Monday, 31 December 2012

So that was 2012…


And it was a truly emotional and busy year, thoroughly exhausting mentally and physically. There have been some funny times and some happy times, but what I will remember most about 2012 are the challenges it brought and the pains and upset of struggling through those challenges.

I’ve been through a change of jobs, two bad bouts of chest infections and an almost permanent cold for the rest of the year. I’ve suffered a lack of motivation with my university work and that has impacted into my novel writing – I’m still going but the pace is way below what it was last year.

Alongside all of this my friends have been battling terminal illnesses, multiple bereavements, break ups and disappointments. And all of the stress and trauma that goes alongside those terrible things has been shared by all of us.

As I look at this year’s round up I realise it is no wonder I feel tired, but I also feel amazed at what I managed to cram in, and all of this alongside working a full time job all year and battling through the second year of my MA. If I can do it, you can too.

So here are my totals for 2012, and I like to read these to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas:

In the year 2012 I did the following:
70,000 words of a novel down,
607 tweets tweeted,
162 books read,
80 blogs posted,
55 reviews written,
10 graphic novels treasured,
8 theatre trips,
1 Tolkien festival.
Countless movies watched,
retro cartoons re-geared.
Almost an MA,
and a heap of challenges.

So I’m nearly done with my master’s degree and it will be an ecstatic moment when I reach the end, but also a relief. It has been a long, tiring journey and a long, tiring year.

I wish you all the very best for 2013 and hope it looks brighter for all of us.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

How to survive…


The Office Christmas Party.

Here are eight simple food and drink rules to get you through the office xmas party without any social blunders or alcohol-related embarrassment:

1)  Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Indulge in a breakfast sandwich – bacon, sausage, thick sliced bread. I like to call this carb-loading: essential preparation for alcohol consumption.
2)    Get a sugar fix before the meal. While you’re getting changed, doing your make up, waiting for everyone else to beautify themselves or whatever, suspend the usual rules about snacking and delve into that tin of Quality Street. A little sugar fix and some chocolate will get you into party mood.
3)    Limit yourself to one pre-meal alcoholic drink. Any more than one and you risk being far too drunk by the end of the meal. Translation: when your colleagues pop open the champagne before you leave the office, politely refuse a refill.
4)    Mix water with wine. During the meal you can bet that wine will be flowing far too quickly than is sensible. Make sure you intersperse glasses of water with glasses of wine to limit your intake.
5)    Choose your seat carefully. The can be the rule that makes or breaks your decorum. Don’t sit yourself next to the overly generous pourer, and employ hawk-like eyes when it comes to your wine glass. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ve only had one glass when actually it has been topped up every time you’ve taken a swig.
6)    Eat slowly. Treat the meal the way it is intended. Eat slowly and enjoy the food, give yourself time to let the meal go down and take the opportunity to relax and enjoy the conversation. The sole purpose of the xmas party is not to get as drunk as possible as fast as possible and throw up the food later on.
7)    Say no to Sambuca. That’s right: when the post-meal shot frenzy begins and you find shot glasses of flaming spirits being lined up on the table in front of you, just say no. It may be fun at the time but half an hour later when you’re swaying on your feet and slurring nonsense to your boss, or even the next morning when you wake up with hangover and regrets, it won’t seem like such a good idea. Do not bow to peer pressure. Or alternatively trick them by slyly discarding the spirit into the nearest ice bucket/plant pot/spare glass.
8)    Enjoy yourself! This is the one time of year when you can really let your hair down and get to know your colleagues outside of the work environment. So stop fretting and have a good time, eat, drink and be merry. Just be sure to do it all in moderation, and if you don’t, then make sure it was worth bending the rules.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Peacock Men...


It is known that peacock males are the ones who have the pretty feathers and the show-off nature. They posture, they preen, they strut and present themselves to their best advantage, always. They use their physical appearance to attract females and ward off their rivals.

There has recently been a new injection of males into one of my circles, which has led to peacock behaviour amongst them. Chests are puffed out, voices are deepened and everything is geared towards the macho; their physical strength, gym performance comparisons, the engine sizes of their cars, finances, where their suit came from, how much their wedding cost, discussions about the attractiveness of the women in their lives and the added status this grants them. Everything in each man’s behaviour is now carefully calculated to make him sound more manly and superior to his rivals.

But why? I long to ask. They are of similar ages, all work in the same industry, all have the same interests and similar day to day lives. So surely there should not exist this competition among them. They are friends for crying out loud! I am so bored of these peacock men. Honestly guys, just slump your shoulders, stop beautifying yourselves and get on with life like the rest of us do. Enough with the feather displays. You might look pretty in the short term but everyone tires of looking at the same thing day in, day out. Beauty is useless without substance.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Crayola Colour Mood...


Banana Mania. That is shade of the day. And no, I have not just chosen that colour because of its funky name (ok, perhaps that helped the choice) but because it is the perfect, pathetic shade to sum up my current Crayola Colour Mood.

My very first thought when looking at that colour was to think of the colour of sand when night begins to fall. I have one section in the current draft of my novel in which one of the characters tries to describe a desert. He’s never seen one before and everything is just yellow. Different shades of yellow everywhere he looks. And it overwhelms him.

So why am I feeling Banana Mania? Well it is kind of pale and pasty, which sums up my complexion and general sense of well being right now. I am ill yet again, for about the fifth time this year. The last bout was a tedious summer cough/cold/headachy thing that took me out for about a month and now, at a crucial point in time having just over a month left of my MA and just after starting a new job, I appear to have the cold weather version.

I am so bored of this recurring cough. And you know what? I would be even more bored if I had to look at Banana Mania for much longer. What a colour. Unfortunately the experience is far less exciting than its name.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Thinking is working...


Here’s a fairly accurate transcript of a conversation I had recently:

Him: Come on let’s go out and do something.
Me: No, I’m working.
Him: But it’s boring. Let’s go shopping.
Me: I hate shopping.
Him: But I’m bored.
Me: I’m sorry you’re bored, but I told you I have to get some work done today.
Him: Staring out of the window isn’t working.
Me: Excuse me?
Him: You’re not working. You’re just staring out of the window.
Me: Yes, I’m running a scene through in my head. Working.
Him: That’s not working.
Me: Yes it is. How else would you come up with ideas?
Him: Whatever. It’s not working.
Me: Excellent. Well thank you for that. Don’t slam my door as you exit stage left.

The point of that, apart from being incredibly frustrating at the time, is that writing a novel does not solely take place with fingers on keyboard or pen in hand. 100,000-300,000 words and a multitude of locations and characters takes a lot to put together, and yes, a lot of that is thinking time: coming up with ideas and letting them play out in your mind, seeing how characters will react, connecting the dots and mentally filling in blank space.

Now each writer has their own way of doing their thinking time. I know some that go walking and think in the park or the woods or on the beach. One gets up half an hour early every day to think, one spends every other evening just thinking of ideas. One thinks during yoga, one while he’s running and one does it while she’s ironing – sounds like a nightmare to me but that’s fine! For me, the view from my window or wherever I happen to be at that time is part of that creative process. I watch the world go by while my mind translates that into another world with a different set of inhabitants and possibilities.

To encounter someone like that was irritating and the thought of retaining that person in my life was incomprehensible. Telling me that “you’re not busy, you’re at home”, or that I’m not working when I’m thinking of scenes, or that I was using writing as an excuse not to go shopping – or trawling my way through crowds of crazy Saturday shoppers as I like to call it – was a shock.

So I spoke to a few writer friends and was horrified to discover that many of them are involved in long term relationships with partners who share these views and are incredibly unsupportive of the writers’ desires to, well, write. Some even went so far as to defend the unsupportive party. When I asked them how they cope with that added pressure they just shrugged and asked: “what other choice do I have?”

Now I’m not about to tell them how they should live their lives and I’m not saying the way I live is perfect. But ask yourself, if you had to choose between writing and your unsupportive partner what would you choose? If the answer to that question is your partner, then congratulations to you. You have found someone you want to spend your life with who is more important to you than anything else, and that’s great.

But if the answer is no, then write! You are meant to be a writer. It is what you do. What you are. And don’t let anyone else take that from you. I know I discovered writing as a way to understand and to escape from the world and for many of my peers it is the same. I would rather be alone with my writing than endure a daily battle to justify how I want to spend my time. That is just how I feel.

The moral of this story is that sometimes in life you have to put yourself first and do what you want to do, not what you think you should be doing because of what society or someone else says you should be doing. You only get one shot at this life so enjoy it for yourself.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Change…


Something in life we all have to go through, like it or not, is change. Sometimes it is the smallest details – a bus stop moved to a different location on a street, a change of packaging on your favourite beauty products, a re-release of your favourite book with new cover art – but sometimes it is those life changing moments that take a long time to adjust to.

Some people abhor change, fearing every tiny adjustment in their lives. I’ve worked and lived with people who are unable to embrace even the slightest change. On the other end of the scale are people like me: people who need change on a regular basis, whether it be something as simple as rearranging the furniture or buying new bed covers or a new ornament. Perhaps we need to move homes frequently to avoid that sense of stagnating, of never moving forward. Perhaps we need to change jobs, social circles, hobbies or tastes.

They say two of the most stressful things to do in life are to move house and change jobs, yet in my life I have more than once found myself doing both of these at the same time. This time, thankfully, I just have the new job to adjust to so things are marginally calmer than they have been in the past. That is, unless my landlord suddenly decides to serve notice on me. Fingers crossed; that would not be a well-received change. But permanently worrying about things like that is a whole different blog topic.

So what does it say about me, and those like me, to constantly need change in our lives? Personally I see it as an unwillingness to ‘settle down’ and make permanent roots somewhere. I need to know that life may be more than this in future. I need that sense of being an individual, that sense of freedom that means if I suddenly decide I need to be somewhere else, experience something else, I will be able to go without protracted arrangements or complications.

So does that mean I am inherently unhappy? No. But it means I appreciate there is more to life than what is immediately in front of me and I am permanently plotting a way to get me there. I may be unsettled but it allows me, however temporary it may be, to settle somewhere, safe in the knowledge that none of this is permanent so I’m ok for now. 

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

People Watching...


Definitely one of my favourite pastimes but this week I experienced a more nauseated reaction to people watching than usual. I was in a group environment with people that I had not met before and in my direct eye line was someone with a most unusual, I don’t even know what to call it, nervous twitch perhaps, or a thinking posture.

There is no easy way to describe it and I am saving my most vivid description to place onto a character in my writing (a villain I am sure, and not an endearing one I think) but I shall do my best. The man, for indeed it was a man, was... a finger-licker.

He had ink on his hands. All over his hands, as though an inkpot had upturned all over him. The finger licking could, I concede, have been a result of trying to remove the ink, although why he didn’t just go and wash his hands I will never know. The great-unanswered questions about humans!

But the licking wasn’t a subtle lick-and-scrub attempt to cleanse his hands unnoticed during the meeting. No. It was a full on sugar-on-your-hands-after-eating-doughnuts kind of licking. That’s right. Every finger, every square centimetre of skin on those hands got the treatment. The thorough treatment.  

And then they brought the lunch platters out and spread the uncovered finger food out on the table before us. Saliva journeyed. Nausea set in. I went hungry.

People watchers beware – there are things out there you may wish you hadn’t seen.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Prologue in Fantasy Fiction…


The final essay for my MA is based on this exact topic and I am researching to try and ascertain why the prologue is used so often in the genre. What is gained by it? How is using a prologue to deliver this information more beneficial than just putting it in the main text?

Over the years there has been plenty of chatter about the use of the prologue. Some people love them, some hate them. When you look at the work of successful fantasy authors some use them all the time, some never use them, some use them sometimes.

Why? And more importantly, how can the novelist, particularly the debut writer, know whether or not a prologue is appropriate for their story?

So this is a bit of a shout out for comments, musings, and perhaps a bit of research to help my essay along.

What are your views on the prologue?
Love them?
Hate them?
Totally indifferent as long as they hook the reader?

Have you used one in your writing?
If so, why?
If you decided not to go with a prologue, why?

What does a prologue mean or say to you?

To prologue or not to prologue?
It seems a great number of fantasy writers must ask themselves this question when they are writing, so why do so many of them say yes?

Elloise Hopkins.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Skyfall...


I have always loved Bond. The books are on my occasional reading rotation list and have pride of place on my bookshelf. The films are lovingly cared for in their shiny tin. Well, with the exception of the few that were made after the set came out.  They’re nearby, of course. The point is, the recent films have been preaching to the converted in my case, because it would take a great extreme for me not to enjoy a Bond film.

So the first time I saw Skyfall, unsurprisingly I enjoyed it. Thoroughly. I thought it was well thought out, the story was exciting and complex, Judi Dench and Daniel Craig were excellent as M and Bond as usual, the villain was creepy, the action was certainly not lacking and all in all it was exactly what I want from a Bond film.

I took the opportunity to watch it again. Yes, it was just as enjoyable and tension-filled the second time. Yes, I once again left the cinema impressed with what I had seen. More importantly, yes, there were additional details, little touches of genius and nostalgia, that I picked up the second time that I had not noticed or not made a connection with on first viewing.

I don’t want to give spoilers and if you, like me, are a Bond fan, then chances are you will feel the same way. It is perhaps the details that I was most struck by though. Foreshadowing, mirror imagery, echoes of the past, so many different elements are crammed into this film, and in the most successful manner too. But on top of all that you have an overall format that we have seen time and time again. Why does it work? The details. The details, the additional thought, the added layer all raise this from a good film to a great film. It works in writing too so I shall take this lesson forward to my own work.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Book Review: The Merchant of Dreams...


THE MERCHANT OF DREAMS:
Night’s Masque Volume 2.
By Anne Lyle.

Mal Catlyn has been living in France since the political incidents that led him to accuse a powerful nobleman of treason against the crown and then seek refuge elsewhere. But part of the skrayling Erishen’s soul is still living inside him and his brother Sandy becomes more and more lost to him as time passes. Mal can’t put things off any longer; it is time to find Ambassador Kiiren and resolve things once and for all.

Coby has been accompanying Mal on his adventures, in her usual disguise of Jacob Hendricks. Acting the part of Mal’s valet in public and his friend, and perhaps more, in private, the pair are once again caught up in the mission to find a way to free Erishen’s soul. Unfortunately it seems this time her disguise is not working for them and revealing her true self may be the answer. Coby soon finds herself having to deal with the irony that after spending so long learning to live as a male, the prospect of being a female in public is daunting to say the least.

In this second book Coby’s character was developed more fully and I had much more of a sense of her desires and motives which helped in empathising with her to a greater degree. This time around she felt very much an equal to Mal and less a supporting character to his lead. The skraylings too became a clearer race to understand and some of the questions raised in book one relating to their abilities and motives were answered.

Whereas The Alchemist of Souls took much of its strength from the strong representation and grounding of its setting in London, The Merchant of Dreams plays out in more diverse settings, from the seedy streets of 16th century Venice to the decks of a pirate ship and the limitless world of the skraylings’ dreams. This differing landscape injects the story with more vibrancy. There is a faster pace and much more of a sense of tension and immediacy to this second instalment.

The Merchant of Dreams has a satisfying ending despite the pain and tragedy the characters suffer throughout the story, and as I read the last few pages I got the distinct feeling that there is an even bigger and tougher adventure yet to come in the concluding part. The exploration of gender, relationships (both political and personal) and sacrifice continue in a historical fantasy that is as light-hearted and entertaining as it is deep. Perhaps its most admirable quality is Lyle’s willingness to explore and represent the minority in a realistic and unashamed manner.

Elloise Hopkins.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Book review: Delirium...


DELIRIUM
By Lauren Oliver.

Amor Deliria Nervosa. Love. The disease. It is ninety-five days until Lena turns eighteen. Ninety-five days until she gets the cure that will protect her from love forever. Evaluation day is looming and Lena’s nerves are starting to kick in. She has always looked forward to the cure, looked forward to being free of the burdens that took her mother from her and the pain they left behind. Ninety-five days until she will be cured, matched with a husband and will begin the rest of her life, and Lena is counting.

What she did not count on was becoming infected before the cure; the timing is typical. In totally unexpected circumstances, Lena meets a boy and before she knows it she is rapidly progressing through the various stages of the disease. Everything she thought she wanted now seems unimportant and everything she believed so firmly seems to be flawed. Her scheduled date is looming and Lena’s determination to be cured is beginning to fade.

Delirium is based on the concept that love is a disease and in a sheltered society those who are yet to be cured live under curfew, tight rules and regulations and above all else in fear; fear of falling in love, fear those who have not been cured, fear of what will happen if they break the rules. This is one girl’s story of quiet acceptance that progresses to a slow understanding of how controlled her life has been.

Oliver uses language to her full advantage. Her descriptions of what love is, poetry and other elements of life and literature that are banned in this society are truly beautiful and allow the reader an insight into what life is like for Lena and her peers in a restricted society that is frighteningly believable.

Delirium explores the idea of what happens to a person when love and the emotions and physical reactions associated with it are taken away. The story follows the young protagonist’s journey as she discovers for herself the harsh realities of her environment and the possibilities that exist beyond it, building to a climax that truly gives you chills and leaves you desperate to know what happens next.

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Art of Frankenweenie…


This was my second Tim Burton exhibition this year and again did not disappoint. As the title suggests, it was solely dedicated to his latest film, Frankenweenie, and was housed at the London Film Festival village in Southbank.

Amazingly, this was a free exhibition, open to the public, and was so good that I would have paid for it. Once again I was offered a glimpse into the working practices of Tim Burton, one of my favourite directors, not through sketchbooks this time, but through a mock up of his desk, complete with overturned paint pots, screenplay and crew mug.

The exhibition was advertised as being a showcase of the models from the film but there was so much more crammed into the hall. Along with the models, which were just fantastic to see up close and get an idea of how they were made and moved, and how the stop motion animation worked, there were actual constructions of the sets and plenty of welcome photo opportunities.

What struck me the most was the intricate detail of every tiny prop and every element of the sets. The highlight has got to be Victor’s dinosaur pyjamas and the super cool space wallpaper. My own walls are now inadequate. I haven’t seen the film but after seeing this exhibition it is now firmly on my to do list.

Elloise Hopkins.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Cats in short stories...


I have been reading quite a few short stories over the last few months, mainly to look at structure as I have a few short stories I wish to write. But having read so many I am wondering whether, in fact, the cat is a staple ingredient to the short story. Seriously, so many stories I have read seem to be progressing quite comfortably, and then there is a cat to throw the proverbial spanner in the works.

Now you must understand: I love cats. I grew up with cats. I miss not having cats around every day now. This blog not a criticism, it is an attempt to understand why the naughty feline sneaks so easily into stories that are otherwise completely unrelated to cats, pets, or indeed naughtiness. I’m sorry but it so often just puts me in mind of Sylvester in the Tweety Pie cartoons where things would just run so smoothly if it weren’t for that pesky cat’s interference.

I know that a bit of the writer ends up in the story, it is inevitable and I have found it in my own writing. But are we so attached to our cats that we cannot bear to leave them out of a story even if it would have worked perfectly well without them? Has the cat become the parrot on our shoulders?

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Attention to Detail...


We all have our sloppy moments. Sometimes life is too much of a rush and perhaps a grammar lapse ekes its way into our work and escapes to the reader because the usual proofread is forced to make way for a meeting or mini life crisis of some description. We have to accept that sometimes it just happens.

But isn’t attention to detail what separates those of us with a professional level of interest in what we do from those who just go through the motions without caring about the end product or their involvement in it? Perhaps this blog is a mini rant about attention to detail; perhaps it is just to make people think about how they approach their tasks.

But there is one thing that I think there is never an excuse for getting wrong, and it is something I always triple check in my own work before I send it out. Recently on the same day, I saw two different communications in which my name had been spelled incorrectly and both of them just instantly made me feel that no thought had gone into the work and that the senders couldn’t really be very interested in the topic or proud of their input. The result: I did not feel at all inclined to put them to the top of my ‘must reply’ pile and gave them only a cursory glance.

And it happens so frequently, particularly in emails I have noticed. And not just to me. People hit reply and start bashing out the contents of the email and either spell the person’s name wrong in the greeting or type a different name entirely, even though it is right there on the email address.

One of my female colleagues is frequently addressed as Patrick because her surname has the same number of letters and begins in a ‘P’. Paul becomes Phil, Ellen becomes Helen, Charlton becomes Chandler. I have on occasion been called Elizabeth, Beth and Emma. With some of these I can see how it could happen in haste. But some are downright bizarre and bear little resemblance to the real name, and yet the misspelling and substitution happens all the same.

So if it is that frequent an occurrence why do we get so wound up about it? I think the answer is because the first words of a communication set the tone of the piece. Just as we judge the first words of a novel being representative of the rest of the book, if the content of that first section is inaccurate then our automatic reaction is to assume the rest of it will follow to the same standard, and so instinct is to move onto something else.

Attention to detail people: it is key. So think about it and learn from it. And I include myself in that instruction I assure you.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

FantasyCon 2012 Blog Three…


So my final blog of FantasyCon 2012 is really a summary of the rest of the time I spent at the convention. As well as the two panels I have discussed I also found Is Steampunk Here To Stay? interesting as it examined the sub genre in the context of the whole. There was some uncertainty among the panellists as to how they saw Steampunk and their own writing within its context. General consensus seemed to be that this style of writing has existed long before the label Steampunk was applied to it and will last long after.

The Brent Weeks Guest of Honour interview by Alasdair Stuart was excellent and some insightful questions on topics ranging from martial arts and writing fight scenes to responding to fan mail and just how you become a bestselling author gave a real insight into Weeks’ background, working practices and plans for future projects. Once again he proved himself a great public speaker and kept the audience entertained.

Other highlights of the weekend (aside from the proximity to the beach and the fact that the sun granted us with its presence) were the Rebelion/Solaris/Abaddon giveaway which was a great opportunity to check out recent titles and chat to the publishers and authors, as were the numerous launches, the availability of unique works on sale in the dealers room and the general friendliness of everyone at the convention.

Once again I came home with a stack of books, a whole list of hints and tips to apply to my own writing and a generally increased sense of motivation and a more positive attitude towards my own work. It is strangely comforting, for example, to know that Brent Weeks took five years to write The Way of Shadows, and to be reminded that persistence and a hard outer shell are necessary traits for an aspiring author to have.

There is not a great deal more to say without going into too much detail about the other brilliant things that were on offer over the weekend. The convention delivered everything that was expected and despite not being able to spend the whole weekend there I had a great time and would not hesitate to recommend it to others. There is a wonderful genre community out there and a massive support network that takes minimal effort to embrace.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

FantasyCon 2012 Blog Two…


Another extremely helpful panel for me at FantasyCon was Ask the Editor: How Publishing Works, moderated by Nicola Budd of Jo Fletcher Books. Speakers were Oliver Johnson of Hodder & Stoughton, Duncan Proudfoot of Constable & Robinson and Simon Spanton and Gillian Redfearn of Gollancz.

The editors began with the question ‘how do you balance your love of a book and its commercial value?’ The basic answer to this was that upon discovering a new manuscript that the editor loves, they can never know its commercial value so their passion for it is all they can really rely on. Sometimes books just fail to sell well without explanation; it is the nature of the industry.

Trends were a popular discussion  point during this panel. The editors confirmed that they do not create trends; these come from the writers being simultaneously affected by world events or perhaps even from readers creating demand for particular topics or focuses at the same time. It was also interesting to learn that trends do not necessarily translate from the US industry to the UK.

The discussion did move onto self-publishing and the changes the rise in self-publishing is bringing to the industry. The main point was that the speed of publication is generally increasing. A frequent question being asked is ‘why would authors want to go through traditional publishing routes and wait anything from 1-4 years for publication when they could be published now if they self-published?’ Gillian Redfearn summed this up as the difference between a writer honing their craft, putting out a polished piece of work, and publishing a first draft.

The question and answer session was particularly useful for the aspiring writer in terms of getting those valuable insights that may help your manuscript get that bit closer to selection. This was an opportunity for the audience to ask editors what they look for in a manuscript, what they expect from authors, find out about the author as a brand, how editors use social media and just what the ‘job description’ of an author involves these days. Clearly it is no longer a job for the introverted, hiding-behind-a-keyboard personality type.

The most useful pieces of advice I took from this panel are the main things editors are looking for in an author: that they can take direction and advice, that they have a series or a number of similar ideas for future books already planned, that there is no need to panic about the structure of a novel as this is something the editor will work on with the author, and perhaps most importantly that they have an online presence and in the words of Gillian Redfearn are “not a nutter”. Won’t be forgetting any of that in a hurry.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

FantasyCon 2012 Blog One…


So this year it was off to sunny Brighton once again for FantasyCon, another excellent opportunity to immerse oneself in the publishing industry and catch up with the latest and best in genre fiction. If you haven’t been before I highly recommend this opportunity to meet fellow writers, publishers and editors, gain a stack of industry insight and motivation as well as having a good time.

For me the best panel this year was Fantasy Fiction: Keeping it Real? moderated by Adrian Tchaikovsky, with guests Brent Weeks, Jasper Kent, Juliet McKenna and Benedict Jacka. The panel examined the balance of the reality vs. the fantastic in fantasy fiction and looked at how far the author needs to go to make their fantasy landscape seem real.

The ever-entertaining Brent Weeks, who works in imagined worlds, said that the worldbuilding needs to ‘look’ real, so an examination of the world is necessary to explain any questions that may arise in the reader’s mind. Juliet McKenna, who also works in a secondary world, summed this up by saying the need is with the author to look at how things happen and why and ensure that the characters’ actions are plausible. Benedict Jacka said he decides on the rules of the world at the beginning of the project and later adds detail to make it believable. Weeks said that “like a magpie” he takes the best and shiniest bits of reality and puts them into his worlds to give them grounding.

The discussion went onto to discuss trends in the genre and in particular the shift towards more emotional realism in fantasy. From the mid-80s style that was ripe with character archetypes and often implausible or predictable characters, fantasy has evolved to a genre that focuses on more complex characters with greater psychological depth. They also discussed the widening of cultures represented within fantasy and the use of a broader scope of historical resources to shift away from the traditional medieval-based world.

This panel was rich in motivation for the aspiring writer and packed full of tips that may help beginning writers improve their craft, characters and fantasy worlds. It was a great way to start the day and gain insight into how established authors approach the writing of a new novel. It was definitely an inspirational start to the Saturday.

That’s about enough information for one blog. More from the convention to follow.

Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

An Evening with Brent Weeks…


Waterstones on New Street hosted this Brent Weeks reading/signing in Birmingham last night and I was lucky enough to get a ticket. If you have opportunity to go to a reading during his current tour, go! I’m not going to give any spoilers but believe me, it is well worth it.

From the moment he walked in and delivered his witty opening line to a room full of eager Brummies: “you guys look shifty”, said with a cunning smile, possibly true, Brent Weeks had our undivided attention. A brief introduction about the extract he had chosen to read and why was enough to confirm to us that he is as eloquent and humorous in person as he is in prose.

The reading itself was captivating and something that fans will not be able to experience anywhere else. This was followed with a Q&A session which revealed such vast details about the author from his writing practice, current and future projects, and the dilemma over book titles for the rest of the Lightbringer series, to what he loves about his job and why, the book trailer for The Black Prism, his definition of humour and so much more.

The whole evening was presented by someone who is clearly naturally very entertaining, playful and daring – definitely a fan of shock and awe. Weeks obviously loves what he is doing and we are set to see many more great things from his as an author. He also revealed some incredibly exciting news about his next project, which I just can’t bring myself to spoil. Go to a signing, go to FantasyCon, or if you can’t make it then keep your ears open for chatter – great things are coming!

Weeks was sociable and humble, taking time to speak to everyone who had gone to see him and was happy to sign copies of books new and old, for long time fans and some visitors who had never read any of his books. There were no airs, no awkward moments, no limitations; the whole evening was fantastic. I cannot recommend it highly enough. A great setting, an awesome chalk picture welcome and a brilliant host.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Astronomy Lyrics...


“Clock strikes twelve and moondrops burst out at you from their hiding place. Like acid and oil on a madman's face his reasons tend to fly away”

Recently I have developed a bit of an obsession about the lyrics in the song Astronomy. I have the Metallica version on an album and it seems every time my conscious mind wanders, my sub-conscious mind drives my trackpad over to that song and hits play.

Yes it is a good song, originally by Blue Oyster Cult, and to be fair I’ve listened to it a lot over the last week or so and I’m not bored of it yet. But I think the reason I keep listening is not solely because it is a good song but also because the lyrics are so captivating. What is it all about?

I find the doors mirroring each other enticing, the promise of finding out where winds come from fascinating and the mysterious Desdenova just draws me away to another world. Why would a madman have acid and oil on his face? Just what does that look like? And who are Carrie nurse and Susie dear? So much incredible scope for a story is lodged in these few lines.

If you know the song or look up the lyrics you will see what I mean. Every time I decide what one part of it means I lose the thread of the last decision I made on a different set of lines. To solve I probably could Google it and find a variety of explanations and speculations. But I refuse. I wish to continue my own internal discoveries while I’m still enjoying the song.

Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

King John, The Royal Shakespeare Company…


I had an inkling that with this being set in The Swan Theatre it was not going to be a traditional rendition of King John and I was bang on there: Pippa Nixon opened the show as the gender-switched Bastard armed with a Ukulele and a sing-along version of Land of Hope and Glory against a backdrop of giant balloons confined in netting.

From that unexpected opening onwards the play struck a fantastic balance between gutturally portrayed tragedy and random moments of bizarre genius that ranged from a wedding dance including the routine from Dirty Dancing – “do the lift, do the lift,” they chanted, and lo they did it – to King John’s demise-by-poison which included a brilliantly choreographed and performed dance to Madcon’s Beggin’. That of course came some time after John’s karaoke style Say a Little Prayer for Me which blew me away.

So certainly not traditional in any Shakespearean sense but it was a great show and I found myself at alternate moments laughing out loud at the hilarious party scenes and then chilled to the bone by the serious elements of the play and the strength of the performances, particularly those of the young Arthur and his mother.

The play lasted nearly three hours but it seemed to fly by, which I think is an indication of just how good it was. After the interval things kicked off with a bang, literally, which I wasn’t quite expecting but enjoyed nonetheless, as giant confetti burst from the gallery to cover the stage/floor and the balloons were released from their confines as you can see in the photo. It meant the second half of the play was set against a moving stage – the roaming balloons were kicked around in temper and used for emphasis, the confetti added a little more disco and the whole thing had the sense of a psychedelic 3d trip, a cultural pill with Shakespeare’s words stamped on it and an express train to run you through them. 

Alex Waldmann as King John and Pippa Nixon unquestionably stole the show, delivering powerful and physical performances that were captivating throughout. Many a time I found myself leaning over the railing from the gallery to get a closer view, anxious not to miss anything. When the Dauphin appeared next to me to deliver a series of lines it cemented how perfect this performance space was for this off the wall interpretation of the play. 

I could go on but I really struggle to translate the feelings I’m left with into a prose blog. I would be better armed with a blank wall, a set of spray cans and a ghetto blaster.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Quirky Pubs...


A pub bookshop. I do seem to have a habit of stumbling across quirky pubs in Wales and the most recent find was no exception. Tucked away out of the main New Quay village streets on the Welsh coast is a small pub which serves pub grub, decent ales and hosts a weekly pub quiz.

Nothing out of the ordinary in that, but this pub is also a bookshop. Now close to where I live there is a pub that has a library in it so you can read books when you are there or borrow and swap them. But this pub was actually a bookshop – not something I have ever come across before.

This photo shows just a small section of the books that were on offer. There were literally shelves, alcoves, walls full of books and even better they were organised by genre as you would find in a standard bookshop. Even more to my delight was that there was an entire shelving unit dedicated to sci fi and even more to fantasy – such a pleasure to see, considering these are usually relegated to one meagre shelf or even on occasion to a scruffy box or pile on the floor.

There was something very satisfying about standing at the bar and paying for books along with ordering your drinks and food. It felt like one of those moments that will stick in your memory because they are not often likely to be repeated. I was quite taken with the whole experience and now I fear that every other pub I go into is going to feel a little bit lacking on the literature front.
           
Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Book review: Exmortus 2...


EXMORTUS 2
BOOK TWO: TEMPLES DIABOLIC
Todd Maternowski

Ash is back at Exmortus Abbey, pursued by the White Demon, his only hope the mysterious key that was given unto his protection. Unfortunately he has no idea what the key is for or what he should do next. Steed is badly wounded and the Abbott seems to have gone mad following months of being trapped in the Abbey alone, but Ash knows the Abbott may have the answers he needs and so he has no choice but to try and coax information from the madman.

Old Bill, the trader that Ash met on his journey from Exmortus all those months ago, is alive and well in the Abbey, but he turns out to be more than just a beer and silk merchant. Sooner rather than later his behaviour pushes Ash to the limit of his patience, to detrimental consequence. Things go from bad to worse when a mysterious stranger from Ash’s distant past appears in Exmortus. The odds are rapidly stacking up against our young hero.

With danger so close and his friends missing Ash is left truly alone with no one to watch his back and only his wits to lead him this time. His journey will be bleaker and more difficult than anything he has faced up to this point, and with only his trusty horse, Vex, he sets out to discover the secret of the key and face the demons of his past.

The pace of Exmortus 2 is excellent; the action picks up straight away from where events were left off at the end of book one and doesn’t let up until the end, making this another great page turner in the series. The compromise to this fast pace is that on occasion the story lurches forward in time from scene to scene and it sometimes felt like the jump was a little too fast, the pace being forced onwards perhaps rather than naturally progressing and giving the reader time to come to terms with the conclusion of each chapter before the next crisis began.

The humorous tone of the writing works well again in contrast to the violent and guttural aspects of the narrative, but I did feel that with Steed taking a much lesser part in this book the overall feel was darker and at times I missed the crude banter and witty frustrations that Steed’s character brought to book one. Ash suffers just as much in this story but his lack of steady companions for much of the narrative made his journey seem too arduous to contemplate at times, and it was perhaps harder to root for him when survival seemed so unlikely.

The positive side of this was that Ash’s character was developed even more in this book, and by the end of it the reader had much more of a sense of his self, his desires and his weaknesses rather than just seeing his self-centred attitude. Through this portrayal it becomes evident how much he has grown through the series so far. The continuation of Ash’s internal monologue being available in the narrative works fantastically in illustrating this character development, because the reader is right there in his head throughout the story and is seeing his reactions to events firsthand.

Violent and dark deeds abound in this story and I felt the horror elements were stronger in this book than the first instalment giving it a definite darker tone overall. This series would be enjoyed by readers who like work at the gritty edge of the genre and who aren’t afraid to face the baser aspects of life and human behaviour.

This is a strong follow up and the final instalment looks set to wind up the characters’ journeys as well as giving some more definition and understanding of the relationships between the characters for the reader. Steed and Ash certainly have unresolved business and I look forward to finding out how things will end between them as much as I do the wider story.

Elloise Hopkins.