Minutiae

I often find that amusement and humour can be taken from some of the smallest things that life has to offer, such as the conversations we overhear or the quirks we find in the personalities of others. I look and listen out for these wherever I can, lest they provide my notebook with useful inspiration, but just every now and again something seems to fall directly into my lap, begging to be written about. Such a gift was presented to me yesterday afternoon, when I got home and read a text that had been accidentally sent to me earlier in the day:

“Hi Oli – sleepover numbers for 16th March. 56 children, 11 adults and 4 vegetarians. Thanks, Sharon”.

Once I’d opened this, I had three options. I could either ignore it, take advantage of the situation to pretend I was Oli and completely mess up Sharon’s plans (“the vegetarians have cancelled, sorry – meat only”), or politely respond that she’d simply sent it to the wrong number and leave it at that. Being the gentleman that I am, I went for the latter:

“I think you might have the wrong number ūüôā sorry! Mason”.

I saw the smiley face as an important inclusion. Without it, the text could have seemed snappy and rude, and I couldn’t have that. Since the original message had put a smile on my face – thanks to its random and unexpected nature – I had to convey as much in my response, and that was obviously the thing most likely to do the trick. Having released it to Sharon, I put my phone down, expecting the matter to go no further. Ten minutes later, however, she was back again, having also seen the funny side:

“Whoops! So you don’t fancy a sleepover with 56 kids and 4 vegetarians? LOL”.

I obviously knew that the offer wasn’t genuine, but I was relieved all the same. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure how being surrounded by 56 overexcited kids – probably all bouncing off the walls with no intention of getting any sleep – could be at all appealing to the 11 adults who would be there. I certainly kept them in my thoughts, as they’d need all the willpower and luck they could get. All that was left was to respectfully and jokingly decline Sharon’s offer:

“I’m afraid not! Best of luck with it though :)”

That really was that. Part of me hoped we had started a chain of updates as the seemingly chaotic sleepover approached – events that would provide me with more potentially useful material – but it was not to be. This particular flame of conversation had burned all too brightly and all too briefly, but it had once again proved that life’s most enjoyable aspects don’t necessarily have to be the biggest ones. Thank you, Sharon, for showing me that and, in doing so, improving a stressful day to a small extent. What’s more, if you are due to be an adult volunteer on 16 March – tasked with the welfare of 56 kids – I hope reading this has made you feel a little less apprehensive ahead of the big day. Look on the bright side, you’re only going to be totally knackered for one day!

Mason

Citizen Journalism

I often look through some of my past notebooks on a hunt for blog inspiration, and it was on the very last page of one particular book that I found the scribblings I wanted you all to read about here. They came from the last year of sixth form – 19 November 2014, to be precise – and an A2 Media lesson that saw us focus on “citizen journalism”, something defined by a quick Google search as “the collection, dissemination, and analysis of news and information by the general public, especially by means of the Internet.” I remember that it was a concept I found intriguing at the time, and something I definitely wanted to know more about. I liked the idea of these news vigilantes getting their hands dirty and plucking things the world needs to know about from under the noses of the big media corporations. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in something like that? Whatever we were saying about it in the lesson, we were obviously writing down some of the pros and cons associated with it, because these are what I found in my book in all of their black Biro glory.

The first pro I wrote is the one that caught my eye the most – it quite simply says that citizen journalism “allows normal people to create and collaborate”, and that this has the potential to “educate them in the process”. I like the fact that this is the first note on my list, because it immediately establishes that citizen journalism is a concept open to everyone, no matter who they may be. Furthermore, the “collaborative creativity” aspect of the whole thing is something I wanted this blog to aspire to when Will, Emily and Tamara all came on board, and I hope it can continue to do so as more people get involved in the future. Citizen journalism is already setting a few good examples for us, and we’re still only on the first bullet point on the page. The second says that it “reverses long-standing media hierarchies”. There’s a lot of very interesting stuff in the news, but we all know that there’s also a lot of bullshit which can heavily influence the unsuspecting victims reading it through widespread hegemony. With that in mind, it’s good to know that those who partake in citizen journalism can challenge this by taking it upon themselves to go solo and find out the truth. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that my notes end after this point and there are no cons in my book – because, unless everything goes catastrophically wrong, how many downsides to citizen journalism are there?

Mason

Blessed Are The Writers

The annual Doctor Who festive special on Christmas Day finally saw Jodie Whittaker make her long-awaited debut as the Doctor, replacing the outgoing Peter Capaldi in a burst of orange light. It was a fantastic send-off for Peter, who has been a brilliant Doctor and ambassador for the show, but its closing moments Рdepicting an explosive regeneration and Jodie plummeting to Earth from a fiery TARDIS Рwere an introduction to an even more exciting era to come (previously discussed here).

Finally seeing the Thirteenth Doctor take over as the star of the show actually gave me goosebumps as I sat slumped on the sofa. We may have to wait until the Autumn, but that fresh new¬†Doctor Who¬†dawn will be the very next thing to greet us. The corresponding feelings of eager anticipation have only really come to me once before; whilst I obviously look forward to the start of every new series, I haven’t been this excited since 2010, when Matt Smith took over as the Eleventh Doctor for Series 5. If you ask Will, he’ll tell you I hold that particular run of episodes in very high regard. At that point, everyone in and around¬†Doctor Who¬†also found themselves looking at a changed animal of sorts. Much like now, there were plenty of new faces in the cast and production team, and what came from them was a series that I believe is yet to be topped.

Any of its thirteen episodes could easily have stood out as a favourite, and all were memorable – although, in my opinion, the modern classic “Vincent and the Doctor” (written by Richard Curtis) is a particular highlight. I remember watching the series on first broadcast very clearly. It felt – and still does feel – like¬†Doctor Who¬†was a new programme, closer to five years old than fifty. I’m not criticising how it’s been before or since, because I owe an awful lot to its complete 55-year history. I just think that Series 5 had an especially vibrant quality that may not have been the same had there been more continuity from Series 4, David Tennant’s swansong. Change is a good thing, more often than not, and with it there was increased vitality. Eight years on, Series 11 has a golden opportunity to bring even more, with new crews in the TARDIS and behind the camera. I may have said all this before, but I reckon that conveys just how excited I really am. When the Doctor comes down to Earth with a bump, I can’t wait to see what adventures will await her. Blessed are the writers who get to find out first.

Mason

The Pull, Part 2

Happy New Year to you all! Please allow me to start 2018 with a swift update on my university situation, as promised. I was most excited to wake up this morning having lunch with a couple of friends ahead of me – but imagine my elation and surprise when, at around 11:20 this morning, I spotted an email notification telling me to check my applications-in-progress for an update. Of course, I spent a split-second thinking of the worst-case scenario. What if it was a rejection? I found myself simultaneously getting excited and trying not to set myself up for a fall, but as it turned out I need not have worried.

At once, I hurriedly logged into my UCAS Track account, to be greeted with the news that one of my choices was offering me an unconditional place on my chosen Creative Writing course. It is difficult to describe the joy and relief I now feel with this outcome – I only know that it’s big, and that I can now begin looking to the future in earnest. I can’t accept or decline the offer until I’ve heard from my second choice, but it is a major boost and I couldn’t be happier. University seemed almost unattainable for me two years ago, but as of today it is closer than ever. Watch this space, people!

Mason

Sometimes Streamlined

As a pair of budding writers, Will and I often discuss the ways in which we hone our craft. He does so in his screenwriting degree (being in his third and final year already), while I do so mainly here, on this blog for all of you. I find the idea that each writer has their own individual style very interesting, because – in my case at least – it was developed subconsciously. Not for one minute did I think “I want to write in this way” or “I want people to take this from what I write”. I obviously never fully recognised what was influencing me in each piece of work, but it was there, albeit in a behind-the-scenes role that almost allowed my supposed style to shape itself. But is it the same for others? What are their styles, and do they come about in the same way, or are they more consciously designed?

Before I go any further, I should explain how¬†this train of thought came about. It actually emerged from a “senior moment” for Will, if I can call it that. When we were exchanging our latest opinions on one another’s writing, he happened to enquire after a blog post I had written comparing our respective styles. The only problem was that it didn’t exist – but I swiftly decided that perhaps it should. So, upon announcing this post’s imminent arrival, I asked Will again what he thought the differences between us were as writers. In a nutshell, he believes trial and error is at the heart of his own creative process. When he is writing a script, the dialogue he uses will most likely come spontaneously, but everything else he writes is derived from his own personality. “I often don’t know how my sentence is going to end as I’m starting it,” he says of the way in which he talks. He redrafts, of course, but you never quite know what the destination of his material is going to be – and that’s what makes it such a rollercoaster ride to read, with comedy and drama often in unequal measure.

The fact that Will was able to properly explain his writing style would suggest that he’s been able to actively build it to some extent. I, however, have much less control over the direction of what I produce. I told Will that whenever someone compliments my style I never quite know how to respond, because although I appreciate the fact they like it, I have no idea what I actually did! I suppose it’ll always be interesting to keep on finding out. “You seem to analyse every word you write,” Will said to me, “leading it to be more straightforward.” Then he paused for a moment. “Not straightforward, but streamlined,” he added. Streamlined. Blimey, that’s a cool way of putting it, whether it’s true or not.¬†I’ll take that!

Mason

 

Later…

So, Third Year. The year where everything gets serious. Where your work suddenly becomes important and should be given a lot of attention. I should probably get to it then. Yeah…

My work ethic is terrible. This is evident as Mason asked me to write this post weeks ago. For some reason, even if it’s doing something I love, I can never build up the energy to do it. I have a feature length script, a dissertation, a monologue and a script report to write. And yet I can’t bring myself to get started. I can sit down in front of my laptop to start writing, and yet my mind will wander away from the task at hand. This is all well and good until you spend 15+ hours in the library to write the end of a script. That’s an example I made up. It didn’t actually happen. Honest.

When it comes to writing, nothing makes me happier. Except when it doesn’t. My low self-esteem and sometimes crippling doubt often lead to me questioning myself. Am I a good writer? Have I wasted my life? Am I a failure? This doesn’t help my motivation. I can be in these slumps for a couple of days. And then I’ll watch a brilliant film\TV show, or I’ll think of an idea that I just can’t wait to put down on paper, and my passion will return. And then I’ll sit down in front of my laptop and the cycle will begin anew.

This blog post isn’t a ‘how to avoid procrastination’ guide. If I knew how to be more productive, I wouldn’t have to write this, and I could go back to calling giraffes bastards. Hopefully, over this next year, my resolve and motivation will increase, and I can write a more cheerful post. I’ll get back to you on that.

Will

“Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.” – Christopher Parker

He Could Be So Good For Me

The central character that I created for Excludable was one Jim Rossiter, originally named Jake. He was “born” on 30 March 2013, the day I started writing, and from the outset he was intended to be an alter ego in the truest sense of the word. Like me, he used a wheelchair (although I never specified his disability) and tended not to be very forthcoming towards those around him, because he was always afraid of being a nuisance. He could be dishevelled at times, and was prone to overthinking and the occasional social faux pas. Despite these shared qualities, however, I was very careful not to make Excludable a script all about me. When somebody once asked me if it was, I quickly clarified that it was only about someone like me – a relatable character in whom I could place some of my most closely-held thoughts and feelings without it being obvious they were mine.

It seemed to work pretty well. Jim became not only a reliable fictional confidant, but also a decent testing ground for new ideas I considered putting into his story. I spent so much time thinking about Jim and his progression through Excludable that he became almost like an imaginary friend, albeit a more useful one. If something particularly thought-provoking happened in my real life, I might find myself thinking of my new project: “Jim could do that”, I would say to myself. It took a while to piece something together, as you all know, but I knew the waiting and endless thought would pay off in the end, and indeed it did. I am the biggest critic of my own writing, and especially of this, but at least¬†I’d finished it. Some of my rawest and most personal emotions had manifested themselves creatively onto paper, which I would now have to hand whenever I wanted to develop it. And it might never have seen the light of day if I didn’t have Jim at the centre of it – a character perfectly placed to¬†finally show me, after so much time spent thinking rather than doing, what I was actually capable of completing. All that’s left now is for¬†you all to meet him one day.

Mason

Original Vinyl Recording

Writing prompts are amazing things. I know that a simple phrase or group of words always has the potential to spawn a much longer and more imaginative piece of work, but just how little you need to create something never ceases to astound me. I took part in a creative writing exercise yesterday along with a group of other people, and we were encouraged to come up with a range of short stories using only a few photographs and objects. They seemed simple and self-explanatory at first, but then we started digging. One of the photos was of a city being bombed by fighter jets. Fire and thick black smoke dominated the image, and anybody’s natural response to this would have been to see it from a civilian’s perspective – all of the horror and devastation that comes with losing your home and livelihood. However, we were presented with something different, namely the question of how the pilot dropping the bombs may be feeling as he presses the big red button. It only took the addition of a second point of view, and a small alteration to the original viewpoint, to make the possibilities seem endless – but it would be the objects that intrigued me the most.

Each person in the group was asked to take a card at random that had an equally random object written on it. One person was left with a highwayman’s mask, another with a fortune teller’s crystal ball. I, meanwhile, took one that read “an original vinyl ABBA recording”. I felt confident about my ability to write something from this, being a record collector myself, and I quickly discovered that even from these five words, I already had a fully-formed character in my mind who would feature in my short story – to consist of no more than four or five lines. I pictured a lonely man, single, tired¬†and perhaps middle-aged, who struggled to find solace in anything except buying music. The reader needed to feel sympathy for him, and pleased that he had – at long last – found the rare record he so dearly wanted, since it would be key to his happiness. But then they needed to stifle a guilty giggle at the dark humour to follow when he proudly placed it amongst all his other LPs, only for them to topple over and crush his prized new addition along with all his hopes and dreams. This all had to happen, as aforementioned, in the space of only a few lines – and, to my delight, they seemed to flow in exactly the way I had hoped.

I wasn’t brave enough to read what I had written out once everyone had finished their stories, but I was quietly rather proud of what I’d come up with in two minutes. I was also¬†greatly impressed by the fact that a clear character and scenario had both been incorporated – along with a late twist of humour – into a text¬†shorter than this paragraph. Mind blown. And it was all thanks to that ABBA record. Who would really dare say that the English language is boring? To use an unusual analogy, it’s like chicken – Dad says you can do anything with it…

Mason

Brown And Sticky

I wrote my first feature film script in the space of 14 months, between March 2013 and May 2014. It was titled Excludable (although that was always meant to be a working title, since it’s clearly not a real word), and it might not have been a masterpiece but I was very proud of it. I hadn’t started this blog at that point, so it was in many ways the most personal thing I’d ever written. Will seemed to like it – all 73 pages of it – and I was committed to making the idea work after his ever-reliable feedback. I therefore started working on a second draft, and had even written a pitch that I sent to a production company for a radio series based on the concept. That old devil called writer’s block would soon put the brakes on proceedings, however, and a change of laptop just over a year ago accidentally caused me to lose the entire script. I still have the pitch, which I am confident will come in very handy one day – but the script is gone forever, inaccessible on my new computer, and that means that I am now eagerly pondering its replacement.

I do, however, have one other complete script I can showcase, even if it is just a single page in length. It was written quickly in September 2015, when I was required to shoot a short advertisement for a product of my choice as part of the college course I was on after my A-Levels. Having held a lifelong affinity for the brown and sticky stuff, I chose Marmite, but I was struggling to figure out how to tackle it in an original or memorable way. I thought about it long and hard for at least a week, seemingly getting nowhere despite watching a whole host of past adverts in search of inspiration. It was my tutor who eventually suggested that I use the famous “love or hate” debate surrounding the spread to portray a group of Marmite lovers at a support group gathering, discussing their shared issue as though it was something sordid or taboo. This was something of a eureka moment, and I agreed with it immediately, recalling an advert I’d seen in which a man was implied to be pleasuring himself to footage of Marmite on his TV screen. I thought that if I approached it carefully, the idea could give me just the memorable quality I’d been looking for in my advert.

I got writing soon after the discussion with the tutor. It was only one page, as I’ve said, but a lot of thought still had to go into it, as it needed to pack a punch and sell the product to the audience in the space of a minute. I can’t say I was entirely happy with the finished piece of work – for me, dialogue is an area that will always need improvement, and admittedly, the view of a support group that I presented was probably nowhere near as realistic as it could have been. Far from being supportive, gentle or encouraging, the leader of the session was a cold and ruthless man who had little time for anyone else’s stories and was determined to berate them and their relatives for their introduction to Marmite. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t quite happen in real addict gatherings. I’m also in doubt as to whether they end with leaders and visitors alike licking Marmite jars in an ecstatic frenzy, but if nothing else the script may still turn out to be a useful basis for another idea one day. I left my course the day before I was due to film it. I don’t know how happy I would have been with the end advert, but I might feel better if it resurfaces in another form one day, knowing that another complete piece of my work is out there for the world to see representing my portfolio.

Mason

Unwritten

Will wrote about his dyspraxia¬†recently because it was our shared intention that all four members of this project – Emily, Tamara, Will and myself – would write about our respective long-term conditions. In my case, that obviously meant banging on about cerebral palsy again, which I suspected you’d heard enough about for the time being, so if I was going to do this I’d have to think of another way of talking about it. And that seemed impossible. A lot has been covered, so what could I tell you that you probably haven’t read already?

Then I had a thought – namely that there’s always more to write about any given topic than you think there is. Take my life, for example. As I may have said before, I resisted starting a blog for years, and all because I doubted that I’d have more than ten posts’ worth of material. 108 posts (including this one) later, and I’d like to think that Third Time Enabled is still going strong. That must mean that either my life isn’t as dull as I thought it was, or I’ve just been consistently repeating myself for the last two years. I would imagine it’s probably the latter, on second thoughts! Seriously though – at the moment it might seem like I’ve exhausted every possibility when it comes to talking about any topic, but maybe it’ll transpire that there’s a new perspective on my disability that I haven’t found yet. Part of the beauty of life is that some of its best stories are yet to be written, and when I find them I’m glad I have the perfect space to bring them to life.

Mason