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

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

The ECP Diaries, Part 8

It is done. My ECP was at long last submitted seven days ago, and only three deadlines remain before my university experience is over for good. I felt a mixture of two things as I handed it in – the warm, calming feeling of relief and acceptance as I realised that this long process was over, and a degree of apprehension. My friends and I all agreed that we were too nervous about the eventual outcome to be pleased, but (as I’ve probably said before) I know in my heart that whatever happens, I’m always going to be proud of myself because I’ve come to Winchester, thrown myself into my degree, enjoyed it at every turn and – most importantly – I’ve gotten to the end.

With that in mind, I went about the rest of my day last Friday with a smile on my face. I unwound sitting outside in town with a bowl of parsnip, fennel and coconut soup (the university canteen isn’t open at the moment, so I’ve got to get my nutrition somehow). Later I bought myself the biggest celebratory McDonald’s imaginable, all while pondering what lay ahead. In terms of my remaining assignments, this consists of a series of freelance copywriting proposals, a radio script, and a short story. 28 May is the magic date, the endpoint – after that, I’ll be cut off from education for good, and cast out into the big wide world to fend for myself once and for all.

I don’t know what lies ahead yet – I don’t even know if we’ll be getting a proper graduation – but I’m going to go forward with my head held high, as I always try to. I’ve started by sending my supervisor a ‘thank you’ email. I always tried my best to incorporate her feedback, albeit perhaps not always as she would have liked (I guess the mark I get will tell me all I need to know). There were times when I struggled to hit the nail on the head with it, no matter how close I got. Some might say that as I graduate, she should get a medal for putting up with me! Arguably, though, that’s the creative process – trial and error, agreements and disagreements, with a healthy dollop of determination and passion thrown in for good measure.

Mason

The ECP Diaries, Part 7

Last Friday, having applied three days previously, I was granted an extension for my ECP. It was due on 23 March, but the deadline has now been extended until 16 April. The relief I feel is enormous, and if that wasn’t welcome news on its own, my third Copywriting assignment has been pushed back from 13 April to 4 May. Before these changes, I had five deadlines between 19 and 29 March alone, so I and many of my friends and cohorts were in desperate need of some breathing space – and thanks to a form we could use to get an extension without any evidence, we have it.

When it became clear in early January that I wouldn’t immediately be going back to Winchester after the Christmas break, Mum and Dad set up a small area in the corner of the living room where I could do my Microsoft Teams lectures and assignments in private on my laptop. It’s so far served its purpose well enough, but it doesn’t quite compare to a nice quiet study space in the university library. It doesn’t have all the resources the library has either, and that was one of the key reasons why I and so many others have sought to have the deadline moved. On top of that, even though I now have three complete screenplay drafts and a rough rationale draft to go with them, they still need work. That’s not to say that I’ve neglected them in any way – they’re shaping up well and I know that when they are done, I’ll be majorly proud of them. I just know that that’s not quite yet.

My supervisor agreed as much during our fourth meeting. That had been delayed for a couple of weeks, and while it was nobody’s fault, I was determined to get my full quota of six meetings before I handed my project in. Not everyone will choose to use all of theirs, and that’s up to them, but I can’t help but feel that it would be a waste if I left any outstanding. Each passing discussion is shaping my work for the better, and although its development is gradually coming to a climax, I know that there’s still more invaluable feedback to come before that end point in April.

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

The ECP Diaries, Part 6

There are now around six weeks to go until the biggest deadline of them all. Things are really starting to hot up, but – believe it or not – I’m as cool as a cucumber (although I can’t guarantee I’ll feel the same with a week to go). As I write this now, my three complete short screenplay drafts have been scrutinised once more by my supervisor, and I spent last night applying some of the latest round of feedback to them. Now I have a new aspect of the ECP to consider – the accompanying essay, a rationale that will explain every decision I made throughout the writing process and why I made it.

When those of us in Creative Writing were briefed on the dissertation and what would be required from it in early March last year (in a room packed with people – the most dangerous thing in the world 12 months on), we were told we didn’t even need to cite any sources if we didn’t want to, although I wouldn’t dare leave them out. At the moment, I’m taking my usual ‘skeleton’ approach that I use when writing all essays, where I create a version containing all the fundamental points I wish to make before going back and adding the quotes to back them up. Since rationales are all about describing your own actions and processes, I can never quite be sure how much to add in terms of additional sources, both primary and secondary. It’s a bit of a balancing act, and it will take careful consideration, but it isn’t daunting me just yet – I will continually re-assess the situation as each one is added. Furthermore, I have been recording every development in the project on a large Word document since late June, so I have an abundance of notes to draw from. It’s thanks to these that at this precise moment, the first draft of the rationale is coming along very nicely. I believe I have three meetings with my supervisor remaining, so my next step is to show her two of the screenplays (the third still needs a lot of work), along with the essay. If her previous feedback is anything to go by, what follows should be invaluable, and it’ll only boost me further as I enter the final stage of this lengthy, but ultimately satisfying, creative process.

Mason

Relished

I write this having returned home for Christmas, with no immediate assignment deadlines ahead of me. The resulting breathing space (although ECP work is ongoing) has given me time to reflect on the past twelve weeks, which have flown by yet again. Even faced with a second national lockdown and an earlier finish, there was so much to enjoy about this university semester. Much of it was aimed at preparing us for whatever lies beyond graduation. Among other things, I wrote a CV and mock job application for a relevant role in the publishing industry, a publishing strategy for a theoretical book and a letter to a literary agent.

Perhaps my favourite project by far, however, was the book I’ve just submitted for my Creative Non-Fiction for Children module. An introduction to disability for 4 to 7 year olds, it was a writing challenge unlike any I’ve encountered up to this point on the course. I chose it in the first place because every piece of work I had done previously was intended for an adult audience, so this was something that allowed me to spread my wings, so to speak. I can now freely admit, however, that I completely underestimated exactly what this involved. Obviously, when you write for children you need to adjust your voice so that it will be appropriate for whatever precise age group you’re targeting, but I still hadn’t considered how much there was to think about.

I’d chosen the youngest possible audience, of course, which meant that every single word, phrase and concept had to be mulled over before it was set to the page, to ensure that it was understandable for the reader. This increased my respect for the effort put in by professional children’s authors, but it did also have the effect of making me somewhat paranoid. I found myself deleting and re-typing various parts of the text multiple times, but that was no bad thing – after all, writing is re-writing! The feedback I received from the others in my group and my tutor helped a great deal with refinement, and it was very uplifting to find that most of the feedback on my work was positive. In turn, I found myself privileged to be able to read so many other brilliant pieces, and at all times throughout the module I felt a really warm and happy buzz around us.

The result of those twelve weeks was a book I am exceptionally proud of. I haven’t said that about my own work often, because writers can be their own harshest critics, but I can most definitely apply it to this. I am immensely glad that I used the module as an opportunity to submit an entire book, rather than part of one (which is all the word count normally allows). I feel the whole exercise has been invaluable, both in terms of boosting me and expanding my versatility, and I now have something complete – and with potential – to show for it. The assignment may have been submitted, but the file remains sitting on my laptop, waiting to be tinkered with and added to some more. It may be too tantalising a prospect to resist – as part of the module, we were advised on how we might be get our projects published. Such a goal can be incredibly difficult to achieve, especially with so many authors jostling for recognition, but it is by no means impossible. Maybe it’ll be my next step…

Mason

What Does This Button Do?

Imagine if I just started writing a post, with no prior idea of what would be in it, just to see what the result was. What would happen? A lot, or nothing at all? Something worthwhile, or a total waste of time? Wonder no longer, for today is your lucky day. I mentioned this idea while chatting to Alex last week, just as I was expressing my concerns about my creative well running dry. Aside from the mention of her and the idea, nothing you are about to read has been thought about beforehand – not significantly, anyway. Not even the title, although I’d say it’s probably rather fitting for the subject of spontaneity. After all, as I must have said on many occasions, experimentation is what creativity is all about, isn’t it?

When I was at school, and we were taking our first steps into the world of the essay, we were always encouraged to plan them. We had to know the exact content of every main paragraph, as well as the short and sweet introduction and the conclusion that would tie it all together. As I recall, lots of people relished this task. They were meticulous in their preparation and enjoyed being safe in the knowledge that there’d be fewer opportunities for panic to set in once they actually started writing. I, on the other hand, saw the essay plan as just another chance for procrastination to rear its ugly head, as the more time I spent on that, the less time I was devoting to the actual assignment. If nothing else, having to come up with a plan was always a somewhat daunting prospect, so in time I resorted to a much easier method instead. I just wrote the first sentence.

The second sentence would follow. Then the third, then the fourth and so on until I had made what I deemed to be good progress. Even if I wasn’t entirely satisfied with what I was writing, I would be calm, because I knew I’d made a start and there was plenty of time left to review it. Working in this way put me in a clearer headspace, and I honestly think it led to better end products. Even though I’m now at university, where essays become bigger and increasingly demanding, I still approach each one in exactly the same way, and I still believe it pays dividends.

You’ll have noticed by now that we’re already on paragraph four. You could argue that each Third Time Enabled post is a bitesize essay in itself, and just by tackling it one line at a time, I have succeeded in composing something that I hope is at least reasonably cohesive. I guess you can be the judge of that, but it just goes to show that sometimes all that’s needed is a little leap into the unknown – and just a dash of curiosity – and you can find yourself with a surprising result. I suppose the titular question sums my point up pretty well. If you’re struggling to jump in, just throw caution to the wind, and ask yourself – “what does this button do?”

Mason