Sunday 29 July 2012

Collaborative writing...

I’ve always found myself emanating quite closely the ‘solitary writer’ stereotype. I like to be alone when I write, away from human interference, in peaceful quiet, with only my imagination and the distant sounds of the world to keep me company.
Recently Fantasy-Faction ran a collaborative writing project– short story, numerous contributors, 100 words per post, one month – which I was hesitant about joining in at first (as I think quite a few people were) but after a week or so I decided to take the plunge and give it a try.
Why had I hesitated? After all I consider myself a writer. I write daily in one form or another. My dream would be to make a career from writing. I think my main hesitation had been that, with so many different styles and imaginations coming to the table, there would be issues with consistency, and I thought that without one clear idea of where the story was headed (the end is usually what I have fixed in my mind in my own writing) it would be impossible to create a coherent story.
To a degree, once I’d taken the plunge and become part of the project, I did find that aspect a bit of a struggle and I think we all suffered from the same problems at times. Perhaps 100 words was not quite enough for contributors to fully explain and portray their intentions for that part of a scene, much was left ambiguous or with great scope for continuing multiple sub-plots, and as well as being very episodic and perhaps sometimes disjointed (though nothing that won’t be fixed with editing), there was also numerous possibilities for different interpretations of what was happening.  
The end of the story was far different I’m sure to what any of us expected at the start, as was the journey there. I will certainly look forward to seeing an edited version of the story if the organisers choose to do so. Generating material was not a problem for us, it was shaping it consistently that was the challenge.
From a personal point of view, the biggest problem I found in making my contributions was that who characters were in my mind – how I saw them, what I wanted for their role, their characteristics and behaviour and so on – was vastly different to how other contributors saw the same characters, so some of their actions were consequently vastly different to how I envisaged them.
Contributing to a story with numerous other writers (that I only know from online interaction) was certainly a first for me. It was an eye-opening experience and actually helped me to think about how my own stories are shaped and reflect upon my own writing style.  For perhaps the first time I really gave thought to my own process – where I start, where I want to end and how I shape the middle.
Being able to see things from a different perspective first hand was a valuable experience and I am pleased to have been exposed to the idea. It definitely had merit and was rewarding, despite at times my feeling perhaps a little out of control with it. I think I’m perhaps too precious about my own ideas and characters to consider a writing career that involves constant collaboration, but I’d never say never to the idea.
Elloise Hopkins.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Wanted: Comic fans...

Love comics?

Fancy contributing to a comic site?

Comic Buzz seeks new writers.

Email to find out more.

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday 23 July 2012

Messing Around in Boats...

Corporate team building events always elicit a collective groan but the company I work for tries to do it differently and generally that is appreciated by all of us. In the time I’ve been there we’ve had a Wild West themed sports day, a garden party and a summer ball. This year we had a boat trip along the River Severn.

Before the event I wasn’t really sure what to expect but had imagined this wonderful picture of boating in summer thinking it would be rather lovely to spend the day watching the scenery go by in the sunshine and chatting to colleagues in an informal and unusual setting. Three things slightly distorted that innocent picture on the day.

First, another groan, the weather. In actuality we all know the British summer has let us down in true style this year. Torrential rain and a very high river almost cancelled the trip completely, but managed to hold off just enough to enable us to spend the day floating through rain and driftwood admiring the greenery that had managed to rise high enough to avoid drowning in the rising river. We did even get some actually sun in the afternoon so it worked out ok in the end.

Second was the general concept. This country is perhaps known for alcohol being a staple part of any event. At 10.30am when we boarded the boat the bar was open and believe it or not people were starting off the day with pints of Guinness and glasses of wine. I went for a soft drink option until much later in the day. Alcohol coupled with a heavy meal at lunchtime never really does me any good, just makes me tired, so I played the sensible ‘this is a work do’ card for this one and paced myself. But it struck me as a very strange concept to put a large number of people onto a relatively small boat (although I am told that in its heyday the boat was the height of cruise liner luxury in the area!) drive it along a river that floods frequently and ply them all with alcohol all day long. Health and safety gone downstream!

Anyway the alcohol factor leads me onto number three, which wasn’t a bad thing but merely illustrated to me how much popular culture really does seep its way into our minds. Even before we arrived my colleagues were talking about Titanic and made several references to James Cameron’s film. On board, the minute I got to the bow my colleagues leapt into action and had us re-enacting ‘the pose’ in a slightly less elegant and somewhat more inebriated fashion. Proof that we really are influenced by if not inspired by the things around us.

Anyway, cheesy disco music and rain aside, the day actually turned out to be a lot of fun and gave me an experience that I probably never would have had if it weren’t for this event. We had shenanigans, discussions of pirates (which is always an entertaining topic for me), laughter, games, a magician and beautiful scenery to admire. Not bad at all, although I’m not sure I will be signing up for a themed party boat evening quite yet; I doubt the ‘Pirates of the River Severn’ are ready for me.

Thanks to Papermagnet for the photos.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Book review: The Time Weaver.

By Thomas A. Knight.

As a child Seth Alkirk was always very taken by his father’s stories of another world, of magic and epic battles. Twenty-five years later Seth has little left of that childhood except scant memories and his father’s old book, which he has never been able to open. He is a software developer with not much of a social life but his thirtieth birthday brings promise of perhaps something more, but on his way to meet friends after work, a car crash hurls Seth into the midst of the very things his father’s stories told of.

On Galadir, the scryers’ discovery of a new Time Weaver promises a saviour, one that can heal the rifts created in their world long before, but those who serve the king are not the only ones to have made the discovery and the race between good and evil forces to claim the Time Weaver for themselves begins.

The king’s wizard, Merek, must retrieve the Time Weaver if he has any hope of saving Galadir from destruction. He dispatches Malia, a highly skilled Swordmage, to cross over to the other world and fetch the Time Weaver. Though the risks and consequences to herself are great, Malia accepts the task and steps through a rift, bringing the reality of another world and another possible future into Seth’s path.

My first impression of The Time Weaver was that the characters were all instantly likeable and so I was pulled immediately into the story and found myself rooting for them as the dangers grew. My second impression was that there is something incredibly unique about it. Nothing that happened was predictable or overly familiar, and nothing I had heard of the book before reading it prepared me for the scale of the story nor of the other world that is on offer in Galadir.

I think the strongest element of the writing here is the voice, which remains consistent throughout, and balances just the right amount of confidence, narrative knowledge and lighter tones to keep the reader interested and empathising with the characters. This leads into another great main strength – the protagonist; I felt he was a good rendition of a modern fantasy hero as he struggled to come to terms with his new life and his abilities having been completely removed from his comfort zone very early on.

Sometimes the traditional fantasy elements – dragons, magic, monsters and so forth – contrasted a little too sharply with the technological and scientific elements for my taste, but this did not detract from a story that was sound in its execution and is more of personal preference than any fault with the story.

The pace of the book is good and there is no lack of action at any point. If anything, occasionally the pace was perhaps too much and I felt pulled from a scene before I had time to fully digest what had happened or reflect upon it. There were a few times when I felt that having a moment to really appreciate the characters’ dilemmas or the consequences of an action would have heightened the depth of the story. Nonetheless this is a thoroughly enjoyable read, a strong introduction to a tale that is in no way lacking in scope or possibility and certainly the start of an epic adventure.

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday 9 July 2012

Old beginnings…

People always talk about new beginnings, fresh starts, new leaves, but in the office where I work we are definitely in a repeat cycle of old beginnings. We as a team never really seem to click and the staff turnover is high – too much work, too little reward, you know the story.

I often find myself calling it Groundhog Day (yep that film stuck with me) because I am running an endless hamster wheel of having new staff to train, encourage, try to integrate into the team, and then dealing with the fallout of someone else leaving and someone new coming on board.

It is a tiring cycle that constantly leaves the team lacking in motivation and direction. There is always a new grand plan that will dig us out of the rut and make it all better, always a new director to come in like a knight in shining armour and set things to right.

Except it never happens. The cycle begins again, old beginnings repeating endlessly, over and over and over and over and over again. Perhaps one day I will embrace the idea of starting it all over again, but for now, I’m stuck on repeat, and I can't say I care much for it.

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday 2 July 2012

The knight, the torch and the marching band…

For the second Saturday in a row I enjoyed some free entertainment in Birmingham City Centre with friends this weekend. We strolled to Victoria Square in the afternoon to catch the end of Armed Forces Day and enjoyed a snack in the sun whilst listening to a female vocalist singing swing and boogie-woogie. After her, a marching band took centre stage in front of the council house and had tunes from The Italian Job and Thunderbirds amongst their repertoire.

We then headed to the most secluded spot we could find at Paradise Circus to ready ourselves for the Olympic Torch’s journey through the city. It was fascinating watching the masses piling up along the most well known parts of the route and we were pleased to find ourselves a far better vantage point in a quieter spot out of the thick crowds.

After a bit of a wait and lots of hooting from passing taxis and limos, police bikes began to block off the road and the first torch bus approached. Now I am a bit of a hermit writer and confess to having no idea what the buses in the parade were all about nor who was going to be on them. I had presumed it was members of the community that had some connection to the ceremony or concert that was taking place afterwards.

So the first bus went slowly by and the select crowd around us were waving and I had a brief moment of thinking one of the passengers looked familiar. A second later the woman next to me erupted into screams. That and the hyperventilating that followed triggered my brain into action and I realised I was looking into the face of Sir Cliff Richard just a couple of feet in front of me on this bus looking ever so slightly preened. I think the beautifying accounts for why we didn’t recognise him straight away.

So laughter ensued and the clear excitement and near-heart attacks of the female contingent in our little crowd lifted everyone’s spirits. About five minutes later the torch came through and yes there was cheering and enthusiasm and a general sense of community spirit, but I’m afraid after our hilarious, somewhat shocking close encounter with Sir Cliff, the torch itself, which was held aloft with pride and accompanied by a cheerful entourage, was nonetheless a bit of an anti-climax. Unfortunate timing perhaps for consideration – I think we needed the torch first to really appreciate the moment.

Elloise Hopkins.