Monday, 13 March 2017

The Few That I Don’t Review…

When people from my ‘other life’ find out I am a book reviewer they very often ask what I do if I get sent a book for review and don’t like the book. It is a good question, if a little negative, but it has to be considered.

Not every book is enjoyed by everyone. We do not all read for the same purpose. We do not all seek the same satisfaction from our reading material. Any book has the capacity to inspire some and deter others.

I could easily name a handful of books written by established names that I was convinced, prior to reading them, that I would love them, but actually failed to connect with them in the way I thought I would. Similarly I could name a handful of books that at first glace at the cover or the blurb – I know, don’t judge, right? – I wasn’t convinced I would enjoy, that have turned out to be wonderful.

So what do I do with the few books from my reviewing hauls that I just cannot get into?

Answer: I do nothing. If I can’t finish a book, or if I finish a book but just did not feel inspired, excited, or connected enough to it to write a review, then I don’t write one.

This answer has shocked people. They have been shocked that I put out no review rather than putting out a negative review. They wonder why I do not publish a review explaining what I thought didn’t work about it and why.

But that is the point. Just because it didn’t work for me, does not mean it won’t work for other readers. It is all subjective. We are all very, very different. Yes we are.

I read a book recently and struggled. It appealed to me initially because the cover endorsement was by one of my all time favourite authors. The cover art was attractive and the story sounded like a lovely piece of escapism. So I should have loved it, but in the reading I struggled. I struggled to connect with the narrator right from the start. I struggled to see where the story was going or what kind of story it was. I struggled to read on, even though there were some strong images and a lyrical, historical, magic feel to the whole thing. I struggled to the end and I started to write a review. Then I stopped. For some reason this book just wasn’t speaking to me. I don’t know why. Even now when I see other people's praise of it, I am not sure exactly why. It just did not work that way for me.

In every review I write, I begin with a summary of the who’s, how's, what's, why’s, or where’s of the book, to give the reader a taste of what they may find within it. I find this part usually flows really easily but for this particular review I didn’t make it past a paragraph. The words just would not come. I closed the document and resigned myself to this being one of the few that I don’t review.

I won’t tell the world what I didn’t like about this book. I won’t tell the world what other people might not like about this book. Because what good is a negative review to anybody? Who does it benefit, really, if I taint your view of what a book may be, because of what it was to me? Do you really want to miss out on your next gem because – due to circumstance, personal taste or the mysteries of the universe – for me it just wasn’t a gem?

So that abandoned review, and the book it relates to, will linger in the archives, leaving its future readers guarded from my opinions. One day it may speak to me and be granted a second chance, but for now it is left in peace, intact and waiting discovery by those who may look upon it more favourably.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Trainspotting, 20+ years on…

Trainspotting was released in 1996, and certainly then and in the subsequent years I know I watched it quite a few times. On this particular then-15/16-year-old it made an impression.

Hard hitting. Real. Instructive. Tense. Well crafted. Loud. Cool. Brilliant.

Looking back, those are some of the ideas and impressions I have of the film but in the years since the mid-late 90s I don’t think I have seen Trainspotting more than once. Twice, perhaps.

With the sequel pending and a re-watch scheduled, this month I tried but could not really remember much about the original film. I had strong visual impressions of a couple of characters and a handful of key moments but little more than that. Certainly the storyline had become lost to me among those main elements – the music, the clubs, the pain and the drugs. But something else in that film had spoken to me. At the time it had felt so significant, yet whatever magic Trainspotting had over us 90s teens, now, as an adult, grown and changed over again since then, I could no longer grasp it.

In fact many of those original commands that as a young teenager had seemed so old and far away – “Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers […] Choose your future. Choose life.” – were now a very real part of life (except for my television which is modestly sized at best and the compact disc players which 20+ years on are just about obsolete).

2017. Me. Older. More grounded in life. Sadly aware of the harsh, sick, contradictive and often hard-to-stomach parts of reality that along with the lighter side form life. Real life, which my 16-year-old self had but little exposure to. How would a film that was, in its time, poignant, symbolic and significant, in a real if indefinable way, speak to me 20 years on?

On re-watching I was surprised to discover that I had remembered the story, and far more of it all than I thought. That magic was real; Trainspotting evidently did speak to me back then and leave a much clearer and longer-lasting impression than I thought. In all its grim, gritty, grainy truths, amidst the swearing, the violence and the filth there lurks a wonderful study of human behaviour, relationships and survival, which is just as true of today as it was of then.

There are moments when you laugh. There are moments when you cringe. There are moments when you turn away from the television but even turning away is not enough to banish the horror that is being presented. There is no getting away from it. And should there be? Has the lust for life truly gone? Should we face it anyway?

Those who know me or who have read my blog before will know that I am always dubious of a sequel. Yes, of course, there have been many brilliant sequels over the years. Specific ones. You know which ones are exceptional. There have also been an awful lot more terrible sequels – and re-makes, while we’re on the subject – which should never have been made at all, and I always fear a bad sequel, so the prospect of T2 Trainspotting after all these years rings a few bells, although seeing the original line up still involved and knowing it is in Danny Boyle’s capable hands reassures me no end even if I once again cannot understand the title.

The end of Trainspotting left 90s Renton certainly more hopeful than the beginning found him, although his path was far from easy or clean. Did he grow up to be just like us, with our 9-5s and indexed pensions, getting by, looking ahead to the day we die? I have purposefully avoided any discussion of or spoilers about the sequel – I prefer to make my own first impression – but having today been reminded of how good a film was presented to me in 1996, I look forward, with glee and apprehension, to what the new instalment will bring.

I also look back and I wonder… In another twenty years will I once again be inspired to choose my future and choose life? Will I once again reach back, holding only vague memories, and find much deeper impressions left behind by an inexplicable magic?

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo 2016…

The title of this blog is a little misleading, because I cannot actually tell you why I am not taking part in NaNoWriMo 2016. Let me explain…

The problem with leading a double life is that the big things in life, the key events, the monumental decisions, the terrible lows and disappointments, and the wonders, are all too much to be contained in one aspect of life; they spill over from one identity to the next. There may be two faces here – the me that reviews and writes and the me that works the day job – but we are one and the same. We are a duo. A juggling act.

Confused? Not too much, I hope. Essentially the me that is writing my Aethera novels and reviewing books and attending conventions and dwelling in the fantasy fiction world has had to take a back seat in 2016 because of life changing decisions and focus on a secret project in my other, more mundane life.

I should say, lest you think me a secret agent or other exciting being, that by secret project I mean something that I cannot openly discuss or explain here because it would have a detrimental effect on the ‘other’ me. It is a struggle, but sometimes in life you have to sacrifice something to gain something else. I have thought and planned much for my future this year, and my present has had to go somewhat on pause as a result.

2016 has been a hard year. Of course that is not just the case for me but for many of us. There have been let downs. It began back in January so terribly, and things have not often looked up since then. It has been hard to lay groundwork to change and improve life, but it has been necessary. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, said Samuel Butler.

Today I had an intense day following an intense several months, but I am pleased to say it has paid off – some excellent news came out of it, news which again I cannot share but news which I think will bring positive and welcome changes into my life for 2017. After today I can take my finger off that pesky pause button for a while, which is great news for ‘this’ me, because ‘this’ me has a third novel to write (a third novel which has been impatiently circling the lower halos of my mind for a very long time).

No, I have not forgotten how to write, nor lost my love of it.

No, I have not lost my desire to review and blog and attend events and immerse myself in this industry which so inspires and entertains me. Time is a premium, and time well spent on my real life now will better benefit this life in the year to come.

In the title words of an excellent piece of fictional writing:

“Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling”

For am I still here, and shall be for many words and many stories yet to come.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Three Act Play, Two Act Interval…

When I go to watch local theatre or performances I tend to blog about them – a review/commentary on the play and my experience of it. Also, I think it is worth talking about exceptional local events and venues to spread the word, as it were. Nothing spreads success quite like word of mouth. However, I recently saw a local performance and did not blog about it. Why? The play was good. There were some very funny lines and well choreographed and executed scenes. An enjoyable evening out was had by all.

But – a big but that deserves to be a paragraph starter – there was a glaring issue that prevented the audience’s total appreciation of what they were watching and prevented them from telling the performers that they were enjoying what they saw.

The performance was of a play by Oscar Wilde that was written in three acts, as many are, of course. The play was performed in three parts with two intervals. The problem? The audience did not know there were going to be two intervals. Why is that a problem? When the stage lights dimmed for the first time, a scant 20 minutes into the performance, none of us knew it was for an interval; it felt like the end of a scene and we waited in silence for the next one.

When an uncomfortably long scene change had passed and no new scene began, the house lights came up and then there was some half hearted clapping by an audience that was vacating the theatre in some confusion and hovering around the bar wondering why there had been no notification of the two interval situation or why the first one had come so soon.

After a 20 minute interval we duly made our way back into the theatre and the play resumed. I and a few others in the audience had, by this point, gleaned that there was going to be a second interval in the play so when the second one came around we few clapped and attempted to create a proper gap in the proceedings. Eventually those slower folks in the audience cottoned on and the second interval was slightly more successful than the first.

The end of the play was good and overall I think people went home happy; however, there was that lingering feeling of something not quite right. Not knowing about the two intervals, and they being so long in themselves, had left the audience-actors relationship irrevocably affected by it.

There is nothing wrong with having a three act play with a two part interval, but tell people about it first. That way the audience has no lingering guilt at its lack of reaction and the players and everyone else involved in putting on the show have no lingering doubt over the success of the performance.

Accept that these days we are pre-conditioned to expect one interval somewhere near the middle of a play, and communicate when you are going off grid. Tell the audience to expect something out of the ordinary and they will thank you for it accordingly.

No one enjoys the end of an act with no applause.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Series Update April 2016…

It’s becoming an increasingly slow slog getting this series finished. I raced through my re-write of book two towards the end, then started book three and got stuck after the prologue (which was very clear in my mind) because I got myself in a tangle about which character was where, what they were doing and why. What had always been a very clear path to the end suddenly seemed flawed, although I could not put my finger on the whys or wherefores.

I took another break from the story to give myself some thinking time and (fortunately/unfortunately) began to be very plagued by a character who wants to be written – but she is not from this series so has to stay where she is for now despite how loud and formed she is in my mind. She will play a major part in an upcoming project which I think is actually going to be a series of books aimed at children. Who expected that one?

Back to the Aethera and I remained in a muddle and feeling somewhat despondent after so many years of watching them interact so coherently in my thoughts and in the many hundreds of pages already written. I began to feel very depressed by the lack of progress until the very thought of opening the files and my big ideas sketchpad had become a monumental task in my by now very messed up head.

Time heals all, they say, and a little more time away from it all – anxiety and hopelessness in tow – started to work some wonders. I began to focus on the good things that I have already written, particularly on those little plot mysteries that solved themselves in the writing and the answers that had come to earlier questions that I had no idea I was asking at the time.

Where there have been those solutions, I had to believe there will be more and suddenly I realised that the only way forward was to go back over what has gone before (again) and find the words to continue the story.

I revisit book two with a more positive view this time. I think I know where it gets a little muddy, and I think the explanation for that already exists on the pages written and the thoughts as yet unwritten. I may not yet have an agent to help me through the tougher times, but I have three solid main characters, an ever forming world and a sidekick who is worthy of his own story. I have the ingredients I just have to get the mixture right, and I will.

Book two the re-visit is underway. Time to spring clean my words ready for the next ones.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Accents in Stories…

Or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I may have blogged about accents and successfully delivering language in literature before. I’m not sure, but having watched Trapped last night (which is a fantastic tv programme that makes wonderful use of the Icelandic landscape and language along with English and Danish) and having recently read Mark Twain’s aforementioned book, accents are circling my mind today.
First off I should caveat this blog by saying that my experience of Finn’s adventure was probably hindered by reading from a yellowed hardback that was gifted to me in 1989 and has spent the years since aging, forgotten in a cupboard amongst other childhood trinkets. It was also hindered by the fact that I was reading – trying to read – this ancient copy, which by the way has tiny text, on a very busy, noisy bus on my commutes to and from the dreaded day job.

I wonder also whether my experience was hindered by the fact that I have never read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which by all accounts appears to come before Huckleberry Finn’s adventure. I didn’t realise that together they form a series. Should I have read about Tom Sawyer first?

You are sensing by now, I am sure, that I struggled a bit with this book. Being an avid reader and, of course, a book reviewer, this struggling was somewhat of a shock to the system, but struggle I did.

The author’s explanatory note advises the reader that a number of dialects are used in the book: “the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods South-Western dialect; the ordinary ‘Pike-County’ dialect; and four modified varieties of this last”.

Unfortunately I am not really sure what any of those should sound like, and so this book has sounded in my head like a terribly bad day where Deliverance met Smokey Robinson and every bandit from anywhere west. The consequence is that much of Finn’s wile and charm was lost on me because of my inability to communicate with him on any real level.

The story has fantastic moments of cunning, humour and downright cheek, and I feel as though I have missed out on a great experience. I will have to put it on my list for a re-read and make sure I read in a place that allows me full, uninterrupted concentration on these adventures, and I will read them in order lest spending time with Tom first makes for a more beneficial experience.

Accents in books are always going to be a tricky thing and having read this book I see why – if your reader doesn’t know in the first place what you intend your accent to sound like then they make their own interpretation, and a poor or distracting interpretation can have a detrimental effect on their enjoyment and understanding of your work.

How do you successfully write an accent into literature? That is a blog for another day but is certainly something that shall occupy my thoughts for a time. Brave is the author who wholeheartedly commits to this endeavour, says I.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Richard Castle…

Castle, Castle… You know I love the guy. You know I love my kindle. Put the two together and what do you get?

I read the Derrick Storm books recently. The three shorts that kicked it off didn’t overly impress me. Yes, I could hear Castle’s voice when I read them, and yes, they had nice little touches of the series in them, but essentially the story did not wow me. Neither did the quality of the writing – yes, ever the reviewer – but as you also know, I am not always the short story’s greatest fan so the odds were stacked against them.

Despite these initial impressions, I found myself moving onto the next books in the series – Storm Front and Wild Storm. Add longer length, more pleasing prose, character development and time to sit back and enjoy the fictional works of the fictional Richard Castle and you have success.

I can’t tell you exactly why I read through these so quickly and so determinedly. Perhaps because I love the show so much, I needed to love the spin off books too. Perhaps you don’t need a perfectly crafted, sophisticated narrative to make a book a success – is there a lesson to learn there?

I certainly loved the clever ways the books evoked the show’s presence, through references to the characters, particularly those similarities between Storm and Castle – apparently they both really are ruggedly handsome. Plus there was the odd genius reminder of the fictional nature of Castle the writer and of “writers whose identity the public will never know”.

Whether I will go on to read the Nikki Heat books at some point is yet to be seen, but there is more to ‘Richard Castle’ in these books than meets the eye and I am glad I was not quick enough to dispose of Derrick Storm and his world-saving before I had read them all.

Elloise Hopkins.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Never a finer prince shall there be…

Goodbye, my heart, my princely fellow,
You lover of sunshine and all exciting things.

Go crowned and sleek feline footed to your next adventure,
Where kings dwell beyond the gates of the Goblin City,
And the hunting is ripe with fairies.

Never a finer prince shall there be.
Never a finer prince than thee.

Nineteen years was forever. Not long at all.
Be always loved and never forgotten,
My heart, my striped friend, my Tigger.

Purr and preen and sing, my boy,
And wear your crown with pride.

For never a finer prince shall there be.
Never a finer prince than thee.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

NaNo No Chance…

It was an unlikely goal even before November came. 50,000 words in a month of starting a new job, Christmas shopping and worrying sick over a terribly ill cat. It was an unlikely goal, to say the least. At the end of October I was still editing book two, right up to the wire on Halloween. I reached the end, sure, goal achieved, but it was a total rush and I know that both the quality of the story and my involvement with the characters suffered as a result.

November came, but the story did not. Once I had written the prologue, which was clear in my mind, there was nothing else clear in my mind to write. I knew where the characters all were, and I knew where they were going, but I couldn’t quite see how and when to get them there. I still can’t.

It is not writer’s block. It is a thinking block. I have always done the key parts of my writing by thinking.

My life now has a commute where before it had a few minutes walk to and from work each day. My home now is a houseful of people where before it was nothing but the quiet hum of trains and the call of birds in the sky. My life had lie-ins where now it has a constant wake up call.

My life now has noise where before it had that special kind of quiet in which stories are made. My lifestyle has changed, and the things I love doing, and the stories I write, have suffered for it.

So writing 50,000 words in November did not happen. It was never really going to – psyching myself up to do it was my way of clinging to something normal, something that is familiar and something that has before been so natural and so easy. I did not write, and much as I tried to find the story, I did not. It has never worked that way for me; it has never been forced.

I definitely need a rest. My mind is exhausted from the lack of opportunity to put my thoughts and feelings in order and my body is exhausted from lack of good, peaceful sleep and from lugging around my disordered mind. I wish for calm, and quiet. I wish for time and space. I wish for that moment when I glance out of a window or up at the sky and find the perfect clarity that is the next part of the story.

So I tell myself, in those moments when I hate the lack of word count, that two books out of three is not at all bad, and the third will be all the better for the rest. Sometimes life gets in the way. That is just the way it is.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Book Review: Ripples In The Chalice...

By Adam Copeland.

Sir Patrick Gawain is about to meet his end at the point of a sword. That is until his Apparition appears before him and reminds him that he cannot give up. Patrick is forced to revisit a choice he once made – a choice that led to everything he has experienced and everything he has suffered thus far. The peace of his trip home may be short-lived.

King Henry Salian has been tutored for this since childhood, focused always on his goal by his elders. But his father, the emperor, is responsible for terrible acts, and it is time for Henry to stand up for what he knows is right. The fight to unite Christianity under one pope and one emperor is on, and Patrick finds himself in the middle of events once again.

The opening of this book is a hugely impressive prologue which locates the reader straight into the heart of this story’s focus. It does not hold back on action or tone and demonstrates great confidence in storytelling. On the whole, this second Avalon tale exhibits tighter control in the writing than its predecessor and demonstrates the author’s growth.

While the elements of the first book are firmly visible and its favourite characters still in the forefront, there is a greater level of immediate menace in the story and a darker and more visibly violent feel overall, which sits well among modern fantasy. For the more traditional readers among us, don’t fear, there is a welcome ending after all the hardship. Another enjoyable read for those who want a story routed in historical fantasy with a little bit of real life, romance and myth in for good measure.

Elloise Hopkins.