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

Partly Cloudy

It’s now just over two months since I left my job, and despite my best efforts, I’m still not sure what lies in my immediate professional future. I’ve been keeping myself as busy as possible, however – a third piece for the forthcoming issue of Details could be coming very shortly, and I’m making solid progress on the next book club choice, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. I’ve decided to go down the e-book route this time, mainly because if I keep buying physical copies, I risk quickly running out of room for them! It does have another benefit, though, as thanks to the Kindle Cloud Reader I can access the novel on my laptop, which in turn means I have another excuse to sit at my desk. And though that may not seem like much, it has a surprisingly positive psychological effect.

The difference between reading on my laptop at my desk and reading on my Kindle while lying on the floor is that the former requires me to be upright, alert, slightly less lethargic. In that respect, although I’m still perfectly relaxed, it doesn’t feel that much like a leisure activity at all. It feels a lot more important, like it has more substance than simply scrolling through Facebook does. Ultimately, I guess I could say it makes me feel like I’m actually doing something. What’s more, I’ve also used my computer to take another step closer to that – as of last Monday, I am now a fully paid-up member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (or CIEP for short).

This organisation offers those who join a number of perks, among which is the chance to complete training (at discounted prices) in proofreading and copyediting. Since the latter area seems to be broader, that’s what I’ve chosen to focus on, and I now have everything I need to start the six units of the Copyediting 1 course. It looks like all I need to do is read the featured study notes and complete the activities using Microsoft Word and its Track Changes function, something I’m more than familiar with after the last three years. Not since my early days at Haymarket have I felt this confident and excited. Although I won’t have all the knowledge required to copyedit for a living when the course is finished – the CIEP recommends doing at least two more first – this new endeavour will at least go a little way to clearing some of those rather ominous clouds hanging over me. It gives me a fresh glimmer of hope to pursue, and I can’t wait to get started!

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

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

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

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

Pastures New

It’s crazy how one’s priorities can change so much in the space of a year. Exactly twelve months ago, I published The ECP Diaries, Part 3. At that point, my dissertation project was merely a collection of relatively confused ideas with a long development process in front of them – they couldn’t have resembled the three finished products less. Now, said project is done and dusted, having assumed a final form that I am immensely proud of, and my focus has shifted onto pastures new. Some of these, I might have to keep under wraps, at least for the time being. Others, however, I can enlighten you on – and chief among them is something I’ve already alluded to.

I’m not actually going to launch into a long-winded anecdote here, although I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to come where those are concerned. Instead, I’m going to give you all something I promised last time – a link to my first published Music Is To Blame review. The piece I spoke of before was for an album, but that’s yet to be released, so this is a review of The Lottery Winners’ infectious new single ‘Sunshine’. You might say that’s an adjective that can be thrown around when it comes to music, but I think it definitely applies to this song. After all, it’s been on my On Repeat playlist on Spotify for two weeks now, and that doesn’t lie. As for the text itself, it is – as always – very exciting to see something I’ve written on display for everyone to read. I’ve spotted a couple of blunders on my part, but as a friend of mine pointed out, that just shows it was written by a human! It also gives me a valuable opportunity to refine my proofreading even further next time – and it clearly demonstrates that there is always scope for a writer to learn and grow that little bit more.

You can find the review by clicking here, and I heartily encourage you to listen to the single while you’re reading it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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