Friday, 26 October 2012

Book review: 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.