Tuesday 13 August 2019

Where Have I Been?...

Where Have I Been?...

It is almost a year since I sat down with my unfinished trilogy in front of me and had the quiet environment, the headspace and the time needed to sense check my last big writing session and try to let the last 60,000ish words play out in my mind and find the right path to get my characters to where I have, for so long, known they would end up.

Today, thanks to the huge generosity of my next-door neighbours and a bit of help from my parents I am lucky enough to call a cottage in the Peak District home for the next several days. A little time to clock up the word count towards the end of my first draft of the final book in the trilogy and perhaps even find an answer to the inconsistent word count of the first two books. But first…

Outside the window I see sheep and cows roaming the hillside as the sun finally breaks through the clouds of yet another wet, British summer’s day. The evening starts to draw in. My hands are dry from washing dishes in the absence of a dishwasher, and as I reach for the hand cream I realise how healing it is to step away from one’s normal life and take a breath. Change is as good as a rest, they say. If that was true I would feel far more rested than I do, for it has been a few years of frequent change.

Rewind twelve months and I was drawing to the end of a year working the day job in Budapest, readying myself to return to the UK to a change of career and what I knew would be an intense and challenging year. Hungary had provided a year of culture shock, language barriers and new experiences that I left behind only slightly reluctantly (the relentless Eastern European summer temperatures helped with that)  trading a day job career in the corporate world to place myself in a different role, though still an educator, solver of problems and seeker of knowledge. 

I have always kept my two lives separate – that of the day job and that of my life as an author. On paper it is easy to combine a love of writing with the need to work a different job. In real life, when real life gets in the way, it is a balance that all too easily swings one way or the other, no matter how you try to fight to keep them in line. I had to accept, coming into 2019, that it would be a year dedicated to the day job, as essays and study and practical immersion into a new career dominated the hours and days and weeks and months, and left me far more mentally drained than I had anticipated.

Was it all bad? I search for the positives as I sit here now with the unfinished Aethera Trilogy still before me…

What began as an unwanted and forced temporary-retreat from my author-ego this year was not all bad, upon reflection. Not so much in terms of the writing – my characters have been in need of resolutions for far too long, and my trilogy still in need of an agent just as sorely (though distance from ones own work always seems to help in finding inconsistencies and solving minor plot snarls – see: positives).

But working pretty much seven days a week for a year meant not having the time to be online interacting, sharing, being that side of me which I once enjoyed and which many of you know. Not ideal, but not wholly terrible when you look on the flip side. Being away from social media became like a breath of air. All too quickly, not checking feeds several times a day became a joy rather than a worry. Then when I did scrabble a little time to try and catch up I found myself disappointed and depressed at what I found. I had not realised how oppressive and how hateful the world of social media seemed to have become until I had taken a step away from it and then tried to come back.

I’m sure it has been damaging for my author self to take such a huge break from my online presence, and I know have missed so much happy news amidst it all, yet I would hope that those who enjoy my stories and those who know me would not hold it against me. In fact I know others who have purposefully taken a break from social media for the same reason: a brain break. A positivity injection.

If I consider my own sanity and wellbeing I think it has done wonders to disconnect from what can be – stress *can* be, not wholly and completely *is* all of the time – such a negative environment while I was under such pressure in the other part of my life. I realised as soon as it was absent that not having that ‘B’ word in my face all the time, or now you come to mention it the ‘T’ as well, was definitely a good thing. Has the world gone mad? Seeing rational human beings attack one another so furiously based on such irrational groundings is depressing. It made me long for escapism and then embrace the fact that I had it.

Yet like everything, it cannot last. Living only one side of ones life cannot be sustained; the balance has to be restored. So as I try to crawl my way out from the offline cave I have been dwelling in for the last few months and attempt to balance the scales back more favourably towards my author self, I take cautious steps. As one of my beloved characters, Prophet, would say: ‘one step by one step’. I hope to be able to share his stories with you in the coming years.

So while I was working towards another postgraduate degree and learning a semi-new trade and taking a break from social media, my author life did not grind to a complete halt beneath the fa├žade of Twitter. I never stopped writing, although the volume was far less than in previous years. I hope to remedy some of that during this week’s engineered writing retreat. I never stopped reviewing and am currently working my way through an excellent book, aptly enough about unfinished stories, for the British Fantasy Society. Reviews on their website as always. And I once again sit a jury panel for the British Fantasy Awards and have now finished reading the last of the nominations ready to decide on a winner with my fellow jurors.

In a life that tips the scales this way and that and is never short of its trials and tribulations, if I have learned nothing else from 2019 so far it is that celebrating the positives, no matter how small, keeps us going. With 250,000 words of this trilogy already down on paper, today I celebrate that rather than mourn the missing ending as I have for so long. There is little better in life than a great story, and this one will be all the better in the telling for the time spent crafting it.

Where have I been? Graduating. Inspiring. Weeping. Laughing. Bathing. Reading. Hiding. Longing. Living. Walking. Sleeping. On pause. Living at least half a life.

There are always words to be written and stories to be told. I am not gone. Perhaps, only half way there?

Elloise Hopkins. 

Sunday 13 January 2019

The Magic Faraway Tree… Joe, Beth, Rick and Frannie?...

My new day job finds me re-visiting the echoes of my past in a nostalgic haven. When I found out Enid Blyton’s classics were on the list I was delighted, though apprehensive. ‘Didn’t they change the names?’ I asked. I mean ok, Fanny and Dick are undeniably dated, not to mention loaded with innuendo in today’s society, but just who are Joe, Beth, Frannie and Rick anyway?

That’s the thing… Dick and Fanny have connotations, I will admit, but they are connotations to the adult mind, and that is the point. The young Elloise found nothing at all wrong with her heroes’ names. She loved the Magic Faraway Tree, its bizarre and obnoxious inhabitants and the wonderful lands waiting to be discovered among its peaks. If you had told her what fanny meant she would not have been at all interested, telling you to shush so she could see what would happen in the Topsy, Turvy land.

So why did the names get changed? To update them for a modern reader, apparently. I find myself wondering why other books and films of my childhood have not been ‘outlawed’ and re-released in such a fashion. I can think of a plethora of children’s films, even newer ones being released today, which are absolutely rife with adult connotations entirely unsuitable – and let’s face it downright unsavoury – when you consider they are found spattered in between the innocent scenes of children’s films. One only has to switch on the radio or flick onto Youtube to find children reciting the most inappropriate lyrics.

So are Dick and Fanny really so offensive? And just what did Bessie do to deserve the same treatment? Ok, I told myself… have to get on board with this. Have to accept the changes. I found an ebook, a very good reading, as it happens, by Kate Winslet, but no matter how much attention I pay, Frannie is Fanny. Is it you, Kate? Are you reading the original names in subtle protest to this updating? Or is it my brain substituting what it knows to be the original, pure words of this favourite author of my childhood?

Try as I may, I cannot follow these characters’ adventures as much as I did their original counterparts. Frannie is just not as much fun. (See what I did there? A six-year-old wouldn’t.) Rick is the less interesting cousin. By changing the original, some magic, some of that pure, original intention is gone. I have to wonder… instead of censoring our literature, shouldn’t we focus on censoring our society, so that these juvenile, outdated and frankly not that amusing innuendos get censored instead? Would we really suffer if the word ‘dick’ were no longer so amusing?

Just where did it all start anyway? In the follies of our past, where racism, sexism, and all of the other isms were acceptable. Time has moved on. Thankfully our understanding and tolerance has moved on. And now it is time to focus that understanding and tolerance in the right place. Leave Dick and Fanny where they should be, and focus on censoring the right things, before we destroy childhood happiness for the wrong reasons.

I am yet to decide whether I will read the new names out loud to ensure consistency with the modern text or whether I will stick firm to the originals in homage to their time and nostalgic brilliance. Whichever I choose, internally I will not forget where this thought led me today, and will strive never to compensate for the wrong reasons.

Elloise Hopkins.