Monday, 22 June 2015

Crayola Colour Mood...


Ultramarine Blue! I’m feeling nautical! In the manner of someone who lives far from the sea, drifting, as it were, on dry land. I search for a boat, a berth, a place on the deep blue. I am grounded. And I want off it. My feet long for adventure.

What a colour. What an ‘I could just dive in there and find a whole world’ kind of a depth it has. Ultramarine. Sounds like such a mystical path to somewhere… different. I could be bobbing along, bobbing along on the bottom of the beautiful briny... oh! Look what’s happened now. A Bedknobs moment and a pause to say a quiet ode to the ultramarine blue, thank you.

How could you not love this colour? So simple… so strikingly simple, but look at it! It is endless. It leads to something more. Imagine those lines expanding, lengthening beyond the corners of your eyes. Watch them touch the horizon and tip, drawing you down and off to the next place. Watch them roll and churn.

I let myself drift into Ultramarine Blue and find within it such strength that I dare not argue with where I am nor where it takes me. My Crayola Colour Mood reminds me that there is always more out there. More to find. More to do. At the right time I will drift on and fall wherever it shall lead me.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Rebecca…


Not a story I was familiar with, when last week I was invited to watch it performed at a local theatre by Kneehigh Theatre Company. Now, if you have not come across Kneehigh before, which I have, they are worthy of a blog post all of their own. You know with Kneehigh to expect a performance of the highest quality, exhibiting great talent with boundless energy and power.

Rebecca did not disappoint on that score. Set against a spooky backdrop of the sunken ship and the imposing stairwell of Manderley there were rockets, there was dancing, there was love and there was loyal puppet dog. There were exceptional performances, there was music and singing – sea shanties that captured perfectly the presence of the sea and the underlying current of the story – and there was a sinister sense of unease throughout, as I would have expected after reading the book.

And read it I did, in a few short sessions during lunch breaks, on the bus, and an hour the evening before the play so that I could finish the story in its original form before seeing any adaptations. I read Jamaica Inn at school but sadly I think that is the only Daphne du Maurier book (except now for Rebecca) that I have read. This needs to be remedied!

What a book. Haunting, yes. Sad, yes. Powerful, yes. The sort of suspense tale that needs to be told. Perfect for a cold evening when the wind outside howls in time, and the fire crackles… When the last bubbles fizz through the champagne, and shadows flicker in the doorway behind you, the stories of Manderley and of Mrs. De Winter, past and present, are told, from the hopeful, if unusual start of true love, to an ending that raises chills.

Rebecca will now find place among my favourite books – those that I will admire and enjoy over again. It is a story of perfection, and a perfectly formed story. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” And again I shall.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Spring Clean Me, 2015…


It is April, 2015 and I find myself sitting in a new room with a view, this time looking out over greenery and the suburbs rather than the city skyline and construction sites. The sun is shining through the window and onto my new writing desk, and for a moment a strange sense of ‘home from home’ comes over me. Maybe home is simply  ‘where I write’.

This is the first time in months I have been able to sit at a writing desk, on a Saturday morning, with no boxes and baggage stacked up around me, and feel myself, with time to think, and to pour out those thoughts into blogs, and better, into the fictional stories that have kept me going these last busy years.

The house I sit in is aging gracefully, as is my beloved mac, Ultimacia, who waits patiently in silver as I type these words. Somewhere outside cats roam and birds hunt, squirrels nest in a chimney that – for the time being – houses them without protest, and in another world the winds begin to rise and darkness readies its move, soon to force those within to face the truth of their past. But for now the sun shines and a tale told can be told again, more richly.

Life is never easy. That is a lesson I learned the hard truth of years ago, but the more I know this world the more I realise there are those who seek nothing more than to attack their fellows, with words and weapons, and who thrive on the misery they have wrought upon others.

I find it hard not to become disheartened by the world I see, and disappointed by those who act that way. I withdraw, I keep to myself; it is a primitive form of self-defence – predator, flee! But one cannot hide forever and there will always be predators.

So today I choose to step out into the sun and face all who would try and chase me away. Life is never easy, but it does not end until it ends, and I do not choose that end today.

For while the sun shines and there are words, then there are stories, and while there are stories there are better worlds to create and explore. A spring cleaning of the mind is the best kind. Dear world, I am returned.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Crayola Colour Mood…


And the mood is… Silver. A simple word for a feeling that is far from simple. It is fluid… transitional. It is hopeful clouds and movement into a new phase of life. It shimmers, and it also hides layer behind layer. It is silence. It is a symphony. It is leaves blowing in a warm breeze at night. It is the sun splintering against a cobweb over glass. It is my Crayola Colour Mood of today.

It has been a time of change again, so I hope you will forgive my lack of contact. Life has presented me with another challenge, another change. One that I knew was coming. One that was inevitable, and sensible. But that did not make it any easier to endure.

Through the worst, now, I find myself with time to actually sit at a computer, and think, and type, and remember that the world is still out there, waiting for me to return to it. Through the worst, now, I am almost ready to face it all again.

I just moved house, leaving behind an apartment I have loved dearly for the last half a decade. I knew at some point I would have to leave; it was far from perfect and over time has become less and less the peaceful haven it began (being on the edge of a building site did not help) as it underwent the unfortunate transformation – in all but name – into a building mostly populated by young, wealthy, noisy, students, who exhibit no social skills, observe no social niceties, and evidently have no idea how to use a bin chute, or worse, perhaps believe it is beneath them to clear up after themselves.

It was time to move on. Perhaps for the first time I begin to acknowledge my aging, and perhaps even accept it, a little.

I have spent the last few weeks dining out, lunching, drinking and generally over indulging, in between working too hard at the day job and enormous amounts of packing and condensing life at home. It has not been an easy time and I am now taking a holiday, to recover in a place that always brings me peace.

They say moving house is one of the most stressful things in life. I’ve lost 8lbs in two weeks, whilst doing all of that over indulging. I’d say they’re right about the stress thing.

But there is the silver lining and the reason for my Crayola Colour Mood. When life takes a turn and it is not necessarily the one you know you wanted – although it is most likely the best one for you, as you will come to realise in time – it has its bitter elements and its upheaval, but it also has its rewards. Take them where you can get them. Take your time of silence and reflection. Take your time to digest and respond. Then carry on with the new chapter, wrapped in a haze of simple, complex Silver.

Elloise Hopkins.

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: http://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/2qqjvm/a_lack_of_female_characters_is_always_a_choice/ 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.

Unpack
Sleep
Drag yourself up to get back to the day job
Work
Work eat sleep work work work
Carve a pumpkin
Work work work
Collapse into bed
Sleep
Sleep
Panic. It’s November which means NaNoWriMo
Last minute panic planning
Write
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 work
Shop
A Care Bear onesie looks appealing – yes, you are that tired
Work some more
Sleep
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
Work
Pack
Work
Go to the doctors
Ill enough for the drugs
Work
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
Delayed
Wait and wait and wait
Shop duty free
No alcohol
Arrival!
Great place, sun shining, amazing hotel room
Oh yeah, have to go out and work
Work
Eat
Work
Want to sleep
Fireworks on the beach! Wonderful
So tired
Room service and sleep
Explore
Swim
You're not well enough to swim
Sleep
Pack
Airport
Delayed flight
No alcohol!
Home sweet home
Chores
Sleep
Drag yourself up for the day job
Struggle through
Sleep
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
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.