2018: All Wrapped Up

December was quite a dry month for me in terms of inspiration, so I apologise for the distinct lack of posts over the past few weeks. It is high time for some fresh writing, but before beginning anything new in 2019, I wanted to reflect on the progress I made in 2018.

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Last year began with my first breakup. After having seen and spent time with a person almost every day and now suddenly being faced with the possibility of never seeing them again, I suffered quite a knock. My inspiration took a significant slump at a time when I needed it most: the launch of my final major assignment at university.

Determined not to let a relationship affect my work, I applied for a grant to help fund an expedition. I had a whacky idea about going to the Isles of Scilly, which at the time seemed a very far-off venture and logistically challenging to say the least. However, after presenting to a panel of judges I was granted enough money to completely cover travel and accommodation. It took a while to come to terms with the fact that the Scilly expedition was really happening.

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It was just the solution I needed for my slump. Spending six days in near-complete wilderness with a list of images to take was a perfect and rewarding distraction. I was filled with exciting ideas for my project – a study on the rare and unique flora of Scilly, including the dwarf pansy which is the size of a baby fingernail and found nowhere else in the UK. I was so fascinated by Scilly’s diverse wildlife and intriguing ecosystems, and I never wanted the trip to end. It is a place I will now treasure, as it helped me through a very difficult time, not to mention providing a huge boost to my confidence. I had funded, planned and carried out a full expedition single-handedly, and returned with a great story to tell. Following the trip was my last exhibition at university, and my project was received well. I even made some money from my photographs, which was an unexpected bonus.

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Before I knew it, it was time to finish my degree. I picked up my life in Cumbria and brought it back home to Hertfordshire, where I (foolishly) thought that I would land a job straight away. This wasn’t to be the case, but what followed instead was a truly life-changing experience: an internship in Florida.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I was invited for a two-month internship in America to work with SEZARC. I knew they worked with zoos to monitor their animals and help facilitate breeding, but I didn’t know where I would fit in with a media background. I went simply with the aim of learning as much as I could about a completely new field and enjoying the opportunity to contribute to wildlife conservation.

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I’d never been abroad on my own before, nor had I been outside of Europe before. Upon arrival, I was hit by extreme panic triggered by a strange new place, having to drive a car in a strange new place, and the fear that this had all been a terrible mistake. However, after a very careful car journey from the airport and arriving unscathed at my accommodation, I was filled with perhaps a disproportionately large sense of achievement. My small victory spurred me on, and after a few more shaky days, I found my rhythm.

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Two months later, I was torn between wanting to see my family and friends back home, and wanting to stay a little longer with my new friends in Florida. I had loved the work I did with SEZARC, which was varied and fascinating. I also fulfilled a dream of mine, even if just for a little while: I’d learned to ballroom dance, and met the most kind and welcoming people. Back home in England, I truly realised what an incredible time I’d had in America.

And it wasn’t over. Later in the autumn, I caught up with my friends at SEZARC and was asked to produce their annual report of their progress this year. It is work that I thoroughly enjoy, and I’m so pleased that SEZARC want to keep me involved.

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So, moving forwards. The past year has taught me so much, not just about work but also about myself. In all honesty I have no idea what 2019 will bring. I’m hoping a job, but in the meantime I want to continue writing and learning new things (next up is the guitar!) I have the tendency of being anxious without a strategic plan, but after this year I’ve discovered that you just can’t know where twelve months will take you. A year ago today, I had no idea I would soon be journeying to America by myself, nor was I remotely aware that my relationship was about to end. All through school it’s easy to know what’s next: the following year up. There is no mystery, not even after you finish school. For me, the choice was easy and I was going to university. Now that’s over too, and I’m trying not to be daunted by the unknown because as I’ve found out this last year, the unknown can be incredible.

15 thoughts on “2018: All Wrapped Up

  1. An engaging and personal reflective piece. You’re very good at writing about your own individual passions and relating them to the general human experience. I’m glad you managed to overcome the fear of the unknown to great success, and I hope 2019 brings as many opportunities. If you can handle ballroom dancing then guitar should be a piece of cake 🙂
    I feel I need to follow in your example here as I’m considering a career change when what I do now (teaching) is all I’ve known for 8 years. In many ways, you bringing up the security of schools and institutions resonated with me, as I guess I still haven’t left school! As you’d probably guess from my passionate ramblings on your posts (sorry about that), I want to try to apply my experiences to working in conversation but lack the confidence to believe I can do it and certainly feel overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown when I consider a change. Thanks for providing the inspiration to think more positively!

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    1. Thank you so much for your comments as always! I wrote this post purely to reflect on the past year and get something down on paper, but I’m so glad to hear that you’ve benefitted from it. Please don’t apologise for your “ramblings” I absolutely love reading them! It’s fantastic to get feedback on my work, especially when it helps other people. I’ve recently started an online writing course by Margaret Attwood and almost the first thing she’s said is if you’re hesitating on something, there is a fear there, and you need to work out what your specific fear is. Of course, this is easier said than done. For quite a while now, I’ve been wanting to write a novel but haven’t known where to start, and as a result I haven’t done anything! So I’m thinking that instead of trying to plan an elaborate story and get put off by details, I should just write and see what inspires me. Although it’s a slightly different situation for you, the concept of embracing the unknown is still the same for a career change. If you are inspired by something new, I think you should pursue it!

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      1. Thanks for the advice – I think you’re probably right so appreciate the encouragement and passing on the wisdom. Speaking of inspiration, the Margaret Attwood course sounds great. Love her writing, particularly her poetry. I did Creative Writing at uni. and remember my mentor giving similar advice about writing novels; that’s the way Tolkien used to write apparently.

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      2. The course is part of the “Masterclass” series (www.masterclass.com). You pay a yearly subscription and get access to all their classes, and quite a few are from writers. I’m hoping it will help me learn how to structure narratives and develop characters. In a way I wish I had gone down the Creative Writing route at uni. I’ve always loved writing but haven’t been taught much in the way of technique. I’m hoping these courses will provide some much needed advice for starting out as a writer.

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  2. If it’s any reassurance, your style of writing is very appealing. It has a passionate energy which is almost contagious, and you have some interesting structural features (such as cyclical patterns) which are satisfying for the reader. I know fiction is a slightly different realm, but there are lots of elements that cross over and believe me, you have lots of natural ability which is probably the most important bit. From my experience of writing, teaching writing skills and reading about writing, simplicity is key (when somebody is trying too hard to write in an overly sophisticated way it’s immediately see-through). That applies to vocabulary, syntax (some writers have a strange habit of creating unusual clause patterns almost for the sake of appearing a little wacky – although this did work well for Edgar Allen Poe but then he’s Edgar Allen Poe!) and the narrative. Over complicating these things runs the risk of concealing your main messages and ideas. I’m not saying we all need to write like Hemmingway or Orwell, but they were pretty good at getting their ideas across because they believed in the power of simplicity.
    I personally see writing as an opportunity to explore my senses and for this reason, this piece of advice from Ted Hughes is important to me:
    “Imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it. Don’t think it up laboriously, as if you’re working our mental arithmetic. Just look at it, touch it smell it, listen to it, turn yourself into it. When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic.”

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    1. That’s a great quote I’ll definitely keep that in mind. Thank you for such kind words – I always wonder if I’m actually any good at all this so it’s very reassuring to hear that you enjoy reading my work. I agree with you that simplicity is one of the most important things but I often forget that! I’m very interested in your comment about my structure – I haven’t noticed any particular pattern in the way I write so that’s so interesting to hear. Could you elaborate a little more about the cyclical patterns? I’d love to be able to recognise it in my work.

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      1. I know what you mean in terms of trying to face self-doubt, but it’s important to pursue something if you enjoy it or get something out of it. I’m glad my comments encourage you to keep writing.
        In terms of the cyclical elements to your writing, you’ve written a few pieces that almost finish where they start. E.g. in “Waiting in Anticipation” you open with a sense of anticipation and close with it, which is a good way of completing the cycle of your thoughts whilst not resolving them completely. I’ve noticed your also a bit of a natural at using extended metaphors and semantic fields to suggest themes. E.g. in “The Greenway” you develop a prehistoric theme with your choices of imagery around the species you encountered. Again this gives a satisfying sense of tying everything together. In general I think you’re also very good at using imagery. I’ve always told my students that a writer’s choice of imagery is what truly makes them distinctive from other writers, as it allows them to project the way they view and experience the world in an original way. For that reason, it’s important to avoid using idioms (common figures of speech) as the idea of relating an experience to a pre-packaged image like “that went down like a lead balloon” takes any individuality out of it.
        Hope some of these thoughts help and whatever you do, keep writing!

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      2. This is so interesting, thank you. I really appreciate your comments. I find it tricky sometimes to push my writing and explore new imagery without sounding far too fancy and unbelievable! I guess that’s a trial and error thing, and whatever feels most natural. I don’t suppose you have any tips for thinking up new ideas? I’m itching to write but stumped on topics at the moment, and I think I need new forms of inspiration. Does anything particular work for you?

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      3. Starting is definitely the hardest part you’ll be glad to know. I don’t get as much time to write in as much depth as I got to at uni, so I tend to write short poems inspired by my nature photography. Some of them are Haikus just to give you an idea of how short they can be! If you’re interested, you can check out my page. You might be more interested in looking at my narrative poetry: “Sea Dogs” which starts with a picture of a sealion begging for fish in the Galapagos Islands, “The magpie’s spell” and “Leftovers” which starts with the image of the hyena looking wistfully up at a tree where a leopard was feasting. For each of these, I simply wanted to tell a story which I let the mood of the image dictate. For “Seadogs”, I saw a combination of reliability and manipulation, so I wanted to tell the story of how one species came to develop both of these things in terms of their relationship with people. In “The magpie’s spell” I saw a bird that has been the cause of superstitious paranoia over the ages so wanted to use him as a symbol of man’s conflict with his inner demons and in “Leftovers” I saw a touch of class distinction: not only was the leopard in a higher position, but she literally had everything while the hyena had nothing. This seemed to make for an interesting story about the way nature creates Queens and beggars.
        Honestly, whether writing poetry or prose, images are an excellent starting point as they focus you. Without having an immediate focus point you tend to try and think too big and that rarely works in my experience. I know for a fact that you have a number of inspiring images to try this out on so see where it can take you…

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      4. That’s really good advice – I’m going to start using my images as prompts and see what inspires me that way. I’ve just read your poems and I love them. I thought you used such great language that reflected a magpie perfectly – mischievous and cunning. I’ve never written or even really read poetry, I’ve never been able to get my head around the rhythm! Your work is wonderful though.

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      5. Good luck with it – it’s a great way of getting more meaning out of your photographs as well, and certainly encourages me to use my camera more. Thanks for the compliments. It was quite satisfying writing the magpie poem. I was almost sat there cackling myself after I’d written, which proves what an immersive experience writing can be. Learning the guitar will definitely help you to understand rhythm better, particularly if you’re singing as well. I’ve played and written songs since I was a teenager so that helped me to develop my ear, although you can learn about different rhythms and what are called meters in poetry, and it’s a little more straightforward than you might think. If you’re ever interested in exploring this, I’d recommend a book by Stephen Fry called “The Ode Less Travelled”, where he explains how he went from not being able to understand meter to beginning to master it. It’s got some fun little exercises in there as well as offering practical tips.

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