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

Operation Book Club, Part 3

Having all finished To Kill a Mockingbird, the next step at the beginning of the week was for Lara, Nora and I to get together and discuss it. We therefore took to Zoom, but even though we talk to each other all the time, I don’t think any of us really knew how well this particular meeting would work out. I’d used my brand new bright red notebook to record all of my thoughts as I went along, but as we all scheduled our call earlier in the day, I was surprised to find that neither Lara nor Nora had done the same. Since we were all keen readers who had studied Creative Writing together, I had no real doubts about their ability to analyse a book, but I still wondered if a lack of notes was going to make it difficult.

I needn’t have worried. The agreed 7pm start time came around, and to my relief, we all had plenty to say about how much we loved the novel. One of us would raise an interesting point, which in turn would lead to all manner of spontaneous observations. It was such a satisfying chain reaction for us all, and to witness it in action reminded me of what was so great about collaborating in Winchester – watching an idea go from strength to strength as more contributions were put forth. The conversation was fruitful enough, but seeing how well it was working inspired Lara and Nora to make notes in future, so when the second book is complete we should have even more to talk about.

What will the book in question be, I hear you ask? We could easily have followed a classic like Mockingbird with another title of a similar calibre, and indeed, we have several on our informal shortlist, which we hastily typed as we talked. We have designated Nineteen Eighty Four as our third choice, and at some point – when I locate my long-lost copy – we’ll tackle The Three Musketeers too. At that moment, however, we all felt a hankering to try something completely new, and it was Nora who proposed the solution – a book she had languishing on her shelf. It was so unfamiliar to her that I don’t think she’s even opened it up to this point, but this made it an attractive prospect to Lara and I, as we both liked the idea of venturing into totally unknown literally territory. With the three of us in agreement, it was swiftly locked in as our next read. As I write this, I’m waiting for the copy Lara has so kindly bought me to arrive – she’s generously providing all of mine for the foreseeable future, to thank me for proofreading her work at uni. I’m very excited to start it, even though all I know is the title and author displayed on its cover.

Book two will be A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir, by Lady Trent. Watch this space – there’ll be more to come on this one!

Mason

Four In July

As I’ve been taking these first, somewhat tentative steps into a post-uni world since returning to Somerset, I’ve heard a lot of chatter – from family and friends alike – about “getting myself out there”. Now that I have a Creative Writing degree, and ambitions to write for a living, exposure and how to get it is one of the biggest question marks I’m facing. When I think about it, there are quite a few of those, actually. They all reared their ugly heads at once as soon as I started searching for jobs, but they were personal as well as professional. What job will I end up in? When I get it, where will I live? What do I search for first – work or accommodation? What do I do in two months’ time if things haven’t worked themselves out? When will I next have friends I see regularly? Will I ever get a girlfriend?

You get the picture. There’s a lot to think about, and making myself seen as a writer is an ever-present objective. It therefore seems logical that that should start with this blog – in fact, something Mum said last week is the inspiration for this very post. If I remember correctly, they were words to the effect of “get back into blogging. You want to write, so write more regularly.” As always, she wasn’t wrong, and any visitor to Third Time Enabled will surely have noticed that it isn’t updated as regularly as it used to be. Not since January 2019 – when a global pandemic was something you only ever saw on the silver screen – have there been more than three posts in a calendar month.

Although there have been several abortive attempts at surpassing that amount since, none have been successful. As of today, however, that will change – I will aim to have published at least four by the end of July. To make that even easier, I’m already halfway there, because this is the second! What that means is that this time, there really is no excuse. As those of you who read my last post will know, I’ve been challenging myself as a writer with the book club notes I’ve been making, and this gives me one additional creative opportunity to relish. Let’s hope I can stick to it – and, for once in my life, go without contradicting something I’ve promised on this blog!

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 2

Last week, Nora finished To Kill a Mockingbird. Believe it or not, this was bad news, because Lara had finished it before her – meaning that of the three who are currently signed up to our book club, only I am trailing behind. It’s now approximately three weeks since I started, and I’m currently on Chapter 18. There’s still some way to go, but I have promised myself that I will definitely finish the novel within a month – giving me another seven days to hit my target. I don’t want to keep the other two waiting, and I believe that getting through each book relatively promptly will make the whole club concept much easier for us to maintain.

Having said that, though, I need to make sure I don’t feel any pressure in reaching the end. I’ve been guilty of that on the odd page recently, and what that means is that I find myself inadvertently racing through, reminding myself to slow down. I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve been scanning, because I still register what’s going on, but I’m focusing on the destination rather than the journey, and that’s not good for my notes. I’ve really enjoyed writing my thoughts down in my new notebook as and when they occur. Not only is this whole endeavour helping to broaden my horizons as a reader, it’s also challenging me as a writer too. Although only my eyes will see them, confined as they are to private paper, each set of new notes is in effect part of a larger review, and this is useful, because I haven’t always been particularly good at offering a balanced or negative perspective of a book, film or TV series.

As I may have said before, I tend to find something to enjoy in most things unless there’s an obvious reason to dislike it, which isn’t completely ideal if you need to write about its pros and cons. Because of this, I’ve found it handy during Mockingbird to force myself to note down what I did and didn’t like about the sections I’ve finished reading, even if it’s just a few lines for each. If I remember correctly, there are at least another 12 chapters to go, so if I do this for every one going forward, I should have plenty of thoughts to collate when it comes to discussing what I thought with Lara and Nora. I can’t deny, by the way, that most of them are positive, and I can most definitely see why the novel is so widely regarded as a classic. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so slow reading it – I can’t face feeling bereft after I turn the last page!

Mason

Operation Book Club

I’m starting this post in Waterstone’s, a place I often frequent even though I mostly have no intention of buying anything. That’s certainly the case today – I already have an outstanding book to finish (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I bought here last year, and which follows the equally excellent Ready Player One), so there’s no need for me to emerge with any more. And yet the notebooks captivate me. There are all sorts on the shelves, ranging from blank ones, to bullet journals, to those specifically designed for lists or novel planning, and even one containing a Jane Austen witticism a day (just in case you want another reminder that she’s buried in Winchester – I rolled over her grave once).

The possibilities, then, are endless, and every time I’ve bought a new notebook in the past, I’ve done so with the same overriding desire – to make it the starting point for a new, game-changing project. Admittedly, this desire does come with some slight delusions of grandeur. I can’t help imagining myself putting pen to paper on a literary classic for the ages by candlelight like an 18th Century romantic novelist, or scribbling down my memoirs in a book small enough to fit snugly into the sidebag that hangs from my wheelchair.

Judging by my track record with notebooks, neither of those things will happen – and in any case, at this moment I can’t even decide whether I want a big one or a small one. I might have something entirely different in mind for it, though, thanks to a sudden burst of inspiration Lara has unknowingly given to me. In just over a week, I’ll be leaving Winchester – hopefully not for the last time ever – having finished my degree. Over lunch on Monday, Lara, Ben, Alysha, Ryan and I discussed the small matter of how we’ll stay in touch post-uni, and it was Lara who suggested we engage in a book club. I responded very enthusiastically. She said we could put books forward for consideration, and when we’d decided on one, we could obtain a copy, start it on the same day, record our thoughts and share them with each other at the end.

At the moment, only Lara and I are definitely up for it, but I hope others will agree to join, because it could be a great group activity – and it’s given me the perfect purpose for a new notebook. Not only would it allow me to make all the observations I need on what we read, but it’d also mean I could prise my eyes away from a screen for a bit and write the old-fashioned way. I’m sure my handwriting could do with the practice. One of my teachers used to say that reading it was like looking through spiders!

Mason

The Longest Film I’ve Ever Seen

I remember how surreal everything felt as the original lockdown approached last March. One day, I went into Winchester to pick up a new inhaler just before I went home, and what struck me was that between leaving campus and being halfway down the high street, I literally didn’t see a single soul. I suppose it was to be expected, since we were all being told to stay home as much as possible, but I’d obviously never known anything like a pandemic in my lifetime, so it was borderline eerie. When I did eventually encounter human life, it was in the form of queues outside the bank or the pharmacy, where people were being admitted on a strict one-in, one-out basis. Their conversation rang out in the open air, such was the emptiness of town, and there was clear anxiety on every face as they waited for their permitted essentials. It was like something out of a disaster film – and at that point, none of us could have really known that we were only at the start of the longest film any of us had ever seen.

Over a year on, the pandemic continues to dominate the news and our lives. According to the Government, however, the end is in sight, and 21 June will bring our collective return to normality, with all remaining restrictions lifted.

Really? Are we really expected to carry on with our lives exactly as they were before coronavirus?

The restrictions and the lockdowns have been hard for us all, but most of us have just done what we’ve needed to do to get through it, because it’s just been the way things are. And whether we like it or not, it’s still very much the way things are – there might be a decline in cases, and an ever-increasing number of people being vaccinated (I was Pfizered for the second time just under three weeks ago), but coronavirus is still well and truly with us. I myself have spent the last three days isolating in my room, thanks to a positive test for one of my flatmates. With that in mind, I’m not sure how I really feel about simply going about my daily business as if nothing ever happened. We’ll still have to take precautions, obviously, but fully opening society doesn’t quite sit right with me. I can’t help worrying that we’ll get complacent and end up right back at square one. I guess only time will tell how it pans out for us all – but I’m not holding my breath for a happy ending just yet…

Mason

Are You Still Watching?

I’ve had Netflix for at least three years now – and for a man with a particular interest in television and how it’s made, I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t spent nearly enough of that time actually watching it. Not even an international pandemic and the lockdowns therein have prompted me to get a move on, much to Louis’ chagrin. I should clarify that I’m not quite as uncultured as I must immediately look – there’s a lot of film and TV that I have seen. It’s just that much of what I haven’t seen happens to be well-known, including all the latest sensations on the streaming service. For a long time, I could never be quite sure why. It would be oh-so-easy to for me to sit back and press play, so why hadn’t I?

The answer recently hit me when I least expected it. Having finished the latest series of Formula 1: Drive to Survive, I was staring forlornly at the long watch list Louis had compiled for me, comprised of all the things he’d been insisting I devour for goodness knows how long. All things I’d probably enjoy, as countless millions of others had, but just had no motivation to start myself. Most of the things I had watched were either old favourites I’d seen several times, or newcomers not featured on the list. And why? Because I felt no pressure to watch them – they hadn’t been sat there glaring at me with the weight of expectation behind them, I’d simply found and appreciated them of my own accord.

That’s exactly where I think my problem lies. It seems that in 2021, there’s something new we should all be getting our teeth into almost every week – and that if you haven’t watched that film or binged ten episodes of that hot new series, then you’re lagging behind everyone else, out of the loop. There’s suddenly a plethora of pop culture references that will be lost on you if you’re not immediately in the know, and that’s a pretty daunting prospect, at least for me. It’s where the aforementioned pressure comes from, and it’s not much fun at all. Realising what’s been putting me off, though, has given me the perfect approach going forward. If I’m to get the best out of Netflix, I just have to take it at my own pace – even if that means having to put up with more of Louis’ incessant badgering as I prioritise what I want to see, rather than what I feel I need to. He’ll just have to wait a little longer for me to get to Stranger Things.

Mason

The ECP Diaries, Part 8

It is done. My ECP was at long last submitted seven days ago, and only three deadlines remain before my university experience is over for good. I felt a mixture of two things as I handed it in – the warm, calming feeling of relief and acceptance as I realised that this long process was over, and a degree of apprehension. My friends and I all agreed that we were too nervous about the eventual outcome to be pleased, but (as I’ve probably said before) I know in my heart that whatever happens, I’m always going to be proud of myself because I’ve come to Winchester, thrown myself into my degree, enjoyed it at every turn and – most importantly – I’ve gotten to the end.

With that in mind, I went about the rest of my day last Friday with a smile on my face. I unwound sitting outside in town with a bowl of parsnip, fennel and coconut soup (the university canteen isn’t open at the moment, so I’ve got to get my nutrition somehow). Later I bought myself the biggest celebratory McDonald’s imaginable, all while pondering what lay ahead. In terms of my remaining assignments, this consists of a series of freelance copywriting proposals, a radio script, and a short story. 28 May is the magic date, the endpoint – after that, I’ll be cut off from education for good, and cast out into the big wide world to fend for myself once and for all.

I don’t know what lies ahead yet – I don’t even know if we’ll be getting a proper graduation – but I’m going to go forward with my head held high, as I always try to. I’ve started by sending my supervisor a ‘thank you’ email. I always tried my best to incorporate her feedback, albeit perhaps not always as she would have liked (I guess the mark I get will tell me all I need to know). There were times when I struggled to hit the nail on the head with it, no matter how close I got. Some might say that as I graduate, she should get a medal for putting up with me! Arguably, though, that’s the creative process – trial and error, agreements and disagreements, with a healthy dollop of determination and passion thrown in for good measure.

Mason