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

January Scales

Some years ago now, when I fancied myself as a bit of a poet, I found myself scribbling down verse on every spare bit of paper I could find. For a while it was constant, like some kind of obsession or compulsion, but looking back it seems to have been something of a forerunner to this blog, in the sense that I was looking for opportunities to write as regularly as possible. You could also say it provided a window into my deepest adolescent thoughts and feelings in much the same way this does at 24, although those tended to be much more cringeworthy – as I realised when Mum found one poem lying around one day. Thankfully, I’ve forgotten most of them now, and the few that remain are safely tucked away in my personal notebooks. One, however, still revisits me now and again, and I was reminded of it just the other day. As you might have guessed, it was called ‘January Scales’.

Now that 2022 has begun, it obviously seemed an appropriate topic of discussion, particularly because a great many of us will not long have navigated the post-Christmas blues, and that poem was one that tended to dwell on them perhaps a little too much. In particular, it told of one man’s nerves as he anticipates the first weigh-in of the year in his bathroom, fully expecting the numbers not to fall in his favour. I think by writing it, I succumbed to the habit of always viewing a new year negatively, as something to be feared – and why should that be the case?

I don’t know what the next year, 18 months or beyond will bring, but I’m going to try my best to embrace it as an opportunity at all times. It can be scary going into the unknown, but exciting too. As I once said six years ago now, a new year is a blank canvas, and it’s one to which I fully intend to add a lot of colour, no matter how long that might take.

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

Graduation

My graduation ceremony is now just under four weeks away, and I write this having recently booked my tickets, photographs, and gown for the event. Clicking those confirmation buttons made my one remaining university obligation seem that little bit more real, but I’m nevertheless looking forward to seeing everyone and celebrating their achievements, even if it is the last time I’ll see certain people (such as Lara and Nora) for a while – or ever, as the case may be. That’s both a sad and slightly odd thought, isn’t it?

In a stroke of amazing coincidence, I finalised all of that almost three years to the day since I moved into halls in Winchester, and it’s come at a time when I’m graduating in a couple of other areas of life too. In my last post, I alluded to an exciting new opportunity coming my way, and at long last I feel it’s advanced far enough that I can talk about it (for those who don’t already know). Very soon, I’ll be starting as an Editorial Apprentice at Haymarket Media Group, rotating through the three car magazines they own over a period of 18 months. It’s an invaluable chance I can’t wait to get started with, but besides being a new job, it also means I have to relocate to the bright lights of London – so it’s not only a professional change, but a personal one too. One I’ve never seen the like of before, in fact.

Given my disability and its associated challenges, I need to find somewhere that is accessible as well as relatively affordable (although, as I’ve said to several people, the latter in particular can be easier said than done in London). This is the main barrier to taking up my new post, so even though I’ve signed and returned my contract, I don’t have a start date yet – the idea is that I and my three fellow apprentices will all start at the same time, so I need to have some idea of where I’m going before that can happen. Thankfully, Haymarket have stepped in to offer whatever help they can, and I’ve been doing a spot of networking myself to get the ball rolling as much as possible. This has led to a small breakthrough, as Mum and I have a Zoom consultation booked in for Monday afternoon with a company who help disabled people into appropriate accommodation. I’m not sure quite what it’ll lead to, but it’s nice to know there are people out there willing to fight my corner and help me to reach my goals. You can rest assured I’ll update you very enthusiastically when I do find the right place from which to start my next journey. Let’s just hope it isn’t too long before that comes along!

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

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