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, über-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.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The unfriendliness of newspaper...


I have issues with newspapers. I really do. I’m not talking about content here, although I have issues with that too. You would be hard pressed to get me voluntarily into a discussion that had anything to do with news, politics or this modern day celebrity obsession or the other countless day to day items that upset me. I’m talking about the actual, physical qualities of newspapers.

First of all I have issues with the size and total logistical impracticality of them. I mean, yes, there is a lot of content there, and I’m sure originally there was a very good reason for them being so huge. But is it really necessary? There is nothing worse on a long train journey during a busy commute than being constantly elbowed by someone reading a newspaper next to you and having the flapping corners drifting over to block the view of your own sensible-sized reading material.

And secondly I can’t stand the texture. Bizarre I know for someone that reads multiple novels a week. But have you ever picked up a wooden spoon when it is slightly damp and felt that uncomfortable and unnatural cringing sensation rush over your body? Well the same principle applies to newspaper. Try touching newspaper when it has become damp by rain or if you have wet hands or even when your hands are bone dry, and I suspect you will feel as disgusted as I do by it. There must be a modern solution!

Yes, ok so this is just a commentary, a rant, a moan. Call it what you like, depending on your own thoughts on newspapers. Today it is newspapers that are taking the brunt of my groaning. Bah.

Elloise Hopkins.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Smoking Kills. Fiction Tells…


This week as I sat at home writing, windows open for the first time this year, the sun wasn’t the only thing drifting in to my room with a view. The words “it is an offence to smoke on New Street Station” occasionally joined the sun, distracting me momentarily from the world of my novel.

“It is an offence to smoke on New Street Station.” New Street Station being the train station outside. On New Street Station, I asked myself (and my social networks.) On. Not in? How strange a message to broadcast. A friend echoed my thoughts, which had centred on a lone figure, standing on the roof of the under-construction complex, smoking in the one place where it is openly forbidden. My imagination filled in the rest rather swiftly.

If you ever wonder why sometimes I seem absent from the real world, or why a task can be lost in a moment, and a moment can stretch to several, this is how my mind works. I see a snapshot and it grows, whether I consciously give it fuel or not. Thus those ten words and the momentary distraction become 800 words of story.

The Secret Rooftop Smoker inhales, not leisurely, but not over rushed. There is still time for him to finish his cigarette before he leaves, still time to overcome the ten minute interior maze that will take him from his rooftop to the platforms below where his train will depart in precisely twelve minutes and forty-five seconds. Still time for a few more drags, a few more precious lungfuls of nicotine and the delicious substances that accompany it. Still time to take those few prized moments of secret freedom and deduct them from the sum of his life.

The day is warm, the sun caressing the back of his neck where he stands atop Grand Central, the workmen and commuters streaming beneath him like ants. Look at them, he thinks. Look at them, wreathed in the smoke of a hundred smokers polluting one another in the confines of the station. Look at them, too scared to break the rules, too cowardly to embrace the rooftop freedom that he so richly enjoys. Too scared to smoke on New Street Station.

A quick glance at his watch checks the countdown. Eleven minutes and eighteen seconds. Still time. He places the cigarette between his lips and breathes in once again, the corners of his mouth ever so slightly turned up in a smug smile. Still time. He need not be one of them.

He should have known it was too good to be true. The crash of a door and the simultaneous flap of wings break his reverie. Ten minutes and fifty-seven seconds. He looks up and his eyes fix on black uniforms, grey eyes, red fire extinguishers. The Smoke Policiers. How they found him, how they knew he was here, he will never know. But found him they have.

Ten minutes and forty-seven seconds. Ten went by as the reality of his situation sank in – just over ten minutes until he had to be on his train and leaving the station. A ten minute maze to journey. Two Smoke Policiers now obstructing his only route to the maze and thus the platforms beyond.

Secret Smoking Man drags on his cancer stick as he has never dragged in his life. No point hiding what he is doing up here on his rooftop. His secret haven will be forever blocked to him after this day. Might as well enjoy it to the last. Nine minutes and two seconds. His window of time has passed.

The Smoke Policiers advance, not leisurely, but not over rushed. They know, as he does, that there is nowhere for him to go. No way out of this and the punishment that will follow. The penalty for smoking on the station is rumoured to be harsh. Of course none have ever broken the rule before… or have not survived to speak of it. Eight minutes and five seconds.

When his last drag is dragged and the red tip of his cancer stick become uncomfortably close to his fingers, he drops it onto the domed top of John-Lewis-under-construction, lifts a booted foot, grinds what is left of his last pleasure onto the gritty surface beneath and exhales his last mouthful of tainted, forbidden smoke. Delicious. Seven minutes and twenty-eight seconds.

There is nowhere for him to go. No way out of this. The Smoke Policiers still block the exit. All around him a drop. To what? To the east and west, platforms. To the north and south, skyscrapers. All around him, as far as he can see, traffic, buildings, hills, and also to the west, two Smoke Policiers, disturbingly close now. Nowhere for him to go. Time ticks on. Six minutes and fifty seconds.

Secret Smoking Man considers for a moment handing himself over. After all, he chose this. He broke the rules… knowingly and willingly. He should face the consequences. Six minutes and forty-two seconds. He could almost reach out and touch the Smoke Policiers, they have drawn so close now.

Instead he turns to the east putting his back to his enemy. One step, then another. Then many in quick succession as he runs… jumps… Six minutes and twenty-four seconds. His aim is true. The train looms below him. All he need to is land, wait for six minutes and seven seconds and he will be gone from the Smoke Policiers, gone from Grand Central, gone from the ants and the cowardly. Elation fills him.

Five minutes and fifty-nine seconds. A rogue seagull takes flight, startled into movement by the Smoke Policiers leaning over John-Lewis-under-construction and watching Secret Smoking Man's fall. The seagull crosses Secret Smoking Man’s flight path, the collision sending him off course.

Five minutes and forty-eight seconds. He makes the platform… but not his train.

The Smoke Policiers nod to one another, a lesson to the ants well taught. Secret Smoking Man heralds their message in blood as the onlookers learn.

Smoking kills. Do not smoke on New Street Station.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

When Libraries Were…


A library used to be a quiet place; so quiet you were afraid to cough or rustle papers, so peaceful you could lose yourself in there for hours, either in a world within a book or by devoting yourself to study without the fear of distraction or human disturbance. A library used to be a place without interruption, to think and rest and read and be.

The Library of Birmingham – which I have blogged about not entirely favourably before – is a different kettle of fish, one that makes me wonder whether those libraries of the past are dead and gone.

Twice recently, once at lunchtime, once in the evening, have I curled myself up into a chair in the lending library – and here I won’t harp on about the fact that the chairs are too low for the tables so sitting up properly and working/typing is a challenge – and attempted first to read a book and then edit some of my novel.

Now here’s the problem. This library (or should we really call it a tourist attraction?) is not quiet. It is not peaceful. It is not a haven where reading or working are easy things to do. It is loud. It is as busy on the inside as it is on the outside. None of the separate areas of this fantastically designed building are fully enclosed, so the noise from the café above and the shrieks and the sound of children charging around in the kids’ section below are a terrible assault on the concentration. It feels so wrong that I’m struggling to explain it. It was as though I was trying to read whilst sitting on the edge of an adventure playground. 

Now I have no doubt that somewhere in this library there must be a quiet section but I’ve not found it yet, and if I do I suspect that like everything else in there it will be less than functional as a library in the way we have always understood a library to be.

Even something so simple as collecting a reserved book now involves a ten minute wait while the staff have to head from the desk to a different floor to collect it.

And did I mention before that there is not enough seating in there? Did I? When that was one of the main selling points of relocating to such a large building without increasing stock? Not enough seating. And what there is is either bulky and awkward to position comfortably, or too low to be able to stand up from easily for those of us unenthusiastically advancing in age.

You can see I still have my issues with the library, and as time goes on and I try more and more to use it as a library, those issues are increasing. I wanted to love this place. I wanted to be proud of it and treasure it always. So I will keep going there, and I will keep trying to use it as a library, in the hope that somehow our current strife will be reconciled.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Please excuse me while I'm dressing...

I'm giving my blog a little makeover.

Bear with us while we rearrange some things.

Elloise Hopkins.