Souligner!

You know when you make notes on something to refer back to later, but when you do they’ve been scribbled so hurriedly that they no longer make sense even to you? I’ve found that that’s happened rather a lot lately as I try to adjust to my new job. The notes have been growing by the day, whether I’ve been recording new conversations, methods or even interviews, but with every new scribbling has come the increased risk of confusion. Ironically, though, these may still be more of a help than a hindrance.

Back in Year 8, when I was doing French at school, I found myself doing pretty well (a few years later, I decided not to do the subject at GCSE, and my teacher was devastated after I broke the news). I could write it confidently and I wasn’t bad at speaking it either, with an increasingly accurate accent. There was, however, one small thing I couldn’t quite master doing work in my textbook – using a ruler. That wasn’t exclusive to any one subject – in every class, I thought the lines already on the page would be sufficient to keep my writing straight – but in French it seemed to be a particular problem for my teacher. With every passing week, it would slope further and further downward, and the same word would appear next to it without fail: “souligner!”

What does it mean, I hear you ask? Simple. “Underline.” It must have been there for weeks or even months on end, but I still wouldn’t make the effort to hold that ruler straight. When you have cerebral palsy, fine motor skills can be a tricky thing to master, but eventually, having seen one “souligner!” too many, I realised that particular ability was one I really needed to get on top of. Ultimately, of course, I did, and I’m willing to bet I did so much quicker than I expected to beforehand. I’ve never forgotten it, because it’s one of those tiny things that taught me never to be afraid of notes or feedback, regardless of how harsh they might seem, because at the end of the day they’re there to push you forward. That time in Year 8 taught me two things – a piece of French vocabulary and the correct way to use a ruler – and I’m keeping that in mind with every note I’m given in my new job. I’m bound to slip up mere weeks in, or even once I’m firmly established there, but what matters most is not the mistakes I make, but how I learn from them. Life is, after all, one big learning curve.

Mason

The Last Present, Part 2

You may recall that recently, I started an online BBC Maestro course in writing television drama, presented by Jed Mercurio, the creator of Line of Duty. I got it for Christmas last year, and until the end of September was yet to start it – but now, as I write this post, I’ve made my way through six of the lessons. Of course, I have the advantage of a Creative Writing degree that included modules in screenwriting, but even so, it was fascinating to see Mercurio continue to break each element of the development process down in a way that I could easily record with bullet points. These latest videos covered how to develop ideas into workable projects, and establish whether they are worth spending time on in the long run. Distinguishing between a concept worth pursuing and one I should consider dropping has occasionally been a weakness of mine, so such guidance came in pretty handy – as did the notes that accompanied it.

As I went along, taking in each thing he said, I was thinking more and more about how I could apply it all to a script of my own. I don’t have an idea for anything that might be suitable for the small screen at the moment, but it has got me thinking about whether I could adapt something to it. After all, I’ve written more than my fair share of fragments that have been abandoned largely due to my own insecurities over them, or that were made short but could be expanded in one way or another. Whatever happens, though, it’ll be a good way to distract myself from the occasional pressures of my new job. It’s been going really well, I’m very fortunate to have it, and I know it’ll be invaluable, but it’ll also cause me stress at times (because of my own inexperience, if nothing else). Apart from that, it’ll allow me to write other, non-car-related things, so that I can keep on working towards the versatility as a writer that I’ve always strived for. Now it’s just a question of knowing what to work on – I feel like a mind-mapping exercise might be in order…

Mason

Graduation Day

Well, that’s it. Having been a graduand up to this point, I am now officially writing my first Third Time Enabled post as a bona fide BA (Hons) Creative Writing graduate. One shake of Alan Titchmarsh’s hand in Winchester Cathedral was all it took, and it was the icing on the cake on a day quite simply awash with pure, unfiltered joy. It’s now been just under a week since the ceremony, and already lots of people have asked me how it went. I’ve noticed that the one word I’ve used consistently when describing it has been ‘infectious’, and I stand by that (although not in a COVID-y way, just to be specific).

What was infectious was the happiness in abundance, and the pride everyone had not only in themselves, but in each other. Creative Writing was always a very friendly course, and I can say that I’d probably stop and talk to the majority of people I met regardless of how well I knew them, but even so, it was heartwarming to be congratulated before and after the ceremony by so many people. I got the sense they were all genuinely interested in what lay ahead for me, and that feeling was entirely mutual. There was a lot of applause from everyone as each graduand took the stage in the cathedral, but it very much occurred to me that nobody minded one bit – we were all in this together, so no clap was too vigorous and no cheer too boisterous. I know I actively tried to be as loud as possible for everyone I knew! I’ve met a lot of people over the last three years who I think will go far in life, and I look forward to seeing and hearing what they can achieve.

Of course, those people include Lara and Nora, and as always it was delightful to be reunited with them again. As with a lot of people, my palms were practically red raw from applauding them so hard in the cathedral, and afterwards we got the chance to celebrate further by having a couple of drinks together (non-alcoholic for me, obviously). We were joined by Lara’s mum, who was also over the moon for her daughter, and Ben, who just happened to have been working in the nearby museum. Many laughs were had by all, and they were definitely made all the more special by the fact that we likely won’t see each other for some time. There’s been talk of us meeting at Christmas, or in the spring, but in the meantime we might just have to stick to our Zoom quizzes. Lara’s already volunteered to write one, and now that our schedules all differ, she’s suggested that we focus on making them more streamlined – otherwise we tend to mess about and let time get away from us! It’s all about optimising the moments we can spend together, and all of those are precious indeed, especially now we’re entering the next busy stages of our lives. We therefore ended a brilliant day in the best possible way, and the nerves I felt going into it became a distant memory. Trust me, I was physically shaking as I put my robes on – as brilliant as everything was, I dread to think when I’ll next be that apprehensive!

Mason

Nora, Lara and little old me – official Winchester graduates!

Getting Warmer

In eight days’ time, I will start my new job at Haymarket with the brilliant team at Classic & Sports Car, whom I met via video call on Monday. They very kindly allowed me to sit in on one of their weekly editorial meetings, in which they discussed different elements of the next issue, which will be complete when I join them. While I therefore didn’t have any proper input, it was interesting to see their way of working first-hand, and I know it will come in very useful when I actually get going. We all seemed to gel nicely, which I would say bodes well for that day and the 18 months that lie ahead. It was also reassuring to find that they had a great deal of confidence in my abilities, which I must make sure I repay as fully as I can. If I can do that, anything is possible going forward.

Another thing I need to do is find accommodation in London, which after several weeks is still proving to be very difficult, although there could soon be a small light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been referred to an organisation called the Journalists’ Charity, who offer a fund for those breaking into their first job in journalism who need additional support. In my case, a little more money to cover my expected rent would come in very handy! With that in mind, I submitted an application with Haymarket’s help a few days ago, and even though I’ll have some questions to answer from a caseworker before a verdict is reached, we all seem pretty confident that it will be favourable. I’m hoping the financial boost will allow me to look at a wider range of properties which may be more suitable for me and my needs. I’ve already browsed some of these, and although there have generally been small details that have ruled each of them out – a shower over a bath, for example, which would be inaccessible for me – but in my gut I feel I’m getting warmer. There are fewer and fewer of these obstacles to be seen now, so I feel that I surely won’t be waiting much longer before I find somewhere I can properly look into. In the meantime, I’ll start my new job from home, and that milestone is getting ever closer – but there is, however, the small matter of my graduation to attend to first. We’re setting off for Winchester in the morning, and I can’t quite believe the time that seemed so far away in September 2018 has finally come…

Mason

How I Missed The Movies

Last Tuesday, for the first time since 14 February 2020 (when Nora and I, both dateless, saw Parasite in Winchester), I set foot in a cinema again. Do you remember the first lockdown, when we all had plenty of time to reflect on the experiences we missed and how much we took for granted? Going out to see a film, as I recall, was one of the most-cited examples, used as evidence that you never quite know what you’ve got until it’s gone (to paraphrase Joni Mitchell). As more and more time passed without the magic of the movies, that sense of anticipation you feel as you creep through dimly-lit corridors towards the right screen was slowly forgotten – so imagine how special it was to feel it again last week, and for a film we should have seen 18 months ago before something came up.

I’d seen both of the James Bond films immediately preceding No Time To Die Skyfall and Spectre – in the cinema on their respective release days. I couldn’t continue that trend this time around, because I had to isolate for a short period after my operation, but I was still keen to see it as soon as possible, so I wasted no time in booking tickets for Mum, Dad and myself at the earliest opportunity. Luckily, I was able to get a wheelchair spot I could easily cruise into for the 7.40pm showing, one which I believed to be a pretty important part of the whole experience. There’s something more special for me about going in the evening, and especially when it gets dark at this time of year. It makes the whole thing more atmospheric, and it gives us an excuse to have dinner beforehand – which I also paid for, earning me extra Brownie points with Mum and Dad. They were pretty pleased when they found they had the special reclining seats too, even though that was just a stroke of luck!

Ultimately, of course, the later start time meant we could finish off the day with a great film, and without saying too much, No Time To Die was most definitely worth the long wait. It might have been two hours and 43 minutes long, but the most immersive cinema experiences make even the heaviest films pass in the blink of an eye, and this was one of them. Daniel Craig will be a hard act to follow, but I look forward to seeing who does take that plunge, and I’m glad I could witness his swansong on the big screen at last. It might have been a while since that trip to see Parasite, but once I was settled, it very much felt like I’d never been away.

Mason

The Last Present

Last week, I had a small operation. It was the first time I’d had any kind of surgery since 2010, and it meant that I’d have to take it easy for a little while afterwards to allow the resulting wound to settle and heal. I could have chosen to fill my recuperation period with nothing but mindless screen time (and don’t get me wrong, there’s still been plenty of it), but instead, a sudden bolt of inspiration hit me out of the blue when I decided to finally use the last present left over from Christmas. I daresay that Mum was more than a little relieved when I told her about this.

I’m sure we’ve all had similar gifts to this one, in the sense that it was inadvertently forgotten. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate it – far from it, in fact. Actually, it’s one of the most useful things I’ve been given in some time. It’s just that Iife, and more specifically a Creative Writing degree, got in the way for a little while, and the present in question – a little piece of paper kept safe in a plastic folder – was pushed aside. It was just awaiting the right time to shine, although I didn’t really foresee that being nine months down the line! (See what I did there? I’m a poet, and I don’t know it.)

What was on the piece of paper I refer to, I hear you ask? Well, it wasn’t so much the sheet itself that was important, more the information upon it – namely a gift code for an online BBC Maestro course in screenwriting from the Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio. This consists of a series of video tutorials, which will guide me from the very first seeds of an idea all the way through to a completed script for a TV drama. At the time of writing, I’ve only watched the first two videos, but I’m intrigued to find out what – if anything – I can develop through the rest. Of course, there’s a certain amount of the process that I’m already familiar with, but as these lessons are presented from Mercurio’s personal perspective, it’s likely that they’ll each come with unique insights and advice that I’ve never heard before. It’s always useful for me to remind myself never to dismiss the opinions or feedback of others, because – as I’ve probably told you before – you never quite know how it might improve your work. I’m looking forward to making my way through the remaining videos and, hopefully, flexing my screenwriting muscles once again. I probably should have gotten round to it sooner, but better late than never, I suppose. I just ought to make sure that I don’t leave any of this year’s Christmas presents lying around for too long!

Mason

Graduation

My graduation ceremony is now just under four weeks away, and I write this having recently booked my tickets, photographs, and gown for the event. Clicking those confirmation buttons made my one remaining university obligation seem that little bit more real, but I’m nevertheless looking forward to seeing everyone and celebrating their achievements, even if it is the last time I’ll see certain people (such as Lara and Nora) for a while – or ever, as the case may be. That’s both a sad and slightly odd thought, isn’t it?

In a stroke of amazing coincidence, I finalised all of that almost three years to the day since I moved into halls in Winchester, and it’s come at a time when I’m graduating in a couple of other areas of life too. In my last post, I alluded to an exciting new opportunity coming my way, and at long last I feel it’s advanced far enough that I can talk about it (for those who don’t already know). Very soon, I’ll be starting as an Editorial Apprentice at Haymarket Media Group, rotating through the three car magazines they own over a period of 18 months. It’s an invaluable chance I can’t wait to get started with, but besides being a new job, it also means I have to relocate to the bright lights of London – so it’s not only a professional change, but a personal one too. One I’ve never seen the like of before, in fact.

Given my disability and its associated challenges, I need to find somewhere that is accessible as well as relatively affordable (although, as I’ve said to several people, the latter in particular can be easier said than done in London). This is the main barrier to taking up my new post, so even though I’ve signed and returned my contract, I don’t have a start date yet – the idea is that I and my three fellow apprentices will all start at the same time, so I need to have some idea of where I’m going before that can happen. Thankfully, Haymarket have stepped in to offer whatever help they can, and I’ve been doing a spot of networking myself to get the ball rolling as much as possible. This has led to a small breakthrough, as Mum and I have a Zoom consultation booked in for Monday afternoon with a company who help disabled people into appropriate accommodation. I’m not sure quite what it’ll lead to, but it’s nice to know there are people out there willing to fight my corner and help me to reach my goals. You can rest assured I’ll update you very enthusiastically when I do find the right place from which to start my next journey. Let’s just hope it isn’t too long before that comes along!

Mason

When I Shut My Door

Until sometime last year, when lockdown meant Dad was undertaking an increasing number of DIY projects out of sheer boredom, my bedroom door did not shut properly. By now, you may be aware that I’m a man who particularly values his privacy – so this was a problem. I wasn’t keen on the idea of anyone barging in whenever they wanted, especially as I’m in my early twenties, so when the lock was finally fixed – and a closed door meant a closed door – it was a big relief. Nobody wants to be greeted by the sight of me in my underpants!

More recently, the lock has meant that I have the space I’ve needed to think more carefully about numerous things. I’m still writing reviews for Music Is To Blame – in fact, my first paid review has just been published – and I also recently finished A Natural History of Dragons (not actually by Lady Trent, but Marie Brennan; Trent is the fictional author who narrates the story). Both have necessitated more scribblings in my notebook, and all of these have been added from the comfort of the armchair in my room. If I tilt my head back far enough, I can rest it on the top as I sit there and recline slightly, waiting for the words I’ve read or the music I’ve heard to dance through my head, working their magic. Thoughts and ideas are much easier to process this way, and silence is much easier to enjoy when I just want a moment to close my eyes and drift off.

This works wonders when it comes to clearing my head, and Lord knows I need headspace at the moment. Primarily, this is because of something new and exciting, which I can’t tell you about just yet, but it’s also because there’s plenty of scope for new ideas right now. When Lara finishes her copy, we’ll have to discuss our latest book, but aside from that I need fresh inspiration for my writing. August was yet another bad month for this blog – perhaps I should have set a target of four posts, like I did in July – but as always, I’m hoping this one will be better thanks to what lies ahead. When it is (and it will be, even if I have to force myself to write more nonsense like this), I’ll know that I have the peace and quiet afforded by a firmly locked door to thank.

Mason

Pastures New

It’s crazy how one’s priorities can change so much in the space of a year. Exactly twelve months ago, I published The ECP Diaries, Part 3. At that point, my dissertation project was merely a collection of relatively confused ideas with a long development process in front of them – they couldn’t have resembled the three finished products less. Now, said project is done and dusted, having assumed a final form that I am immensely proud of, and my focus has shifted onto pastures new. Some of these, I might have to keep under wraps, at least for the time being. Others, however, I can enlighten you on – and chief among them is something I’ve already alluded to.

I’m not actually going to launch into a long-winded anecdote here, although I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to come where those are concerned. Instead, I’m going to give you all something I promised last time – a link to my first published Music Is To Blame review. The piece I spoke of before was for an album, but that’s yet to be released, so this is a review of The Lottery Winners’ infectious new single ‘Sunshine’. You might say that’s an adjective that can be thrown around when it comes to music, but I think it definitely applies to this song. After all, it’s been on my On Repeat playlist on Spotify for two weeks now, and that doesn’t lie. As for the text itself, it is – as always – very exciting to see something I’ve written on display for everyone to read. I’ve spotted a couple of blunders on my part, but as a friend of mine pointed out, that just shows it was written by a human! It also gives me a valuable opportunity to refine my proofreading even further next time – and it clearly demonstrates that there is always scope for a writer to learn and grow that little bit more.

You can find the review by clicking here, and I heartily encourage you to listen to the single while you’re reading it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Mason

250 Is A Magic Number

I might still be searching for a job, but I nevertheless feel I am ending July on the crest of a creative wave. With this post, I will reach my stated aim of publishing four for the month, and I’ll be doing so with two new reasons to smile. Firstly, as revealed last time, I’ve started our next book club title – A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir – and it’s proving very fruitful where my notes are concerned. In addition, I have added an exciting new string to my bow. Just a couple of weeks ago, I spotted an appeal on LinkedIn for contributors to a website, Music Is To Blame. Some items – reviews, interviews and the like – would be submitted free of charge, and others would be paid, but I didn’t really mind either way. I saw this as exactly what it was, a golden opportunity to gain greater exposure as a writer, and I couldn’t apply for it fast enough.

After some discussion with the editor, I was tasked with writing a sample review of an album of my choice – and it could be no longer than 250 words. I sat down and eagerly scribbled my observations away as Wolf Alice’s Blue Weekend, a record I’d recently enjoyed, played through my headphones. Little did I know that I’d finish having created a small problem for myself. There were detailed notes for every one of its songs, but I’d only be able to use a fraction of them in the final product. If I didn’t, I’d risk spreading myself too thin, but thankfully, I had enough experience with essays to feel confident in being selective – ruthless, in fact. If I came to a song about which I had nothing worthwhile to say, or was repeating myself, I didn’t talk about it. That meant that it was much easier to separate the highlights from the low points.

It was a new and exciting endeavour for me, and any worries I had about the word count soon evaporated. I became lost in how freeing the whole exercise felt – since music is an art form, I could talk much more expressively about what I’d heard and how it made me feel. I could delve so deeply inside myself that the text almost seemed to write itself (even if it did require some chopping back afterwards). Luckily, the result went down well with the editor, and because of that, I’m now pleased to say that I was welcomed aboard as a member of the team. Since the sample, I’ve written my first full-length review of a different album, which is yet to be published but came to a smidgeon over 1,000 words in its submitted form! I’ll be sure to include a link here when it is released into the world, by which time I’ll have completed my second piece – on a mysterious new single by a mysterious new artist I’ve not had the pleasure of listening to before. It seems that there’s an inherent unpredictability in reviewing for this website, as a lot of the music discussed on it is unknown to me, but I love that. Who wouldn’t embrace the challenge of never quite knowing what they’ll write next?

Mason