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

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

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

Graduation Day

Well, that’s it. Having been a graduand up to this point, I am now officially writing my first Third Time Enabled post as a bona fide BA (Hons) Creative Writing graduate. One shake of Alan Titchmarsh’s hand in Winchester Cathedral was all it took, and it was the icing on the cake on a day quite simply awash with pure, unfiltered joy. It’s now been just under a week since the ceremony, and already lots of people have asked me how it went. I’ve noticed that the one word I’ve used consistently when describing it has been ‘infectious’, and I stand by that (although not in a COVID-y way, just to be specific).

What was infectious was the happiness in abundance, and the pride everyone had not only in themselves, but in each other. Creative Writing was always a very friendly course, and I can say that I’d probably stop and talk to the majority of people I met regardless of how well I knew them, but even so, it was heartwarming to be congratulated before and after the ceremony by so many people. I got the sense they were all genuinely interested in what lay ahead for me, and that feeling was entirely mutual. There was a lot of applause from everyone as each graduand took the stage in the cathedral, but it very much occurred to me that nobody minded one bit – we were all in this together, so no clap was too vigorous and no cheer too boisterous. I know I actively tried to be as loud as possible for everyone I knew! I’ve met a lot of people over the last three years who I think will go far in life, and I look forward to seeing and hearing what they can achieve.

Of course, those people include Lara and Nora, and as always it was delightful to be reunited with them again. As with a lot of people, my palms were practically red raw from applauding them so hard in the cathedral, and afterwards we got the chance to celebrate further by having a couple of drinks together (non-alcoholic for me, obviously). We were joined by Lara’s mum, who was also over the moon for her daughter, and Ben, who just happened to have been working in the nearby museum. Many laughs were had by all, and they were definitely made all the more special by the fact that we likely won’t see each other for some time. There’s been talk of us meeting at Christmas, or in the spring, but in the meantime we might just have to stick to our Zoom quizzes. Lara’s already volunteered to write one, and now that our schedules all differ, she’s suggested that we focus on making them more streamlined – otherwise we tend to mess about and let time get away from us! It’s all about optimising the moments we can spend together, and all of those are precious indeed, especially now we’re entering the next busy stages of our lives. We therefore ended a brilliant day in the best possible way, and the nerves I felt going into it became a distant memory. Trust me, I was physically shaking as I put my robes on – as brilliant as everything was, I dread to think when I’ll next be that apprehensive!

Mason

Nora, Lara and little old me – official Winchester graduates!

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

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

Decoder

Last Sunday afternoon saw another very welcome Zoom game session between myself and the uni gang. After the resoundingly successful game of Trivial Pursuit we’d played in the first instance, we were all keen to pursue some more ways of keeping ourselves entertained, and thanks to Alysha we had something new to enjoy. This was 30 Seconds, a game which required players to pair up. Lara was unable to join us on this occasion, so we had six players rather than seven – and that meant we had three perfect pairs, with nobody left out. Before we started, Alysha told us she was concerned that it would be too easy and we’d quickly get bored with it, but it proved more of a challenge than she thought, and we found ourselves unearthing a new favourite.

The rules were simple. Each pair would take it in turns to describe five words to their partner, who would then have to guess them before the titular 30 seconds were up. At the end, the pair with the most correct answers would be victorious. The words in question looked easy to convey on paper, but tended to be harder in practice – especially seeing as they could be completely random. Something like ‘mattress’ (“the big thing you sleep on in bed”), ‘hospital’ (“the place you visit when you’re sick”), or even ‘Audi’ (“German car company – four rings”) could be followed by a word much more difficult that you never expected to see or just could not get across. Examples of those included ‘grasshopper’ – which I tried to explain to Ryan as “green insect which leaps through vegetation”, sadly to no avail – and, most infamously, ‘decoder’. I didn’t even know where to start with that, so I swiftly moved onto the next one. Thankfully, it wasn’t too detrimental to our points total!

I’m sure one of the others will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Ryan and I won that afternoon, and as I’ve already mentioned, we were all pleasantly surprised by how good the game was. I even suggested that we could play a homemade version using words we come up with ourselves. I’ve no idea if that’ll happen yet, but it’s definitely something to consider, and the trial of yet another well-received game has got us thinking once again about what we could do next. I’m sure that whatever it is, it’ll be great fun, and it’ll certainly help to relieve the sizeable amount of dissertation and assignment pressure that’ll be looming very soon…

Mason

One More Yellow Question

Picture the scene – the game is in its closing stages. Seven players started out, and seven are still in contention to win. I have gradually powered my way through Geography, Art and Literature, Science and Nature, Sport and Leisure, and Entertainment. History, the yellow category, is all that stands between myself and glory. Five slices of the cheese wheel are in place, and I just need the sixth. Unfortunately, it’s the same for everyone else – the last slice eludes them all – and the questions aren’t quite falling my way.

This was the climax of the Trivial Pursuit game I played with Lara, Nora, Ryan, Ben, Alysha and Deacon last weekend – socially-distanced, of course. It was possible thanks to the magic of Zoom, and worked an absolute treat. Ryan had the board and pieces in front of him, we decided on our counters, and he rolled the dice and moved them all on our behalf. We played for first place, then second, then third, all the way down to seventh, and there were plenty of laughs throughout. We all miss being on campus together dearly, so we’ve found that meeting online for quizzes and banter has served us very well indeed.

We have another Zoom call pencilled in for tomorrow lunchtime, and I can’t wait. We’re going to give some new games Alysha has suggested a try, too – we all agreed it would do us good to diversify from quizzes every so often. They’re much less complex than Trivial Pursuit, too, involving little more than old-fashioned pen and paper, so they seem rather refreshing in that respect. I’m sure that whatever is different about the games we’re playing, though, one thing will stay the same – the spirit of competition between all of us.

I came third on that day, by the way. The question that clinched it?

‘Which king abdicated the Spanish throne in 2014?’

King Juan Carlos, in case you were wondering.

Mason