International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Post-Grad Decisions
Last of the Mohicans
2000, having just undergone knee surgery and completed my last contract
as a telecoms consultant, I felt down and out. What to do next?
I had just turned 62, still frustrated at my physical incapacity
and sitting around my apartment lounge in bedroom slippers at ten
thirty in the morning was just not on! Two coffees later I began
to browse through a magazines still lying around the house when
I stumbled across an article in one of them about amateur writers.
For the life of
me I cant remember what the actual magazine was about or the details
of the article. Couldve been a Playboy or even a National Geographic;
maybe? Im not into Popular Mechanics, hate sporting ones and occasionally
peak at those my wife picks up at the local Feminist Club; so somewhere
amongst all this literary trash was the small but poignant article that
sparked off a new desire of adventure into the unknown. I decided to
become a proper and professional writer!
Although my latent passion had been dormant for years, I had acquired
a certain amount of skills during my lifetime as a telecommunications
expert. I was constantly criticized for verbal diarrhoea
every time I sent in a report on whatever project or subject matter
I was dealing with to my superiors bunker at the regional headquarters.
In fact, my Director had the audacity on one of his regular visits to
my patch to literally complain about my verbosity. Dont
you realise, James that every time you send in your monthly, half my
staff have to dissect and condense your novel into one-liners
for the big knobs in London!
Undeterred, I continued to write about the results of my work that flowed
with detailed descriptions of every sector of whatever project I was
involved in. In fact, on two occasions I sat down for months and documented
three years work including diagrams, mathematical formulae and other
gobbledygook that I still consider gems even in todays world of
Internet and mobile talk machines. Mind you; I read them today and cannot
understand a word! Dates of issue are 1978 and 1981! So much for past
history; lets get back to my decision into the venturous world
of professional writing.
I somehow stumbled across an advert, dont ask me where because
Ive forgotten, about a Post Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing
offered by the Falmouth College of Arts. Still in my slippers I asked
my wife if she thought going back to college in the UK was a good idea.
Send me a postcard, she answered without hesitation. Nevertheless,
I went ahead with my plan. I applied for the course. So began my first
and continued contact with a rather strange character called Sam North.
But lets start from the beginning.
Hadnt been back to Britain since 1989 nor had I written anything
worthwhile in the English language since 1995. A first thing first and
housekeeping had to start from the bottom. Before awaiting the results
of my application for the course I had to sort out my own residence
and tax situation. I didnt want to incur in either double taxation
or loss of my Spanish residence. Dont worry folks, Im not
going to bore anybody with details of this area of planning except to
say that when it comes to doing anything unusual that departs from a
geriatrics (me) daily routine, money and security is the first
thing you think about.
When the answer came back from the college the first thing I looked
at was the timeframe. The years course consisted of 5 plus months
tuition and the rest was back at my dull apartment. By the way, after
having sent in a load of rubbish as my curriculum vitae, I was accepted.
This is when I received my first set of instructions from
a faceless character who was to be my future tutor. Yes, you guessed;
I must admit, he did hit a couple of chords which homed right into my
personal interest in the course contents which I sensed immediately;
journalism and story telling. Im not a literature boffin; I left
Shakespeare and Dickens at school 40 or so years ago, and was not going
to leap head first into Chekov, or Blake. Poetry leaves me cold and
anything that requires deep philosophical thought is just out of the
question. Give me the Ken Follett or Geoffrey Archers of this world
any day! When Sam particularly mentioned not to fall in any fatal traps
like trying to mix humour and realism into journalist articles such
as those written by AA Gill and Jeremy Clarkson, I fell off my chair
laughing! These were two of my most loved and revered obnoxious characters
that ever entered the realms of British journalism. Sam was right, of
course! Youve got to be bloody clever to get away with the linguistic
venom that emanates from both these ingenious characters. Then there
were the kiddies books!
Now this went even further back than my hard chore authors during my
puberty. I was puzzled at first to see that this subject was included
in my course. Peter Pan and Wendy, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and
hundreds of other classics were still around in todays bookshops.
How can one learn to better these gems of child literature? Enter my
daughter who is a qualified kindergarten teacher. Just talking the subject
matter over, I realised not only how important this sector of writing
is but also how exciting it can become. Sure, Rowling fought for years
to end up being a millionaire thanks to the Harry Potter series and
I was not intending to emulate her or any other writers of this gender
range, but nevertheless, my daughter was willing to help in the final
production in one of the course projects. Not to jump the gun, we completed
Sophie the Easter hen and are still today working on the
final polished version; in Spanish!
By this time, my wife had realised that I was for real and succumbed
to the idea of spending six months in Falmouth keeping me company whilst
I pursued yet another of my wildcat dreams. We came to an agreement,
or better said, an arrangement. I would sort out the travel arrangements,
accommodation and finance whilst she would take care of the packing.
The idea was to travel by car up to the North of Spain and take the
ferry from Bilbao to Portsmouth. On the accommodation side, I kept thinking
of Fawlty Towers and was determined to seek something similar to the
Torquay dwelling down on the Cornish Coast. I could just picture us
as long term guests being treated like the two old ladies that were
constantly ridiculed by Basil Fawlty whenever they got in his way; or
the dozy Major who never knew whether he was coming or going but loved
his gin. What a laugh, I said once to my wife, if we find Manuel
from Barcelona, except that this time he could come from your own home
town! She was not amused. Thanks to the college who sent me a whole
series of possible accommodations I found what I was looking for!
Lets see now, what have I left out of this first part of my eventual
meeting up with the main character of the story? Funds were sorted out
to maintain us during our stay. My income tax return was due end of
June. I would be back before then. I also made sure my monthly bills
were taken care of as well as the clearing of my post office box to
avoid any overflow of letters. My wife, on the other hand, was putting
away the bathing suits and taking out the winter woollies; five pairs
of shoes to my one and only! The travel bit was routine and uneventful
except that the Pride of Bilbao ferry was on its last trip
before its annual check up. She was half empty without the usual rabble
rousing, beer guzzling Brits returning from their Costa del Sol
holidays. It was January and bloody cold! Sorry for this smear on my
fellow countrymen, but couldnt help it as have seen enough of
these misbehaving bums in my time to sometimes wish I were not a Brit.
36 hour crossing and then the drive down to Falmouth with a packed up
WW Polo, including two boxes of my favourite Cuban cigars, was not only
smooth but a pleasure. I had to mention the cigar bit because Ive
been an addict for decades and besides, theyre four times the
price in the UK. Cant live without them! We finally arrived at
Ill end it here as the next part of my story needs a bit of extra
thought from my part because and despite belonging to the third
age age group as my wife and I are considered in Spain, I fulfilled
a life long dream that even I did not know lied dormant within me ever
since I was born. In fact Ill say it now and then repeat it again
at the end of part II.
You can only be a skilful writer if it pleases you. Anyone who
thinks he or she can undertake writing as a routine job is kidding him
or herself! Sam North knows this better than anyone.
© James G. Skinner. May 2009.
Mohican - Part Two
James Skinner on learning to write at Falmouth
This is the second part of my adventure into learning all
about professional writing at Falmouth College of Arts, meeting up with
a whole new bunch of characters and revisiting an area of the world
I had known decades ago; an event that would open up a new phase of
The trouble is that no Spanish government official has dared to
mention the forthcoming financial Tsunami despite the warnings from
the tour operators and travel agencies
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