One Sentence

I’ve referred every so often in these posts to writing prompts, or words and phrases that might make good ones. I then ask myself whether I’ll ever use them, but I don’t. If I’m honest, every time I mention one, I know full well it won’t see the light of day again. I don’t know whether that’s because of laziness, a lack of confidence, or the absence of a good idea, but whatever the case I don’t push it. It’s in those situations that I wonder what I’d write if I was put under pressure to come up with something, as I have been on occasion. Two weeks ago, I was tested in exactly that way when I attended a writers’ group at a coffee shop in Winchester.

It’s a place I’ve been a loyal customer of for a number of years now, but until that day I’d had no idea that they met in there. I approached them tentatively, notebook and pen on my lap. Unlike some of the others – including an ex-diver working on a memoir about his time exploring underwater caves in Mexico – I had nothing to share, because this was my first week and I needed to establish the lay of the land. Don’t get me wrong, I was still an active participant, but I kept relatively quiet, only dropping in the odd nugget of feedback here and there. This back-seat approach paid dividends, because it quickly allowed me to feel comfortable around the others and in what I was getting myself into. It wasn’t long before I was scribbling away without a care in the world, which is where the aforementioned prompt comes in.

“What I want you to do,” said the lady leading the session, “is to find the last message you sent on your phone, take it out of its original context, and use it as a starting point for a piece.” All I’m going to do now is present you with the line I found on WhatsApp, and the two-person dialogue that evolved from it. It’s amazing what you can manage when you’re given a little nudge in the right direction. In fact, I think it was enough of a nudge to convince me to go back again soon. Make of this what you will…

“Luckily, I won’t need it today, because I’m busy over lunch.”

“What are you so scared of anyway?”

“What am I scared of? What am I NOT scared of? This is huge!”

“It’s a coffee and a chat, and then you never have to see her again. My mother always said difficult conversations are best had quickly.”

“Or not at all?”

“Oh, come on!”

“It definitely will be difficult as well. She’s hardly the kind of person you can make small talk with. Everything’s either world politics or high culture, and there’s a time and a place for that.”

“Yes…”

(a beat, then the same character speaks again)

“So why did you agree to marry her then?”

Mason

Advertisement

Mountain Goat

I’ve come to realise that with all of the recent job-related excitement in my life, I have neglected Dracula somewhat. In fact, I don’t think I’ve opened it at all since I last wrote about it some weeks ago. As I said in that post, it can be a tricky book to get into, even if you’ve read it before as I have. That means that I could be forgiven for being reluctant to dive back in, and in any other situation, maybe I would be. I’m yet to have a DNF in this book club yet, but if any novel were worthy of one, Dracula is surely it. Having said that, though, I will finish it – and when I do, I’m certain I’ll have seen it with fresh, reinvigorated eyes, because this new job has made me feel like a new man. And I’m only three days into it!

Yes, any link this post actually has to books or book clubs might be tenuous to say the least, but stick with me for a minute. Ever since I was offered my role, I’ve felt physically lighter. It’s amazing how much weight this has lifted from my shoulders – all that pressure to find ‘the next thing’, whatever that may be, is gone. If I were able-bodied, I’d be skipping around like a mountain goat. As it is, I’m still in the wheelchair and fairly static, but my life is finally going places, and so is my mind. For much of the last year it’s been foggy, and I’ve struggled to see the wood for the trees. Dad told me that things were far worse for the people of Ukraine, and while that might be true, everything is relative – remarks like that certainly didn’t help me at that time. Happily, things look a bit brighter again now, and I’m full of enthusiasm. My eyes are wider and my head feels clearer, and I think that’ll benefit not only my work, but also my personal life.

I’ll enjoy my solitude again – it started to bother me while I was unemployed – but in addition, I’ll feel better about mixing and mingling with others. If you’ll indulge another flimsy link to literature, I think there’ll be dividends where my creative pursuits are concerned too. When the book club started and I was still getting together with Lara and Nora, I’d often be the one keeping them waiting as I finished the last few chapters long after they had. Whether it was laziness or lethargy, I don’t know, but this time I have a feeling I won’t be dragging my feet. Instead, I’ll be surging forward with my head held high. I’m hoping the text’s density might not irk me quite so much along the way, but as we now know, that might be a promise too far…

Mason

Not Going Back Just Yet

I might have happily settled back into Winchester life, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been one or two teething problems. One is my lack of campus Internet connection – the last post was written in the public library, and this one is being composed in my favourite coffee spot, the Open House Deli – and the other is me not having properly got to know my (very nice) flatmates yet. Together, what these both mean is that I’ve had a very interesting weekend thus far, as I can’t really entertain myself or hang out with anyone else. So what do I do when I’m in that situation?

First, I go into town, and I stay there for as long as I can. Not only does this get me some fresh air, but it benefits my wheelchair too, draining its battery as far as it’ll go (I only like to charge it when absolutely necessary). While I’m doing this, I daydream – but not without also looking where I’m going on those busy city streets – and I observe what goes on around me, because anything can be inspiration, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Then, eventually, I find that much-needed safe haven where I can get into the swing of things. A balance of busy and quiet often works for me, because if a place is too quiet, I can think of nothing else, and no work will be done. When I get that balance right, I start scribbling or bashing away at the keyboard, and on a day like today I don’t stop until there’s absolutely nothing more running through my head.

I do my best to multitask, and I’ve juggled my latest set of solo book club notes – on the brilliant One Million Tiny Plays About Britain by Craig Taylor – with all the useful details I can think of ahead of my interview on Wednesday. All of the different duties I’ve performed, every stressful situation I found myself in at each workplace, that kind of thing. After all, the more forthcoming I am when I’m asked those questions, the more likely I am to get the job. If there’s anywhere I don’t want an awkward silence, it’s there!

It’s a satisfying process, but it feels a bit like mental gymnastics. I’m pushing myself further and further, because if I run out of things to say I’ll have to go home, and then I won’t have anything to do or anyone to talk to. So I keep going, and if I pause at any point, I stroke my chin, or I look at the four walls around me, and I try to refocus. The fruits of this labour, which I can see now at the end of the day, are in black and white on the pages of my notebooks. I feel much better about my job interview, and I’ve even decided on my next book and written an introductory paragraph about it – I’m going to reappraise Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I seem to have clearly demonstrated the benefits of having no Internet access in a matter of hours, and they almost make me want to disconnect more often, but who am I kidding? I love getting out and about, but when the web is up and running again, I definitely won’t be taking the ability to surf in the privacy of my room for granted. It’ll be especially useful over the next few months.

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 7

A few months ago, I told you that Lara, Nora and I had temporarily put our book club on hold. I also told you that despite that, I’d be continuing solo, making notes on what I was reading even if I had nobody else to show them to. Well, I can tell you now that I’ve kept my word, although it took me a while. My notebook tells me that I started Stardust, which I finished on 27 November, all the way back on April Fool’s Day!

Opening those blank pages and writing by hand has really come in useful so far. I’ve never been all that confident in my abilities as a reviewer, largely because I never feel like I have an opinion that’s detailed enough on anything. I just know, instinctively, whether I like something or not, and I don’t feel much of an inclination to pick it apart. If I want to fill my notebook, though, I have no choice but to jot down a paragraph or two. Wouldn’t want to waste the money I spent on it, would I?

Everything goes down, no matter how scattered or disjointed my thoughts are, because I don’t worry about refining them for an audience. I don’t even worry about Mum or Dad taking the book from my desk and flicking through it (they’d likely struggle to read my handwriting anyway). That takes the pressure off to some extent, so for a long time I was adamant that nobody would see my notes, because it might change the way I looked at them myself if they did. Nevertheless, a conversation with Mum last week got me thinking about whether I should give you a sneak peek as a one-off, so I put a little more thought into my notes this time around.

They’re for the sixth novel I’ve read since the beginning of the book club, Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club. During my recent weekend in Winchester, I fancied some crime fiction, and I wanted to see if Osman’s debut as an author really lived up to all the hype. I also read David Fisher’s Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara during the same period, but I figured my thoughts on that might not be as appealing to non-Whovians! Have a look at these words and see what you think – I definitely wouldn’t complain if you decided to enjoy it as much as I did. I’ve edited my original scribblings slightly for better clarity, but the general verdicts remain the same.

6. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Started 02.12.22

This was a fascinating murder mystery which was easy to follow, but still had plenty of depth. There was so much going on that I found I wasn’t even sure who I suspected – or if I suspected anyone at all – but this wasn’t a problem, as it just meant I was able to enjoy the story’s twists and turns without any distractions. I guess you could say I was savouring the journey, rather than concerning myself with the destination too much.

The protagonists are people you truly care about, and reading about the residents of Coopers Chase and the members of the titular club is a delight. Their speech patterns and eccentricities are so relatable and well-observed – I found myself picturing some of my own relatives as I went along – and they’re endearing too, undoubtedly contributing to the book’s overall warmth. There is some room for the reflection on loss and mortality that can accompany old age, but above all, The Thursday Murder Club serves to remind us that every second of life is precious and there to be lived. As long as it’s still in front of us, there’s still time for it to be well and truly grabbed by the horns.

I can’t wait for The Man Who Died Twice!

Finished 15.12.22

Mason

Not A Skunk, Not A Punk, But A Monk

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be setting sail for Winchester once again, this time primarily to sample the delights of its annual Christmas Market. I somehow completely neglected it during university, so I look forward to rectifying that, but I’m also excited by the prospect of any other new discoveries I might make. On my last trip there – during a mid-August heatwave – there were several, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might remember decorative hares dotted through the city for charity. There was also the refurbishment of my favourite coffee shop, a new ice-cream parlour (which I couldn’t take advantage of thanks to a pesky front step), and – most bafflingly of all – a monk standing at the bottom of the high street. Yes, you read that last bit correctly.

I had the good fortune to chat to him for a little while, not that I’d originally intended to. As I’m sure many of us are, I’ve always been quite wary of anyone who hangs around in the middle of town trying to sell something. Winchester seems to be a hotspot for that sort of thing, so over the years I’ve become adept at spotting people in my peripheral vision and weaving around them in such a way that doesn’t make it obvious I’m avoiding them. Unfortunately, that skill had deserted me on this particular summer’s day, and in any case, the street was so busy that I couldn’t have given this gentleman the slip without mowing down a number of other pedestrians in the process. I was funnelled directly into his path, albeit so suddenly that I hadn’t even seen him coming until it was too late.

I can’t remember his name, but he was around my age. He asked me how I was, who I was, and where I’d come from, and even though I was naturally perplexed by what he was doing there, we struck up a conversation. From the outset, he was keen to stress that he was “not a skunk, and not a punk, but a monk” (that’s a blog post title if ever I’ve heard one, I thought). He also told me how much he liked my “vibes” and how laid back I was, and he asked me for my secret. How could I be so chilled and calm? If the truth be told, in that moment at least, there was no secret – I’d stopped questioning the situation and was going with the flow, since it was pretty clear he didn’t mean me any harm.

However, it was also pretty clear that he indeed hoped to persuade me to part with my cash, and before long he’d handed me some kind of spiritual self-help book, whilst looking at me with those pleading puppy dog eyes. As brilliant as I’m sure the book was, I had no interest in paying for it, so I mumbled something about already having spent too much that day (which wasn’t entirely untrue – it was so hot that I’d just been forced to fork out £12 for a cap in Marks and Spencer). I thought that would be that and we’d both carry on with our business, but if this whole exchange hadn’t already been bizarre enough, what happened next really took the biscuit. He told me that I needn’t worry because he also accepted Visa and MasterCard, and with that, he produced an electronic card reader from his robes.

I stifled a laugh, which remained bottled up until I’d declined the purchase and left the monk’s company, at which point I was in hysterics at how surreal – and utterly brilliant – the conversation had been. I’d been a little bit annoyed when I first got stuck with him, but in hindsight I’m glad that I did, because those are the moments and the stories I live for. I’m a writer, I mine material wherever I can, and that afternoon I struck gold without ever expecting to. Until I started writing this post I’d kept it to myself, because I wanted to make sure I did it justice, and now that it’s finally out there I’m really hoping I experience something just as noteworthy this weekend. I’ll definitely be looking and listening, but I’d say I’m unlikely to find another monk near the shops. After all, at this time of year he might freeze to death without a big coat!

Mason

In My Lap

After a brief hiatus, I’m back writing for Details, and what makes that even sweeter is the fact that I’m doing so feeling creatively rejuvenated. That’s because even before our monthly editorial meeting, I’d already had an idea that’s a great fit. It didn’t need any crafting or developing – it was just there, and it naturally suited our theme better than I could ever have imagined. Up to that point, I’d already abandoned two potential articles because they just weren’t flowing, and if something’s forced, it isn’t sincere and certainly isn’t worth publishing. With that in mind, I couldn’t offer Caitlyn material that I knew would detract from the otherwise excellent quality of her magazine, but at the same time, I didn’t like missing all the fun. Details is a vital, colourful and inclusive outlet with an enormous amount of room to grow, and I’m determined to be a part of it for a long time to come. If you’re reading this, Caitlyn, the only way you’ll get me off the team is by firing me – and that’s a promise!

But I digress. My point is that sometimes, as I must have said before, the best ideas just fall straight into your lap. That’s a very welcome feeling at the best of times, but it’s especially satisfying when you feel like you’ve lost that drive to put words to paper. Of course, not only will Details benefit from that, but Third Time Enabled will too, and I look forward to sharing what I’ve written once it’s done. As things stand, I only have one paragraph at most, but I’m fairly confident that the rest will write itself. I hope so, anyway, otherwise those might be famous last words…

Mason

Everything And Nothing At All

I never knew my head could be so busy and so empty at the same time. Since I left my job at the end of January it’s seemed like I have so much to think of – what I’ll do and where I’ll go next – but at the same time, like my life is one very much without purpose. There is no job, social life or friendship group to consider, I have no immediate prospects, and there’s little hope of me moving anywhere anytime soon. What that means is that it can be very hard to find any kind of motivation, which doesn’t bode well at all for general creativity or this blog. The fact I’m writing this off the back of an unsuccessful interview hasn’t helped matters either!

Happily, social media – that thing I was so keen to take a break from just weeks ago – has provided me with something of a solution. I’ve had Instagram for about three years now, having finally caved after years of pressure from my brother and friends, but I can’t say that I use it for promoting any kind of serious photography. I even went as far as putting a disclaimer in my bio (“don’t expect photographic masterpieces!”). The account is for documenting the world as I see it, but that doesn’t mean that the photos are useless or disposable (even though there are an awful lot of book covers among them, just to show off what I’ve been reading). Every picture tells a story, after all, so going forward, each one will have the potential to be inspiring, however blurry or unremarkable it might seem. If you recall, November/December 2018 saw me use a photo of a parked bicycle to record a podcast – and while I might be happy for that to remain buried and far away from human ears for the rest of time, I’ll hopefully be able to get enough material for a blog post or two out of what I capture from now on. It’s still entirely possible that nothing could come of this, and I never mention it again. If recent months have taught me anything, though, it’s that all I can do is try to stay positive, however hard that might be at times.

Mason

Details

You may recall that in a recent post, I alluded to a new writing project that I wasn’t quite ready to talk about yet. Well, I just wanted to update you on exactly what that is, especially because as I write this post, I’m working on my second contribution to it. It’s none other than the excellent Details Magazine, founded and run by Caitlyn, a fellow Winchester student due to graduate this year. Aimed at women aged 14-20, it contains stories from a wide variety of voices and walks of life which always fit a given theme. In the case of the March issue, in which my first piece appeared, the theme was ‘let go and grow’, which we were all free to interpret in any way we wanted.

Naturally, given my current circumstances, I chose to focus on the whirlwind of emotions that letting go of an old job and searching for a new one entails. Beyond that, though, I wanted to emphasise how the written word had helped me to stay focused and develop creatively, particularly through the medium of blackout poetry (which you can find out more about here). As it was my Details debut, I was nervous about how it would be received, and I wondered if my link to the theme was too tenuous, but I needn’t have worried. It went down a treat with Caitlyn and was duly published – and let me tell you, the thrill of seeing my name on a page attached to something I’ve written isn’t a feeling that anything can ever diminish. It only increased my hunger to get involved in the forthcoming April edition with something else that could appeal to an audience beyond the target demographic. As I sit here typing that very thing, I can only hope that I’ve succeeded, but I’ve certainly got a good feeling about it.

If you want to know more about Details, you can visit its website here, or check out its new podcast here. You’ll be glad you did, I promise. And I’m not just saying that because I’m biased!

Mason

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