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.