Saturday, 10 January 2015

A Sensible Approach to the Gender Problem…

I feel as though my social media feeds throughout 2014 were mostly filled with discussions surrounding gender in the industry. It’s been a hot topic in fantasy and fiction for many years, and will continue to be so for many years to come.

I have become so disheartened by what I’ve heard over the last several months. More often than not the posts/blogs/opinions of those most vocally pursuing gender parity were doing so with a very biased, unbalanced and unequal approach. I’ve mentioned it before, perhaps on this blog, but having ‘all female’ this and ‘female only’ that, and forcing females into stories and situations, is not the way to ensure gender parity. It is an attempt to sway the balance the other way.

Perhaps there is a positive to be seen in such posts, in that they at least alert people to the fact that there is a disproportionate level of contributors/characters/spokespersons, and so forth, in the industry, in terms of gender. But they are not going to win any arguments in the way they are approaching what is a deeply important subject to many of us.

Just before the end of the year, there was a thread under discussion on Reddit entitled ‘A Lack of Female Characters is Always a Choice’, see here: and in the forum posts you will find some of those comments which seem to contradict the very thing that those campaigning for gender parity say they want.

On 31st December 2014 following this thread, Robin Hobb posted about gender on Facebook. I am not going to re-post it here as the words were not mine, but if this is a topic that interests you or means something to you, I would urge you to go and find it – the voice of reason can be found there.

Hobb summed up pretty much what I have been feeling about this topic over the last year or so, and more comments like this may help to get discussions on this topic back on track.

I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of gender parity here. I have my own opinions on the subject – balanced and sensible opinions in comparison to much that can be found online, I think – and I hope to see more balanced and sensible work to broaden and increase the volume of the female voice in the industry in future.

The essence of the discussion that sparked all of this was some implying that a book without female characters is unrealistic and unsuccessful. There are, of course, a multitude of examples which disprove this theory, and I can also think of many books oriented completely around females and female perspectives that work just as well.

After all, life and nature do not depict an even split of gender or any other of those human ‘boxes’ we have chosen to live within, so perhaps trying to force fiction to be that way is not the right thing to do – food for thought.

Hobb’s closing paragraph, which I will repeat here, sums up what I hope authors will continue to do, so that we don’t lose the best stories and that wonderful magic that makes fantasy fiction so special because we are trying too hard to force things in a direction they are not best suited to go.

Hobb wrote: “So if I write a story about three characters, I acknowledge no requirement to make one female, or one a different color or one older or one of (choose a random classification.)  I'm going to allow in the characters that make the story the most compelling tale I can imagine and follow them.”

There is a right and wrong way to approach change, and there is a right and wrong way to try to effect it. Perhaps 2015 will be the year that those of us with an opinion on the subject approach it in the right way and make a positive difference.

Elloise Hopkins.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

So That Was 2014…

My blog has not disguised how difficult a year 2014 has been, for me and, it seems, for everyone around me. It felt very much like a jigsaw puzzle, in which none of the pieces fit together and the end product made no sense.

I ended the year pretty much as I began it, and in the manner I feel I spent the majority of it – tucked up inside my apartment with a sore throat and a lingering cough/cold, watching the world go by from my room with a view and thinking of all the things I aimed to do in 2014 that haven’t happened and reminding myself that there is another year in which to try again.

I don’t want to dwell on things not done and conversations not had; hurts suffered and disappointments deeply felt. My year can be summed up in few words: procrastination, highs, illnesses, change, determination, perseverance, rejection, rest, seas and lows. The lows won out, in the end… but it wasn’t all bad.

I met some of the people I admire most in the world.
I put my book out there and got some tremendous feedback, and also some tremendous advice: don’t give up.
I spent a week holidaying in the sun thanks to a dear friend, reminding me that a little snatch of sun and a short time out from life can work wonders on the soul.
I finished the first draft of my second novel.
I read of new worlds, and old ones too, and lived and loved within their pages.
I managed 100 happy days and 50,000 words.
I met new people and experienced new things.
I walked beaches and mountains, swam seas and flew clouds.

On December 31st 2014, I stood in the dark and watched the south of my city light up with fireworks, the skyline patterned as far as I could see. Such an array of shapes and colours as I could imagine appeared before me, just as I had hoped, twinkling out through the clear sky, reflecting in the rain-covered rooftops below and giving me the ending and beginning that I needed.

I watched those fireworks explode in unison, a beat after the clock struck midnight, and I wished that 2015 would bring a happier and healthier year for me, and for those around me.

For it is wishing and hoping that keeps us going, and it is wishing and hoping that saves us.

In 2014 we loved and lost. We tried, and sometimes succeeded. We laughed until our tears ran with joy, and we cried until our lungs hurt. But above all else we kept going when the temptation to walk away from everything was dangerously appealing, and chose once again to follow the hard path that is life.

Live, breathe and find joy, my friends, for another year is upon us. May it be all you wish it to be, and bring all that you hope for.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Where Am I?...

The Village. No, not really, but last weekend it certainly felt like it. I was on the Isle of Man working for the day job, watching fireworks, observing middle-aged women stampede in an M&S food hall, perusing the local sights, strolling along the promenade, indulging in the hotel facilities, and finding time to visit the museum.

But that is not the point of this blog. Where am I? What am I doing? Am I there? Hello? Stop hiding! Are some of the phrases that have landed in my inbox and on my phone after the last several weeks, and I’m sorry to say most of them have been met with silence. I am not there. I am not online much at all. In fact, for quite a while now I have been living in a zombie-like state bounced between working, being ill, travelling, mini-breaks, sleeping, eating, and more working, with no time, energy or desire for anything else in between.

My apartment is strewn with clothes and suitcases and half-finished tasks. My NaNoWriMo target is slipping farther and farther away by the day. I am unwell. Exhausted. Fed up of feeing unwell and exhausted. I am irritable and irritated. Sad. Surviving on caffeine and tasteless food. I’ve gone off green tea, for fantasy’s sake! 

Thus I know I am not right. I am not myself.

So forgive the silence and instead enjoy this whistle-stop glimpse into my life over the last couple of weeks, safe in the knowledge that I will get back to you as soon as I am able.

Drag yourself up to get back to the day job
Work eat sleep work work work
Carve a pumpkin
Work work work
Collapse into bed
Panic. It’s November which means NaNoWriMo
Last minute panic planning
Write with a lot of coffee
Idiotically decide to have a sober November because one challenge at a time is not enough
Collapse into bed
Drag yourself up for the day job
Work work work
A Care Bear onesie looks appealing – yes, you are that tired
Work some more
No Alcohol
Lifts are both out of order in a high rise building! 
Walk downstairs round and round and round and round and...
So tired by now you can barely finish your sentences
Go to the doctors
Ill enough for the drugs
Head for the airport
Wait wait wait
Cancelled plane!
Queue and queue and queue
Coach to Manchester
Crash on the M6
Painful journey
Fellow passengers are jabbering morons
No alcohol!
Don’t sleep
Early morning flight
Wait and wait and wait
Shop duty free
No alcohol
Great place, sun shining, amazing hotel room
Oh yeah, have to go out and work
Want to sleep
Fireworks on the beach! Wonderful
So tired
Room service and sleep
You're not well enough to swim
Delayed flight
No alcohol!
Home sweet home
Drag yourself up for the day job
Struggle through
Chest X-ray
Wait for results
Waiting working waiting working
Win a gingerbread house!
Remember life is not all bad
NaNo target: minus £18k and counting
Failure is on the horizon
Accept it, they say
You can’t do everything
Especially if you’re unwell
Try to rest
Plenty of time yet to catch up
And if you never do, then you never do
15 days without a drop of alcohol
15 days of coughing and fever
15 days of beyond tiredness
15 days of barely writing
15 days of a busy life
This is my November
I must rest and get better.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014…

I did NaNoWriMo – that’s the national writing month of November in which one sets out to write 50,000 words in 30 days, for those who have not come across it before, check it out here – in 2011 and again in 2013, and in both years I successfully ‘won’ the challenge; that is I did write 50,000 words in both Novembers boosting both my word counts and motivation level.

This year I have been trying to decide whether to take part for weeks and still, just days before the start, have not 100% committed to the idea, although this gorgeous banner is doing its very best to firm up my desire to win once again.

And there you have it, that little word ‘win’ is why I have been reluctant to say “hell, yes, I’m doing it again!”

I have so much going on at the moment. I’m still working a full time job which places some demands on my ‘spare’ time, I’m still attempting to grasp onto some skeleton of a social life, still reviewing books and of course reading other books that I’m not reviewing but love anyway, still trying to get a literary agent, still trying to finish writing my trilogy, and more immediately am still trying to recover from illness that has wiped me out for the last several weeks as well as from a year that has seriously dented my motivation and desire to do anything other than sleep.

All of that combined is making me doubt that I have the energy to fully throw myself into the challenge and come out victor once again.

It’s the taking part that counts, right? Maybe for some. But for me I think a failure, i.e. another disappointment in 2014, is going to be too much to take. I could attempt it, and write some words, and not hit the target but have achieved something… but I could do that anytime. It wouldn’t be remarkable. It wouldn’t have been a challenge. For me, the goal, the 50,000 words written, is the only reason to get in the game.

So the question that is cantering through my mind on a daily basis is: What is going to make me feel worse? Forcing myself through NaNoWriMo and coming out of it perhaps exhausted but with another 50,000 words of fiction on my tally chart, or not taking part and continuing my day job + recovery + reading + reviewing + agent submissions marathon that is my daily life and churn out the same number of words over the next four months instead?

Four days left to decide.

I think I know which option is going to win out, and if I’m right then I’ll see you on the other side and you’d better have that elixir of life waiting because there will be some serious restoration needed at the end of it.

Failure is not always an option.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Billy Elliot The Musical Live (But Not Live)…

This afternoon, streamed from London’s West End to cinemas around the world, including my little local one, was Billy Elliot The Musical Live, which I had agreed to go and watch with a friend although it wouldn’t have been my top choice of Sunday afternoon entertainment. Straight after the show I found myself writing this blog.

Billy Elliot The Musical Live (But Not Live) – I’ll give it points for being a new experience but this one really wasn’t for me. I had my doubts before I went (too much real world, and all that) and it just did not work, in my opinion, for so many reasons.

First of all, and most intrusively, the camera. In the theatre itself I would have been seated in one position, as I was in the cinema, and at all times throughout the performance would have seen as much of the action as my position allowed, which is usually most if not all of the key moments.

But this was edited/displayed in a contrived manner like a film or television programme. I had not expected there to be multiple camera angles, nor for someone else to be dictating to me which parts of the action I could focus on at any given time.

I did not want to stare at a close up of the side of someone’s head while there was dancing happening stage left. I did not want to solely focus on Michael-on-a-bicycle at the end of the show while Billy was evidently doing something worthy of applause in the centre aisle. I did not need cheesy, ill-executed panning during a highly charged emotional moment, nor did I need confusing cross fades of action that was happening simultaneously on the stage, or images that were out of focus. Bad form.

Secondly, the cinema itself. If you are going to put on a show that is mirroring a theatre performance and thus relies on someone else’s timing for the start and for the interval, then for the gods’ sakes pay someone to stand by the house light switch to make sure it goes on and off at the right time!

I did not want to miss the beginning of the show and the start of the second half because of glare all over the screen, and I did not want to uncomfortably witness unsteady and unhappy pensioners struggling to get up and down stairs in the dark. Bad form.

So even before I get to the show itself you can see things weren’t going great. Am I being too picky? I’m not sure, but I figure if these things were hindering my concentration on, and enjoyment of, the show, then I must have some valid points.

The show itself had moments of genius, I won’t deny that, and I can see why people like it. That said, I cannot help but think its impact and messages were lost behind weak ‘humour’ and a narrative that moves far too quickly from full on homophobic attitude to what ends up as frankly a bizarre and uncharacteristic support of Billy’s dream (a dream which, I might add, he doesn’t seem too bothered about achieving for most of the second half).

The show had humour and it had sadness (though not nearly enough sadness and impact as the real story justifies). It exhibited extreme talent, threw in some good tunes, some very strong scenes (and a few scenes which I will never understand the point of) and overall, as expected, had some great things to say about society that it managed in a partially effective way.

Yet as I sit here reflecting on the last few hours I can’t help but feel that this show delivers sensation over content and for that reason I doubt will ever win me over. The incredible power of the story and the themes it covers, for me, were totally belittled by dancing dresses and fickle characterisation.

I sound like a total misery; a total, ΓΌber-critical, misery, I know, but I expected more from such a renowned performance. I expected to be moved and exhilarated. Shocked and made to think. Left with an emotional connection. 

I expected… something more than… this.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

100 Happy Days… Done…

Even though I doubted I would be able to stick to this, I managed to post my #100happydays posts on Facebook and reached the end of the project. 

If you read my blog at the start of the 100 happy days you’ll know why I decided to try it – essentially to make me focus each day on something positive, because this year has been less than enjoyable for the most part.

Before I started the happy days I knew it would be challenging to find something different each day that made me happy, if just for a short moment, and to be able to portray it in a way that others could understand. After all, if I see a pair of red, shiny shoes it makes me happy, putting me in mind of The Wizard of Oz, which I love, but not everyone would know that and might wonder why a pair of shiny, red shoes made me happy.

What I didn’t appreciate was how much the requirement for a photograph to accompany/illustrate the happy moment was actually going to be a hindrance.

To fulfil the challenge completely you’d need to have a video camera to hand, switched on, and ready to record at any given moment of the day, because trust me, these ‘happy’ moments can occur at any time, and can be made up of anything – a sight, a smell, a memory, a movement, something someone says, or does, a taste, a sound, a combination of any or all of these, or more; any sensory moment could, in fact, be the day’s happy moment.  And how do you capture that in a photograph?

The short answer is that a lot of the time, you can’t. So the happy moment posted that day wasn’t in fact the happiest moment, but the closest second-best you could think of before midnight to fill the space.

Throughout the challenge I repeatedly felt like I was undergoing inherent failure to complete it due to the very nature of the challenge – what was a happy moment for me, in that moment, was often totally unintelligible as such to someone else, or was utterly impossible to photograph and communicate. I was also very aware that I was dumping a daily dose of random ‘happiness’ onto my feed and forcing my peers to endure 100 days of this assault. I was getting bored of it by the end, so I dread to think how they felt and am grateful to them for putting up with it.

This is not to say that nothing good came out of the 100 happy days. Each day I did – for the time it took to find something happy and remember to photograph it, write the post, and upload it – focus on something positive, which was the whole reason I decided to try this in the first place. So despite feeling every day like I was failing, I did what I set out to. I spent 100 days with something enjoyable in each, even if it was as simple as having a nice cup of tea next to me while I worked, or taking a stroll somewhere outdoors in the fresh air after hearing some sad news.

So whilst I am relieved to have reached the end of the 100 days and can now shift my concentration and focus back to where it should be – on the rest of my social media and, of course, my writing – I did take something good away from it each day, and I learned something too: you have to make the most of those happy fragments of life, because it is those that help to make the rest of it bearable.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Elevator Encounters…

I’ve lived in a high rise building for a few years now, and during that time I’ve had numerous, random encounters in the elevators. Some have become so familiar to me that I barely notice them anymore, but some always stand out.

There’s Shades Man, who always has oversized sunglasses on, no matter the weather outside. There’s Tidy Man, who won’t press the elevator buttons unless his hand is tucked into his sleeve. One very memorable morning there was Happy Man, the aging rocker, who gleefully announced that he needed to check out but “there’s still a bird in my bed and she won’t get up”. Delightful.

Then there are the many elevator users which I can now easily categorise - for my own amusement - and so familiar have they become that I generally figure out which group they fit in as soon as they walk through the doors.

The magpies are the most numerous and also the most entertaining. They are entirely captivated by their shiny reflections as soon as the elevator doors open, and cannot help but spend the entire journey admiring themselves. Have mirror, will stare at reflection. Well, it didn’t go too well for Narcissus, magpies, that’s all I’m saying.

Then there are the peacocks. These are of the male species and see the elevator as an appropriate place to hit on women they do not know. They too primp and preen themselves in the mirror, but pause when one such as myself enters and then proceed to engage in infuriating conversations that go something like this: “Are you off to work? What number do you live at? Do you live there with your husband… boyfriend… alone…? What time do you finish work? What are you doing later?” and so it goes on, generally with the ‘me’ of the conversation saying very little, and the peacock persisting, despite the negative response his barrage of inappropriate and rushed questions yields.

At the other end of the confidence spectrum are the solitary wrens. Sighted but rarely, and always alone, the wrens are shy but so desperately concerned with their outward appearance that they pluck up the courage to ask their fellow elevator users “does my hair look ok?” “Does my mascara look smudged?” “Is my collar straight?” For the wrens, the mirror, so favoured by the magpies and the peacocks, is just not trustworthy.

And finally there are the sparrows. Always travelling in a host, these may be small individually, but together they are loud, frantic and utterly self-absorbed. The sparrows do not converse with anyone outside of the host, let along make eye contact with any other species. They flit into the elevator, fill it with their whispered twittering, and flit out as soon as the doors open.

Magpies, peacocks, wrens, sparrows... Many a winged friend - or foe - do I make in my daily elevator ride. It is always interesting to anticipate what random encounter I will have next. Just remember, frequent elevator users, there is often other people using the elevator, and they may just be categorising you too.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Ebook Errors…

Rant Alert! Ebooks. Does anyone actually proof read them or test them on the devices they will be read on before they are published? Doesn’t seem like it to me.

I read a lot. Print books, usually, but I take an ereader when I’m holidaying or travelling around. At the moment I’m doing a re-read of Robin Hobb’s early works and my old print copies are so well-read and delicate now that I’m reading digital copies on my Kindle.

I read a lot of proofs so I am well tuned to expect errors in those – misspelt names, typos, repeated words, formatting and line space issues – which I happily ignore, confident they will be rectified before the final book is published. I even sometimes spot errors in published books – it happens, and again I try to ignore it and accept that mistakes can slip through the net. Look at the first edition hard copies of The Republic of Thieves and you will soon start to hate the word ‘storeys’

But in reading Hobb’s books on the Kindle I’ve come across so many errors it is starting to really annoy me, and I’m fairly confident these errors are not in the print books and have solely come about as a result of the digital book process.

Character names have occasional spaces in them as though a spellchecker has tried to make two words out of them – Wintrow becomes Wint row. Several apostrophes have been replaced with random symbols – @ & – which I presume has happened when the text has been converted/formatted for digital reading. Sometimes the wrong word entirely appears in a sentence – ‘do’ instead of ‘to’ – or an ‘n’ appears where there clearly should be an ‘r’ followed by another letter.

If all of these errors are so glaringly obvious to me, the reader, why on earth have they not been rectified? Do ebooks really get no other treatment than to take the existing text as is, run it through a converter and then wham bam publish ma’am? No tests? No checks? No final proofread following conversion? Are people really content to be putting what comes across as sloppy, mediocre work out into the world?

Maybe I’m being a little harsh. We all make mistakes. But shouldn’t mistakes be occasional and genuine rather than frequent and lazy? Please, for the sake of story-lovers everywhere, to allow the very best of your work to get out there and show yourself in the best possible light, proofread, and test your ebooks with the same beady eyed diligence you would use for print.

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday, 26 May 2014

100 Happy Days…

I’m late to the party on this one, I know. If you’ve read my last blog you’ll have an inkling why. But thanks to one of my Facebook friends I am now aware of the #100happydays challenge. Before that it had not crossed my radar.

When I first saw her pictures and captions coming through on my newsfeed I thought ‘hey, that’s a great idea,’ but gave it little more thought than that. Then the days have continued and the feed has kept coming and the idea has nagged at me until today I checked out the website to see what it was all about.

‘Don’t have time’ was the first thing that came into my mind. How right they are. But perhaps, for my own health and wellbeing, I should make time to focus on something positive, even if it is just for a short time each day. I think it will do me good to remember that things could be far worse than they are. It may also be a way to try and put me back in touch with the world that has so disappointed me of late.

So the next thing I knew I was signing up. It begins today: my challenge to find something good in life for 100 days in a row. Gods know, given the way the last few months have been, I need this. So, let the challenge commence!

Friends, followers, forgive the upcoming daily photographic assault, but you never know, there may be some good ones in the mix. Let’s hope so.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Crayola Colour Mood…

Much as I wish it wasn’t, my current Crayola Colour Mood is… Grey. Just Grey. Plain. Dull. Bleak. Quiet. No fancy name on this one, friends. A blunt name for a blunt colour.

It’s been a hard few months. A hard few months which have left me feeling deflated, grey, less than my usual self. A hard few months in which I have seen more hurts and disappointments than I can bear to think of. A hard few months which continue, despite my best efforts to leave them behind. A bad day became a bad week, a bad week became bad weeks, bad weeks have blurred into one seemingly endless, grey stream.

This week saw the death of another friend (friend, partner, parent, person), less than a month after diagnosis, leaving those of us in close proximity little time to try and understand what was happening, let alone prepare ourselves for it. Another loss. Another absence. Another one who will never make it to 40. As I grow older I realise more and more how tenuous all of our grips are on this life and how easily it can be snuffed out, without our consent or acceptance.

Life is hard. Its pathways are paved with grey. No matter how they twist and turn, that grey tinge that mars so many of our days and nights is never fully left behind. It is through small outbursts like this that my writer’s mind can try to process everything that is happening. So forgive my grey words and my recent silence.

Yet as I write this, I realise grey is not always bad and bleak. Think of a pavement, grey and smooth, when the last rain has fallen and the cloud ebbs away to allow a glimpse of sunlight through. What was dark, dingy grey becomes a twinkling, shining grey, and suddenly, there is hope.

Elloise Hopkins.