The ECP Diaries, Part 3

Here I am, back again with fresh inspiration! I’m not exactly good at leaving this series until September, am I? It might have been a lot longer before you heard about my ECP again had it not been for the fact that – somewhat ironically – I’d been really struggling with how to move forward. As you might expect, those of us on my course are told to avoid cliches in our writing like the plague. Unless, of course, we can do something different with them and turn them on their heads. In my state of blind panic, convinced that every one of my ideas had been done a million times before, I’d completely forgotten about that and had resigned myself to struggling until my return to Winchester – until a friend stepped in with a reminder to do something different.

So, the current state of affairs is as follows. My original idea – concerning two people locked in a relatively trivial disagreement – seemed much too basic. There was nothing different about it that made it stand out from countless other similar stories that have gone before, so I thought about how I could raise the stakes for one or both of my characters. In doing so, I’d be following the advice I’d been given, and potentially improving the piece’s dramatic effect. Take the scenario I have at the moment – two people in a problematic relationship, arguing about their feelings. It hadn’t occurred to me until a few days ago that doing something as simple as changing their ages could put them in an entirely different position in life, taking an even bigger risk, so at the moment I have Mark, a younger man locked in a heated confrontation with Jackie, the older married woman with whom he has been having an affair. As they talk, they’ll reference Jackie’s husband, who we then meet in the second script, facing his own much more severe issues all alone.

Even this new concept might still seem too much of a cliche at first, but I’m confident that there’s room to experiment with it even more. It’s certainly the clearest direction I’ve established so far, and the fact I’m now likely to panic much less as this process continues is a welcome relief. I feel much better about writing focused test material now – everything I’d attempted up to now seemed rushed, unnatural, hastily typed from a place of desperation. Let’s hope that won’t be as much of a problem going forward. It definitely seems like I’m on more of a roll, which can only be a positive.

Mason

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

Keep Calm, Chop And Change

Hi everyone, my name’s Alex. I’m a friend of Mason’s and a fellow Creative Writing student. I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered a post on this blog, but I’ve never done a blog post about me as I’m used to telling other people’s stories, so bear with me!  

I decided to cut my hair from shoulder-length to pixie one Saturday night in January while I was alone in my uni house. I hadn’t planned to go that short when I picked up the Ikea scissors and faced my reflection. I hadn’t planned past the slightly bored thought of “I’ll give it a trim”, which I’d had for the past year. So I snipped in a few more layers, took a centimetre or so from the ends and found myself wondering – not for the first time – how it would look a bit shorter. Maybe a lob length. My sister had just started growing her pixie cut out and I’d admired her confidence when she got hers cut, but felt – because we have different bone structures – that I wouldn’t be able to carry one off. I put on a playlist – I can’t remember it now but it probably didn’t help to rationalise what I did next – took a handful of my hair and chopped it at my jaw. No turning back once you’ve done that, is there? It felt…empowering? Crazy? Like I’d stuck a metaphorical middle finger up? Of course, a lot was behind this, not just the desire to try a new look. I’d spent my whole life feeling self-conscious, awkward, like I didn’t belong anywhere, as though no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t fit in. Nothing really felt personalised in my physical identity.

I felt free to be so drastic partly because I wasn’t with anyone (so didn’t have to worry about being dumped because I’d changed), partly because I was no longer bothered if people didn’t like me (and if they cared then I no longer wanted them in my life), and partly because nothing else had worked. I don’t know how long that first chop took, but I’ve never regretted it. I love that I cut (and still maintain) it myself. No-one else had any part in creating it and there’s something really satisfying in that.

Changing to become more authentic is the most terrifying, empowering thing because it’s a leap of faith. Chopping my hair into a pixie cut challenged me – and not just in my cutting abilities! It challenged me to step out from a role I felt I’d been playing for years that had got good reviews, but wasn’t authentic. I didn’t want to be a carbon copy or a blend, I wanted to be me and I wanted to be that person unapologetically and honestly. Cutting my hair was the first major step towards cultivating a look, a lifestyle, a persona that suits and reflects me. Not society, not socially popular images, not stereotypes, not what’s seen as attractive. Just me.

Lots of people thought I was having a crisis, lots of people thought I was crazy. Lots of people probably still think all those things, but I’d rather be honest about who I am and what I want. Trying to stuff myself into an image that increased self-doubt and insecurities already in existence – due to constant comparisons with everyone else – hadn’t worked. But accepting those insecurities, owning them and stepping out from who I felt I’d always had to be helped to overcome a huge block. I realised that you can change but the people who like you for yourself won’t give a damn what you look like, and if they do? Well, there will be people out there who love who you really are, and you should look out for them.

So that’s the story behind the hair.

Thank you Mason for letting me contribute to your blog!

Alex

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

 

 

Prioritise

A few weeks ago, as I got closer and closer to returning to Winchester, I had a virtual post-it note in the top right-hand corner of my computer desktop. The to-do list on it was as follows:

  1. “Look at Freshers’ Week application form”.
  2. “Continue the script”.
  3. “Browse uni societies”.
  4. “Continue proofreading research (ongoing)”.
  5. “Look at reading lists and make purchases”.

In addition to those, I also made a mental note to print out my Arrival Pass to show when we drove back onto campus, and to completely clear out my university inbox. The latter was swiftly done – 276 emails were deleted to give me a nice clean account for the year ahead. The printer was problematic at first, and it transpired that this was because of a lack of black ink, but I got what I needed in the end. You might therefore assume that now I’m here, nicely settled and delighted to be back, everything is fine and dandy. You’d be right, but I can’t deny that the aforementioned list is still bugging me. Yes, the script I wrote about recently is now complete, and yes, the books I need for this semester have been ordered and are here (everything else, aside from the application form and the society browsing, is a work in progress). But when I look at the way I tackled these things, and how I put them all in order, it bothers me. Take the script, for instance. It’s important to me, because it’s a potentially valuable example of my writing, but did I really need to put it ahead of my proofreading research, or buying what I need for my course?

This academic year marks the point at which everything starts to count towards my final degree. If ever there was a more appropriate time for me to get my priorities straight, it must surely be now. I’ll still enjoy myself with my friends, but I also need to focus as much as I can – and although it’s still only Freshers’ Week as I write this, I’m already struggling slightly with that. As ever, there are four modules to get through this semester, each with plenty of preparation to consider before we even get to the assignments. What that means is that I’ve spent much of this week trying to think about everything at once, and only scrambling my head as a result. Of course, I know there will come a point where I’ll have to juggle more than one task, but right now it’s early enough in the year that I can afford to tackle each class one at a time, and clear my mind in the process. First up – Rewriting and Adapting at midday on Monday. Bring it on!

Mason

 

Fade To Black

Towards the end of July, I wrote about a script for a short film that I was gradually developing from a short story I’d written last year, Warm Leather. Knowing how badly I procrastinate, I was doubtful that I’d manage to get it finished anytime soon, but I’m now pleased to report that I’ve broken the habit of a lifetime – I have a complete draft! I typed the words “fade to black” on Tuesday last week, and quickly shared what I’d done with a small group of friends. They may have been slightly biased, but the feedback they gave was largely favourable, so for now I will stick with the draft I have – my next objective is to send it elsewhere and see if I can find some more informed advice.

After so many years of only managing to write snippets of script, it means rather a lot to me to have committed to this one through to the end, even though it’s only 14 pages long (quarter of an hour in length, rather than the half an hour I had anticipated). It’s given me a solid starting point to develop and grow the story where necessary, and if nothing else, it’s been good practice for the “Creating Short Screenplays” module I’m starting in Winchester next semester. I couldn’t be happier with my progress so far, and if I can find the right place to send it next, then who knows? Maybe this won’t be the last update I give you…

Mason

 

The Gym

What do you do when you want to go to the gym? You go, and you probably don’t give it a second thought either. I wish I could say the same. When I decided to venture into Winchester and try it out so I could write an article for Creative Non-Fiction, even I wasn’t prepared for all of the questions and careful consideration that lay in wait. The process began on Friday afternoon, when I sent a Facebook message explaining my circumstances and asking whether I could come in. After a brief wait, Hayley – the manager to whom my enquiry was passed – replied that evening. To my surprise, her response was favourable.

“Would you like to come down to the club at some point on Monday for a chat?”

Too right I would. A positive step – who’d have thought it? I was relieved that at the very least, whether I publicly humiliated myself in the gym or not, I would have some kind of development to write about. After the weekend had passed in a flurry of doubt and worry, the day arrived, and I made sure to head straight to the gym so that I couldn’t put it off any longer. I’ll admit that on the way, I found it hard to focus. I was convinced that my disability would make all of this impossible, and that the end result would be a resounding “no”, but luckily you don’t have a pointless conversation to read here. Hayley was more than welcoming, although I was somewhat surprised when she asked me her first question.

“What are your goals?”

Blimey. Goals? That’s the sort of question you ask dedicated gym-goers, not spotty little whippersnappers like me. Fearful of giving a wrong answer, I reiterated that I was visiting for the purposes of an article and we moved on to my limitations. Hayley gesticulated at the equipment around her and asked what I’d like to have a go at.

“How about a rowing machine?”

I thought for a moment. “Well, I tried one at school a few times, but I had to be held onto the seat. It’s still feasible though.”

“The exercise bike?”

I looked over at it, and it was clear to me that I would be unlikely to magically climb onto it, but I supposed Hayley couldn’t have known. She made the perfect suggestion, however, when she said she could have some weights brought in if I waited a couple of days.

“Here’s my email address,” she said, scribbling it onto a piece of paper as I left. “Send me as much information as you can about yourself and we’ll sort this out.”

Two days later, I was back, and everything I needed was ready. Hayley had her colleague Steph on hand to show me a few things with the weights, but first, I parked as close as possible to the rowing machine – so that my wheels were straddling it, so to speak. I then started off by drawing the handlebars toward my chest and pushing them out again, and the resistance from the cable meant that this was much trickier than I had initially expected. My workout had begun in earnest, muscles I clearly hadn’t used in a while were already starting to burn, and I had to take my fleece off because I was already sweating. Evidently, it was doing me some good! Once that first exercise had come to an end, I was given the weights, which promptly became heavier when I mentioned that the first set was too light. I brought them up and down above my head, in and out in front of my chest and around in circles until I was physically struggling to hold them. It wore me out, of course, but the further I pushed myself, the more I saw why people warm to this kind of activity. The sense of accomplishment I felt made it impossible not to smile, and eventually, Hayley had to insist that I stop.

“I wouldn’t want you to overdo it. You’ve done half an hour,” she said.

“Really?!” I was so engrossed that I had completely lost track of time. Reluctantly, I put the weights down. I felt as though I was only just getting started, but I was still tremendously proud of what I had achieved. Hayley seemed pretty pleased, too.

“You look properly chuffed,” she beamed. “You’re more than welcome to come back if you want.”

I was seriously considering it, even after being told that I would soon be aching all over, and it still remains a distinct possibility. Hayley’s email address is still in my bag, and after such a positive experience, she could be hearing from me again very soon…

Mason

Grapeness

Just in case you aren’t friends with me on Facebook, or don’t follow me on Twitter, I thought I’d post this photo here (I couldn’t resist, frankly). In an ideal world, I’d have something mildly interesting to say about it as well, but the simple fact of the matter is that it just made me smile – and I hope it can have the same effect on you. Have some Monday motivation, courtesy of something I found on a university lift!

Mason

A Heart Full Of Hope

Here we are, folks – my very first post for 2019. I can safely say that 2018 was a corker of a year for me, and although I spent the last few hours of New Year’s Eve alone at home, I did so with a belly full of pizza and a heart full of hope, so I was more than happy. I used some of that quality time to continue reading a book Lara bought me as a Christmas present, Agatha Christie’s Evil Under The Sun, which features none other than Hercule Poirot himself. She got it upon hearing that I’d never read any of Christie’s work, and told me that I’d find it very easy to become immersed in the story. She was absolutely right – as I write this, I am 93 pages and seven chapters in, at a point where many probing questions are being asked of every potential murderer. I got there in no time, and my enjoyment of this new book in my spare time has subsequently increased my excitement for what lies ahead at Winchester even more.

Of course, nothing by Agatha Christie is on the reading list, but a few other books are, and two of them arrived yesterday. I am yet to look at them properly, but both are works of non-fiction – and as you might have gathered, I’m rather fond of life writing. The opportunity to read about the experiences, trials and tribulations of others is always tantalising, as is the opportunity to write straight from the heart about my own. The prospect of so much creativity from that and my other modules – including one actually called “Creativity”, and one on poetry, which I have always enjoyed – makes this January much more inviting, since I can’t yet tell what new ideas will manifest themselves, or how. I don’t know what will happen outside of my work either. The world is once again my oyster and as always, the unknown is very exciting. I can’t wait to go and see what it’s all about! Before that, though, I have another very precious fortnight left here at home – and before that, there is a brand new episode of Doctor Who for me to enjoy coming tonight. I fully intend to make the most of both.

Happy New Year to you all!

Mason