REGISTRATION ROAD – PART 1

About eighteen months ago I had the idea to move to England and work as a nurse. I thought it’d be fun to go and explore the world, and to pay my way with the skills I’ve earned. I knew that to work as a nurse in the United Kingdom, I’d first have to register. I figured I’d fill out a few forms, send a few documents over, and before I knew it I’d be cleaning out wounds and sticking people with needles while they said charming things like, “Are you having a laugh?” and offering me copious amounts of tea. This was a delusional and naive presumption. (Not the charming things British people say, more the few documents thing. I’ve already genuinely been called “Poppet.” Twice).

It didn’t seem like a naive presumption at the time. The facts are these: I went to university for three years to train as a nurse. During that time I sat many exams and went through months of placement to prove my skills and knowledge were sufficient. After university, I completed a graduate year at Austin Hospital, one of Melbourne’s major metropolitan hospitals. I then worked for five years for the Royal District Nursing Service, becoming a team manager after the first year. I’m skilled up to my eyeballs, dammit.

I figured another first-world country, a country that is the mother of the commonwealth, the international collective to which Australia is a part of, would recognise these skills. I was wrong. I had to prove myself.

And over the last eighteen months I have learnt one thing: The process to register in the United Kingdom is a cold and unflinching bitch.

I’m now going to detail the arduous requirements that all Australian and New Zealand nurses have to go through in order to do the job they’re already trained for. I had to live through it, people, you only have to read about it…


To begin the process, I went online and punched my details into the registration website. This created an account for me with the various stages of registration mapped out — although all I had access to was the first stage. They put me firmly in my place; they didn’t want me getting ahead of myself. Looking back, this could be their catch-phrase:

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

The first stage was asking for the scores and ID number of an exam. As yet, I had not sat that exam, so I went about booking myself in. The exam cost somewhere in the vicinity of $400, and I was strongly encouraged to study and prepare for the day. I felt I had been studying and preparing for the exam my whole life — the exam was an English exam. I had to prove I had the necessary English skills to work as a nurse. This is despite the fact that English is the only language I know, a language I’ve spoken since the age of two, a language I completed school and five years of tertiary education in, two years of that tertiary education being in an English diploma. None of this mattered; I had to sit the exam.

So I did. I filed into a classroom with a collection of people for whom English was a second language, showed my passport (it was all very official), took my seat, and spent five hours writing, reading, interpreting, listening and speaking in English. The speaking component was a one-on-one interview, and when I met my interviewer and sat down, and it was obvious I was Australian-born, she looked at me and asked: “So why do you have to do this?”

I wanted to ask her the same question.

You’ll all be relieved to know I passed the exam. Shocking, right? In fact, I got full marks except for the listening component where I drifted off for a second and missed something the pre-recorded voice read out, and lost half a mark. So I’m officially a bad listener.

Exam done, I excitedly logged back in and put in my results details, and was rewarded by being able to access the next stage in the process. The next stage was an exam. Another one. Once again I went about booking myself in. This exam was to test my nursing theory, and cost somewhere in the vicinity of $350.

I wasn’t sure what to expect for this exam. The body of medical knowledge is a rather large one, and I didn’t know how to prepare for such a general topic, given that any aspect of health theory could technically be tested. Luckily, I was sent a document of what to study. This document was a forty-four page table consisting of minute areas to be tested, broken in to headings, sub-headings and sub-sub-headings. Most of it was entirely useless.

The table gave vague one-line wanky descriptions of what would be covered, saying very little of actual substance. Things like: “The ability to express the desires of the patient.” What? How do I study for the ability to express the desires of the patient? What sort of multiple choice question summarises something as subjective and variable as the ability to express the desires of the patient?

The document followed this up with links to various sites to which I gathered were places where I could get my answers. I would estimate that ninety percent of the links were dead, taking me down pathways to websites that no longer existed, and the ones that did work took me to journal articles with obscure titles such as: “Interpreting body language – A case study.”

None of this was helpful, and there were no questions in the exam relating to body language.

I did my own independent study on what I reasoned were the fundamentals of nursing theory and I passed.

At this point, I thought I was through the crucible. I knew once I got to London I’d have to sit a third and final practical exam, but this didn’t worry me greatly. I had passed two exams and was ready to be on my way. I was drafting my letter of resignation in my head. Thankfully, I never put the words to paper. It was a further ten months before I resigned.

I logged back on to see what was next expected of me and discovered that a mountain of paperwork was needed before anything further could be done. So, one by one, I went about obtaining, scanning in, and sending off the required documents.

I had to order a birth certificate, providing verified copies of various forms of identification to prove I was me and entitled to a record of my birth, I needed police checks, one for both Australia and the UK (although how I was supposed to have a criminal record in a country I’d never been to I have no idea), I contacted my registration board in Australia and for a $80 fee they agreed to send a single piece of paper to England proving I was a registered nurse in Australia. I had a multitude of blood test and booster shots, provided bank statements, and obtained declarations of good health from GPs stating I was mentally and physically fit for work.

And, hardest of all, I got in contact with my old university, a different campus from the one I attended as the one I attended no longer existed, and cajoled them into producing an eight-page document detailing down to the exact hour the subjects and placements I completed six years ago during university.

After months of administration and paying more money for these documents, I sent off a packet to the UK, and sat back and waited for my paperwork to be approved. This was it. The final hurdle before jumping on a plane and dropping into the rest of the world.

My documents were rejected…

(To be continued in Part 2…you lucky things)


Recently I created a Patreon page as a way to share some of my creative fiction, as well as a means to fund my writing.

I’ve recently put up a new short story called “Thermodynamics and Reincarnation.”

If you want to give it a read and become a patron, head here: https://www.patreon.com/jonathanrobb?ty=c

You can pay whatever you like – $1, $5, or nothing at all. The important thing is that you read it.

 

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PATREON

I am a writer. This is how I perceive myself because this is the thing I’m most passionate about. It’s also the thing I’ve spent the most time working towards. Ever since Year 9 English when the class was instructed to write a five-hundred word piece of creative fiction and I handed in a short story of one-thousand, two-hundred and six words to my poor over-worked teacher, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I left school knowing this and did a writing course to chase this dream down and grapple it into a reality.

But, I am also a nurse. I’m a nurse for two primary reason:

  1. I wanted a job that exposed me to the world’s realities, that showed me stories, and that let me connect with people in a deeper sense than the superficial, “How are you? I’m good,” sort of way. A job I could respect and be proud of. A job that let me help people.
  2. I also needed the money.

I don’t like the latter fact, and I don’t like that the latter fact is a motivator in my decision-making process, but that doesn’t change it from being a fact. The world is expensive and often unforgiving in this regard, and I can accept that if I want to live in the modern world, it comes at a cost.

But ideally, this fact would be addressed by my writing. To be able to make money from my writing, to fund writing with writing, is the dream fifteen-year-old me had back in high-school. It’s what I’ve been working towards for the past fourteen years.

But working full-time as a nurse leaves very little time for sitting and writing, to dedicating myself to the craft I love. After years of working as a nurse and collecting stories from the people I’ve worked with I’ve reached the point where I want to shift away from gathering stories and towards sharing them.

Because of this, I’ve joined Patreon.

Patreon is a website built around providing artists with an outlet for their work while also allowing them to obtain payment for their art. It works like this:

I upload short stories or chapters from my novels and people can subscribe to be a patron at a price of their own choosing. Patrons pay what they want for the uploaded work — a dollar, fifty dollars, or nothing at all, they can have it for free if they like. It’s a way of my work getting out their, people getting entertainment and enjoyment from it, and a way for readers to support the writers they love.

If you wish to read my stories and be a patron, and to support me along the way, please follow the link below:

https://www.patreon.com/jonathanrobb?ty=h

So far one piece of writing, a story called When You’re Older, has been uploaded, but more will follow. For those wishing to read it on a iPhone or iPad, please download the .epub version, or for those who want to read it on a kindle, please download the .mobi version.

Thank you for your support, and for reading.

AUDILE

Before I gained the ability to tackle novels, back when I was still mastering picture books like “The Strongest Baby In The World,” my father used to read novels to me and my siblings. I can remember my dad seated on a sofa in the corner of the living room and us kids sprawled around him, the semi-shag carpet cushioning my head as I lay listening to his narration, letting his voice weave stories in my mind.

I loved these nights, and loved the ability of someone else’s words creating worlds and characters that I could envisage from the comfort of my living room floor.

Having outgrown the age when it is socially acceptable for my father to read me stories before bed, I still enjoy spoken prose through the art of audiobooks. Working as a district nurse inherently involves a lot of driving, and to pass the time commuting from patient to patient I have my iPod playing in the car, and stories playing in my head.

There is a power in having a novel read to you, in having the sensory elements of sound and tone help build the details of the story. Character’s voices flesh out personalities, pauses create suspense, and you can close your eyes, block out any distractions, and picture the world that’s being described to you.

But like any art form you are reliant on the artist to dictate the perspective you take when perceiving the piece. For someone reading a novel, they are building on top of a pre-existing piece of art, adding another layer of texture with a new medium. This new layer, this alternative perspective, can make or break a story. It can enhance what was already there and bring new body to the work, or it can cheapen it and detract from the power of the piece, dependant on the reader’s skill. I have listened to some readers that have made characters come alive, and others that have only succeeded in making them annoying. Realising the importance of the verbal narrator’s skill has made me admire the former and their vocal abilities.

With all this in mind, for today’s post I have attempted a reading of my short story Remembering The Mimi. The process of recording this only increased my admiration for quality readers as I mumbled and stumbled my way through multiple takes. It also gave me a newfound respect for people who use audio-editing software, as I had to learn how to remove my numerous errors.

So put in some headphones, close your eyes, if it’s available lay down on some semi-shag carpet, and let me tell you a story…

I HAVE AN IDEA

Story ideas are elusive things to define. I think the most repeated question writers must encounter is: “Where do your ideas come from?” And even though this question has become a cliché and the bane of writers during interviews, every time I come across an amazing idea/concept/character, I can’t help but stop, lower my book and wonder, “How the hell did they come up with that?”

In interviews, the writers always seem to struggle to come up with an answer that satisfies them. I think the reason for this is that writers want to create an answer that is clever and apt; but there is no clever and apt answer. The question would probably have to be delivered on a case-by-case basis for the writer to provide an accurate answer.

i.e.

Q: “In scene x with character y, how did you come up with the idea for character x to say dialogue z?”
A: “I read it on a cereal box.”

As you can see this process would be rather tedious and make for a long-winded interview.

But despite the logical answer most writers eventually give, “Lots of places,” the desire to know, to understand the fountain of greatness and where it springs from, is still there. As an aspiring writer, I can’t help but hunger to understand the workings of their minds and follow the track their synapses took to come to the amazing conclusion that is their piece of writing. The reasoning is a simple one: If I can understand it, I can replicate it.

Recently I’ve been looking over some of my old writing and found myself asking the question of where the ideas came from to myself. Time has fogged my memory enough that the exact moment of inspiration has faded leaving me in a dementia-like fugue about how I came to put those exact words to paper. But my weak long-term memory gives me the opportunity to answer the question of where ideas come from to myself:

Ideas come from lots of places. (Wait, there’s more). So many times it is a random string of events that results in an idea. It could start with the briefest glimpse I get of a man and a child on the footpath as I’m driving down the road. Maybe the boy is picking something off the pavement and the man is bending down to see what he’s found. And maybe as I’m driving past I’m not thinking about writing or stories, I’m thinking about the dessert I’m going to eat that night, but that fleeting images snags something in my head. The image sticks and dessert slips from my brain and I find myself wondering what the boy might have found. Idea.

The next stage to the answer is that ideas are usually more than one idea, they’re a mutated amalgamation of ideas. Maybe earlier that day I was shopping for dessert when I came across a metallic frog that when you click its belly it sounds like it’s croaking. (This item actually exists, my dad has it, but for the purposes of the example let’s say I found it at the shops). I remember this curious item and suddenly I know in my story what it is the boy has found. He brushes off the dirt to reveal a tarnished and beat-up metallic frog that croaks when you push its belly. Idea.

Now this is just the frame of a story, a starting place, but through this string of memories, moments, and images, a story idea is cobbled together. Questions come from this beginning: “What does the boy do with the metal frog?”, “What does the man do with it?”, “Will the frog become an animated spirit, whispering to the boy in the night, speaking of greatness in a croaky voice?” The answers to these questions are part of the story idea process.

And maybe at this point I want to insert a moral or meaning to the story. Maybe I know an elderly man who collects wombat paraphernalia, only now in my story the old man has a frog paraphernalia collection. And maybe the metallic frog was the first item he ever received, and suddenly the story’s about ownership and lost things. Idea.

The beauty of this demonstration is that anything can be story. Or maybe it should be everything is story. Every conversation, every freeze-frame image, every unique quirk, every memory, or smell, or taste can go into a story. These details are what make a story feel real and special and makes readers like me stop and wonder how they came up with something so original and perfect.

One of the things I enjoy most about writing is there is no such thing as wrong. Anything that is sticking to the roof of your brain can be jotted down, explored, and fed with creativity until it becomes something bigger that the original image of a boy and a man finding something on the pavement. It becomes plot, and interesting characters, and mythology, and a mini-reality put to paper.

Where do stories ideas come from?

Where don’t they come from.

POST-TURBULENCE

I’m writing this as I sit in my empty new house. It’s been a busy few months.

I haven’t updated the site in a while for a few reasons. The first and most important reason is that I’ve been channeling my writing efforts into actual fictional writing. I’ve found with this site it’s easy to sate the writing appetite by publishing a new post. One click of the mouse and you’ve dispensed words to a potentially enormous audience. So in an effort to be more productive I’ve been working on some writing that someone else might want to publish.

Secondly, and as hinted at in the opening line, I’ve bought a house. It turns out the process of acquiring a home can take up a lot of your time. The search, the open houses, the negotiations, the meetings with brokers, realtors and solicitors. I was shocked at the cloud of stress that descended once the search began. But the good news is the house is bought (although still far from paid for), and the cloud is breaking apart, and as I sit in my empty house writing this it feels good to be a home owner.

Right now my house is like a blank page, waiting for words and stories to fill it. Empty rooms always feel so strange and incomplete, but right now it just feels anticipatory. Like the heaviness in the air before a storm breaks. I can’t wait to find out what stories unfold to fill these walls.

The final reason for the lack of writing is that I’ve been doing the artwork for a children’s book. I’m not the writer on this project, just the illustrator. Whilst I’ve always enjoying making art, I’ve never been commissioned for any project. When the opportunity came up I thought it would be brilliant. As with purchasing a house, I was unprepared for the effort required to create the artwork for a children’s book. I have sunk hours into sketches, drafts, and learning illustrator software. It resulted in a new found respect for anyone working in the graphic art industry.

The book should come out before christmas, all things going well. I’ll post more as it develops.

So, now that my few months of turbulence is winding down, I thought it only fair to post something on the site. In an effort to entice readers back I’ve posted a new piece of short writing which can be found in the writing page, or simply by clicking here.

In complete honesty, it’s a bribe. Take it. You know you want it.

FRAMING REALITY

Once when I was having a short story of mine work-shopped my lecturer stated that I had written an anecdote, not a story. This irked me at the time; I felt he was being pedantic and finding fault to complete his role as educator. This was perhaps a bit arrogant because after giving it some space, I looked back on this particular story and saw that he was absolutely correct. I had written an anecdote.

The difference between an anecdote and a short story is one of framing. An anecdote, as my lecturer explained, is a situation, an occurrence that lacks the correct framing of a story. This framing is a familiar one we’re all taught from primary school: beginning, middle, and end.

My anecdote had characterisation, dialogue, imagery. It had things happening. What it didn’t have was a point.

After realising the truth behind my lecturer’s advice, I gave the problem a lot of thought. I attempted to create a story that had correct framing. Unfortunately, being not yet twenty at the time and having spent a lot of my childhood in front of the television left me reaching for clichés to structure my stories. I used episodic formats and overused ideas. In other words, my stories weren’t very good. I became frustrated.

After months of frustration I pinpointed the cause of my irritation; life is messy.

I wanted to capture reality in my writing. I wanted to take the chaos of my experiences and display them in my text as they had felt. Even if what I was writing was fantasy, I wanted in to feel real. And life is messy. It lacks format, and at times it even lacks a point. I was frustrated because I felt my anecdotes more accurately represented reality than a neatly framed story. Granted, they were basically a description of events, but then so is life.

I didn’t write for a while after that realisation. I decided I’d wait until I thought of a story that had the correct framing, but at the same time allowed me to express my version of reality. And for a long time I didn’t think I could do it. I thought that any attempt to reshape ideas and events into a neat package was sacrificing my representation of a messy reality.

It took me a while to realise that I was looking at it from the wrong side. I had a story line and was trying to squeeze reality into that shape. But that’s not a writer’s job. What I actually had was reality, and what I should have been doing was looking for the story within it. Because even though life is messy, it’s a writer’s job to take that mess and search for a meaning. To find the point.

A well written story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has motifs, and loaded dialogue. It has subtext. It has a point. It’s a writer’s job to scroll through the mess of reality and find these elements in life. By writing an anecdote I was simply being lazy. I was failing to cut away the excess to find the structure buried inside.

By writing a story you’re finding the point amongst the mess. You’re pulling out the meaning from the chaos of events and structuring it so that meaning is more evident for the reader. An anecdote may capture a messy reality, but then so too does a diary entry. Or, god forbid, a blog. And while these types of writing have their purpose, they aren’t a story.

A story isn’t simply about photocopying reality; it’s about finding the meaning in the mess.

Thanks to my lecturer for pointing this out to me by criticising my work. It was the best thing he could have done.

 

SPECIMEN

Given that I have had a story recently published I thought I’d offer up a specimen of my writing for people to try.

I’ve uploaded a short story titled White Bone, Red Muscle, which explores the fragility of the human body. It can be found here, or by tripping headfirst into the writing page

If you like what you read and are slamming your fists on the floor begging for more, please feel free to head here, where you can purchase the latest copy of Aurealis featuring my short story, Remembering The Mimi.