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

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

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

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

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

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

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