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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Post-Grad memoirs Part Two

Last of the Mohicans Part One
James Skinner
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

Goodbye Mohican
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.

But 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 70’s. 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 morning’s 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. I’ll 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 wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to become, Stuart who’s 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 can’t 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 Monday’s 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 children’s 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 kiddie’s 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 student’s union. Brought back memories of London during the 60’s 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 didn’t 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 I’d forgotten about 40 years earlier. Penzance, Truro, Bodmin Moor, site of Daphne du Maurier’s famous novel ‘Jamaica Inn’, Tintagel’s famous King Arthur Castle without forgetting Porthcurno and Land’s End, where I had studied telecommunications engineering back in the 50’s and 60’s and it’s 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 student?

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’ I’ve 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 question!

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. I’m not talking about grammar, spelling or syntax, that’s not what I came for. I’m 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 subjectively.

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!
© James G. Skinner. June 2009.

The Goa File   Author: James G. Skinner
Paperback (pp: 395) ISBN: 978-81-8253-079-9
Availability: In Stock (Ships within 1 to 2 days)
Publisher:, 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)

The Goa File
James Skinner
Extract from his novel about the Falkland's War
The Goa File Part Two 1.4.2006
The CIA connection
Published in full by Cyberwit December 2006
The Purim Code (Oct 2008)
James Skinner
USA has blown your cover. Your position at risk. Return to base immediately

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