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Mark Bradley Mason – BA English

Write your own story

I am a writer and have had poetry and prose published in regional and national anthologies in England, and magazines and journals, both online and in print in the U.S. I currently live in Oakland, California. My novel, Our Endless Covered Ways will be published by Black Rose Writing on September 26th. I also work part-time in San Francisco as an​ ​English Instructor, teaching adults from many countries around the world; from Brazil to Iraq.

Almost everything about writing is incredibly rewarding. To create something from a germ of an idea which woke you up at 3 a.m. and see it to fruition as poetry, a short story or a novel is almost unbearably satisfying. Of course, there are the tortuous moments when the right word evades you for days or when routine impinges on your writing life, but these are minor quibbles compared to the heights scaled.

As for teaching, it is a completely different discipline. It is quite the philanthropic vocation, whereas writing is narcissistic in nature, and teaching obviously involves being a somewhat charismatic presence. There are similarities between writing and teaching: both involve incredibly low pay.

To write is to have faith in something which does not exist; it is a blind pursuit. When you begin there really is no proof that anything you do is of worth, and it is often so bad, perhaps elementary would be a better word, that many would-be writers simply give up.

Teaching followed a much more traditional route. After I graduated from The University of Northampton I was lost and floundered for a short time. Eventually I moved to Kent, where I qualified as a teacher.

My advice

I always tell my son, “Do what makes you happy.” He will shortly begin his university career and he is studying media; something he finds fascinating. I chose English because I thought it would deliver me some kind of truth, and it really did. Within the pages of the ninety or so books I read over the three years of my degree, I found what I was looking for. I learned to let go of fear and go for everything I ever wanted. It’s not any easy road, but it is profound and filled with such rich adventure.

The creative writing modules on the English degree course were an eye opener; I was convinced of my own genius and soon realised I was merely a word mangler. Alan Smith taught me the value of brevity and editing, which will always be with me. On the other hand, I was unsure about my academic skills, but soon relished the discipline of writing academic essays, and my dissertation on Jack Kerouac was a dream, because it was something I believed in.

My teaching from my studies

My teaching style is directly influenced by the great tutors I experienced at the University of Northampton. Special mention goes to Alan Smith (again!), Sarah Lawson, Nicole Pohl, Simon Perril, Lorna Jowett, Chris Ringrose and others I have undoubtedly forgotten.

I don’t know if there is any advice I could give to an undergraduate who may want to be a writer, other than just do it. There is a Kerouac quote: “Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy.” I think that says it all. The most unexpected part of being a writer is the paradoxical necessity to promote your work. Writing is obviously a solitary endeavour, yet if you are lucky enough to be published you should be prepared to talk about the product of those thousands of hours spent alone.

In conclusion, I would say study what you love. The time will be full of great wonder, spirit-crushing adversity and absolute joy.

I am extremely proud of my time spent at the University of Northampton – my first-class degree and subsequent career and life choices were greatly informed by this time.

*Photo taken by Angela Manginelli, 2013

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