Relished

I write this having returned home for Christmas, with no immediate assignment deadlines ahead of me. The resulting breathing space (although ECP work is ongoing) has given me time to reflect on the past twelve weeks, which have flown by yet again. Even faced with a second national lockdown and an earlier finish, there was so much to enjoy about this university semester. Much of it was aimed at preparing us for whatever lies beyond graduation. Among other things, I wrote a CV and mock job application for a relevant role in the publishing industry, a publishing strategy for a theoretical book and a letter to a literary agent.

Perhaps my favourite project by far, however, was the book I’ve just submitted for my Creative Non-Fiction for Children module. An introduction to disability for 4 to 7 year olds, it was a writing challenge unlike any I’ve encountered up to this point on the course. I chose it in the first place because every piece of work I had done previously was intended for an adult audience, so this was something that allowed me to spread my wings, so to speak. I can now freely admit, however, that I completely underestimated exactly what this involved. Obviously, when you write for children you need to adjust your voice so that it will be appropriate for whatever precise age group you’re targeting, but I still hadn’t considered how much there was to think about.

I’d chosen the youngest possible audience, of course, which meant that every single word, phrase and concept had to be mulled over before it was set to the page, to ensure that it was understandable for the reader. This increased my respect for the effort put in by professional children’s authors, but it did also have the effect of making me somewhat paranoid. I found myself deleting and re-typing various parts of the text multiple times, but that was no bad thing – after all, writing is re-writing! The feedback I received from the others in my group and my tutor helped a great deal with refinement, and it was very uplifting to find that most of the feedback on my work was positive. In turn, I found myself privileged to be able to read so many other brilliant pieces, and at all times throughout the module I felt a really warm and happy buzz around us.

The result of those twelve weeks was a book I am exceptionally proud of. I haven’t said that about my own work often, because writers can be their own harshest critics, but I can most definitely apply it to this. I am immensely glad that I used the module as an opportunity to submit an entire book, rather than part of one (which is all the word count normally allows). I feel the whole exercise has been invaluable, both in terms of boosting me and expanding my versatility, and I now have something complete – and with potential – to show for it. The assignment may have been submitted, but the file remains sitting on my laptop, waiting to be tinkered with and added to some more. It may be too tantalising a prospect to resist – as part of the module, we were advised on how we might be get our projects published. Such a goal can be incredibly difficult to achieve, especially with so many authors jostling for recognition, but it is by no means impossible. Maybe it’ll be my next step…

Mason

The Teams Experience

WordPress seems to have a new layout, so I thought I’d start this post with a nice drop capital (and some white boxes, although those might only be temporary). As it happens, now seems an appropriate time to try something new. In what has seemed like the blink of an eye, the third and final year of my degree has already arrived, and in light of the unprecedented times we’re living in, it’s already proving to be very different to either of the previous two. As I write this, we have completed one full week of lectures, and have experienced the first taste of what we can expect from teaching, at least until Christmas.

It now relies heavily on rotation, and our timetables have been designed to allow us all to be both present in class and remotely via Microsoft Teams. When we’re there in person, we enter, sit at socially-distanced desks around the room and the session proceeds more or less as normal, with us making sure to wipe down our desks before and after using them.

Ours is a course that benefits greatly from face to face interaction (particularly when critiquing work), so it’s a shame that that has been (understandably) reduced, but within every Teams meeting are smaller ‘breakout groups’, which we can enter with two or three other people to share files. I haven’t had much experience of them yet, but I have found them to be a source of the teething troubles tutors and students have been having with the software. In a session last Wednesday I went into one with three people, only two of whom could show what they’d written – the other file was nowhere to be found, even after it had supposedly been uploaded more than once. In addition to that, we only tentatively added comments to one another’s work because we weren’t sure that our edits would be saved, although we eventually discovered that the documents save themselves automatically whenever changes are made, so we left that group with our confidence boosted for the rest of the semester.

Certain people I’ve spoken to have been sceptical of the tutors’ ability to get on top of Teams, but I think they’ll find it easier to get to grips with as the weeks go on. They can only prepare for so much beforehand, after all. On Tuesday last week, in my very first class of the year, three of them had difficulty seeing and hearing each other as they introduced one of my modules, and struggled to adjust to a few of its features, which they’d anticipated in their training over the summer – but everything came together in the end, just as I knew it would. These minor hurdles will be overcome, and the new methods will be second nature to us all. I for one already feel very comfortable, and ready to tackle whatever the next three months bring, just as I always have been.

Mason

Press Play, Don’t Skip

In my last post I mentioned how I’d begun listening to new music while working in the library. It’s been bliss, and something of an education, since I’ve tried to restrict myself as much as possible to things released since 2015 (most of my Liked Songs on Spotify predate that). I haven’t just cherry-picked individual songs, either. I’m doing this the old-fashioned way, listening to albums by artists who are both familiar and unfamiliar to me, in an array of different genres. Well, that’s the intention, anyway. I’ve devised a list of the first records from the last five years that came to mind, and as I develop it I’m going to try and work towards making it as varied in terms of genre and gender as I can. As things stand, though, these are the albums I’ve listened to with only one rule in mind. I press play, and I don’t skip, even when I reach the filler tracks that most of us don’t hesitate to stop in their – well, tracks. Have a look at this completely random selection:

  1. Everyday Life by Coldplay (2019)
  2. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish (2019)
  3. Fine Line by Harry Styles (2019)
  4. Seeking Thrills by Georgia (2020)
  5. Gang Signs and Prayer by Stormzy (2017)
  6. Blackstar by David Bowie (2016)
  7. Madame X by Madonna (2019)

There are more on the list I’m yet to delve into, but recommendations are always welcome if you have any. Perhaps I’ll make this post the first part of a series, so I can keep you updated on how I’m getting on and what I think. Maybe it’d be a good idea to restrict my reviews of these albums to three words, to give myself a challenge? Stay tuned to find out…

Mason

Me And My Microphone

I am now on the brink of Week 10 of my first university semester, and the first nine weeks alone have taught me many things about how to write and what I can do to improve my writing. Two of the more recent lessons have come in Publishing and Social Media, which I had as usual yesterday morning. As a blogger, the first was one that I found particularly useful. Even as someone who is a stickler for good spelling, punctuation and grammar, it wasn’t something that had occurred to me before. We were taught that before a post is published on any given blog, it should always be written up on Word first, so that any mistakes can be exposed by the processor. Once it has been tidied up as necessary, it can be freely copied and pasted across. This method is – as of this post – one I am officially adopting for Third Time Enabled, as it’s more than likely that one or two keyboard slips have occurred over the last three years, in spite of all my best efforts to avoid them.

We have also learned that as this is a creative degree, we are free to explore new artistic horizons that stretch beyond writing alone. This is especially true in the Publishing module, since I will soon have to submit a piece that can take almost any form I want it to. As I have a microphone sitting idle in my bag (which hasn’t had to record any lectures recently), I have decided to try something totally new – a podcast. I am neither an entirely confident speaker nor an expert on technology, but doing this will add to my skill set and – at the very least – I will be able to write what I need to say. Thankfully, I will be graded based on the actual content of the podcast, and not on its sound quality!

When I made the decision to do this, I obviously had to consider what I would talk about, and the inspiration behind what I eventually chose came at the most unlikely time. Heading towards Winchester High Street last week, I passed a rather nice hotel, which looked it must cost an arm and a leg to eat in. Leaning against the railings outside was a pizza delivery bicycle, and sure enough, I saw that a pizza was on its way in through the front door. I immediately took out my phone and made a note of what I’d seen. Call it a writer’s curiosity – I couldn’t help but wonder who would order pizza to a place like that, and why. My mind was full of stories and explanations, so there was no way I was going to ignore something that was apparently so out of place. I may have spoken before about how I am often inspired by the smallest words, phrases and observations, since I believe even the most insignificant things can bear fruit. This was no exception, and it led me to base my planned podcast on what can result from such things. My current intentions therefore look something like this – I’ll talk about the latest little source of inspiration at the start, before I read a story or other piece of writing that I have managed to develop from it. It’s a simple concept, but if it is executed well, I am confident that its unpredictability could make for an entertaining listen – and yes, we do have to publish the podcast when it’s complete! Now that I have the basic idea established, all that’s left to do is write my script and do my best to record, and I have a feeling that could involve some trial and error at first. Uncharted territory can be daunting, but also very intriguing…

Mason