Another Satisfied Customer

As of last Monday, I am unemployed once again – for a few reasons, the job at Classic & Sports Car was just one of those things that didn’t work out (not that that should reflect badly on them, since they’d been nothing but supportive from the start, and they were more than happy with my contributions). What that means is that I have to go back to the drawing board, and while I might normally relish the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again from scratch, this time it feels markedly different. That job was, on paper, a perfect opportunity for me. Indeed, it would be ideal for any budding motoring journalist, and I sincerely hope my successor settles well. When it didn’t pan out as I’d hoped, though, it left me in a somewhat strange position. I feel somewhat lost, unable to trust my own judgement with my confidence knocked, and not knowing where to turn at all.

With that in mind, I’ve a lot of thinking to do, but thankfully there are a few personal projects I can throw myself into in the meantime. For starters, there’s the voiceover I’ve been writing for Abi, which I alluded to last time. I spent days bashing out and deleting just over 300 words, convinced I still wasn’t the man for the job and that they’d be much better off coming from her. When I’d finally ended up with a draft that I didn’t completely hate, I took a leap of faith and sent it to Abi, hurriedly assuring her that I’d be fine with any edits she made, or if she wanted to discard it completely! To my considerable relief, however, she loved it, saying it was as though I’d taken the jumbled ideas and words in her head and put them in perfect order. It therefore looks very likely that it will be used in her video, and the icing on the cake will be the fact that she’s actually going to credit me for it, which is always a good thing for an aspiring writer.

That’s what I’m trying to focus on in the absence of full-time employment – getting my name out there as much as I can, no matter what it’s for. In addition to Abi’s commission, I’ve spent some time browsing some websites that were recommended during my Copyediting module in Winchester, including Fiverr, Textbroker and People Per Hour. These allow freelancers in all manner of industries to advertise themselves or pitch for projects posted by others, and I’m hoping that one or more of them might help me to gain some editing or proofreading expertise, since building a portfolio makes it a lot easier for people to make a name for themselves. Besides that, I’ve got an online meeting on Wednesday for something else I might get involved in, to which I’m hoping to take some interesting ideas. I can’t say what’s going to come from that just yet, but I’m sure you’ll hear about it in due course if it develops. I’m just glad to have leads to consider and pursue, helpful ones that could help me make my mark while I search for something more permanent. These are uncertain times for me, but such things really do remind me that there may yet be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Mason

Graduation Day

Well, that’s it. Having been a graduand up to this point, I am now officially writing my first Third Time Enabled post as a bona fide BA (Hons) Creative Writing graduate. One shake of Alan Titchmarsh’s hand in Winchester Cathedral was all it took, and it was the icing on the cake on a day quite simply awash with pure, unfiltered joy. It’s now been just under a week since the ceremony, and already lots of people have asked me how it went. I’ve noticed that the one word I’ve used consistently when describing it has been ‘infectious’, and I stand by that (although not in a COVID-y way, just to be specific).

What was infectious was the happiness in abundance, and the pride everyone had not only in themselves, but in each other. Creative Writing was always a very friendly course, and I can say that I’d probably stop and talk to the majority of people I met regardless of how well I knew them, but even so, it was heartwarming to be congratulated before and after the ceremony by so many people. I got the sense they were all genuinely interested in what lay ahead for me, and that feeling was entirely mutual. There was a lot of applause from everyone as each graduand took the stage in the cathedral, but it very much occurred to me that nobody minded one bit – we were all in this together, so no clap was too vigorous and no cheer too boisterous. I know I actively tried to be as loud as possible for everyone I knew! I’ve met a lot of people over the last three years who I think will go far in life, and I look forward to seeing and hearing what they can achieve.

Of course, those people include Lara and Nora, and as always it was delightful to be reunited with them again. As with a lot of people, my palms were practically red raw from applauding them so hard in the cathedral, and afterwards we got the chance to celebrate further by having a couple of drinks together (non-alcoholic for me, obviously). We were joined by Lara’s mum, who was also over the moon for her daughter, and Ben, who just happened to have been working in the nearby museum. Many laughs were had by all, and they were definitely made all the more special by the fact that we likely won’t see each other for some time. There’s been talk of us meeting at Christmas, or in the spring, but in the meantime we might just have to stick to our Zoom quizzes. Lara’s already volunteered to write one, and now that our schedules all differ, she’s suggested that we focus on making them more streamlined – otherwise we tend to mess about and let time get away from us! It’s all about optimising the moments we can spend together, and all of those are precious indeed, especially now we’re entering the next busy stages of our lives. We therefore ended a brilliant day in the best possible way, and the nerves I felt going into it became a distant memory. Trust me, I was physically shaking as I put my robes on – as brilliant as everything was, I dread to think when I’ll next be that apprehensive!

Mason

Nora, Lara and little old me – official Winchester graduates!

Getting Warmer

In eight days’ time, I will start my new job at Haymarket with the brilliant team at Classic & Sports Car, whom I met via video call on Monday. They very kindly allowed me to sit in on one of their weekly editorial meetings, in which they discussed different elements of the next issue, which will be complete when I join them. While I therefore didn’t have any proper input, it was interesting to see their way of working first-hand, and I know it will come in very useful when I actually get going. We all seemed to gel nicely, which I would say bodes well for that day and the 18 months that lie ahead. It was also reassuring to find that they had a great deal of confidence in my abilities, which I must make sure I repay as fully as I can. If I can do that, anything is possible going forward.

Another thing I need to do is find accommodation in London, which after several weeks is still proving to be very difficult, although there could soon be a small light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been referred to an organisation called the Journalists’ Charity, who offer a fund for those breaking into their first job in journalism who need additional support. In my case, a little more money to cover my expected rent would come in very handy! With that in mind, I submitted an application with Haymarket’s help a few days ago, and even though I’ll have some questions to answer from a caseworker before a verdict is reached, we all seem pretty confident that it will be favourable. I’m hoping the financial boost will allow me to look at a wider range of properties which may be more suitable for me and my needs. I’ve already browsed some of these, and although there have generally been small details that have ruled each of them out – a shower over a bath, for example, which would be inaccessible for me – but in my gut I feel I’m getting warmer. There are fewer and fewer of these obstacles to be seen now, so I feel that I surely won’t be waiting much longer before I find somewhere I can properly look into. In the meantime, I’ll start my new job from home, and that milestone is getting ever closer – but there is, however, the small matter of my graduation to attend to first. We’re setting off for Winchester in the morning, and I can’t quite believe the time that seemed so far away in September 2018 has finally come…

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

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

One More Yellow Question

Picture the scene – the game is in its closing stages. Seven players started out, and seven are still in contention to win. I have gradually powered my way through Geography, Art and Literature, Science and Nature, Sport and Leisure, and Entertainment. History, the yellow category, is all that stands between myself and glory. Five slices of the cheese wheel are in place, and I just need the sixth. Unfortunately, it’s the same for everyone else – the last slice eludes them all – and the questions aren’t quite falling my way.

This was the climax of the Trivial Pursuit game I played with Lara, Nora, Ryan, Ben, Alysha and Deacon last weekend – socially-distanced, of course. It was possible thanks to the magic of Zoom, and worked an absolute treat. Ryan had the board and pieces in front of him, we decided on our counters, and he rolled the dice and moved them all on our behalf. We played for first place, then second, then third, all the way down to seventh, and there were plenty of laughs throughout. We all miss being on campus together dearly, so we’ve found that meeting online for quizzes and banter has served us very well indeed.

We have another Zoom call pencilled in for tomorrow lunchtime, and I can’t wait. We’re going to give some new games Alysha has suggested a try, too – we all agreed it would do us good to diversify from quizzes every so often. They’re much less complex than Trivial Pursuit, too, involving little more than old-fashioned pen and paper, so they seem rather refreshing in that respect. I’m sure that whatever is different about the games we’re playing, though, one thing will stay the same – the spirit of competition between all of us.

I came third on that day, by the way. The question that clinched it?

‘Which king abdicated the Spanish throne in 2014?’

King Juan Carlos, in case you were wondering.

Mason