International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Post-Grad memoirs Part
of the Mohicans Part One
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
James Skinner on learning to
write at Falmouth
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 my life.
first things first; as I wrote in my last episode we - that is, my subdued
wife and I - arrived at the hotel that we had booked in advance and
as luck would have it, was just as I had hoped. Instead of Cybil Fawlty
waiting at the entrance, a delightful couple called the Pickens was
there to greet us and introduce us to the recently restored 100 year
old hotel. The Lerryn is situated on the outskirts of Falmouth
about two blocks from the main beach, but near enough for a walk into
the town centre. It was built around 1909 and survived a near bomb hit
during WWII. As we walked into the hall I searched for Manuel
but alas there was no Man from Barcelona to help us with
the luggage. Our allocated room was on the second floor overlooking
the bay and both dinning room and lounge-come-bar was just as I had
imagined during the years of watching my favourite TV comedy show back
in the 70s. Difference was there was no room for any comedy acts
or misadventures as the hotel was run as efficiently and with a family
atmosphere as any other of the many that I presume can be found in Cornwall
or Devon. I was yet to open the door to the unexpected.
I frankly did not know what I had let myself in for, nor did I dare
mention my anxiety to my wife, lest she clamber back into the car and
head for the Portsmouth ferry.
The very next day I turned up as instructed at the administration section
of the college and headed for the registration counter. Although I came
from the land of fingerprinting the least I expected was
to be given some sort of a pass to enter all the student facilities
and the various premises scattered around the campus. Sure enough, after
a photograph session and paying my fee I was given a full blown ID card
and an e-mail address and was ready to bite the bullet and meet my fate.
The course tutor had arranged a sort of get-together of his future class
inmates at a newly opened restaurant, supposedly to break the ice and
prepare us for the next mornings introduction to the course. That
evening, my wife and I dutifully arrived around 7 pm at the Three
Mackerels opposite Swanpool Bay and after surveying the customer
layout we slowly approached a table with several young people plus a
not so young male searching through a menu, oblivious to our arrival.
What am I doing here? I thought as I looked at each youngster
in turn. I could be their father or even granddad! Finally
Sam North got up and introduced himself. The show had begun!
And so I found myself in the very deep end of a new academic venture
completely different and even alien from anything I had ever attended
in the past.
I was once again a student! Listening to a lecturer lay down the law
on what we each had to study, research, work-on and finally write in
order to sail through the professional writing curriculum. I soon learned
my way around the campus, fought for my books and other written material
at the library, bullied my way around the computer sector as well as
the heavily sought after printing machine to compose my material. I
contacted all sorts of outside individuals and institutions during research
that ranged from ecological groups like Greenpeace to newspaper journalists
such as Sir Simon Jenkins of the Guardian, not to mention
the enormous range of contacts on the web. I even learned to line up
at the coffee counter for a lukewarm insipid brew and donut prior to
sitting down to the hour discussion session of our Monday morning essay.
Ill back track here to introduce you to my fellow students as
well as our tutor.
To start with, I was twice the age of the next oldest in the bunch.
There was Hazel an aspiring and later successful writer in her own right
and Nathan, who wasnt quite sure what he wanted to become, Stuart
whos ambition was to go somewhere in the wilds of Australia, my
splitting image Jim, then Oliver, the computer buff that kept this webpage
going and finally dear Jessie, the youngest of the lot. I thought the
world of Jessie as she honestly said to me one day that she had no idea
what I was talking about in my political essays as her own were more
in line with poems of love, philanthropy or the beauty of nature. Looking
back after all these years, she was the only one who probably had the
right idea about life! And of course we cant forget Sam the tutor,
dear Sam North; not only brilliant and knowledgeable but sometimes pushy;
in a nice sort of way of course! He never ceased to amaze me with rabbit
tricks and spontaneous production of worn out material such as films
I had not seen since my own youth. Most of us however, were mature enough
to take his lecturing style with ease and eventually follow the flow
of his eccentricities and produce the work he was looking for. Enter
the work sessions.
The schedule was pretty straight forward. Kick off on Monday at 10 am
that ended on Thursday around noon. Friday was research and individual
production day for Mondays essay. Sam would hammer us with lectures
to the showing of film clips, from discussion groups to play acting
with the constant flow of visiting experts that each in turn would show
us a different method or describe a particular kind of mannerism in
the art of writing. We covered all the topics that I had described in
my previous essay that ranged from childrens books to political
comments, book and cinema reviews as well as script writing. Ah yes!
Script writing was a world of its own and one that I eventually took
up as my final thesis to complete the diploma. What about the anecdotes?
There were plenty.
I started the course knowing bugger all about computers other than word
processing, Internet research and e-mailing my friends. I had confessed
this to Sam at the start of the course and he assured me that it would
not hold me back. Hah! Little did he know! Whilst I was trying desperately
to paste all the drawings that my daughter had sent me for
my kiddies book project, after having gone through the procedures
for the umpteenth time with Oliver, I somehow managed to overload the
college system and the whole lot came to a crashing halt! Just like
a power cut, the college was out of action. Then there was the photo
session that was part of a project of another group on the campus. All
our group was requested to appear before a camera in a sort of film
studio, all donned in black t-shirts and looking as scruffy as possible
only to be photographed in different obscene poses for some sort of
magazine. At least that is what I thought! Next thing I knew was a full
blown photograph of my mug on the college notice board together with
those of the rest of my group with funny quotes under each one. I quite
liked it! Still got the photo!
The best of all though, was when I was asked to join the students
union. Brought back memories of London during the 60s with thousands
of workers going on strike and being stranded in Holborn due to the
underground being out of action, not being able to get me home and ending
up on a beer binge at the White Heart. I could just picture
myself going down Falmouth High Street with an anti-something banner
or shouting Che Guevara slogans. Then there was leisure time!
I play golf. It didnt take me long to befriend the secretary of
the Falmouth Golf Club and join as a part time member during my 6 month
stint at the college. Saturday mornings, therefore were taken up with
a round of golf and then on to the Chainlocker and Shipwrights
pub where I came across my namesake ale, Skinners Knocker brewed in
Truro. A good lunch of chips and bangers, never to be had in my hometown
of Vigo followed by coffee and a tot of brandy with the inevitable light
up of one of my Havana cigars rounded off a Saturday morning and midday.
You could still smoke in pubs in those days. Alas, no more! Afternoon
was siesta time. Sunday was tourism day. Visited all the
haunts Id forgotten about 40 years earlier. Penzance, Truro, Bodmin
Moor, site of Daphne du Mauriers famous novel Jamaica Inn,
Tintagels famous King Arthur Castle without forgetting Porthcurno
and Lands End, where I had studied telecommunications engineering
back in the 50s and 60s and its Minack open air theatre
built on the treacherous Cornish cliffs. For you movie buffs, spent
a couple of hours at the small town of Saint Buryan where Dustin Hoffman
filmed the infamous movie Straw Dogs back in 1971. Wife
came along just in case! So how can I summarise my time as a newborn
To start with I completed a full blown 120 minute film script. I tried
to sell is as suggested by good old Sam but alas, the outside world
of movies, agents and professional scriptwriters is fierce and competitive.
However, I was lucky. One agent was kind enough to suggest that I turn
the movie into a novel. Five years later I completed my first ever novel,
now published and sold on Amazon, called The Goa File. Another
achievement was a series of articles I wrote for a niche magazine called
Fishing News. I knew nothing about this industry let alone
the difference between cod and mackerel but thanks to living in an area
full of fishing boats I had access to first hand information on the
subject. I continue to write a weekly garb in one of my locals and have
been doing so for the past five years. Apart from over 250 articles
in Hacks and several short stories in an Indian Review called The
Taj Mahal Ive got three new novels in the pipeline, Hope
at dawn, The Purim Code and Purple Maiden.
Busy for the next few years, I hope!
But what did I really achieve from my geriatric student fling? Good
Well, I actually learnt to write; sounds obvious but true. Sam was straight
and to the point when it came to what to write, what not to write and
how to write. Im not talking about grammar, spelling or syntax,
thats not what I came for. Im talking about learning to
put pen to paper and literally write those ideas or information that
you have tucked away in that piece of your brain that you wish to express
in written words. I learnt the art of composure that could present a
story in a thousand different ways. The techniques of text articulation
that could sound either cynical funny, or serious and above could please
all readers regardless of their sentiments or inclinations whatever
they may be, summarised as the art of writing objectively rather than
As a final note and in view of Hackwriters succumbing to the advent
of a plethora of blogs and other massive Internet writers, I will paraphrase
my previous farewell statement. You can only be a skilful writer
if it pleases you. Anyone who thinks that he or she can undertake writing
as a routine job is kidding him or herself. Sam North knows this better
than anyone. *You can now find him running the MA in Creative
Writing at Portsmouth University.
Gook luck www.hackwriters.com!
© James G. Skinner. June 2009.
Goa File Author: James G. Skinner
(pp: 395) ISBN: 978-81-8253-079-9
Availability: In Stock (Ships within 1 to 2 days)
Publisher: Cyberwit.net, Allahabad, India
James G. Skinner, as he is know to his friends in Vigo, Spain was
born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is a retired telecommunications
expert who has travelled the world over having worked for some of
the greatest of todayıs conglomerates such as Cable & Wireless,
US Sprint and British Telecom. Having lived in many different and
disparate countries spread across several continents, his knowledge
of and experience with people from different ethnic groups and social
backgrounds is second to none. He is a regular writer in Spanish
in the local papers of Galicia and is currently the Honorary British
Consul in the region. (read more)
Extract from his novel about the Falkland's War
The Goa File Part
The CIA connection
Published in full by Cyberwit December 2006
Purim Code (Oct 2008)
USA has blown your cover. Your position at risk. Return to base immediately
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