Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Ringer by Greg Hunt

It is not often I write reviews for people I know first hand or have met in the flesh but there was something admirable in the way this author has created his story from scratch and self-published it with a view to distributing it amongst the niche markets that will relate to the locations and themes of the book. The Ringer is now available. Find out more at Troubador.

Archie Malcolm is a naval officer, young, fit and keen to prove himself. Life is good; he has great friends, a hobby that keeps him out of trouble and he may just have met the love of his life, but it doesn’t seem quite enough. Archie is eager for a challenge and gets just that when his naval Commander tasks him with a mission that has so far turned up only empty leads. It seems the UK is cracking down on drug smuggling and new intelligence sends Archie and his hand-selected team off to the French Alps to investigate.

Meanwhile in South America, the seductive Natalia Morales, daughter of a notorious crime lord, is heading for the UK to see through her part in the family business. Local contacts await her arrival but unfortunately for Archie the centre of the drug plot lies closer to home than he expected. Friendships will be called into question, betrayal is definitely on the agenda and the ultimate question rides: will Archie get the girl?

With a gripping opening and a page-turning plot, the book tracks Archie’s progress as he works to uncover the drug plot and winds up tracing its roots to the last location he would have considered. Unexpectedly, his love interest Emma carries a fair section of the narrative and she faces problems of her own that inextricably link back to Archie. The plot is ripe with twists that keep the reader engaged up to the end.

I should explain that the title of this book refers to the hobby and frequent pastime of its protagonist – bell ringing. Campanology (which is the technical term for bell ringing) is a running theme in the book, not only playing a part in the action but also inviting us fully into Archie’s world and illustrating the social and practical concerns he faces in this aspect of his life. The book will certainly appeal to a niche market on this basis and bell-ringing enthusiasts will be thrilled at the level of detail and exposure the practice is given.

As someone who knows very little about campanology (and indeed had never heard the word campanology prior to opening the book) I did not feel isolated by the level of detail, rather I felt a satisfied sense of knowing a little more than I did before I read it and certainly for Archie at least there are more complex considerations to bell ringing than just pulling the rope. 

The action builds through Archie’s two worlds – his naval duties and his bell ringing – to a climax of Bond-style villainy, and should I ever enter a bell tower I suspect this book will be on my mind as a result of the highly visual reference. I shan’t tell you anymore; you will have to read it.

What is interesting is that the author uses an omniscient point of view and so throughout the novel the story plays out from every angle. The reader is fully immersed in each location and the roaming viewpoint gives opportunity to understand and empathise with each character’s motivations and desires at that given moment, no matter how small their part in Archie’s tale.

A sidestep from my usual genre fiction (fantasy/sci fi) this book is more akin to the action/thriller fast paced novels that fill airport bookshops and make for popular holiday reading. For me, in reading this book, complex multi-layered plots in imagined worlds gave way to a story that was driven more by the pace of reality and a need to know what comes next, which worked absolutely fine and provided a refreshing change to my usual reading material.

The Ringer is an easy read and a commendable debut novel, especially when you consider that it was written on a busy train on the author’s daily commute to and from a corporate office job. Escapism is a definite bonus and with a combination of descriptive prose and snappy scenes the reader is propelled from the UK to South America, the Alps and then drawn back again as Archie and the other characters converge to an unexpected climax. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Smoker’s Nose…

At work my desk is by a window four storeys up and underneath the window, at street level, people smoke. And when they smoke, the smoke rises and creeps through the window and up my nose. I am not a smoker so to me the smell of cigarettes is a heady blend of stale ashtrays and the fictional memory of what a real chimney should smell of, courtesy of Disney’s Mary Poppins.

It got me thinking about the smoker’s nose – what I mean by that is the fact that smokers are so used to the smell that they can’t smell it. How ironic is it that the people who are bothered by the smoke are the ones who aren’t drawing it into their lungs or onto their clothing/hair/accessories several times a day?

So why do we get used to some smells and not others? For example, I recently purchased my favourite perfume but after a while the smell does not seem to linger on me and I’m forced to frequently switch perfumes to keep the smell, well, smellable (new word? I’m coining it right now. Smellable is mine)!

So why is it that when I went shopping on Monday and spritzed myself (and by myself I mean my wrist, friendship bracelets that are permanently tied on and coat sleeve) with a different perfume – which by the way turned out to smell like a cross between over-scented pot pourri and moth balls – that four days later I can still smell the awful stuff? Is it some reaction by our brains to ensure that we are kept awake and alert by not being able to zone out smells that we don’t like? Answers via comments please! If someone can invent the selective nose I would like to apply. And if that is a new scientific breeding idea I’m taking credit for that too.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Book reviews coming soon…

As I write my way through my debut novel and undertake a course in Professional Writing, it becomes clear to me that many book sales and discussions today are driven not just by marketing but by word of mouth and personal recommendations.

It is for this reason I have decided to launch a monthly book review on my blog and the first one will be coming soon. Now I already write book reviews for online platforms – mainly focusing on debut works and big fantasy releases – but the blog reviews will be different.

Here I am going to focus on small press and self-published works in the hope of giving authors who are not benefiting from expensive online campaigns the chance to be read, reviewed and then read some more. Someone once told me there is nothing so valuable to an author as book reviews and so as someone who will one day be putting my own work out there for review I want to do the same for others.

If you have self-published a book or have released a book through small press and would like to put it forward for my monthly blog review, please contact me. I am a fantasy reader and writer so that is the genre I will be focusing on. First review will be going up before Christmas and I will continue from there. Look forward to hearing from you.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


Redundancy. Such an ugly word both in meaning and in the physical appearance of it written down. There is something about the arrangement of letters in the ‘dundan’ portion that just doesn’t look nice to me. It is a word that we hear all too often in this climate and it has just claimed another victim.

Having myself been in danger of redundancy for some time, it is very unsettling to have to say goodbye to a colleague in these circumstances. First there is the cloak and dagger way in which the whole situation is handled. Communication breaks down. No one will tell anyone else what is happening; lots of sad, red, stressed faces walk around in silence creating an atmosphere thicker than quicksand.

Then there is the goodbye speech by the two-faced management. The hypocritical ‘you will be missed, thank you for your contribution, etc.’ announcements that everyone knows are false because this person has been made redundant so clearly their contribution wasn’t appreciated.

And last of all comes the aftermath. Walking into the office and looking at the empty desk where your friend sat. The pity and sadness you feel for their situation. The terror you feel and the sense of impending doom that you are next. Then the guilt for thinking of yourself when you still have a job and someone else has nothing. It is a horrible word and a horrible consequence and every day I keep my fingers crossed that the last one really was the last one. Sadly it never seems to be the case.

Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Blank Canvas…

The words ‘writer’s block’ get bandied about a lot. Now whether you believe or not, there is no denying that at some point in a writer’s life there will come a time when the blank canvas seems impossible to fill.

I just had one right now, when I opened up this document to write a blog, there it was. A white page glaring out at me waiting for my mark, and for some unknown reason I felt unable to write anything. Lucky for me the words blank canvas popped into my mind and saved me, but for a scary moment there I thought I was in trouble.

I like to think of myself as a non-believer in writer’s block and that there is always something to write, even if you know it will need heavy editing or have to be cut later. But today I am sparing a moment for people who really do feel that they suffer writer’s block. What a horrible feeling it must be to dread the page everyday and lose the love of the craft to a fear that the creative juices just aren’t flowing.

Here’s my shout out to anyone who thinks they have writer’s block – just write. Even if it is to express that you can’t write because you have writer’s block, just write and fill that blank canvas with a stream of frustrated consciousness.

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Comic lover…

Since I started writing my own novel and studying, and I suppose tracking even further back than that when I discovered books by the likes of Robin Hobb and Mark Anthony that re-ignited my love of fantasy fiction, I have been immersed in almost exclusively reading novels of genre fiction and some classics. The old ‘if you want to write it then you need to read it’ school of thought kicked in and I have been reading my way through shelves of novels for years.

But that’s not to say I had forgotten my love of graphic novels and comics. In fact I’m dying to read the French graphic versions of Hobb’s assassin stories and I’ve never stopped watching cartoons and film adaptations. But somewhere along the way I just lost the urge to read graphic work. Mostly time constraints I suppose and the guilt of knowing that reading graphic novels/comics was for pleasure rather than work.

This is something I hope to remedy. Starting off with Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá et al (artists whose work I greatly admire) I am slowly sinking my teeth back into the world of graphics… and I am enjoying it no end. Suddenly I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on it all this time. It is perhaps a little daunting knowing where to begin and what styles to aim for but the possibilities are, let’s face it, pretty endless.

I certainly have a very visual mind, which I apply to my own writing and much as I think I will always be a writer first and a graphic artist second there is something wonderful about being able to watch a story unfold at the same time as reading it. I hope comics will take more of a place in my life from now on and who knows, I may even branch my reviewing out into this area to remove the guilt factor. The exciting part of it is that there’s a whole world of graphics out there waiting for me to discover it. Any suggestions welcome…

Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Well the writing month of November has begun. The target: 50,000 words in 30 days. In anticipation of the pain – physical and emotional – that I will be going through over the next month I have re-named it ‘November Pain’ after a song that I love but thanks to my father’s request to play it as his funeral now has a darker connotation. Thanks dad!

So day one kicked off and I wrote 2,000 words, which wasn’t a bad start when you consider that I was at work all day and then came home to the usual boredom of chores, dinner and juggling life as a student with life as an author and book reviewer. Not too shabby. 48,000 to go!

This is my first attempt at NaNoWriMo and I have a beginner’s hunger to ‘win’. I’m taking this as a personal challenge and I know failure is not an option if I want to keep my sanity (and avoid the wrath of Sam Sykes who publicly warned me via twitter that I couldn’t let our houses down – Sam, I’m on it!). So there it is. Writing is on. Life is on pause. Good luck everyone. Good luck self!

Elloise Hopkins.