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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Post-Grad Decisions

Last of the Mohicans
James Skinner

Late 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 can’t remember what the actual magazine was about or the details of the article. Could’ve been a Playboy or even a National Geographic; maybe? I’m 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. ‘Don’t 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 today’s 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; let’s get back to my decision into the venturous world of professional writing.

I somehow stumbled across an advert, don’t ask me where because I’ve 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 let’s start from the beginning.

Hadn’t 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 didn’t want to incur in either double taxation or loss of my Spanish residence. Don’t worry folks, I’m 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 geriatric’s (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 year’s 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; Sam North!

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. I’m 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! You’ve 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 today’s 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!

Let’s 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 couldn’t 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 I’ve been an addict for decades and besides, they’re four times the price in the UK. Can’t live without them! We finally arrived at our hotel!

I’ll 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 I’ll 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.

Goodbye 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 my life.

Viva Espana
James Skinner
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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