Broken Record

I’m always thinking about what I can try on this blog that’s new and different – even though you might not think so, given that the material never strays far from what’s going on in my own life. Every element of it has been carefully considered in some way at one time or another, from the text, to the imagery, to the design of the site itself. Unfortunately, none of the vague plans that exist in my head have come to fruition just yet. I haven’t even used that aforementioned imagery nearly as often as I should, but that hasn’t stopped me creating little quirks and continuities that might have passed you by. Up to now, at least!

There are things I’ve become quite fond of including over the last couple of years in particular. I treat them as private self-deprecating jokes, and by that, I mean really private – between me and myself, to be precise. I realised one day that I’ve developed two accidental habits while writing these posts, and the first is my tendency to contradict myself. This most often happens when I announce my intention to focus on or pursue something, only for it to be mentioned once months later or simply never again. The second habit is my continued use of the phrase “…as I’ve said before”, or variations thereof. At first, this appeared genuinely innocently, but I eventually realised just how often it popped up and decided to keep it in. It’s arguably also there to save me having to rifle back through to the previous post where I mentioned the thing in question, but it mainly makes me smile, even if nobody else notices or appreciates it. Whatever the case, it demonstrates how not everything in life can be linear. We all make mistakes, and we all contradict and repeat ourselves now and again, so sounding like a broken record sometimes can’t be all bad, can it? The world is full of these fluctuations, so I’m embracing them in my own little way, and giving this blog a discreet and somewhat ironic pair of stylistic hallmarks in the process.

Mason

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Operation Book Club, Part 5

My attempts to throw myself into the written word while I search for a new job are going pretty well. I have recently submitted a piece of just over 1,000 words for a brand new project, which I’m sure you’ll hear more about in due course. On top of that, I’m finally reading Nineteen Eighty Four, the next novel Lara, Nora and I will be discussing as part of our book club. It’s taken me six months to get started – according to my notes, I finished the last one on 16 August – but I’ve made good progress, with just over half the book under my belt at the time of writing. And let me tell you, it’s certainly made an impact!

It’s distracting me from my current situation in a couple of ways. Firstly, the hard-hitting material means I’m well and truly immersed, but in addition, it’s nice to take my eyes away from a screen for a bit. I’ve mentioned what a relief that can be plenty of times before. It’s only since leaving Haymarket that I’ve truly realised how much of our lives are consumed by devices, and not just recreationally. If I’m not scrolling through social media (which can be a bad idea if you’re comparing your own situation to that of your much more successful fellow graduates), watching a video or playing a game, I’m frantically scouring the net for employment, and even that’s giving me square eyes. What’s more, it can be hard to strike the right balance between spending sufficient time doing that and getting away from the pressures it can entail, so the book is really helping to provide a different kind of mental stimulation, one that’ll bridge the gap until the next big thing to focus on arrives. Things are a little unpredictable and lonely for me in the meantime, but it’s true what my Mum always says, you know – “as long as you have a book in hand, you’ll never be alone.”

Mason

Another Satisfied Customer

As of last Monday, I am unemployed once again – for a few reasons, the job at Classic & Sports Car was just one of those things that didn’t work out (not that that should reflect badly on them, since they’d been nothing but supportive from the start, and they were more than happy with my contributions). What that means is that I have to go back to the drawing board, and while I might normally relish the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again from scratch, this time it feels markedly different. That job was, on paper, a perfect opportunity for me. Indeed, it would be ideal for any budding motoring journalist, and I sincerely hope my successor settles well. When it didn’t pan out as I’d hoped, though, it left me in a somewhat strange position. I feel somewhat lost, unable to trust my own judgement with my confidence knocked, and not knowing where to turn at all.

With that in mind, I’ve a lot of thinking to do, but thankfully there are a few personal projects I can throw myself into in the meantime. For starters, there’s the voiceover I’ve been writing for Abi, which I alluded to last time. I spent days bashing out and deleting just over 300 words, convinced I still wasn’t the man for the job and that they’d be much better off coming from her. When I’d finally ended up with a draft that I didn’t completely hate, I took a leap of faith and sent it to Abi, hurriedly assuring her that I’d be fine with any edits she made, or if she wanted to discard it completely! To my considerable relief, however, she loved it, saying it was as though I’d taken the jumbled ideas and words in her head and put them in perfect order. It therefore looks very likely that it will be used in her video, and the icing on the cake will be the fact that she’s actually going to credit me for it, which is always a good thing for an aspiring writer.

That’s what I’m trying to focus on in the absence of full-time employment – getting my name out there as much as I can, no matter what it’s for. In addition to Abi’s commission, I’ve spent some time browsing some websites that were recommended during my Copyediting module in Winchester, including Fiverr, Textbroker and People Per Hour. These allow freelancers in all manner of industries to advertise themselves or pitch for projects posted by others, and I’m hoping that one or more of them might help me to gain some editing or proofreading expertise, since building a portfolio makes it a lot easier for people to make a name for themselves. Besides that, I’ve got an online meeting on Wednesday for something else I might get involved in, to which I’m hoping to take some interesting ideas. I can’t say what’s going to come from that just yet, but I’m sure you’ll hear about it in due course if it develops. I’m just glad to have leads to consider and pursue, helpful ones that could help me make my mark while I search for something more permanent. These are uncertain times for me, but such things really do remind me that there may yet be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Mason

In The Words Of The T-Shirt…

“…Just Do It.”

That’s what my old GCSE English teacher used to say, usually when we had to write an essay. Given that she had to mark so many of them, she never had much time for people who went “round the houses” – in other words, those of us who took ages to get past the introduction to the crux of the matter. All she wanted was for us to make and explain our point, and to do it promptly. To get the thing tied up and finished. It could still take me a while to hit the nail on the head, and I can remember writing many a long-winded paragraph, but I got there in the end – and that small quote is advice I’d do well to remember today.

As you’ll know by now, I’ve long wanted to be the most versatile writer possible, but I’m invariably held back by the belief that I’ll never write anything worth reading or watching, or that I’m too rusty to take on a specific project (such as scriptwriting, which – Jed Mercurio video lessons aside – I haven’t done since I left Winchester in the summer). I lack a certain amount of confidence, but I also know that I won’t regain it unless I press ahead and write regardless, so sometimes it seems like a somewhat impossible situation. There is, however, a light at the end of this particular tunnel.

My friend Abi works as a photographer down in Cornwall (sometimes she doubts her own ability too, but she really doesn’t need to – as you’ll find out for yourself if you contact her via social media). Her mind is endlessly inventive, and I admire how she always tries to push herself and her business further in colourful and distinctive ways in order to stand out from the crowd. This includes utilising film and the written word as well as imagery, and for her latest endeavour she’s decided to create a video featuring herself and her camera immersed in her beloved Cornish countryside, while she explains her motivations for doing what she does via voiceover. This element of the video needs to be personal, profound and sincere, it needs to delve deep into the effect her environment has on her wellbeing and creativity – and writing such a thing is no mean feat. I should know, because it’s a task she’s entrusted to me.

I’m in two minds about whether or not I should accept it, largely because the lines are meant to convey her own perspective – so surely they should come from her? Nevertheless, I think I will, firstly because I want to help a friend, and secondly because it’s still an opportunity to show someone what I can do, even if it’s not on a massive scale. Abi doesn’t need to use any of what I’ve written once she’s seen it, but it won’t hurt me at all to carry on, even if it is only 500 words, and just do it.

Mason

January Scales

Some years ago now, when I fancied myself as a bit of a poet, I found myself scribbling down verse on every spare bit of paper I could find. For a while it was constant, like some kind of obsession or compulsion, but looking back it seems to have been something of a forerunner to this blog, in the sense that I was looking for opportunities to write as regularly as possible. You could also say it provided a window into my deepest adolescent thoughts and feelings in much the same way this does at 24, although those tended to be much more cringeworthy – as I realised when Mum found one poem lying around one day. Thankfully, I’ve forgotten most of them now, and the few that remain are safely tucked away in my personal notebooks. One, however, still revisits me now and again, and I was reminded of it just the other day. As you might have guessed, it was called ‘January Scales’.

Now that 2022 has begun, it obviously seemed an appropriate topic of discussion, particularly because a great many of us will not long have navigated the post-Christmas blues, and that poem was one that tended to dwell on them perhaps a little too much. In particular, it told of one man’s nerves as he anticipates the first weigh-in of the year in his bathroom, fully expecting the numbers not to fall in his favour. I think by writing it, I succumbed to the habit of always viewing a new year negatively, as something to be feared – and why should that be the case?

I don’t know what the next year, 18 months or beyond will bring, but I’m going to try my best to embrace it as an opportunity at all times. It can be scary going into the unknown, but exciting too. As I once said six years ago now, a new year is a blank canvas, and it’s one to which I fully intend to add a lot of colour, no matter how long that might take.

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 4

As I’m sure I’ve said before, it’s nice to peel your eyes away from a screen and take in some proper paper pages every now and again. The book club I have going with Lara and Nora was meant to facilitate that a bit more often, of course, but that seems to have stalled somewhat for the time being. We were meant to finally discuss A Natural History of Dragons earlier in the week, and confirm Nineteen Eighty Four as next on our list, but thanks to me that plan fell flat on its face (although it should be easier to schedule now that I’ve finished work for Christmas).

Lara’s generosity, however, means that we might have something else to talk about in the meantime. She’d been buying all of my books for the club anyway up to this point, but outside of that she also decided to buy one for each person in our friendship group, after making sure we hadn’t read it before. Ben was thrilled with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I also enjoyed earlier in the year, while I received The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, the second in Sue Townsend’s series of books about a teenage diarist navigating the numerous challenges of adolescence. I’d read the first of those in Winchester too, and was pleasantly surprised to find that while it appeared to be aimed at readers of a similar age to its protagonist, it also contained a lot of humour that adults would appreciate – and that would go right over kids’ heads.

I reckon everyone else in our group might enjoy it. I don’t know if they’ll all read their respective books from Lara, but I hope they do. Not only will it allow them each to discover something new, but it might mean we can collectively review a number of different titles together – and aside from Ben, I don’t know what anyone else got, so it’d be interesting to find out. What’s more, by the time we finish them all, maybe Lara, Nora and I will at last be able to progress to George Orwell…

Mason

Low Blood Sugar

We might have finished university now, but my friends and I will always find an excuse for a chat on Zoom and a quiz, and last Thursday night we did just that, thanks to Nora having the initiative to actually finish writing one (after I started one months ago that’s never materialised). I think many of us would agree that one of the big downsides of uni is that you bond with all manner of people, only to be torn apart and thrown into different corners of the country, so coming together again through technology can make things a little less lonely – especially when you’ve spent all week working from home in your room like me!

At the beginning, we all agreed that we felt a bit rusty, it having been so long since our last quiz, but we quickly hit our stride again. Well, five of us did – Alysha wasn’t able to join us until after we’d finished, and I came straight from my desk at the end of my working day to do it, foregoing my dinner and a shower. I’m nothing if not dedicated to the cause! Unfortunately, what that meant was that by the time we started, I was seriously flagging, and I ended up 15 points away from Deacon, who was ultimately the winner.

You could say my poor performance was down to my lack of knowledge of recently-released films and TV series, but I prefer to solely blame my low blood sugar – an issue I rectified with some cheese and crackers immediately afterwards. Regardless, it was nice to be reunited with everyone, and I’m hoping it’ll serve as a catalyst for regular quizzing again – and for another book club meeting between Nora, Lara and myself. We still haven’t discussed A Natural History of Dragons yet. In fact, I’ve almost forgotten what happened in it.

Speaking of Lara, I must get back to my online shopping – it was her birthday yesterday and there’s still the business of the ideal present to attend to!

Mason

Sartorial Iconoclast

Someone else wrote the sub-heading, so ‘sartorial iconoclast’ isn’t mine. I like it though – it rolls off the tongue!

It’s been a long time since I last wrote a post I would describe as really short – probably not since “you’re going to achieve grapeness” – but if anything warrants one, it’s surely this, my first ever byline in the January 2022 issue of Classic & Sports Car. It’s for an interview with a chap called Alex Riley, who co-hosts the ITV4 series The Car Years, in which he and Vicki Butler-Henderson dress up in period clothing depending on the year being focused on. This means he has a large vintage wardrobe, and that was the main area of conversation when we spoke. You might wonder what that has to do with cars themselves, but the interview was done for the regular Also In My Garage feature, where the subject discusses something else of particular interest besides classic cars – in Alex’s case, this was obviously his clothes, although he is also the proud owner of an immaculate Triumph TR7.

I was very nervous, since I’d never done an interview before, but Alex was a pleasure to talk to and had plenty to say – there was lots I didn’t have the space to include in the piece. It resulted in something I’ll always be very proud of, and knew I had to post here for posterity. In fact, apart from when I graduated, I haven’t been this proud of anything for a while, and it’ll likely be a while before I am again, so I’m savouring the feeling.

I’ll be sure to post a link when it goes online. Does this mean I’m a proper journalist?

Mason

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