music collection looking for favourite tracks to give another listen. There’s a new edge to the sound where previously things were lost on other headphones. Bass notes in particular are picked up well (and the frequency response goes down to 16Hz, something unusual for in-ear headphones in my experience), but these headphones perform brilliantly across the range, with a lovely clean, clear response from the lows to the highs. I’ve been hearing new things in my music collection, things I didn’t even realise I was missing.

The build quality is superb too – the headphones are made from stainless steel and feel lovely and solid in your hand, yet not heavy in your ears. As the review on HuffPost Tech said, they

…feel like something you’ve pulled off the side of a space shuttle when no one was looking.

The cord goes up and over your ear, which I’ve always preferred – this cuts out the cable noise you get when in-ear headphones trail the wire straight down. The curved wires on the MA750s have a reinforced plastic to keep the curve in place and protect the cable, a feature which I really liked.

RHA MA750 in-ear headphones  3.5mm audio jack

They just smack of quality, from the industrial metal joins where the left/right cables meet, to the spring at the headphone jack end to protect the cable. And the cable itself feels heavy-duty and robust too – steel reinforced and oxygen-free, according to the RHA website. These are no lightweights.

Sound isolation is also great – plug them in and it’s just you and the music. Fellow commuters annoying you with the tinny beat of their iDevice earbuds? No longer a problem. Just be careful crossing roads!
They come with a load of extra ear tips – single and double-flanged as well as memory foam ones loaded into a nice stainless steel holder and a carry case.

I was fortunate enough to receive a pair to review. But, should the worst happen and I lose these headphones? I’d buy another pair without a second’s hesitation.

And they’re backed up with a three year warranty.

A seriously nice bit of audio kit and worth every penny. They look and feel like they should cost twice the price.

Don’t put up with crappy earphones you got with your mp3 player or phone. Do your ears a favour and buy a pair of these.

Maps. What’s up?

I was in Leeds with my daughter the other day, and she was asking how far away a particular shop was. I noticed one of the new maps they’ve been putting up[1] recently, and went over to show her where the shop was, and where we were.

Here’s the map in question:

image
Leeds city centre map, Victoria Gardens

I showed her where we were in Victoria Gardens. There’s us, there’s the library and the art gallery, and we have to go down that street, turn right and it was just…

Wait a second. Let’s take a closer look at that map.

image
map detail, facing South

Now, eagle-eyed residents of Leeds (or anyone familiar with the city) will notice something interesting about this map.

Go on, I’ll give you a second.

What’s up?

South.

The map is, from a traditional map-reading perspective, the wrong way up. North is usually at the top, right?

However, this map made perfect sense. The map we were looking at was on the north side of the stand, and we were facing south. Therefore, everything in front of us physically was ‘up’ on the map.

We quickly checked the other side of the map display.

image
map detail, facing North

Facing north, everything ‘up’ on the map was north.

Neat bit of design there, map-makers. Nicely done.

Have you noticed any nifty maps recently? I love a good map. I can feel a blog post series coming on…

 

 

[1] someone is now going to tell me they’ve been there for *years*, I’m sure.

E is for…

… elephants (as suggested by @JoMurricane. Thanks Jo!)

‘For the Zoo’, from 1933, by Maurice A. Miles
‘For the Zoo’, from 1933, by Maurice A. Miles

This poster used to adorn the big wall halfway up our stairs. I saw it at the London Transport museum and instantly fell in love with it. Something about the colours and style of it just grabbed my attention.

I’ve struggled to find out any information about the man who painted this – he’s done a couple of other posters for the Underground, both for Kew Gardens. The biography on the London Transport Museum site only offers

Maurice A Miles. Designed posters for London Transport 1934

Doesn’t give much away, does it?

The style of art in Miles’ work sort of reminds me of one of my other favourite artists, Edward Hopper. I’m a huge fan of Hopper’s work, but that’s for another post!

There are some other wonderful posters from the London Transport Museum’s Poster Art 150 exhibition to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the world’s first underground railway in this post over at we made this.

As ever, thanks for reading. Who’s your favourite artist? And do you have any suggestions for ‘F is for…’?