Thursday 29 December 2011

2011 Round Up…

What a year it has been. So much has changed in my life in 2011 and it has been the year that set me on the right path to achieve my ambition of writing a fantasy novel (and hopefully getting published one day). Elloise Hopkins has been in the public eye for nearly 12 months now so I feel a re-cap of the year is necessary to see what I have done and where I am heading.

January I began my MA in Professional Writing and set up my own online profile. February I really worked hard on the planning stages of my novel and started to let it brew. In March we had a family bereavement and I also went to Dublin on a tag rugby tournament so that was a difficult month but I kept myself busy planning and writing in the background. April I ventured to London Book Fair to learn more about the industry and I also took a week’s holiday bereft of internet access and realised how much I actually relied on my online profiles for learning and support from fellow writers. May brought a trip to Oxford and a real boost to my networking and then June, halfway into the year I wrote a flurry of short stories and started to concentrate on structure and the technical aspects of writing with a view to improving my craft. In the first half of the year I also started writing regular book reviews for the British Fantasy Society.

After six months of full time work and part time study on top of all the reviewing, learning, networking and maintaining my online profiles I had a real idea of how much I actually took on in 2011. Sometimes it seems overwhelmingly too much but I have to remember that I chose to do all of these things and when I step back and really concentrate on that I remember how much I love writing and being actively involved in the genre industry. July was a blur of coursework and a well-needed holiday and in August I put fingers to keyboard and began my novel. Watching the word count increase week by week really encouraged me to keep at it. In September my enthusiasm for the writing had not waned although it was tricky balancing work and study as well as writing a novel. I became a reviewer for Fantasy Faction and a gorgeous weekend in Brighton for FantasyCon with the late summer weather helped to reignite my hunger to get my novel finished. In October the writing continued and I also finished another module of my MA. November was NaNoWriMo so writing took over my life. Enough said!

And now here I am at the end of December and what has been a fantastically enjoyable and an incredibly productive year. Yes I am tired and yes there have been some tough moments but look at what I’ve managed. I am a book reviewer for two prominent organisations and I have expanded my own blog to incorporate reviews. This means I get to read even more which I love. I have written over 100,000 words of my novel and aside from a couple of sticky moments it has flowed so much better than expected and I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I have thrown myself into the world of social networking and found it incredibly useful for my studying. I am halfway through my MA. I have made some great friends and received some invaluable advice and for the first time I really believe that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I am in a really positive place to begin 2012 in the same vein and hopefully by this time next year my novel will be finished and I will be working on the second book in the trilogy. What a year it has been.

Elloise Hopkins.

Friday 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas?

Ok so not everyone celebrates Christmas and not everyone likes Christmas. Some people are completely indifferent to it and some are utterly over-the-top enthusiastic about it. I sit somewhere between these poles. I don’t celebrate Christmas for any religious reason but I do enjoy this time of year, particularly taking time off working to spend with my family and I love giving presents.

Unfortunately something about this year doesn’t feel quite Christmassy; I have something of the bah humbug about me. It could be the dreary grey miserable weather that has swept across my hometown over the last couple of days. A grey Christmas? Yes it looks like it. No romantic snow this year.

I’m not sure what is missing. What do I need to get me in a more Christmassy mood? I have wrapped presents and lined them up in their beribboned splendour. I have a decorated tree and fairy lights. I have four days without work and still I don’t feel quite right. I think this is only something that can be cured by watching the ‘What’s This?’ section of Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas. That ought to do it. And to everyone who is feeling more festive than me – Merry Christmas! See you on the other side.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Part of the furniture…

I was sitting at work today and for the first time (possibly) I noticed that the office is covered in fire exit signs, pointing – rather obviously you might say – to the fire exits!

What worried me was that they have become part of the wallpaper. I am evidently so used to seeing fire exit signs that they simply do not register. Now in the office that is fine as I happen to sit near to the fire exit and a regular drill does drum home that the doors are there for a reason.

But what if I get caught in an emergency elsewhere? Are we just so conditioned to seeing 'warning!', 'danger!', 'fire exit', etc. everywhere that our brains have shut down?

With this new super-awareness I can now embark upon my adventures confident that I am prepared for any hazard. Well, until my brain switches off again anyway.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Book review: Snakestone and Sword

J.E. Bruce

Highly decorated Roman Centurion, Arrius Marcus Niger, hadn’t planned on being struck on the head and left for dead in a cold bog, but unfortunately that is what happened. Unsure how long he has been unconscious, Arrius awakens to the continuing sounds of battle and the mysterious black hound. A huge man approaches, draws a sword and speaks to him in a language he cannot understand. Preparing for death, and assuming that his death will be preceded by suffering of a worse kind, Arrius lies hopeless and waiting, but death does not come.

Instead, Arrius is captured, his wounds tended to – of a sorts – and in a delirium of fever and agony he is sold as a slave to a woman who can read his mind and bend his will, amongst other things. He is then dragged across the earth by his mysterious captors (whose very humanity and moral behaviour are highly questionable in various ways) and finds himself at the centre of an ancient alien war in which his own memories seem to be the key to triumph.

The opening to this book is exceptionally strong. Using a first-person point of view, Arrius tells us his story in brief: how he won his freedom from slavery, rose well through the ranks of the army becoming a Centurion to be revered and feared, and how he led his troops gloriously in battle – at least until he led them to their deaths anyway. Now he tells us to heed his warning: there are mightier and more capable enemies out there than even the Romans.

The main strength in this novel is the narrative voice, which remains consistent throughout. Arrius is a flawed protagonist, haunted by his memories of a dark and painful past, yet he tells his story with intelligence and wit, the light tone of the book helping the reader to deal with the more heinous elements of the tale.

Bruce uses a clever technique to fill in the background of the story whilst at the same time continuing Arrius’s journey post-capture. Each chapter begins with a short section from the character’s past as a young Arrius describes the hardships of his life before he became a Centurion. Each chapter then continues with events in the present. As the story progresses, the two narratives become closer together in time until they converge and we are fully able to understand how and why Arrius’s past affects his actions in the present.

The story moves at a good pace tracking Arrius’s journey with his captors as they take him farther than the ends of the earth to save humanity. Elements more akin to classic science fiction narratives play out in this novel but the main focus is on the principal characters and on Arrius’s story, rather than the action taking the key role. That is not to say that the book did not end with some unforeseen twists and turns and has set the plot up well to continue in the sequel.

Perhaps the most rewarding element of the book is the author’s ability to portray the intricacies of human behaviour in a lifelike and believable manner. Through Arrius’s point of view and his own perceptions of events, Bruce explores the effect of dominant relationships on the subservient party, as well as looking at sexual interaction and power struggles.

I am not overly familiar with the intricacies and history of the Roman Empire but Snakestone and Sword certainly made Arrius’s world accessible to me. The level of detail and description was enough to draw me into the story without being too much that it interrupted or detracted from the plot. The blend of scientific experimentation with the fae myth worked surprisingly well and the overall result is an enjoyable and well-executed read.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Shoebox Theatre…

Last Thursday saw me at the Open University in Birmingham to watch a performance of short plays by Shoebox Theatre – a local theatre company that focuses on ‘expanding horizons and breaking down barriers’, and they do just that, working with schools and care homes, bringing theatre to life in a manner that is unrestricted by ability or a conventional approach.

Two plays were performed, the first being a dark comedy set in a nursing home that provided a very lifelike portrayal of life for the inhabitants building to a rather moving conclusion and a powerful performance by the protagonist. In an amateur setting with no specialised lighting and accompanied only by a pre-recorded soundtrack, the performance was surprisingly effective.

The second play, and the more poignant one for me, was When? By Michael W. Thomas. This tracked an exchange between husband and wife arguing about whether to reveal a big secret to their daughter. At the end the secret was withheld from the audience and left to the imagination. Amongst the audience members there were varied interpretations about what the secret had been and this fuelled a great discussion afterwards.

What was perhaps most interesting for me, was that in speaking to the writer and performers afterwards, I learned that the writer did not have a particular secret in mind when he wrote the piece, rather it was important to him that it remain open. In contrast, the actors had decided to select a secret and keep this in mind so they themselves knew the ‘reality’ of the situation, which I think gave strength to the performance, and I came away from the evening both impressed at the calibre of the writing and the ease at which the actors of both pieces delivered strong and memorable renditions in a simple classroom environment.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday 11 December 2011

The Day The Emails Stopped…

Part 2.

When the office dwellers realised what was happening, they celebrated. This was a one off, an anomaly. A never again experience.

Suddenly they had several hours of email-free time. The corporates began to rebel. If there were no emails, they justified, then there could be no work. If there was no work then they were free. They could join the happy people outside. They consulted one another in hushed murmurs and amassed into a group. Like ants they planned and marched together from the office.

As the last one left the office, she took a quick glance at the world she left behind. There was a flash on a nearby computer screen. She blinked and looked again. Was it real? A cacophony of message bleeps and vibrating gadgets started up again, soon joined by the sound of running feet and excited voices. The last ant looked into the hallway, into the office and back again at the approaching crowd. As she was crushed by her again human colleagues, the pounding of footfalls was the last she heard of the day the emails stopped, and then the world went silent.

Elloise Hopkins

Wednesday 7 December 2011

The Day The Emails Stopped…

Part 1.

The office was alive to the sound of messages bleeping, notification windows popping up, BlackBerrys vibrating to their sim cards’ content. The click of each mouse grew louder for each satisfying ‘sent’ and grew more frantic at the sound of every new message.

It was a while before the clicking became noticeably quieter and less frequent, a while before people started to look at each other in confusion as their desks became still. The pop up windows had gone. The inbox no longer stared out with the bold announcement of unread mail. A senseless whisper fed from one side of the office to another. “Have you had any emails?” “No. Have you?” “What’s happening?”

The emails stopped. For a long time no one moved, no one clicked, they hardly dared breathe. One brave man peered out of the window to find out whether the world had ended and they just hadn’t been told. It hadn’t. Outside people continued life regardless. They talked, laughed, shopped and strolled together in peace, oblivious to the terrors the corporate world was facing...

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday 4 December 2011

I want to be…

A Transformer. No really, I want to be a Transformer. And I’m talking about the original, retro Transformers. I loved these as a kid and the feeling has never gone away. I want to have cool sound bytes accompanying my every movement. I want to be able to change into a plane/car/hovercraft whenever the need arises and zoom from place to place with ease. Unless of course someone actually does invent a teleporter and then the need to be a Transformer will be somewhat negated.

I’m not sure which one I would choose. Starscream is brilliant but I couldn’t live with hearing my own screechy voice every day. Jazz was always very cool but I’m not sure a white Porsche is really my style. Bumblebee is yellow, which has never been a good colour on me. Optimus Prime, well a huge truck wouldn’t be the most convenient method of transportation. As a hovercraft, Seaspray was excellently styled but that may prove difficult for suburban roads. So that leaves me with…

Wheeljack. Sometimes a bumbling inventor, hailed as the fantastical mad scientist ready with the right gadget to save the day – except they usually caused more damage than they stopped. But he looks very cool and I do have a long-term ambition to make geek chic. Yes ok so they killed him off in the movie but I’m choosing to ignore his lack of immortality. He’s still a Transformer and he’s still cool.

Elloise Hopkins. 

Saturday 3 December 2011

NaNoWriMo - The End...

This year was my first NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) and I signed up with all the enthusiasm of a rookie. ‘Ok’, I said, ‘this is only going to triple my current average word count, no big deal right?’ Fair enough that is a slight exaggeration but I saw the task as being completely achievable albeit with a few minor adjustments to my normal routine – getting up earlier to work, writing through lunch, cramming more into my evenings and skipping activities such as cooking! I am suffering after a month of eating quick-fix meals I must confess.

Anyhow, the point is I am so stubborn that not winning (i.e. achieving the target word count of 50,000 words) was just not an option. I knew that my inbuilt competitiveness would kick in (competing with myself does not subdue the urge to win at all unfortunately) and force me to achieve the word count no matter what.

And so it began. Week one was easy thanks to the novelty value of this ‘game’ being all new and shiny and I could update my word count online each day and watch the little blue bar increase. Sadly week one lulled me into a false sense of security because by week two life started to get in the way and my word count slipped a little. By week three I was behind the target word count and had reached an uneasy standoff with the blue bar.

Suddenly the end seemed totally unachievable and a little depression sat in. After all, wasn’t what I was writing totally rubbish anyway? My muse had gone. What was the point of writing if it was just a churning of static scenes and half-developed ideas? Confidence was slipping, enthusiasm was zero.

Intervention: half way through week three I gave myself a severe talking to. What was I thinking putting myself off like that? I knew it would be hard, I knew it was three times my usual word count! Of course it was a challenge – uh that’s the whole point! The blue bar became my ally. I had to help it eradicate the grey and reach the end before the end of the month. I just had to.  I would never forgive myself if I failed.

Week four catch up commenced. Yes it was hard, yes it involved a lot of concentration and sacrifice but I did it. I knuckled down over the last weekend of November and broke through the 50,000 word barrier. It felt great, I won’t lie. This is a legitimate time in my life when being a stubborn so and so actually paid off. Next year I will definitely be signing up again if only to beat my score!

Elloise Hopkins.