Wednesday 30 March 2011

New Socks Part 2…

There are far more zany things I could do with old socks if I did start a new pair everyday. But surely the real question is why do socks deteriorate so quickly? It’s not like I walk fifteen miles along cobblestones each day wearing no shoes. I don’t spill anything on my socks and the rest of my clothes don’t go all misshapen and weirdly crunchy after a few wears. Why do socks go off?

Perhaps in fact I should have entitled this blog ‘an ode to new socks’ and written a sonnet about how I mourn socks when they no longer flex and caress my feet. ‘Oh new socks’, I would begin, ‘thy loving elastane and soft weaved body are irresistible. How can I live without your mysterious texture? Why are your promises so short-lived?’

I’m off to the sock shop now. The enticement of sock puppets performing Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus has become too tempting.

Next time you’re bored why don’t you see what uses you can come up with for old socks. Believe me it will be much more enjoyable than the feel of old socks against your skin.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday 26 March 2011

New socks part 1...

This morning I put on new socks and delighted in that soft hug that a new pair of socks seems to give to permanently tired feet. I wiggled my toes, flexed my ankles and did a circuit of the room in celebration. I wish I could have new socks everyday. Imagine the indulgence, the pleasure. It would be a little sin every morning. No more crinkled toes or pairs of socks stuck together in the tumble dryer. No more the eternal struggle to match up odd socks when their brothers have mysteriously vanished.

But how guilty would I feel if I discarded a pair of socks everyday? What on earth would I do with them? I couldn’t throw them away. What a terrible waste that would be, not to mention far too extravagant for my liking. How bourgeois I would feel. How far above my station I would be living. But this is fantasyland after all so if I could afford a new pair of socks everyday, this is what I would do with the old ones:

1) Make a cast of sock puppets and re-enact plays for an imaginary audience.
2) Tie them all together and keep them in case an emergency escape by window is ever needed.
3) Use them for polishing thus saving the cost of buying dusters. Well I have to balance the cost of all those new socks somehow.
4) Ball them forever round each other and make a cushion.
5) Cut them to pieces and re-hash them into clothes. After all my entire budget is now being spent on socks so I can’t afford t-shirts.
6) Fill them with catnip and sell them as pet toys.
7) Fill them with pot pourri and use them to scent my new socks.
8) Invite people over for a sock party where everyone uses socks as party hats.
9) Open a sock challenge to the most inventive structure made entirely of old socks.
10) Donate them to someone else and let them figure out what on earth to do with them all.

Elloise Hopkins

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Digital Books…

Today I brought home my brand new, shiny e-reader. I won it while I was on my tag rugby weekend in Dublin: a fantastic compensation for running around in the rain all day you might remark! My ankles; however, are still smarting. So I am using that as an excuse to relax, browse the internet taking advantage of as many free ebooks as I can find and charging my new gadget.

It seems a fitting product to have acquired given that I am a student of writing and spend copious amounts of time reading. I must confess I am as yet in two minds about the digital revolution. I am at my happiest when I’m reading a good book and it worries me that, should I convert to e-reading, my reading practices will have to change and compensate accordingly.

I will not be able, for example, to loll around on a beach with my e-reader, casting it into the sand when I have a sudden craving for ice cream; and how would it fare when my family paddles back up to our pitch and drips water all over it? I will feel uneasy in taking it on public transport and can already see myself hunched over it, concealing the device beneath my arm for fear of mugging. After all, an e-reader is worth considerably more than a paperback in pure monetary terms. I won’t be able to relax in the bath for fear of dropping it into the water. It is much smaller than a book and may get lost down the side of the sofa when I lose concentration. More worryingly, I may momentarily forget it isn’t a book and accidentally catapult it across the room in trying to turn a page.

I will certainly be putting the e-reader to some use and from first impressions it seems great, but I will reserve judgment on whether it will become a permanent fixture in my life. Is it shiny and fantastic? Yes. Does it do more for me than a book? Yes. The question remains as to whether it will be as pleasurable a reading experience as a real book. Watch this space.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday 20 March 2011

The Randomness of charity shops...

Today I strolled along the local high street and spent some leisurely time investigating the local charity shops. I am always amazed at the treasures charity shops are packed with. Had I room in my life for clutter, there were many delights I could have taken home to line my shelves.

An old Wham LP fronts the music section in one shop, the pair looking as young as teenagers grinning to adoring fans, coiffed hair frozen in time. A Kiss action figure takes pride of place behind the counter at another: must be the spot for prime quality goods. I wonder for a moment whether I can possibly leave it behind... then walk on.

The kitchen section is packed with trinkets. Art deco glassware vies with faded pie dishes, Pyrex bowls and cartoon-print mugs licensed sometime in the mid-90s and carelessly discarded once the Easter egg chocolate is gone.

What catches my eye the most, is the book sections. Shelf upon shelf of well-read paperbacks line walls of every shop. Rankin, Binchy, Brown, Cookson, Child and Patterson regurgitated back-to-back; the bestseller list from recent years re-ordered and mingled with ancient Christie’s and Rendell’s.

What is so evident to me from this mismatch of items is changing trends. Styles come in and out of fashion in all areas of life and charity shops are living reminders that what is chic now will be outdated and undesirable in a few years time.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

How to survive...

A Tag Rugby weekend in Dublin.

1) Take full advantage of airport whisky samples at 7am (purely for medicinal purposes you understand). Getting into the spirit: 10 points.
2) Take taxi from airport to hotel, driven by a man who openly swears at couriers and reads a map as he drives. Comedy value: 25 points.
3) Stay in hotel with interconnecting rooms and spend the whole time going from room to room conversing with new people. Team bonding: 30 points.
4) Take full advantage of Guinness-by-room-service and pretend to be living the high life. Pure indulgence: 40 points.
5) Drink copious amounts of warm Prosecco disguised as champagne and follow up with lager and clubbing the night before the match. Good behaviour: -15 points.
6) Wake up with hangover, eat too much salty bacon, get ready in slow motion and arrive at the ground late. Good behaviour: -25 points.
7) Cure hangover by playing rugby in the rain for a few hours, and avoid the wooden spoon by winning the last match. Team bonding: 30 points.
8) Use Guinness to numb the aches, watch the day’s video footage, enjoy a barbecue, have a giggling fit and watch a dance off. Comedy value: 50 points.
9) Get presented with a trophy and take team photos in silly poses. Laugh, drink champagne and finish the night off in style. Pure indulgence: 30 points.
10) Say goodbye to Dublin and return home without injury, having avoided committing social suicide or alienation by colleagues. Survival: invaluable.

Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

The Village

Portmeirion is one of my favourite places and that is mostly attributable to the mystery afforded to it by The Prisoner television series. Entering The Village transports me to a world of inspiration and calmness. It feels detached from reality, like the everyday trials of life are suspended when I’m there.

This is a poem, a Villanelle, based on Portmeirion that I wrote following my last visit there in 2009:

Wonder, colour, adventure all around.
Chess board floor, stone boat, mermaids, The Green Dome.
Forgotten out of season; pale and still.

Cross legged in majesty; calm and regal.
“Where am I?” silently shouts from shadows.
Wonder, colour, adventure all around.

Soft light dances and skips across water.
Striped umbrellas hide an evil intent.
Chess board floor, stone boat, mermaids, The Green Dome.

Rover creeps into view. Proud. Dangerous.
“We want information. You won’t get it”.
Wonder, colour, adventure all around.

The band plays. Somewhere afar Big Ben Chimes.
“Why did you resign?” This is The Village.
Chess board floor, stone boat, mermaids, The Green Dome.

Neptune, trident aloft, waits and watches;
Always now sits King of hidden kingdom.
Wonder, colour, adventure all around.
Chess board floor, stone boat, mermaids, The Green Dome.

The strength of a Villanelle is held in its rigid structure and use of repetition. It uses little to say a lot and paints a picture with few elements. Poetry is not my forte and I rarely indulge, but I felt any story written based in Portmeirion would always be shadowed by The Prisoner and I would never be able to shake off the intrigue and unanswered questions it left behind. So poetry seemed the only available choice at the time. The pattern and song demanded by a Villanelle’s makeup seemed appropriate to acknowledge the face that The Prisoner painted across this beautiful canvas.

I picked the elements of The Village that remained the most vivid in my memory. What kept repeating were the images of the black and white squares on the floor, now faded; the stone boat, permanently stuck ashore; the echoes of the television series and its own repetition hiding in the archways. Most of all what struck me was the brightness of the elements left over from its glory days, the colour and vividness of its life still remain, promising answers not yet discovered.

Perhaps there is another story to be told about The Village. I would never write it off completely but for the moment remain humbled by the power of the place that played backdrop and private world to such a powerful concept, such powerful writing and such a powerful display of creativity.

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday 7 March 2011

And so it begins.

I wrote a short story last week and really felt like I was inside my protagonist for the whole time: both when writing and reading it back several days later. It is an area I always enjoy – inventing a character, giving them a personality – flaws and fears not excepted. For me, characterisation is one of the most powerful tools in fiction.

A good character can have the reader laugh and cry along with them. It can take them on a journey and help the reader to perhaps understand a little of their own character, their own flaws or fears. There are so many techniques to apply to make a character come to life and I have been working on instilling real human habits into mine. Observing the world and people watching is a great tool for this and highly recommended but no matter how much I take notes about others, those little snippets of myself still end up in my writing.

In this blog I want to celebrate some of my favourite characters from books I have admired during my life so far. I’m sure there is many great ones out there I am yet to discover, but this one is my current favourite. This is a character that stays with me long after reading. His pain, suffering, joys, failures and successes linger on and his voices – yes he has many – tempt me to re-read. Each time I do, I find renewed love of the character and admiration for the writer. Maybe one day I will have accomplished my aim to bring a character to life with as much believable complexity as this one:

The Fool/Amber/Lord Golden/Beloved/The White Prophet.

“I set no boundaries on my love. None at all. Do you understand me?”

This quote from The Golden Fool perhaps answers the biggest question The Fool leaves in my mind. He really did he love Fitz, wholly and unconditionally regardless of anything that had gone before or after and regardless of his aims and motives.

The Fool is first presented in Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy and then takes on many guises throughout the rest of the books set in this world, and no doubt many more names besides these. The Fool is my most favourite character from any work of fiction. He is mysterious, multi-faceted, intelligent and as soon as I think I have a grasp on the who, what and why of the character, another face presents itself.

No other character has behaved so abominably, loyally, and selflessly, nor spun so many strands yet still left me guessing at the end. Each time I read the stories I reach the end desperate to know more about him. Each side of the character is a whole in itself and he transcends normal human emotions of love and loyalty, each side of the personality blending perfectly to the time and situation.

What really makes this character my favourite is the mysteries I am left with. Is he male or female? In what capacity does he love Fitz? Which part of his character is the real one? Or the first one? Why does he endure so much? These unanswered questions are the reasons I know that Hobb’s books will always be on my bookshelf and will always be returned to at frequent intervals. Each reading sparks a new interpretation of the character and I know there are elements of The Fool I still haven’t discovered.

Elloise Hopkins

Thursday 3 March 2011

Below The Surface

I am an avid fan of fantasy fiction be it in novels, short stories or on stage or screen. I was captivated by Alice in Wonderland and A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a child and my love grew from there. Anything magical, legendary or out of the ordinary captivates me and I love to immerse myself in the richness of these stories. I am ever on the lookout for the next fantasy writer to catch my eye; and hope one day to be the next fantasy writer myself.

One of the challenges I face in life is constantly defending fantasy fiction to my friends and peers. ‘It isn’t real’ they insist. ‘There’s no depth to it’. It’s a load of ‘made up nonsense’, ‘it’s all magic and make believe: kids stuff’. These misplaced comments cause a swell of disappointment and pity in me for those na├»ve critics. They really have no idea what they are missing.

In 2003 I did a short stint of backpacking in Australia. I fell in love with Sydney while I was there, fascinated by this new land and the stark contrast between the lifestyle, attitude and let’s face it the climate of there and the UK where I have always lived. One afternoon, strolling through a supermarket a book caught my eye. It was a small paperback by a writer I had never before heard of but the ‘file under fantasy’ label caught my eye. The mystical cover and back page description was completely at odds with every other book on the shelf; those depicting promises of romance or ‘true stories’. Mark Anthony’s ‘Beyond The Pale’ immediately appealed to me and I parted with a precious six dollars (I was on a tight budget and this classed as a forbidden luxury item) and raced to the beach to start reading.

I think finding this book at this time really assured me that I was right to love fantasy and gave me the ammo I needed to finally keep those critics at bay. This book (and the rest of the series I acquired soon after) transports two humans from earth to another world and back again several times and contrasts their mundane lives on earth and what they leave behind with the magic, danger and power they are faced with elsewhere.

It is their discovery of the other world and all it has to offer that made me realise what fantasy fiction does. It places our expectations, assumptions and inner feelings into the unknown forcing us to acknowledge all that we have, all that we are and all that we desire. There is no escaping the depth of emotion and discovery that fantasy can portray and many good fantasy writers have taken me on a deeper journey from despair to elation and provided a level of understanding that I would not be able to relate to in another style.

It is the separation from reality yet the similarity in the relationships portrayed and the situations encountered that really enable the reader to empathise with the writing.  I would argue that, among fiction genres, fantasy has an added depth: a power that allows the reader to truly discover themselves as they travel with the characters.  

Elloise Hopkins.