The ECP Diaries, Part 2

OK, so I know I told you that the next update on my ECP would come in September, but sat here, watching first practice for the British Grand Prix in the comfort of my room, I had something of an epiphany about it. You might recall that in Part 1, I discussed the possibility of writing a pair of small scripts, connected by a shared theme. I intend to stick to what immediately came to mind – the subject of longing – and to demonstrate this in two very different ways. In the first, two characters will come to blows over something relatively common or trivial, treating it as though it’s the worst thing in the world. In the course of their disagreement, they’ll talk about their friends, the people on the outside of the situation, who – unbeknown to them – are themselves struggling with a kind of longing that’s much more severe. Maybe they’re at risk of losing jobs or homes, or they’re struggling with secret issues or addictions, but none of the people closest to them have given them the support they need – so engrossed are they in their own comparatively petty squabbles.

At this early stage, that’s quite literally all I have so far, still the bare bones of an idea. Having said that, though, it’s enough to push me on towards the next step, namely actually writing some test material and something resembling a first draft. Once I’ve made what I deem to be good progress, I’d like to devise at least one alternative concept, in case my tutor doesn’t think either or both of the aforementioned ideas are worthy. In any case, it certainly can’t hurt to expand my options. I’m sure all writers, budding or experienced, can agree that facing a blank page is daunting – but I evidently have more than I need to get started, so that’s left to do now is get typing and see what appears!

Mason

The ECP Diaries

As revealed in my last post, discussions with my assigned university tutor about my final Extended Creative Project (ECP) have finally begun. I was raring to go, of course, but also more than a little nervous before we started our Zoom chat last Wednesday. Numerous questions were whizzing through my head, the biggest of which was “what if he despises my idea?” I could have spent ages with my heart set on something only for it to be completely unworkable. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, because we were both attentive and receptive to one another’s ideas right from the start. My tutor is the kind of person who encourages someone to ask every possible question about their work, so they can reflect on it as fully as possible, and I was no exception. Over the course of 45 minutes or so we both raised a variety of queries concerning my proposal, and I made sure to list these after the call had ended as part of my developing long-term notes. It had been recommended that we all keep a ‘diary’ describing our efforts throughout our projects, to make the accompanying essay we’ll submit much easier to write, so I started mine straight – and the aforementioned questions were all duly listed.

I don’t feel able to tell you about the finer details of my project just yet, because it’s likely to change a great deal over the next year – possibly even before my next meeting with my tutor at the end of September. At the moment, though, it’s a stage play with something very personal at its heart, and before there are any further alterations, I need to think carefully about the following:

  1. Is theatre the right medium for it? Could it be adapted into a short film?
  2. Could it be two or more smaller pieces rather than one big piece – perhaps with a linking theme (longing)?
  3. What is it about? What do I want the audience to take away from it?
  4. Am I confident in my characters? Do they behave naturally and are they strong enough to carry a conflict?
  5. What exactly is this conflict? What will set this relatively ordinary idea apart from other similar ones?

Aren’t I cryptic? There’s already a lot to think about, as you can see, but I will relish the challenge ahead. A list of plays I might find inspiring has been given to me, and as I write this now, two of those – Yasmina Reza’s Art and Patrick Marber’s Closer – have arrived, ready to be devoured. I’ll let you know what I think of them, as I intend to keep you updated on every twist and turn throughout the process. This is the first instalment of a new series, so look out for Part 2 once I’m back in Winchester. The ball is well and truly rolling…

Mason

 

When The Well Was Dry

Over the last few days, it’d been looking increasingly likely that June 2020 might become the first month in Third Time Enabled’s short history not to offer any new posts. I don’t know if I can fully attribute the lack of material to the ongoing lockdown situation, but I simply haven’t had anything worthwhile to say for myself. It might partly be because that’s just how life is sometimes. It’s full of fluctuations – there can be plenty or nothing at all to say. Lots of new ideas to share, or none whatsoever. The lack of predictability keeps us on our toes – we never know quite what will or won’t work out. Just think of all the things I’ve said I’ll do on this blog before – how many of them have I actually managed to follow through?

Circumstance can be to blame then, but I probably am too. I’m doing a Creative Writing degree I love wholeheartedly, and yet I haven’t been proactive enough in creating outside of it. Maybe that’s down to simple procrastination, or self-doubt about the quality of my work. Whatever the case, I haven’t been able to take the plunge. Thankfully, though, sheer desperation has driven me to take action, and I’ve been working on two posts simultaneously for a little while now. Since I’ve had little to say about my own life here, I decided to write something new to showcase, and in this instance, poetry seemed appropriate. I’ve been trying to come up with some using a method I’ve used before – progress has stalled, but there’s been progress nevertheless. The same goes for a film review I started two weeks ago. There’s been much typing and deleting, and while I have managed to put some thoughts to paper, I don’t feel particularly close to finishing it. All I can say is that I’ll keep taking the initiative and pushing myself to write – hopefully you’ll have more to see here soon enough, and I’ll have more to add to my personal portfolio.

In addition to that, I’ll be having the first discussion about my final degree project with my tutor tomorrow…

Mason

 

The Man At The Bus Stop

In our recent Creative Voice 2 classes, we’ve been using a variety of things as sources of inspiration. Last week it was dreams (the one time I desperately needed one, I didn’t have any, so I made something up instead), and the week before that we used old photographs. In the first week, we simply had to think of a person we knew or had encountered. There are many things I could have written about countless people I know, both good and bad, but I decided I’d pluck someone random out of thin air, and that’s how I came to write about the man at the bus stop. His story is a relatively simple one, but it isn’t something I’ll be forgetting in a hurry – it touched me and it might just touch you too.

In the autumn of 2016, when there was a 90-minute bus journey between me and my workplace at the time, I was shivering with my coat wrapped tightly around my body as I waited for the bus to arrive. It was nearing 7am and obviously still dark at that time of year, so you would be forgiven for thinking that I wouldn’t be up for talking – and I wasn’t, until the man beside me piped up. He was an elderly gentleman, and if I’m honest, he looked rather stereotypical complete with flat cap and walking stick. Even at the age of 85, though, he had lost none of his energy, and as we gradually established a conversation he exuded a great deal of warmth, particularly when he spoke about his wife.

I had noticed upon first seeing him that he had a bouquet of flowers in his hand, and he eventually told me that he was taking them to her. He’d been doing this, a four-hour round trip, six mornings a week for at least a couple of years, ever since she’d gone into a care home with dementia. He didn’t go on Sundays. They were his quiet days, which he spent alone in the house they shared – he never mentioned any children or grandchildren. I only ever knew him as a devoted husband, who told me about his wife with the kind of love I haven’t seen or heard anywhere since. He talked about their life together, what they’d done for a living, the places they’d travelled to, and what he did for her now she was in the home. He cooked for her, cleaned for her, made sure she always had clothes to wear – whatever it was, he’d help out. Apparently, she didn’t recognise him very often, but whenever there was a moment of lucidity, they could reminisce about some of their most precious moments together. Even though the woman he’d spent a lifetime with was ebbing away before his eyes, his enthusiasm for seeing her every day never seemed to waver once – I remember him telling me that despite everything, “she’s still my girl”. I couldn’t help but think that a lot of guys I knew could learn a thing or two from him.

These conversations continued for around three months, ending when the Christmas break arrived. When I started work again in January 2017, and arrived at the bus stop for my first day back, the man was nowhere to be seen. That didn’t seem like a good sign at all, since he had been so adamant about his determination to take the journey whenever he could. Then the bus pulled up, and the driver got out to help me aboard. “By the way”, he said, as he put the ramp down on the pavement, “the gentleman you’ve been speaking to wanted me to let you know his wife passed away over Christmas.”

My heart sank at that moment, as I know his will have done. We never even knew each other’s names, but I did feel like we’d established a nice little connection, and there was a definite dampener on the rest of that day for me. I haven’t seen the man anywhere since, and I don’t even know if he’s still with us. If he is, I hope he’s gotten to a place where he’s comfortable and content, and if he isn’t, I hope someone was there to show him love and support in the aftermath of his loss. It’s what he would have done for his wife, unquestionably and unconditionally. If you ask me, the man at the bus stop was the definition of true devotion.

Mason

Stay Tuned To Find Out

Before Christmas, I shared my altered version of Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’, which I called ‘Endless Miles’. It accompanied three other songs as part of a submission for my Composing Song Lyrics module, which I handed in just last week – I therefore feel that now is a good time to show you the second of my songs, ‘Stay Tuned To Find Out’. This is an adaptation of Jamiroquai’s single ‘Automaton’, from their 2017 album of the same name, and it was included in my collection because I needed a song with attitude, something that contrasted with ‘Endless Miles’ to provide variety in my lyrics. The title came first, during a seminar, and I then had the idea of writing something about a person’s past sins coming back to haunt them – the words you are about to see reflect that. As with the last song, you can listen to the original and see how well you think they fit. There is a full rap verse in the Jamiroquai version, which I’ve attempted to start here as I was running short on the overall line count, but I wasn’t confident and I decided to stop before I made a fool of myself:

(Verse 1)

Up or down?

Now stay tuned to find out

Coming round

As all hope just bleeds out

Feel his heat

Breath burning your back

Avoidance of doubt

(avoidance of doubt)

Turn it on and up you get

 

(Chorus 1)

He’s not turned your corner yet

Blood-boiling, sizzling walk of sin

No matter where you check, you cannot run, no you cannot hide

From the march of fate

Out of the dark, into the light

Oh, when the judgement day is done

You’ll have your mind and soul destroyed

Stay tuned to find out

 

(Verse 2)

Out of luck?

Thirty second head start

He’s on his way

Hears the beat of your heart

It’s on the wind

Now pray for mercy

Oh, you can lie and you can cry, the end is nigh

(just stay tuned to find out)

Revenge is coming for you

 

(Chorus 2)

He’s standing right on your doorstep now

Eager to stare you in the face

Sets things the way they’re meant to be

And puts you in your place

Now come outside, time to pay your debt

Will he forgive all that you’ve done?

You’re past the point of no return

Stay tuned to find out

 

(Verse 3 – beginning of rap verse)

Now he’s got you pinned to the ground

Tied up hard howling like a hound

Will he leave you there just starved and bound?

Time to find out…

 

Mason

The Roaring Twenties

Happy New Year! It’s 2020 – and that sounds like a year from an old science-fiction film, doesn’t it? You might expect to look around and see people zooming this way and that with jetpacks or hoverboards. Unfortunately, though, technology has still not quite progressed far enough for that, and life goes on just as before. At around this time last year, I committed to two New Year’s resolutions, one of which was successful and the other less so. I am hesitant to establish any new ones this year, although it has been noted that as of now, I am exactly halfway through my degree. What that means is that sooner or later, I will have to look to the future – and so, after I go back to Winchester on Saturday, I intend to start working on what I’ll do and where I’ll go. In case progress is slow, though, I’m not going to keep you updated on that unless there’s actually something substantial to say!

I also want to make sure I have more to say about 2020 on here, and while that might not mean being massively prolific, I am going to try and post more than two or three times a month where I can. In the event of a shortage of anecdotes from my own life, it might be a good opportunity for me to branch out and include other voices and other things, which seems apt when you consider the blog will be five years old in August. I can’t make any promises, but you’ll have to watch this space. The year is a blank slate, and anything could happen.

Mason

A Quad Bike In The Lobby

Remember the ideas I had for my forthcoming short film, set out a couple of posts ago? Well, you can now forget them all, because they’ve been replaced by something that I think could be even more promising. The new idea was devised in a haze of desperation, when the clock was ticking down to my first official workshop session and I still didn’t have anything good enough, despite my best efforts. At the eleventh hour, I shut myself away in the library and focused on the method I’d used before, combining locations, objects and mise-en-scene to find something I could work with. I wrote down a number of throwaway suggestions. Most of them were so hopeless that they aren’t even worth mentioning, but just when I thought all hope was lost, there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. It came in the form of a single line: “man rides quad bike through hotel foyer/lobby?”

This image definitely piqued my interest. In order to have someone pull such a dramatic stunt in a place like that (and I’d envisioned it as a posh hotel), there has to be both a major reason and major consequences. He certainly wouldn’t have a job afterwards! From these thoughts, the rest of the story began to grow, and after a couple of workshops with our tutor, this is what I have. My protagonist, a porter working at the hotel, will arrive one morning and be immediately hassled by a snobbish and aggressive manager as he carries out several thankless jobs. We will soon learn that this is a regular occurrence which has made the porter feel belittled and demotivated, and has eroded his confidence. The story’s inciting incident will then come when he finds an expensive watch lying on the carpet, unseen by his manager. Intrigued, he takes it to reception and is told it belongs to an elderly lady who arrived the previous day.

When he reaches her room, he attempts to return the watch, only for the lady to immediately reply that the watch has been stolen from a local jeweller’s. The porter is stunned as she explains that the theft is among the things she has written on a list of risks she wishes to take, as she feels her life has become stale in old age. Throughout this interaction, she demonstrates a clear mischievous streak in defiance of her years, and gradually inspires the porter to take a risk of his own. Inspired by his hatred of his job and manager, he decides to tender his resignation in the most chaotic way possible. That’s where the quad bike sequence comes in!

There’s still some more development to come before I commit the story to a script, but at this point it seems to be shaping up well. What I have to do next is a step outline, which will break down the idea a little bit more, and then I can start the screenplay itself ahead of its due date on 22 December. I’m definitely confident about both. It’s much easier to feel that way when you’ve got an idea that’s developed more naturally, rather than one you’ve forced – even though I forced myself to come up with it in the first place…

Mason

 

 

Outer Space, Outer Space

I’ve recently started a new project, creating the 120-150 lines of song I need for my next Composing Song Lyrics assignment. Unlike others in my class, I don’t sing or play, so I’ve taken what is supposedly the easiest option by choosing to rewrite existing songs instead. The first step in all of that is choosing the tracks I want to work on, and as I write this, that’s still very much a work in progress. I do have one song set in stone, which I rediscovered my love for a few weeks ago thanks to Spotify’s random choices – Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’ (song titles go in single inverted commas, apparently). However, the only issue with being able to choose songs you enjoy is that you risk butchering musical masterpieces with your own mediocre words, and that was definitely at the front of my mind as I started to think about mine.

We’ve been doing various writing exercises in seminars over the last few weeks that we hope will get our creative juices flowing. Many of them have involved writing about different unrelated emotions or scenarios in prose or loose verse, so that we can pluck certain words and phrases for later use. In my case at least, some exercises have been more fruitful than others, but a few words, lines and images have helped me to get started. Last night, I went to the library to begin my new version of ‘In My Place’, and because the song has a relatively simple syllabic structure and rhyme scheme, I had written a draft I was satisfied with in around half an hour – giving me 39 lines of lyrics. A blank sheet of paper is daunting for any writer, so I initially focused only on getting started and committing to an opening line. What I came up with was “outer space, outer space”, which mirrors the repetition of the title in Coldplay’s original, since I felt a degree of pressure at first to be faithful to it. It had the effect of evoking something better, though, so I soon replaced it with something else. From there, the rest of the piece seemed to flow nicely, and my portfolio was officially underway.

Because I’m rewriting something existing, it is imperative that the new song exactly matches the syllabic count of the original. In some cases, there may be an opportunity for an extra syllable in a line where one has been stretched by the singer – but I have to try and remember not to get greedy. I have a feeling that whatever the next four songs are, their new words won’t come quite as easily as the first set did, and I’ll have a lot more to consider before I can make them work. Each submission has to be accompanied by a 30-second recording explaining what you were trying to achieve with it, so there are both technical and emotional aspects to think about. Even so, I’m finding the study of lyrics less highbrow and much more accessible than I did traditional poetry last year. I can only conclude that that must be because of the nature of popular music as something which is designed to be cherry-picked and enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age, experience or background.

Mason

 

A Skull In The Fridge, And Other Ideas

It’s been the best part of a month since I last posted anything here, but I’m back, and it’s been a productive week. This morning, having finished our short film analysis essays for Creating Short Screenplays, we used our seminar to begin focusing on ideas for our own scripts, which we will be developing until just before Christmas. More specifically, we looked at how we might create ideas using locations, objects and mise-en-scene – defined as “the setting and surroundings of an event.” We came up with lists for each as a group, before using these to formulate our own individual rough ideas. I and the others on my table placed emphasis on the objects available to us, which were random and included such things as a sack, a toy car, a duck feather, a book and a skull. We felt that they all came with numerous questions that could be asked about them, giving us the basis of a film in the process.

With the exception of the duck feather, I managed to think of at least one idea for each of these objects. In my opinion, the sack, the car and the skull provided the most interesting ones, and this was backed up by the people around me. I thought of a single, unopened letter that had been forgotten at the bottom of a sack of mail, and the story left undiscovered within it. I thought of a toy car kept even into old age by its owner because of some deeply entrenched sentimental value. And, last but not least, I thought of a human skull, discovered on a shelf in a fridge by a young man who then questions his housemates about its origins, only to be mysteriously denied an answer by all of them. It was pointed out to me that that idea resembles a scene from Sherlock in which Holmes stores a head in his Baker Street fridge for experiments, so whether I use it will depend on how original I can make a story of my own. In any case, it’s always interesting to see how so much can be drawn from so little, and this morning was no exception.

Tuesday afternoon also saw me work on something promising. This was in my Rewriting and Adapting class, where we are working on our own adaptations of famous Gothic texts. We can choose from The Tell-Tale Heart, Dracula, The Woman in Black or Frankenstein, and I have now opted for the latter, although my idea is not a straight interpretation of the original novel – it only retains certain elements. In it, a man paralysed from the waist down in the present day encounters Dr Frankenstein, who in this instance is a very dubious surgeon, and accepts his offer to have a pair of working legs crudely stitched on so he may walk again. Unfortunately, these legs not only look odd, but behave very erratically, alienating everyone he is closest to and leading him to lament both his loneliness and his loss of identity as a disabled person.

That’s the planned story arc, although the piece is still in the very earliest stages of its development. Before it is written and submitted in early January, I have to complete a rationale describing what I intend to do and achieve with it, but I’m sure you’ll get to see the finished story when it’s ready. Skulls and Frankenstein – very apt for Halloween, don’t you think?

Mason

The Lipogram Challenge

My second year here in Winchester is now in full swing, and until Christmas, Thursday will be the busiest day of my week. Last Thursday, from 11am until 2pm, I was in the first seminar of my Telling True Stories module, the one Lara and I are both expecting to enjoy the most this semester. Eventually, it will require us to choose, research and write about any person or event we like – the idea must be big enough to theoretically fill an entire book. At such an early point in the term, though, we haven’t started thinking about that just yet, and a large part of that session was just devoted to what would be expected of us over the next twelve weeks.

When we did get around to writing, I definitely found the exercise to be an intriguing test of our abilities. Through an example shown to us by our lecturer, we were introduced to the lipogram – a piece of writing in which a particular letter, or group of letters, is avoided. As you might expect, we were soon asked to write our own, and we were given the choice of either creating something original, or adapting one of the lecturer’s two chosen news articles. You can see the story I chose to work on at The Guardian‘s website here. I found it tricky to decide on what I would exclude from my piece, so I turned to the person sitting next to me and asked them for their opinion. They opted for the letter ‘C’. Deciding that there were enough synonyms in the world for me to make that work, I got started, and what you can see below was the result. The nature of the lipogram meant that the original story ended up somewhat condensed, but rather than limiting me as a writer, I found that it opened my mind and really made me think about how I could get around the obstacle facing me. Surely that means that it’s worth trying again?

“Parisian onlookers were astounded on Saturday evening when a young man braved the outside of a building to save the life of a boy about to fall from an upper floor. He is being referred to as the “Paris Spider-Man” due to his selfless and remarkable show of strength, now widely available in video form. Following the heart-stopping event, 22 year-old Mali-born Mamoudou Gassama was personally thanked by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, who said that it would be “very keen to support him in his efforts to settle” in his new homeland. He will also be honoured for his valiant deed by the President this week.

The boy was home alone at the time of the episode – his father was held for questioning and is due to appear before a jury, but his mother was outside of Paris.”

Mason