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The International Writers Magazine: A Writer's Life for Me

A Literary Adventure
• James Skinner
I came across a small diary in a forgotten desk drawer the other evening that prompted me to write this short essay. 

At the turn of the last century, having completed forty years of a career in the world of telecommunications wandering the globe from continent to continent I thought it was time to change my vocation and become a writer. Frankly, I didn’t know where to start although I had already dabbled with a ‘do-it-yourself’ booklet of short stories titled ‘My book on Short Stories and Other Dribble.’ I even got the syntax and spelling wrong with ‘on’ instead of ‘of’ and ‘dribble’ instead of ‘drivel’. It was published by the now defunct Minerva Press that promised to turn my book into an overnight success. It never happened. That was back in 1996.


I’m not sure if it was an advert in one of the Sunday British papers purchased locally in Spain or searching through the Internet that I came across this advert of a course in Professional Writing offered by the Falmouth College of Arts. I think I wrote off for the enrolment form and subsequently sent all the papers that they required including the infamous little booklet that I’d written. Lo and behold I was offered a place on the course. That was at the turn of the century towards the end of 2000.

When I mentioned it to my wife she just said, ‘send me a postcard!’ Bless her heart I knew she didn’t mean it. Or did she? The point is that after organizing banking and money transfer arrangements, booking a passage on the ferry from Bilbao to Portsmouth and confirming a hotel in Falmouth, off we went in our 1400 cc Polo, loaded to the brim including golf clubs, en route to the UK.

The crossing was fairly smooth and uneventful. ‘The Pride of Bilbao’ P&O ferry was on her last trip of the season before the annual refit and there were very few passengers on board or entertainment for that matter. The slot machine deck was empty, the bar pretty miserable as the usual larger louts were not around, but what the heck, it was only a 36 hours run before we docked at Portsmouth.

I’ll now let my diary take over for the first few days. You’ll enjoy it. It made me weep!

6th January, Saturday. Left Vigo.

7th. Embarked ‘Pride of Bilbao’.

8th. Arrived Portsmouth and proceeded to Southampton. Stayed at the Port House Hotel.

Note: The last time I had driven a car in Britain was over 10 years ago. I felt like other Brits travelling to the continent – wrong side of the road – but in this case it was yours truly in the opposite direction. Effect is the same as the steering wheel is on the other side of the car.

9th. Travelled to Falmouth. Took 4 hours. Arrived at Lerryn Hotel (where we had booked). Paid £1591 up to 23.3.01.

10. Registered at college. Met tutor called Sam North. Started indoctrination. Wined and dined at ‘Three Mackerels’.

Note: Having met Sam North and the rest of my fellow students for the first time we all went to this new tapas bar as a sort of ‘get to know you’ do. Felt strange coming from the land of ‘tapas bars’, not to mention the fact that we could have been many of the students’ grandparents.

11th. Again at college. Given runaround of campus and 2 assignments to do.

12th. Day off. Shopped at Falmouth and took out £200.

13th. Tried to write essay. No use! – No inspiration. Went to Truro for the day.

14th. This time lucky. Completed my essay. Lunched in town at the ‘Chain Locker’. Bangers at last! Tried to read The Times.

Note: I had not savored English sausages, chips, bacon, fried mushrooms and tomato for some time. Had wine instead of bitter though. This was to be our regular Saturday lunch outing.

15th. Presented our work. My 1000 words had to be changed. Travel article next assignment.

16th. Watched films on 1870 period New York/London. Sorted out my work into PC or Mac computers. Called Vigo. Copies of Passport (not sure why this was required).

17th. Blood pressure down to 118/82 (what was this for I wonder?). Off to Penryn. Played with Dreamworks. Given more tasks to do, also deadlines.

18th. Practice with Webpage design. Lecture on Kids books. Registered with Doctor. BP up to 150/90.

And so it goes on for the rest of the course.

It’s now over 13 years since I attended Falmouth College. I look back as if it was yesterday.

I remember that we weren’t a large group and most of my fellow students were much younger than I was. The course itself was just what I was looking for. Apprehensive at first, thinking that I was going on a journey based on literature, reading Shakespeare or Bernard Shaw and whether or not I would fit in after so many years away from college. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Apart from the weekly essay that turned out to be a sort of journalistic piece, the rest of the course contained every aspect of writing including scripts, short novels, and kiddies’ books that I was looking for. The obvious manipulation of IT technology was one of my weaker areas. I was just too old for modern computers. Nevertheless I tried.

My first task every morning was to secure first place at the library or the Internet work stations, then back to Sam’s lectures, film shows or visiting lecturers giving us an assortment of advice on how to write novels or other ‘dribble’, short lunch break at my hotel and back again in the afternoon for more.

By the end of May I was saturated with knowledge, given a thesis to write and await the outcome of my efforts at the end of the year. I passed and the theme of my thesis was to turn into one of my success stories - although this is another story!  

Since then, I became a part time reporter for ‘Fishing News’ a now defunct magazine on fishing, written hundreds of essays for Hackwriters, have a weekly opinion column in my local newspaper – in Spanish – written two novels – one has received 3rd prize in a literary competition in UK - and one novella. I am preparing two new novels one in English and the other in Spanish.

To complete this short note I attach a copy of a photograph taken at the college by a bunch of students from another course for their own ‘project’ on photography. I had only been studying for about a week! About a half dozen of us were chosen at random and the common denominator was for all of us to wear a black ‘T’ shirt. My wife nearly had a fit when she saw the outcome. Talking about her, she took this entire caper in her own stride. A devout reader she more or less ‘emptied’ the Falmouth library every week and when we returned to Vigo the car was full of all kinds of Cornish trinkets and small antiques.

By the way, I had been a student in Cornwall at the defunct Cable & Wireless Engineering College in Porthcurno back in 1956, almost 50 years ago! The county is my second home.

© James G. Skinner. February 2014.

James Skinner on Spanish Politics

Now we have this new centre right party emerging with tsunami strength to challenge many of the right wing policies with their own recipe of management.

Serene Maiden Read James's Novels here

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