Students & COVID – The forgotten voice

This photo used to be one of my favourites. It’s my son Kai and I, just over three years ago, on our way to his university interview. We were both incredibly excited, so full of hope for Kai’s future. Now looking at it makes me incredibly sad.

Kai is almost at the end of his time at uni and the onset of COVID has had an enormous impact on his course, Media Productions, a practical degree which doesn’t and hasn’t transferred well to online learning.

Without access to the university studio and the specialist equipment and being able to work in groups Kai is set to leave uni in three months with no portfolio and virtually no hope of breaking into the industry he is so passionate about. Despite this there is no chance of a refund on the £9000 fees he has paid each year. The government has given no direct financial aid to universities or students in England. The parliamentary debate on 16th November resulted in the government stating students had to contact their universities if they wanted a refund and so far, according to The Tab, only 1.6% of students who have tried to claim a refund have received a small sum. (As there were lecturer strikes at the beginning of 2020 in Kai’s second year there has been no face-to-face teaching for over 12 months now).

The course fees aren’t the only debts students accumulate. There is the cost of accommodation. Most students have been told not to return to campus under Gavin Williamson has unveiled a roadmap for a staggered return. Some accommodation providers are offering a partial refund but there is not official guidelines although this is something Boris Johnson as said he will ‘look at’.

So what about the students on practical courses who are leaving uni without the experience they signed up for and no prospects without portfolios?

The future is grim.

Here I chat to Kai a little further about the challenges he has faced in the past year. Apologies for the quality in some parts – but do give it a watch and if you’re a student, a parent or any one with constructive advice, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Writing with sound – Placing a reader in the scene #writingtips

0F50693D-3555-43DC-93DB-4E86A6893550

“The world has music for those who listen.” William Shakespeare

My son is home for Christmas from uni with a mountain of both coursework and laundry. Studying media, one of his assignments is to record a two minute piece of writing of his choosing and add any sound effects he thinks should accompany it.

When we last spoke on the phone I knew he’d be doing this and he was on his way to get approval from his lecturer for the piece he wanted to record. What I didn’t know was that piece is the opening to my debut, ‘The Sister’. His lecturer thankfully said he felt right in the scene as he read it and that it is the perfect piece to record.

I’ve written before about bringing the senses into prose when writing (you can read that here). Making the reader feel as though they are right there with the characters, feeling what they feel, seeing what they see, hearing what they hear.

Sound is one of the most powerful senses, believed to be the last thing to go when we die. When I’m out with my dog I never listen to music or scroll through my mobile. Instead, I drink in my surroundings, taking note of where I am and I close my eyes. What can I hear that would place me in my scene? What is unique to it? What can I use in my stories? These are the things the reader needs to hear.

Today, my son and I went to the park with his recording equipment to record the sounds that accompany ‘The Sister’. Although I believe I am mostly mindful, mostly attentive, I was stunned by the multitude of sounds I could pick out when I stood still and really allowed myself to listen.

Layers of noise, all demanding attention from a chainsaw to bird song, kids playing, dogs barking, to the more subtle sounds, the wind against a leaf, the snapping of a twig under footfall in the distance. We’ve had a fabulous afternoon recording and have returned home with a memory card full of noises and I’ve a head full of inspiration.

If you’re writing a story, take a minute to read it back. What sounds would you use if you could? Are you doing enough to set the scene? A reader who feels is a reader who will keep on turning the pagers.

Here’s the sounds we’ve inserted into The Sister: –

Stepping out of my car with heartbreak-heavy legs (car engine, car slowing, stopping, engine cut, car door slam), I zip my jacket (pulling on & zipping a coat) and pull on leather gloves (the stretch of leather gloves being pulled on) before (walking on a hard surface) hefting my spade and bag from the boot (unloading something heavy. A chink of metal): it is time. (footsteps on gravel) My wellingtons slip-slide (footsteps through mud) across the squelching mud to the gap in the hedge. It’s been there for as long as I can remember. I shiver as I enter the forest; it’s darker than I’d thought and I take deep breaths (breathing) of the pine-scented air to steady myself. I fight the urge to go home and come back in the morning, remind myself why I’m here and drive myself forwards. (Walking. Leaves. Snapping twigs).

My smartphone lights the way as I look out for rabbit holes I might fall down. I take giant steps (larger strides) over fallen limbs of trees I’d once have hurdled. At twenty-five I’m not too old to run, but my load is cumbersome; besides, I’m in no rush to get there, I was never supposed to do this alone.

I stop and rest the spade handle against my hip (spade sticking in the ground), splay my fingers and shake out my pins and needles. There’s a rustling in the bushes (leaves rustling) and I have a sense of being watched. My heart stutters (gasp) as two rabbits dart out, (louder rustling) bounding away when they see my light. ‘I’m OK,’ (voice) I reassure myself, but my voice seems loud and echoey, reminding me how alone I am.

My rucksack feels tight across my shoulders and I readjust the straps (the sound of straps sliding) before marching on (more purposeful steps), snapping twigs underfoot (twigs). I’m beginning to think I’ve taken the wrong fork when I reach the clearing with the lightning-struck tree (stop footsteps. Breathing). I wasn’t sure it would still be here, but as I look around it seems nothing has changed – but of course, everything has. Memories of the last time I was here hit me so hard I feel winded. I sink to the ground. (Clothes crinkling as sitting. Dislodging leaves). The dampness of the leaves and earth seep through my trousers, as the past seeps through to my present.

Why I was SO grateful to go back to school – My visit to Northants Uni

Recently I received an email from the University of Northampton asking if I’d be willing to go in and be interviewed by the media/journalism degree students to talk about writing and following your dreams. I felt a pang of excitement and instantly my first thought wasn’t what I could offer them, but what I could learn from them.

At the risk of sounding ancient, I’m from a generation of girls who weren’t often encouraged to go to University, and we were sometimes actively discouraged. The 80’s may all have been about bold make-up, big hair and shoulder pads, and although women nailed power dressing (I really NEVER nailed power dressing btw) the advice I got from my careers advisor was still to become a secretary. Regular hours, steady pay, and I’d always be home in time to make my future family’s dinner.

During my visit I was struck by the sense of purpose in the University, the determination in the air. Yes, I’m sure there are parties, drinking too much and those who don’t appreciate what an incredible opportunity it affords them being there, not just education wise but in terms of personal growth and life experience, but the students I had the pleasure of meeting had something I was sadly lacking as a teenager. Confidence. The belief they could work within the field of their chosen careers. A quiet determination to succeed that has taken me over 40 years to cultivate myself.

It was a real privilege to visit and I came away feeling inspired and hopeful. You hear so many negative things about our younger generation it was a pleasure to spend time in the company of creative, ambitious, young adults who I have no doubt can do anything they set their mind to.

 

 

 

Flash Fiction – Hope

crook3

Image courtesy of Sandra Crook

 

Dampness seeps through a hole in my shoe as I trudge one exhausted foot in front of the other. There’s no-one to rush home for.

I’m so tired.

On the bridge I pause, staring down into the crashing water below. Would anyone miss me?

I’m so lonely.

A soft mewling breaks my thoughts. A wriggling sack next to the railings. I tug it open and lift out a shivering kitten, bones protruding. He licks my hand. My heart swells. It’s been a long time since I felt needed.

“I’ll call you hope.” I whisper as I tuck him inside my coat.

 

I thought nothing could top 2016 professionally but appearing on TV last night, albeit briefly, to talk about writing, being published & mindfulness was such a great experience and an amazing start to the year. You can watch the 3 minute clip here. Or read my blog piece about it here

Hope was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. You can join in and read the other entries over at Rochelle’s blog here