Month One

As of this writing, I’ve been in London for one month. It has gone by crazy fast. In the time since my last blog entry I have opened up a UK bank account, figured out the tube and bus systems, got connected to an awesome church, started a freelance writing gig for a website, and signed up for an entry-level Japanese class (or module, as they say here).

I have yet to figure out the weather. I’m not sure I ever will. It’s not uncommon for me to leave my flat in the morning, donning shorts and flip-flops, and then be freezing an hour later due to rain. But that’s just one of the quirks of this lovely city.

I’ve been spending a lot of time cloistered in my tiny flat, but I’m slowly taking steps towards having some kind of social life. It’s just very tricky when I’m doing six or seven hours of classwork a day. The reading alone is insane.

Here are the novels I’ve read for class just in the last three weeks: The Girls, The Mare, Killing Monica, Dexter Is Dead, Death In Venice, Hot Milk, On Chesil Beach, and Summertime. I miss my epic fantasy and sci-fi, but at least I enjoyed Dexter Is Dead. I had watched some of the show but never read any of the novels. It was a very “bro” book, complete with explosions, anti-hero moral ambiguity, and break-neck pacing.

This is definitely going to be a season for growth and learning for me. From an academic standpoint, I’m already learning more about my own strengths and weaknesses in prose fiction. My fiction workshop professor and peers say I have a knack for writing comedy, which is a funny thought in itself – I’m not a naturally funny person in real life. That’s the beauty of writing though: it lets you get outside of your own head and personality. I think that’s one of the reasons why creative writing is so appealing to me.

I figure that I should give an update on my EP while I’m in blog mode. My Kickstarter was fully funded so I want to take this opportunity again to thank everyone that has believed in me and supported this project. Your support means the world to me! These songs are really important to me and I think you’ll really dig them.

I’ve mixed all four songs now and am just working on finessing some tweaks and revisions. Once I feel that they are ready to send off, I’ll send them to my mastering engineering, and do any additional revisions as necessary. Basically what you need to know is – these songs are getting close to being done! Yay!

That’s all I’ve got for tonight. It’s 1 am here so I’m going to call it. But don’t worry, I’ll keep you all posted on all latest developments from across the pond.

Cheers!

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It Begins

I am writing this blog from the library at Brunel University, in a borough of West London called Hillingdon. The adventure has officially begun, though the full weight of grad school classes will soon be upon me. I’ve already calculated that I will have to read between 100 and 200 pages of a novel per day to meet the 2-books-a-week quota for my first class. Yes, you read that right — I have to read two novels a week. That’s in addition to extensive writing assignments. But hey, that’s what I signed up for, and I’m ready. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise to me that some of my classmates aren’t planning to work at all this year, and just focus on studying. That thought baffles me though, coming from a country where everyone’s scrambling and working multiple jobs and dealing with crippling debt.

It’s definitely a different culture up here and in various parts of Europe— and not just because a few words are different (toilets = bathrooms, lift = elevator, etc). Internships and work placements are generally expected to be paid. New mothers get much more paid maternity leave. Twenty-somethings don’t have disgusting amounts of debt. People aren’t as stressed.

That isn’t to say I don’t already miss certain things. Like having a car. And the food. Oh man, American food is so much better (though this is coming from my limited experience with on-campus food options). England doesn’t put gobs of spices, butter, and oil on everything like America does. I learned that high fructose corn syrup is actually illegal in the UK. Now that’s something.

While I haven’t explored the sights of Central London yet — I will soon — I have enjoyed walking around the scenery of Uxbridge. Squat little apartments, hugging each other as if for warmth. Wide cobblestone pathways earmarked for pedestrians. Little shops selling this or that brand of authentic Italian coffee. 

London is very multi-cultural. My university itself is ranked the 14th most diverse campus in the world. In my class alone I’ve met a Chinese girl, an actress from Sweden, and a French lit major from a suburb of Paris. The atmosphere is obviously a lot different than the homogenous bubble of white hipsters of my undergrad in Nashville. It’s nice to see some real diversity here, some real insight into the larger world.

That’s all I’ve got for now, I’ll be sure to be posting more as new developments happen!

EP Adventures

Hello friends! It’s been a while since my last post, and I do apologize for that. I just moved from Ohio to North Carolina as I prep for an even bigger move to the UK in just under two weeks from now. I’ve also been working my butt off on my debut EP, and I’m hoping to get most of the mixes finalized before I head to London. So needless to say, it’s been busy!

That’s what I wanted to talk about in this post, my EP! It’s called “Letting Go,” and is my first ever collection of original music. It’s rap, but before you write me off for being way too white too attempt something like that, I encourage you to check out the songs when they come out. And if you actually want to be part of making this EP happen, please consider donating to the Kickstarter campaign I started to raise money. Making an EP is pricey and I’m a poor grad student!

 

You might be thinking, why rap? Well I really think that rap is a great platform to tell stories through lyrics. It relies less on melody and more on lyrics and rhythm. That’s great for a drummer like me. My songs were written in various seasons of my life in the last two years, and I think they are definitely relatable. One song I wrote right after getting laid off from a job I moved out of state for. Another song I wrote after recovering from a year-long battle with severe back pain.

I’ve been secretly working on this EP for almost a year, writing and recording in the limited free time I have. After working on this, I definitely have a new respect for rappers who write their own raps. It’s not easy, keeping the lyrical flow interesting, making everything fit. More than once I’ve gotten stuck on a line for hours because a single syllable didn’t fit with the cadence of the music. It can be frustrating, but that just makes finishing a challenging verse more rewarding!

My goal with all of this is to hopefully perform these songs in the UK when I have time to take a break from studying, maybe as an opener for local London artists. Having a quality EP that I can market to venues will be huge. My songs have positive messages that I’d love to share with as many people as I can!

Speaking of London – I have less than two weeks until I leave America and try to remember how to do school again. That’s crazy. It will be my first time ever outside of the country, my first time being away from friends and family for an entire year, my first time living in a huge city. But it will also be the first place I’ve lived in where I have some real opportunities for things I want to accomplish. People frequently ask me if I’m nervous. I’m actually not nervous at all, just very excited! I’ve already gotten my hands on some British pounds and am starting to get my final affairs in order before I leave.

I may have put a bit of stress on myself by trying to get this EP finished around the same time as my move, but in a way having lots of things on my plate motivates me to be more productive. So cheers to new music and new adventures!

The Countdown Begins

I have less than a month until I leave Sandusky forever. As I type this, I’m starting to realize what a heavy statement that is. I’ve only lived here for two years, but I’ve grown fond of Lake Erie, the people, and even my one-bedroom apartment, which features wood paneling straight from the 70’s, a lack of central air conditioning, and sketchy wall power outlets that are on the verge of disintegrating. One of my ceiling lightbulb sockets actually has disintegrated.

I’m moving back home to North Carolina for a couple weeks on August 31, and I fly out to London for grad school on September 17. It’s so close, but for some reason I haven’t yet stopped to reflect on my time in Ohio, or even start to fully realize that the life I’ve had here since graduating from college will be abruptly ending. I think that part of the reason for this is that it will be easier to move, easier to transition if I just don’t think about it. But that’s not fair to Sandusky and to the good and bad experiences I’ve had here.

I’ve grown a lot in Ohio, that’s for sure. I did a lot of adult stuff for the first time, like open a new bank account, work with a realty agent to find an apartment, open utility accounts, transfer an out-of-state license plate and car title, etc. I got my first legit post-college job, and it’s easily the best job I’ve ever had. I had the privilege of being in a band with a couple of great friends, and playing out. I’ll be the first to tell you that I never expected to actually make money playing music in a small town in northern Ohio. Especially after moving from Nashville. But I funded my entire studio through gig money, and I’ll never again underestimate the power of putting yourself out there, no matter where you are.

Sandusky hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies though during these past two years. Due to my job on the tech team at church, I had to sacrifice participating in worship. I had to give up drum kit, and I don’t think anyone knows how hard that was for me. I’ve been playing drums and playing on worship teams since I was 11. That’s a part of who I am and how I connect with God.

I experienced the loss of a beloved job, and dealt with the harsh reality of working a job I didn’t like for six months in order to pay rent. Having no family in the area and living by myself in a new town, I also dealt with a loneliness so soul-crushing that I wished I could crawl back to my dorm room in college. Back to when I had a support system of friends living in rooms across the hall. But this is all part of the real world, and having learned how to cope with these things will be immeasurably valuable when I move to England, where I only know one or two people.

But not knowing anyone is part of the fun and adventure of it!

Sandusky, you were great. We have had some memorable experiences. Like that time my car was returned from a lakeside shop with a thick sheen of bird poop on it (I thought it was snow). Or the times when fireworks were launched from a rooftop deck with a panoramic view of Cedar Point, and the scent of ribs and barbecue chicken danced on the breeze. Or the time when I got to rap (yes, you read that right) at church for an Easter service.

Sandusky, you have left your mark on me. Literally. I have scars from stepping on broken glass, gashes from clumsily handling sharp metal objects, and callouses from playing so much cajon.

I won’t forget Sandusky, but I’m also excited about this next chapter in my life. I think London is going to open up a lot of doors for me. Getting into grad school and getting approved to live in the UK until 2018 is already an opened door. I’ve always known that I would have to move to a bigger city if I wanted to start an actual career in my field, but me moving there isn’t just about that. It’s also about personal growth, finding my calling, meeting new people, and expanding my limited human experience. And I will be sure to take the things I’ve learned in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Ohio and bring them with me across the pond!

The countdown has begun. I’m coming for you, London.

Flash Fiction Friday 7/15/16

This is the first of what I’m calling “Flash Fiction Friday.” Every other Friday, I’m going to attempt to post a short piece of original fiction. I think this will be a fun little writing venture, and will also serve to help develop my short-form prose chops.

This first story was inspired by The Twilight Zone. My dad and I used to watch that show together all the time when I was a kid, and it was my first introduction to properly done short narratives. I was always astounded that they could pack standalone sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery stories into mere thirty-minute segments. Many years later, when I was taking screenwriting in film school, we revisited this brilliant show as a case study in short films. It still holds up as one of my favorite shows of all time, and is a vast pool of inspiration to draw from.

Death Wish

Death looked the haggard man right in the eyes, flashing a toothy grin.

“This one’s on us, Tom,” the Reaper said cheerfully, handing the coffee shop patron his regular quadruple-shot espresso.

The balding man smiled weakly. “Thanks, Jason. God knows I’ll need this to get through another fourteen-hour day.”

Oh, God knows, Death mused. And so do I. As one might expect, being in charge of ferrying souls to to the afterlife came with a few prerequisites. Like knowing his clients. Tom here is an accountant that works for a large firm. He comes home from every seventy-hour work week to a wife and two kids that despise him. Stops at J’s Coffee House six times a week, and always orders enough caffeine to make his heart explode. And Death – or Jason, as he was known here – knew it would. Cardiac arrest, fatal. It would happen in exactly one week, seven hours, forty-six minutes, and nine seconds. The least Death could do was give the obese, stressed man a free drink.

“No problem Tom,” Death said jovially. “Have a good one!”

As the man waddled out of the building, Death resumed his duties, deftly refilling the hopper of the espresso grinder and scrubbing residue off the syrup-encrusted bottles.

Being a coffee shop owner in Nashville was a nice life for Death. He smirked at the irony of the thought. But it was the kind of quiet, low-key side gig that he preferred. America loved Death. Absolutely loved him. If he revealed himself, he was sure that the fans would swarm him, demand autographs, and never give him a moment of peace. But thankfully, nobody ever recognized him in the shop. He was just another dazzlingly handsome, deep v-neck-wearing hipster barista.

“Hey J, that was kind of weird, wasn’t it?” The voice broke Death out of his contemplation. It came from Tim, the scrawny twenty-something barista that Death employed.

“Hmm? What’s weird?” Death asked over the whine of a frappé blender.

“You didn’t see that? A fly just landed on your hand and immediately dropped like it died or something.”

“Or something, I’m sure,” Death said, amused. “But if I can kill flies that easily, I hope every fly in this shop lands on me.” But the deflection hadn’t done its job – Tim was still staring at the fly, which was indeed dead on the countertop.

I’ve been too good at this job, for too long, Death thought. It won’t do me much good to start getting cocky. He swept the lifeless creature into a trash bin.

“Tim,” Death said.

“Yeah?”

“Could you go into the back room and take inventory of all the dairy products we need? I have to put in the order by the end of the day.”

“Sure thing.”

Maybe that deflection would work. Death smiled as he set to tamping a portafilter full of ground espresso. He timed the shots, steamed the milk to velvety perfection, and poured himself a latte. He inhaled deeply, taking in the rich espresso aroma. That was all he needed. Good coffee. He almost wished that he could focus on the shop and pass off his more…demanding duties to –

Something brushed Death’s arm.

“I knew it!” Tim exclaimed from behind the shop owner.

Death looked down and saw that a small spider had fallen limp onto the floor. “Tim. Did you just drop a spider on me?” He asked, irritation edging his voice.

“Sure did, J. Or should I say -”

“Tim,” Death interrupted. “Do you like your job? It should go without saying that throwing bugs at your boss is not a good idea.”

“Well, I only did it to be sure. I mean look, that’s spider’s dead! You’re -”

“I’m what, Tim? Going to fire you? You might be right.”

“You’re Death!” Tim blurted out.

So there it was. Death sighed. I had such a good run at secrecy, he thought.

“Keep your voice down,” Death hissed. Luckily, the ambient chatter in the shop seemed to mask the accusation.

“So, it’s true then,” Tim whispered. “I had my suspicions before, but seeing this, just… wow.”

“Listen. You can’t go running your mouth about what you think you may have discovered. If you do -”

“Oh don’t worry! Besides, I’m a huge fan, sir Death. Er, Mister Grim Reaper? Uh, what should I call you?”

“J or Jason is fine,” Death said flatly.

“Well J, I’ve gotta say I never expected to meet the Death in person!” Tim extended his hand eagerly, but Death didn’t take it.

“I don’t think you want to do that.”

“Nonsense! Listen, I’ve got a couple of questions. Do you take requests? There was this dude in high school who offended me and -”

Tim stepped forward, quicker than Death could withdraw, and clasped Death’s hand in a friendly handshake. The young man dropped instantly, a tangle of pale limbs smacking the hard tile floor.

He didn’t get up.

On Opened Doors And Going Abroad

This is my first “official” blog post. I figured that I should go ahead and talk about my imminent move to London, since that will be the next big chapter in my life, starting this September.

I’m going to pursue a Master’s degree in creative writing at Brunel University, which is in Uxbridge (West London). If you know me, I’m sure you have some questions about this decision. London? Why not study in America? Why not study something more relevant to your undergrad degree? What do you plan to do with a degree in creative writing? These are all questions that I’m asked very frequently, and hopefully I can shed some light on the reasons for this seemingly random desire to study a seemingly random subject in the UK.

First of all, I can assure you that this isn’t random. I had to pray and think very carefully about this decision for months. After being in the “real world” for a year after I graduated from college, I felt this urge to go back to school. I didn’t know why, at least right away. Going abroad was a no-brainer though, because I wasn’t able to study overseas during my undergrad, due to certain logistics. I’ve never been outside of the US, but I’ve always enjoyed experiencing other cultures. So I wanted to have an adventure. While I’m still young, while I still have the chance, etc.

I did research. So, so much research. I looked at New Zealand first. Universities in Auckland. In Wellington. In Australia. In the UK. Places I’ve always wanted to visit. Places where there was no significant language barrier. I contemplated what I was suppose to study, if going back to school was indeed what I was suppose to do. What could someone with an audio engineering degree study at the master level? And why would I want to? I looked at programs in sound design, which is my area of interest in audio. Edinburgh University in Scotland had a particularly awesome-looking program for sound design. But I decided that that wasn’t for me.

I realized that having a Master’s degree in audio engineering wouldn’t help me with my career. If you know much about the entertainment industry, you know that getting a job isn’t about formal education. It’s about being good at what you do and having connections. Especially the latter.

My other option for studying abroad was creative writing. Now just hang with me here for a minute and it’ll make sense. I started a writing minor in college before I switched to film production, and I took every creative writing class that my meager elective allocation would allow. Those were some of my favorite classes, and I loved learning about sensory imagery, dialogue tagging, narrative structure. But there’s a lot more that I can learn, and I want to develop my craft so that I’m equipped to write a publishable novel in the future.

Writing a novel and getting it published has been on my bucket list for a while. A silly dream that I might or might not accomplish before I die. But what I realized recently is – why wait? Why not pursue a dream or a goal right away, as illogical or unconventional as it sounds to other people? My happiness and my purpose are not dictated or validated by what other people think. I forget this sometimes.

People look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I’m going to uproot my cozy life as a technical arts developer to go study creative writing abroad. Yes, I’m aware that I’m going to blow all of my savings on tuition and travel, and borrow much more on top of that. Yes, I understand that I’m not guaranteed a job or any kind of success in my field from getting a master’s degree. Yes, I know that this isn’t the smartest thing to do. But it’s what I’m suppose to do.

I knew that studying writing would force me to dedicate lots of time to writing and developing my craft. Something that is currently hard to do in my busy day-to-day life. So after some prayer and time-consuming google searches of “creative writing master’s programs abroad” and “creative writing degree rankings UK,” it was clear that England was where God was calling me to go. And what better place to study English than in England! I sent off a handful of applications, along with an original prose fiction sample, and waited.

I heard back from Kingston University in London almost immediately. They liked my writing sample and application, and offered me a spot in the course. I’m not an impulsive person, but my knee-jerk reaction was to email them back right then and sign my life away to that institution. Even though it wasn’t my first choice. It was like, you liked my writing? You actually think I have what it takes? Where do I sign? However, once that initial burst of confidence settled down, I decided to wait. Brunel University felt right, but the school was taking a long time to get back to me. I got a few rejection letters, and started getting nervous.

I started having doubts about the decision. I didn’t feel like Kingston was the place for me, but I had no other options. I almost caved and accepted their offer. In my mind, it was either that or keep grinding away at life in Ohio, even though I strongly felt that it was time to leave. Thankfully, a whole month after Brunel told me I would get a decision, I was offered a place in their MA for Creative Writing: The Novel. I knew immediately that this was the right decision. The door was opened – and I decided to accept their spot in the course.

The cool thing about this program is that it focuses specifically on novel writing. This includes structure, paths to publication, and elements of fiction. There isn’t any fluff required that I’m not interested in. And my dissertation required to graduate will literally be a huge chunk of an original novel with a related critical analysis. So I’ll have most of a – hopefully – publishable novel done right when I graduate. Very cool.

Now that I’ve explained this decision in detail, you might still be wondering what going abroad will mean for me as a musician and audio engineer. The truth is that I don’t plan to stop producing music, playing in bands, or working on film projects. London has huge scenes in all of these areas. As long as I’m vigilant about putting myself out there, I think there will be a lot of opportunity!

Thanks for sticking with me. I figured that it would be much easier to have the details about my London decision here, so I have somewhere to direct people who ask me about my future plans. It’s hard to reduce this whole thing to a minute-long conversation, which is what tends to happen when people ask me in person. As for what I’m doing after I graduate – I have no answer. And that’s okay. I might work a day job while I finish my novel. If I can get my foot in the door, freelance audio engineering might be an option. I’m sure I wouldn’t mind staying in the UK, but I’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

When the fall approaches, there will be more to come on my upcoming London adventures, so stay tuned. Cheers!

An Intro To This Blog

If you’re reading this blog post, I want to say thank you. Sincerely. You have taken valuable time out of your busy day to read some twenty-something’s words on a brand new blog, without knowing what it’s about or if it’s any good. My hope is that this platform will be a valuable creative outlet for me, and will be equally valuable to anyone reading as well. If anything, this blog should give you some greater insight into the enigma that is Ben Hill. The guy that is in an acoustic/folk band but moonlights as a hip-hop producer, even though his roots are in screamo. The guy that works at a church and spends his days off reading thick epic fantasy tomes at coffee shops. The guy that – well, you get the idea.

Simply put, this blog is going to be about stories. My personal story, stories that I think deserve attention, the craft of storytelling, and original stories that I’m working on. I think that stories are important to understanding the human condition, and there are a lot of storytelling mediums out there that I love – books, movies, music, video games. My personal journey has brought me to a place where prose fiction, music, and sound design for film are at the forefront of mediums that I’m pursuing.

I absolutely love reading and writing, so you might be curious as to why I haven’t started a blog or published much original content before now. If I’m being honest, the truth is that I’m afraid of not being any good. To the point where I would rather not publish anything then have my work scrutinized by people that could potentially think I’m terrible. I can’t fail if I don’t try, right? Yes I know, this is a toxic mentality. Which is why I’m starting this blog, and will start sharing my words, without caring so much what people think.

If you don’t already know, I’m moving to London, England this September to pursue a Master’s degree in creative writing at Brunel University (or “Uni” as the kids say in the UK). Part of the function of this blog will be to chronicle my adventures abroad. My next post will go into more detail about why someone with a technical background in audio engineering would possibly want to shift gears and study a subjective, non-technical art form such as creative writing. Believe me, I’ve asked myself this question many times. But this is one of the few times in my life that I’ve been positive about what I’m suppose to do. I’m excited to start this new journey and share my adventures on this blog!