Wednesday, 22 October 2008

A Big Lump

This is called catch-up.

For well over two weeks, I've wanted to keep an account of my new life. It's quite a change and involves a shift from senior management in industry (woo hoo) to the wonderful world of the post-graduate student. I love it. I have kept a record from day one of my chosen course, an MA in Professional Writing, which I'm taking in beautiful Cornwall. Jump, I said over the summer, eschew the feeble enticements of a regular, monster income, copper-bottomed pension
and all the trimmings. Pursue your dream of writing - you know you'll like it once you get started. Much to my surprise, I did jump. Christ, what have you done now?

Rather than reproducing every detail of the last two weeks I'll give you a summary. After that it's death by a thousand cuts: the laughter and tears of a mature student who should know better but thankfully, doesn't.

Week One: Monday 6 October - Friday 11 October

My first day at University College Falmouth. I met so many new faces: colleagues, tutors, the IT department, the admin team. I entered lecture rooms for the first time in twenty eight years. I investigated the campus and found several invaluable resources. I was given a student card that allows me to travel cheaply on buses, should I wish to.

I came to the Professional Writing MA with a background in industry, mostly defence with a bit of ship repair thrown in, working in commercial management: drafting and negotiating contracts and various legal agreements. It is a huge shift from that world to post-graduate student, and there was very little time to adjust. When I finished my job to return to education, my office shoes were ceremonially thrown in the nearby Penryn River. That was on Friday, here we are on Monday. Welcome to your new life.

As promised by the college in the welcome pack information, we hit the ground running in an intensive start to our course. To reassure us, we were told this pace would not be typical but that the first week's project (writing and filming a short er film interpreting the folk tale of Cornish giant Bolster) would require extraordinary effort. It would also be a handy getting-to-know-you exercise.

Great toil was indeed put in by all. Our group decided our version of Bolster would cast the giant as a successful but aging rock star with behavioural difficulties. If you know about Bolster, you can see the link.

At the day's end I left the campus with my head completely in a spin. I had enjoyed the time, but what I had done and who I'd done it with were a bit beyond me. Just like undergraduate days then. I hoped for future clarity and went for a few beers.

At work on the Bolster script all day. The activities were lively and warming. I very much enjoyed learning so much so soon from colleagues who have done this type of thing before. A couple are nearly thirty years younger than I.

Hearteningly, it emerged that it wasn't just me who had finished yesterday in a boggled state. Several admitted to having felt the same way.

Back home, I went through the course handbook and was a bit taken aback, not only by the amount of things we must do but by not knowing how to do them. I dare say all will be revealed.

Bolster rewrites and the final version of the script. Today we also met the professional actors who will star in our film.

Because there weren't enough actors to take all the parts, one of the students had to be pressed into service, and ... it was me! Oh thank you God for making me six foot two and so deemed suitable to play the part of a thick bouncer. My nicely-shaven head also helped, I felt. I was given one line.

During the afternoon, we were released from captivity to view the locations at which we will be filming. These included the Course Leader's house, which is a minor mansion. There's money in this writing game then. I was anxious to leave promptly today, as I have to sort out some of my costumes for tomorrow.

Members of the student team worked hard overnight on storyboarding. Our technical guru explained with humour how the camera, lights and sound equipment work - the plan was, we would operate this machinery ourselves. Today the location was Minor Mansion. Our actors arrived, costumes and props appeared, equipment was tentatively picked over. Off we go then.

Act 1 featured the bouncer, smartly turned out in black, with dark glasses and Mr Spock earpiece. He fluffed his line only once. During the other takes, his dialogue was executed with a wholly convincing inability to communicate. Fortunately the pro actors took over quickly and the bouncer was sadly soon a memory. Although I had no more jobs to do today I stuck around for a while watching the process: it was fascinating for I'd never previously been involved with this type of thing. Everyone seemed to remain cheerful despite the high level of activity and interaction.

When I got home I discovered I had left my half-eaten lunch 'on location'. I had planned to have the rest for my tea. Already I was suffering for my art.

More Bolster filming. I was given the role of sound person, responsible for recording the dialogue. This involved holding a microphone on a long boom for many hours, and listening out for unwanted background noise. It also provided an opportunity to watch colleagues as the acts were directed and rearranged. I was struck by several students' use of very precise and expressive language to convey what they wanted of the actors.

At the end of the working day we had a good-spirited wash-up, one of the most cheerful I've ever attended. Big thanks to our Project Leader Jane, she made it such fun all week. She was great at keeping the project going - more or less - smoothly for us, and providing guidance in altering it on the hoof whenever things got a bit sticky. She has probably done this sort of thing before.

Thank you to our actors too, who went along with it good-heartedly - I salute you!

I had a terrific time this week. I was involved with activities I'd never previously known anything about, and got a great deal of real pleasure out of it. I met some great people and looked forward to developing friendships as we go through.

Week Two: Monday 13 October - Friday 17 October

Arrgh. IT problems at home meant I was unable to print my very first piece of course work. It sat in the laptop somewhere, and on my gold external storage, but Word had somehow crashed. In the end I got a work-around by loading a copy of Open Office but it wasn't ideal. However, it did mean I could at least print, and avoid a rather undesirable start to the first lecture tomorrow, ie having nothing to take.

The afternoon was better though I misunderstood the time table and went into the campus when there was nothing on. So I went to the library (it's warmer than my rented flat) and looked at pictures of food.

In the evening I did some reading and tried to sort out in my mind the various course websites, information streams, blogs, sundry obligations and must-dos. Then I put all that aside and visited my friend Wayne the Brain (of whom more later).

An enjoyable very first lecture, followed by a reading and critiquing of our pieces written the previous week, which passed in a thoughtful way. It was our first taste of critiquing the work of our new colleagues, albeit oral rather than written (always my preference) but the comments were constructive and positive.

One colleague had done a beautiful, sensitive job on his assignment, and I was moved by his words. I felt he must have absolutely believed in what he had written, and it was a joy to listen to him read it to us - he very much reached me emotionally. Now listen, I'm a hard-faced businessman, I don't do that stuff. Oh, it seems I do.

Back home I unraveled the MS software and all is tickety-boo once again in the house of London.

First session with the Course Leader, or dominatrix. If I never remember anything else about today I will instantly recall we were told in no uncertain terms, Wikipedia is not to be used on the course for any purpose. Crack of sjambok against riding boot. Repeat after me. Fair enough.

We were given loads of mysterious e-tasks to carry out either now or in the future. I very much fear I will take the latter option - if it is an option. I feel rather bombarded at the mo with information, activities and discoveries yet to make. I look around me. How are my colleagues doing? Are they better than me? Do they look tired? Good, yes!

Interesting. In the afternoon we formed groups of four and again critiqued each other's work. My previous existence of drafting and redrafting business agreements and contracts over many years has made me quite sanguine about revealing my work to others, and changing it in line with their suggestions (if polite).

And change there was. My piece received a small number of ideas for amendment, one of which was particularly useful, and I happily took them up. Which simply proves ten eyes are better than two.

The evening's guest speaker was Phillip Marsden, the travel writer. He was friendly and down-to-earth; listening to him was an enjoyable experience. When the next speaker visits I may ask questions, but tonight my brain was numb with overload and my situation was made very much worse because I knew
that after the talk I had to go shopping at Asda.

And who did I meet when I got there? Phillip Marsden.

What should I read into this?

More IT problems, that time at the college end. Our course is heavily dependent on the IT element being rolled out efficiently and performing properly. At the moment it's a bit clunky, and the jury is decidedly out.

Home study today. In other words, assignments.

Oh - and some light reading. We are encouraged to read far beyond the course recommendations. This is good, for most of what I read in my (decreasing) spare time does not feature prominently on the course reading lists. I realise John Buchan is today considered rather dated by some, and that the world of sci-fi has been 'sexed-up' since The Midwich Cuckoos, so I had better spread my literary wings.

Life Class
sounds promising, though that isn't on the lists either. I wonder if it's illustrated?

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