Saturday, 16 November 2013

Book Review: Prince of Lies...


PRINCE OF LIES
Night’s Masque Volume 3.
By Anne Lyle.

Mal is back in London with Sandy, although daily it seems his twin is becoming more skrayling and less the brother he knew and loved. But there are bigger things to worry about. The guisers must be driven out of England. Mal will have to warn the skraylings of the trouble his actions in Venice brought and seek their help to rid the land of threat. Unfortunately the guisers are not easily identifiable, so before they can beat them, they will have to find them.

Coby and Sandy are still guarding the precious soul they picked up in Venice and keeping the secret very close to their chests. The separation from Mal while he is on his next mission, however, is taking its toll on Coby; she longs to be part of the action just as much as she longs to keep them all safe from it. Magic, romance, Shakespeare and disguises all play a part in this conclusion to the Night’s Masque trilogy.

Prince of Lies picks up slightly farther on than the end of book two with the characters back in England, and overall there is a more settled feel to the narrative throughout. Like its predecessors the essence of the book relies on tension and the sense that danger is constantly right in front of the characters or just around the corner. The fight sequences in particular are detailed and well portrayed.

Since her in-depth development earlier in the series, in this volume Coby feels very much relegated to the background, playing the part of Mal’s distant companion and Kit’s keeper rather than being particularly core to the action and story herself. Mal is certainly very much back in the centre of things, and though he is an entertaining and exciting protagonist, the gap left by Coby’s back step is noticeable.

The large focus on relationships in this volume – in particular that of Mal and Coby, and of Erishen’s place in all their lives – whilst increasing the reader’s emotional connection to the characters in general does slow the pace. A new point of view character introduced in part two changes the dynamic of the story and opens the narrative to aid this for the latter part of the book. The conclusion is no means lacking in pace or action and delivers a satisfying finish to the story whilst very much leaving the possibility of future adventures.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

World Fantasy Convention 2013, Blog Two…


Day two kicked off with a panel on worldbuilding “The Best of All Possible Worlds” with Robin Hobb, Hal Duncan, Patrick Rothfuss (who has the most awesome laugh by the way), Adrian Tchaikovsky and Robert Silverberg and moderated by Ellen Kushner. The essence of worldbuilding is that the devil is in the details, and there is a balance to achieve between providing the reader with enough details to bring the world to life around them whilst not ‘data dumping’ them with enough details to bore them senseless.

The key is to establish those things such as economic situation and currency, class, politics, geography and so forth in the world so that none of these aspects inadvertently become a hindrance to the story because they have not been considered. The basic necessity of worldbuilding is to make it believable and plausible and leave enough space for the reader to fill in aspects that are unnecessary to the story themselves.

Next I went to some readings and as it turned out they were all extracts from forthcoming pieces. Trudi Canavan gave us the enticing opening of her new series due to come out May 2014 and told us a little about the worlds and characters in that. Then onto Scott Lynch with a brief, animated performance from Wes Chu to begin with. Lynch’s extract was from a short story which will be in a forthcoming anthology and he gave us a glimpse of a world and characters as rich as those in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence. After that it was Joe Abercrombie’s turn to read an extract from his forthcoming book, which is aimed at younger readers though is evidently no less lacking in conflicts and shocks.

My final panel of the day was hugely entertaining – “Elvish has Left the Building” with Trudi Canavan, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Tad Williams, Adrian Stone and moderated by Stan Nicholls.

This panel discussed just what epic fantasy is and established that its key tropes will never change – scale, complexity and depth of story, for example. There was a lot of discussion about Tolkien’s domination of fantasy vs. ‘quieter’, smaller, sword and sorcery books. Interestingly the panel did also delve into the accessibility of science fiction to a wider audience through different media (you can be a science fiction fan without having read any SF books) compared to fantasy whose fan base has pretty much always come from avid readers.

And so the discussion ended and my motivation level shot up as it always does at these events – it is great to be surrounded by likeminded people and talented people who enjoy what they do and remind me why I want to be part of this industry. This was the best convention I’ve been to so far and well worth the cost of the trip and braving the terrible weather in Brighton for. 

Now, books to read and books to write… back to life.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

World Fantasy Convention 2013, Blog One…


Division appeared early on and seemed to be the theme of the convention, though all in a light-hearted and intelligent manner. First up was during a panel entitled “All But Actors on a Stage: Creating Memorable Characters” with Fiona McIntosh, Robin Hobb, Stephen Gallagher, Suzanne McLeod, Jasper Kent and moderated by Thomas F. Monteleone.

The opinion that science fiction is driven by plot and fantasy by character was raised and bandied about a bit before Robin Hobb provided several strong examples of character led science fiction that pretty much blew that argument out of the water, although it was an interesting way of looking at the perceived differences between the two.

A panel with diverse beliefs certainly led to an animated discussion that was worth watching. You can make your own decision about which side of the argument you are on but it was fascinating hearing about how the panellists begin their approach to a story and how a character forms for each of them. Fiona McIntosh describing how her characters in The Lavender Keeper grew from a sprig of lavender was an excellent way of reminding us that we all approach writing differently and can take inspiration from anywhere.

From there I went straight into “The Play’s the Thing: Style or Substance in Fiction” with more division becoming evident from the offset. This time it was genre fiction vs. literary fiction with Jack Dann, Ian R. MacLeod, Geoff Ryman, Lisa Tuttle and moderated by Ellen Kushner.

The two sides of this argument were boiled down to plot vs. no plot, good characters vs. good prose, with literary fiction being hailed as having enviable, beautiful prose and genre fiction being way ahead on narrative and characterisation. The panel discussed which was more important. Well, both of course. What’s the point of having beautiful prose if it does or tells nothing?

My first day at wfc13 ended with the mass signing which – though not something I have ever attended before, and with full lighting in the hall, lots of cramped bodies and white tablecloths it did feel a little more academic than atmospheric – was a great opportunity to chat briefly with authors, get books signed and meet randomers in the many queues I found myself standing in.

More than anything the mass signing was a reminder of how friendly and approachable the authors and the other people who attend these events really are. It may not seem like it to newcomers; at times it may feel daunting and cliquey, but just put yourself out there and go for it. It’s also a great reminder that the authors love to hear that people enjoyed their work – after all, they have sweated, toiled and battled the dreaded writer’s curse over it.

Elloise Hopkins.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton…


The National Indoor Arena, Birmingham. Crowds of gothic-esque fans, some in elaborate fancy dress, some exhibiting subtle touches of admiration for the films of Tim Burton that are being celebrated by the BBC Concert Orchestra and Danny Elfman himself. A live orchestra complete with choir, young soprano boy and a Theremin (an electronic musical instrument controlled by the player’s hands without any physical contact) assemble on stage. An extravaganza begins.

Music from all 15 of the films these two geniuses have collaborated on over the years was played by the orchestra, having been adapted into Medley’s by their original composer. A big screen accompanied the music, showing clips and montages from the films and a selection of incredibly powerful pieces of Burton’s concept artwork, although rather cleverly it did go blank for part of each film’s section to allow the focus to switch to the musicians and the energy on stage.

The highlight has got to be Danny Elfman’s live performance of Jack Skellington’s songs from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and an encore of the fabulous Oogie Boogie’s song where he threw himself completely into the character. He danced, sang and acted all with great gusto, and I had to remind myself that he was also the composer – a highly talented man all round.

Yes, so he missed his cue for What’s This?, but that just made the whole show feel more personal and reminded us that he is human after all. The song was re-started efficiently and he gave an incredible performance, singing in time with the film clip of the song. Bonus points must also go to the conductor, John Mauceri, who in the encore juggled a microphone to sing the part of Sandy Claws, danced, and put on a Santa hat, all while keeping the orchestra in time with one hand. Memorable moments.

The Nightmare Before Christmas aside, we were reminded how many excellent soundtracks have been produced that perfectly complement the films they represent. Hearing the Batman/Batman Returns music whilst looking at Burton’s evocative Batman sketches was out of this world. His visions of The Joker are possibly the creepiest and most captivating I’ve seen.

The musical highlight for me was Edward Scissorhands, a film that I become too emotionally involved with at the best of times, but seeing and hearing the music performed just a few metres in front of me with Edward ice sculpting on the screen gave me chills and brought the tears to my eyes more so than ever before.

I came away from the show knowing I had witnessed something very special, something that I wished I could watch again and something I know I will remember forever. Every time I see one of the films that were represented I know I will be transported straight back to last night, straight back to the show and remember all the excellent details and unique touches that made it one of the year’s highlights.

Elloise Hopkins.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Graduation, Falmouth, September 2013…


There were many moments of finality during my Master’s Degree. This was the greatest. I studied Professional Writing with Falmouth University alongside a full time job for a little over two years, so the whole experience was a major juggling act, frantic at times, stressful at times, and looking back now I realise it was very much a marathon of deadlines and assignments and research and cramming my life and my day job alongside it. There were honestly many moments along the way when it felt like my passing the course and managing to keep up the required pace was an impossibility. But I made it. I finished. I reached the end.

When I say there were many moments of finality, the whole course was really a constant stream of beginnings and endings, whether it was starting new modules or stories, or reaching the end of projects and assignments and drawing a line under them before starting the next.

Handing in the final project in February this year was one such moment, arguably the biggest as it was a culmination of many months’ work and a lot of sacrifice. Waiting for the result equated to a nerve-wracking couple of months, and then when the result came in and I found out I had passed the course there came another moment of huge finality.

But it wasn’t until I attended the graduation ceremony in Falmouth last week that I felt any sense of closure with the course. Having been so focused on it for so long, since handing in that last assignment I have felt a little in limbo – as though I am just waiting for the next challenge and the next deadline to be announced. I’ve continued with my personal projects but I’ve felt a little on edge, the back of my mind always wondering if there is something crucial that I should be doing but have forgotten about.

It wasn’t until I walked across the stage adorned in all my academic finery, shook hands with the university’s Vice-Chancellor, and headed back to my seat and my classmates clutching a scroll, with a huge smile on my face, that I realised the MA is finished, I have graduated, and can close that chapter of my life with pride. I made it.

It was a hard, busy road to have walked, and as well as teaching me how to successfully navigate life in a full on balancing act, it has taught me so much about myself, my writing, my passions, and my desires, that I can’t imagine where I would be right now if I had not made that application back in 2010 and driven myself through the course.

I can’t possibly express how much of a positive impact it has had on my life in any coherent form, nor take the time to describe in detail just how much I have taken away from my studies. (Suffice it to say it is more than a branded paper bag and a rather funky wooden usb stick!) You have to go through something huge, something that you truly put all of yourself and your energy and your resources into, and succeed at it, to have any idea of the breadth of emotions that you go through in doing something like this and come out with on the other side.

It is a chapter that is now closed, and I owe a lot to the people who encouraged, cajoled and offered emotional support or a good, critical eye to me through it all. 

It is a chapter that is now closed, and the next chapter will prove whether I can now translate all I have learnt and all I have gained into a series of novels that will bring as much pleasure, surprise and excitement to others in the reading as they do to me in the writing.

Elloise Hopkins.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Act One Lasted 100 Years…


Act Two began on Tuesday, and thus with another familiar slogan the new REP (Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre) kicked off its first performance in the newly refurbished space. It has been a long time coming for us keen theatre goers in the city, watching the REP’s refurbishment and the construction of the new Birmingham Library next door for the last two years.

Finally came the opening show. I headed inside for my first glimpse at the theatre… and did not react much at all. In fact not a great deal of the refurbishment was visible. Yes, the seats have been re-covered (though it sadly made them no more comfortable and the lack of a central aisle in the theatre is still a personal bugbear) and the walls have been painted, well some of them, at least. Everything perhaps looked a little bit fresher, but the two years it has been closed (I think it has been two years, or thereabouts) don’t seem to have made a whole lot of difference. Except to the bar prices which have leapt into the extortionate bracket, it seems. 

I also felt a little disappointed that the fact that it was opening night wasn’t really shouted about. There were no introductory speeches or pre-show performances, no post-show discussion about what had been done to the theatre and what has been going on in the background during the refurbishment. I am delighted to welcome the venue back to the city and am thrilled to have been lucky enough to attend the opening night, I just wish it had been celebrated and made into more of an occasion.

Anyway, for the show itself – Alan Bennett’s People. Having no idea what it was about or what to expect beforehand, I found the whole first half rather difficult given the amount of jokes that went straight over my head or that felt a little close to the bone, but the second half was completely different, hilariously funny and well-delivered. Definitely a show worth watching, even if it does get a little slow before the interval.

One thing I feel compelled to comment on, as was pointed out to me by a fellow viewer, was that the audience has not changed in the time the venue has been closed, and remains utterly non-indicative of the city’s young and multicultural population. For some reason, theatre in general to some degree, and particularly this theatre, seems to still be a stiff haven for the white middle classes, average age perhaps 65.

Come on Birmingham, let’s have our audience reflecting our city and reflecting the fantastic variety of shows that we get. I would love to attend a future performance and see people of different races and genders joining in to take advantage of the quality shows and levels of entertainment we have at local venues such as this.

Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Rewriting the book…


Is a slogan we Birmingham dwellers have become very familiar with over the last two years, as the new Library of Birmingham has been under construction. The publicity has been rife, and speculation over what the new library will actually do for the city has only increased as the building has taken shape and barriers have been removed on the outside to reveal snippets of what we had in store for opening day.

After two years of watching its construction from a distance, finally it was time for the doors to open, and after my various sneak peeks at the exterior – amphitheatre, wild flower meadow, fresh new paving, interconnecting walkway to its neighbour the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, etc. – I took the opportunity to look around inside and relish in the fact that my local lending library was back in action after several months of having to travel out to suburban libraries or make do without all the resources usually available.

My main impression of the new building from outside was that it seemed such a huge space for a library, and indeed, if rumours and speculation are to be believed the stock, in terms of books, at least, has not been increased; certainly for the last couple of years there has been a visible cut back in the number of available copies and variety of books available. The library has been attached to the theatre next door and its sheer size unfortunately dwarfs the theatre which has an architecturally interesting exterior of its own.

I feel there is a clash of the modern and the historical in our new library. The central book rotunda through the building conjures up images of great roman amphitheatres or uber-contemporary shopping malls, as well as seeming to pay homage to another of the city’s iconic buildings, The Rotunda, and the exterior of the library could almost be a cousin to Selfridges, opened this same week ten years ago, exchanging aluminium discs for geometrical mesh.

The interior of the library is breath taking in that way of shiny things, but for me it feels like it is all surface. Neon lights and attractive circular book cases draw the visitor up through the levels, of which there are ten, but stepping back from the book rotunda I did feel a little disappointed to discover stacks of unimaginatively designed shelves, some extremely sparsely filled, and some very cramped together, none having much to say for themselves. The lending library in particular seems to have been crammed into the basement with seemingly no more books, space or seating than the old library had.  

On the whole one could argue that this feels more like a book shop or the swanky corridors of a new museum than a library. There is a lot of wasted space, but perhaps it was designed with tourism and sensation at the forefront rather than the provision of a new and improved functional library. Perhaps this is the future of the British library, bringing all the power and attractiveness of modern technology and surface-level appeal while the books themselves fade into the background.

On the whole, I did not feel awed by my first visit. The anticipation has had me so excited and I thought I would get inside and immediately fall in love with the new space. Perhaps it was because it was too busy to really look around properly or actually use the space – seemingly over 7,000 people visited on opening day, as I did – so I will return in a few days time and see whether I can find some love for the city’s newest icon. I really hope I do. 

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Doctor Faustus…


Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is a play that I fell in love with when I was at school and that has stayed with me ever since. I’ve read the occasional modern story that pays homage to the tale and seen a few productions over the years since then, but none have really captured the essence of Faustus for me.

It is a tale of human folly and unattainable desire. It is a lesson that having all your wishes granted may not bring you happiness. It should, in fact, be necessary reading for everyone – it is that good of a story and a moral lesson.

Now, thanks to The Blue Orange Theatre in Birmingham’s historic jewellery quarter, and Blue Orange Arts, a charity focused on bringing affordable high quality dramatic arts to the public, I feel satisfied that I have seen a performance that captures the true depths of the play.

In a small theatre it is at times hard to convey the necessary sense of dramatic tension and atmosphere that must come hand in hand with a play like this one. The set here consisted of a small stage that could be curtained off when necessary and an area of the floor in front of the stage where the main bulk of the action took place, with the audience seated in a horseshoe around it so that we the watchers were very close to the players at all times.

Mixed media including some excellent sound effects and on stage music, puppetry, masks, a wonderful array of props and costumes, the hellish dry ice and some clever lighting were used in abundance to ensure that every aspect of the story was played out in lavish detail. Add in performances from six very strong actors and a director with an eye for cleverly embellished dramatics and you have a resounding success. I will even forgive them the few touches of modernity that crept into the production.

At the interval we were enticed from our seats and into the bar by the devils, still in character, and they, along with Mephistopheles throughout, were successfully creepy, evil eyes staring out from eerily inert red masks. It is these additional touches that show us how thoroughly the original material was studied and interpreted to retain the audience’s attention even as we were departing the venue for a quick whiff of non-dry-iced air.

To say the performance was intense would be an understatement and by the end I was entirely immersed in Faustus’ plight. It may be a venue I have never before visited but if this is the quality of work being produced I will certainly be keeping an eye on the upcoming shows. My love for Marlowe’s play has once again been ignited.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

When the Words Won’t Come…


We’ve all heard the words ‘writers’ block’ and cringed in one way or another. I think I’ve even blogged about my approach to writers’ block before, which is generally to ignore it and carry on no matter how awful the writing becomes. After all, editing exists for a reason.

But more recently I’ve noticed that sometimes I approach the dreaded block differently. Let’s face it: the words don’t always flow well. Sometimes there is that period of staring at a computer screen and producing zero word count. Or reading back over something you tried to force and deleting the whole lot in despair. Or laughing about it, on better days.

Someone recently asked me what I do when the words won’t come. And now I’ve thought about it and spied on myself during a very unproductive week, my answer is this: I still ignore the block and deny its existence, but instead of pushing through it I walk away from the story and from the keyboard, I pick up a fantasy book by an author whose work I admire, or I go in search of someone new, and I read. I lose myself in someone else’s world for a little while and I just read.

This is not because I have given in and accepted that they have managed what I cannot. It is not because I think I will never manage what they have. No! There is nothing defeatist about it. I do it to remind myself that they have been where I am, that they have taken time and laboured over something they believed in, and they are proof that the achievement is possible. Plus they wrote a good book so why wouldn’t you want to read it?

So next time I find myself avoiding writing through reading (far more pleasurable than housework anyway!) I will tell myself that I believe in my story, that I will write it when the time is right, and that it is possible to achieve my dream. Every well-loved book on my shelf is proof of that.

Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Now You See Me…


Minor spoiler-of-the-obvious alert! Don’t you just hate it when a film that you’re really enjoying, that has actors in it that you really love, has an abrupt twist that doesn’t come off right and then charges straight into a flat ending?

Yeah, that sums up nearly all of my reflections of this movie. Maybe I’m being hypercritical or looking at it too much with a writer’s eye, because someone I saw this movie with agreed with me that the ending was flat but thought the twist that came just before it worked.

I, however, can’t help thinking that with the swapping of a couple of key elements, and the removal of the flat (and extremely contrived just-to-leave-room-for-a-sequel thus damaging the impact of the end of the first film) ending you would have an exceptional story and a really good movie.

I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers, and opinions on this one are divided. If it worked for you, great. For me, the fundamental error here was that the point of view throughout the movie was wrong. Fact. In a book with a protagonist like Watson to Sherlock Holmes, set slightly to the side of the main character, this would have been a brilliant story. Translate that onto film, with the point of view remaining ever so slightly to the side of the main character, and you would have had a winner.

Instead you have a film with a huge reveal that did not reward or shock the audience to the degree that it should have. Another reason for this is that the misdirection throughout the film was too obvious – the viewer knows they are being misdirected – the impact of which is that in the end they don’t believe any of it to enough of a degree to invest emotionally. The reveal, therefore, does not work.

When the film got to the end I wanted to jump into the reel, wind it back about 5 minutes, do a very quick re-write and switch the places of two characters, then let it play. Abracadabra! (Oh yeah, had to get that in there!) I think you would have had an extremely clever film, but more importantly, you would have had one that rewarded the reader at the end and made their investment (time, concentration, etc.) worth it.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Misery Loves Company...


We are continually told in life that bottling things up and keeping our feelings inside is not emotionally healthy. But one of the greatest challenges in life is to take advice and on this score I just can’t.

I’ve never been one to broadcast my innermost feelings to the world (the occasional blogs, tweets and rants aside) and I’m not sure that will ever change. When I feel sad or miserable or depressed the last thing I want to do is inflict that on someone else and make them feel sad or miserable or depressed too.

Misery loves company? Well, not me. I like to be left alone with my misery until I’m ready to emerge from the other side of it. The thought of entering into discussions with other people about why I feel that way is not something that occurs to me, and honestly the idea of it feels pointless. They can’t change the way I feel inside, so how can it possibly help?

To some people that will sound totally logical. To others it will sound stupid and ridiculous. But I like to imagine negative feelings as messages in a bottle. I can write them, then bottle them up and send them off elsewhere. After all, I don’t need them.

So when I am quiet and reflective, when you can tell that I’m isolated inside myself, it is because I am writing out those messages, processing them, reflecting upon them, and then rolling them up and letting them go. Because what possible use can it be to dwell on bad things forever and anon? Leave me to my misery. I always emerge soon enough.

Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Snaps Happy…


Alcohol is one thing in life that I don’t always enjoy. It is quite easy to become bored with drinking the same old drinks time and again, perusing the supermarket shelves hoping for a surprise and so rarely finding one. I mourn the days when Blavod (black  vodka – which I always adore – coloured/flavoured with extracts of acacia) was readily available, and since its disappearance there have been few ‘high street’ drinks that stand out and excite me.

So the joy at finding these mini Snaps in Ikea, of all places, has warranted a blog, first to rant about the lack of unusual alcohol flavours/varieties available and second to shout out a hurrah! for amazing little tipples that manage to take some unlikely ingredients and produce some fantastic little drinkies. The set cost £7 for seven 50ml bottles of the following flavours, and I assure you it is well worth it:

·      Caraway, anise and fennel.
·      Caraway, dill and lemon.
·      Herbal.
·      Lemon and elderberry.
·      St John’s Wort.
·      Blackcurrant.
·      Swedish Southernwood.

First up my favourite. Top marks all round goes to lemon and elderberry. Lemon? Well, you know what you’re getting. Tangy citrus flavours. In this guise it reminds me very strongly of limoncello, which is also an excellent beverage. But the real star here is the elderberry. Elderflower is one of my favourite soft drink flavours. Take the more robust version of the plant, elderberry, add it to the crisp yet light lemon, and you have a drink that is refreshing and invigorating. The only criticism is that there is only 50ml to enjoy.

Surprisingly my least favourite of the bunch was blackcurrant. On first sniff it was very Ribena – and I love Ribena – but on first sip it was most certainly not at all like Ribena. There is a very mild blackcurrant taste lurking in here, but it has a medicinal quality that takes away from any joy a blackcurrant would normally bring. More medicinal, in fact, than the flavours I would consider to be medicinal – herbal, St John’s Wort and Southernwood (part of the Wormwood family). Not a winner.  

Despite that disappointment, a special mention has to go to caraway, dill and lemon for sheer unusual-ity and genius of flavour combinations. Caraway I like, in moderation, lemon I adore, but dill is a flavour I usually turn my nose up at. So bored I have become over the years at salmon constantly being plastered in the stuff, or railed against those times when I’ve bitten into a delectable seafood mousse only to grimace at the hidden dill. Yet here, in the quantity and combination which it appears, it is subtle enough not to make me pull faces, and delicately complimentary. I shall no longer say I do not like dill.

Last, but certainly not least, I simply dote on the cute little bottles and ‘hand drawn’ style labels that these remarkable and enjoyable drinks come in. Ikea you have won me over with this one. What’s not to like?

So, get yourself snaps happy and give these a try.

Elloise Hopkins.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Crayola Colour Mood…


And given the glorious weekend we are having it can only be… Sunglow! Yes, this miraculous yellow is reminiscent of that ne’er too often seen glowing ball in the sky. The sun has come out and we’d all better have our hats on lest we burn, baby.

Yesterday I sat out in the garden for the longest sun session I’ve been able to have in years (we all know I’m referring to the great British weather there) and it has resulted in much happiness and sunny relaxation, despite the redness I am now sporting across my nose and shoulders. Oh the pains of having a naturally pale complexion! I do quite like the white stripes left across my wrist from my bracelets though – there is something very comforting in these physical marks that remind me I have actually seen the sun this summer.

So, Sunglow it is, and Sunglow all around. Isn’t it astonishing the difference a fine day can make? Today is dedicated to the Sunglowing worship of the sun.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

To market, to market...


Recently it has become a habit of mine to shop at the local fruit and vegetable market, which in central Birmingham is actually a well-known and prestigious market at the Bullring site. Prices are excellent and the only penalty is the need to deal with crowds of shoppers and the lack of polite social courtesy that goes hand in hand with them. Why people become so rude and inconsiderate of others when a bargain is in hand is one of my particular moans, but that’s for another time.

What has become necessity, though, is learning which stalls have the freshest and best selection of produce and noting the tricks of the trade that can catch punters out. Things like filling bowls or punnets with fruit that is about to go off and just layering the top with fresh fruit is one trap that you particularly have to look out for.

What I love is being able to browse the stalls and choose my own pieces of fruit and vegetables from those available at the better stores, hunting out just the ripeness and size I need rather than being confined to the supermarket selection. And the produce on the whole is far superior quality to my local supermarkets. Tomatoes actually smell like tomatoes, strawberries taste like strawberries. You don’t need to wait a fortnight for mangoes to ripen or risk breaking a tooth on a nectarine.

Plus of course there is the added benefit at the market of knowing you are supporting local traders and businesses outside of the supermarket haul. So there it is. This little piggy went to market, and came home with bags full of goodies and hands full of change.

Elloise Hopkins.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Character Description…


How many books have you read where the first glimpse of a character you get is when they look in a mirror and describe themselves? Or books that give descriptions like ‘she was average height with an athletic build, long flowing blonde hair and big blue eyes’? You might say there’s nothing wrong with these. They tell us the basics of what a character looks like, after all.

But they don’t tell us anything about the character other than the very scant physical description we walk away with. They don’t show us mannerisms, they don’t give us any clue as to the character’s behaviour, background or motive.

This description of Tess from Tess of the D’Urbervilles gave me the idea for this blog post:

“Phases of her childhood lurked in her aspect still. As she walked along today, for all her bouncing handsome womanliness, you could sometimes see her twelfth year in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her eyes; and even her fifth would flit over the curves of her mouth now and then.”

It tells us little about what Tess looks like, yet goes far further in describing her than ‘black hair, pale skin’ ever could. It gives us a sense of her age and situation in life. It tells us she grew up faster than she should have, that for all that she is a woman she is na├»ve, childlike, missing something that other women of her age have, perhaps in experience or wisdom. It tells us that her childhood was a time she longs to revisit. It tells us that something happened to change the girl Tess into the woman we now see.

Of course any exercise like this is open to interpretation. You may read more or less into the passage about Tess than me, or you may see different things. The point is, we see something. This clever usage of description by Thomas Hardy reveals aspects of Tess’s character that a standard physical description never could. It reveals the person behind the character.

Reading that passage made me think about character descriptions and how there is far more to a character, and to a person, than just how they look. There is how they move and walk, how they dress, what they sound like and how they speak, what they like to do, where they want to go, the angle they tilt their head at when they think, the way their mouth drifts open when they concentrate, the way their eyes sparkle when they remember a happy moment.

The point I am making is that characters are people, and to writers they should feel as real as the people we encounter in life. Try describing your best friend, sister, postman. Better yet try describing someone from your past – your maths teacher, the first girl you kissed, the first boy you held hands with, the woman who stood at the bus stop outside your house every morning.

I guarantee it won’t so much be the physical traits you remember as the way the maths teacher tapped the chalk on the blackboard when she was frustrated and leaned the other hand on her hip, the way the girl’s hair smelled as you leaned in to kiss her, the way the boy’s forehead crinkled when his friends teased him for liking a girl, the way her lipstick always stained her front teeth orange and you never told her even though she smiled at you every morning.

It is a lesson I am going to try and remember each time I create a new character. It is the little details, the personal quirks and traits that make a person, not the colour of their eyes or the length of their hair.

Elloise Hopkins.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Great Gatsby…


You hear the description ‘visual feast’ too often. Far more often than it actually applies, in fact. But in this case it is accurate. When someone told me that in this film the flappers would be dancing to hip hop and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book would be a distant memory, I wondered whether Baz Luhrman had gone too far.

The answer was no. Moulin Rouge was an exceptional film. Romeo and Juliet was impressive too. The Great Gatsby is a delightful assault on the senses – another phrase that is probably used too frequently but again is accurate here. The critics have been too harsh if you ask me.

First off the book is certainly far more present than I was led to believe. Carraway narrates the story from its enticingly mysterious opening through to the melancholy ending, and much of the story is in place where it should be and is more than recognisable.

The soundtrack contains some modern music, as I was pre-warned, but is also chock full of powerful jazz saxophone and piano melodies that reflect the mood of the scene, and somehow Luhrman manages to make this look perfectly right alongside the luxurious settings and lavish costumes of the 1920s, which feel totally correct in their accuracy.

Besides the amazing visuals, Leonardo DiCaprio craved the most attention, as is fitting for the character, and he looks more comfortable in his own skin these days. His portrayal of Jay Gatsby was exactly what I wanted, and despite the character’s age being lowered for the film, again it worked.

Yes, there are elements of the film that I would have changed, and there was a great deal of creative licence used – necessary in some parts when one remembers the length of the novel and the lack of detail and dialogue surrounding some elements of the story – but I can’t fit the criticism I have read with the film I watched. I loved it and as soon as it finished I was left with the feeling that I wanted to watch it all over again.

Elloise Hopkins.