As we draw to the end of the decade and the 2010s morph into the 2020s, I thought it would be nice to take a look back on the last ten years and pick out some highlights from my professional life. In the next two blog posts, I’ve split the decade in half and chosen one key event from each year that has really shaped me. I started the decade aged 18 and on the cusp of leaving home to move to University. Ten years later I’m still in the same city, beautiful Lincoln, and have carved out a career in media and education. There is still a long way to go, but the journey has been fun – it’s good to take a moment to reflect sometimes.
2010 was a big year for me, it marked the start of my journey as the year I left home aged eighteen and moved to Lincoln to study Media Production at the University of Lincoln. The choice to study at Lincoln had been made almost at the last moment, having not originally applied to the University’s media course and only attending on the offer holder day! Other memorable moments from my first weeks on campus were booking into the wrong accommodation (which ended up being much better!) and shooting a short film in the streets of Lincoln where, on the first day, it snowed so heavily that we had to condense our shoot into two days in order to avoid continuity issues when the snow melted. My personal highlight of this film was a shot that featured the local postman wheeling his truck through the deep snowdrifts. It was one we just had to include in the piece! I also recall, a point where we were asked to write and present a TV show on a country or culture of our choice. Having in our group a student from Israel, the choice was easy for us. What was not so easy, for me anyway, was a segment in the show (which was recorded live) where we introduced food from the country and had to eat it. There in front of me was a big bowl of hummus which I proceeded to dip my spoon into before quickly dropping my arm under the table while I pretended to eat and enjoy the food as convincingly as I could… to this day I still can’t stomach Middle Eastern cuisine.
There is no underestimating the importance of the University of Lincoln in shaping my path through the rest of the decade. Through to 2013, I studied on the Media Production course and later returned to study an MA in Digital Media and, in 2017, take a job as Digital Education Developer for the College of Arts – the role I still hold today.
If it hadn’t been for my radio show, Ben’s Country Music Show, which I began presenting in 2008, I may never have chosen Lincoln University and my life might have turned out very differently.
Another exciting experience of this first year of the decade, was the publication of my second novel, Walking on Cinders, and the 1,000 books to sell project where I challenged myself to sell 1k copies of the novel in 12 months. During this time, I became one of the first authors to harness the power of social media (which was a fairly new phenomenon at the time) and gained press coverage in both the UK and the USA. I went on to complete the challenge and Walking on Cinders remains available to purchase on Amazon around the world, to this day. I have plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of publication in 2020.
In 2011, I had the opportunity of a lifetime and one that I feel has had the most impact on my professional and personal life in so much as it really opened my eyes to new horizons. Having never left the UK before, let alone stepped on a plane, I was lucky enough to be chosen in competitive process to be one of five students from the Lincoln School of Film and Media to spend six months studying abroad in Minnesota at Minnesota State University Moorhead, right on the border between Minnesota and North Dakota and in the sister cities of Fargo Moorhead.
This six months taught me so much, provided me with endless opportunities and I made friends to last a lifetime. My love and passion for the history and culture of the USA began with my radio show, Ben’s Country Music Show, which I started presenting in 2008, but it was living and studying in Minnesota that really solidified this burning passion and lead me on a path that I am still traveling on today.
For me, it was amazing just to experience day to day life in the USA, the out of town shops, the language, and culture… the food! In the first week (we arrived in August and weather was hot and humid) we spent endless days on the lake at our friend Michael’s boathouse, went tubing behind a speedboat and ate hotdogs and corn on the veranda. Later, I’d get to teach students at MSUM and study classes in film production (using a hand-cranked 1920s Bolex camera), radio and TV broadcasting (visiting the Fox News studios), the life of Benjamin Franklin and the history of Google… that one I even had to take an exam in!
The other big highlight of that six months in 2011, was getting to travel. I was lucky enough to have the chance to visit (and fall in love with) San Francisco, cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge and eating Clam Chowder with Sourdough at Fisherman’s Wharf; travel up to the beautiful coastal city of Duluth, Minnesota, taking a detour to the house where Bob Dylan was born, and spend Thanksgiving in the Twin Cities of St Paul and Minneapolis. By far the biggest highlight though was my week-long trip to Nashville, TN where I was invited to cover the CMA Awards as a UK overseas broadcaster and interview such legendary performers as Lynn Anderson and Charlie McCoy. Here again, I made so many friends and I’m delighted to say I hope to travel back to Nashville in 2020 and 2021 (the ten year anniversary of my last trip) as part of my research for a PhD in the history and culture of American country music.
It seemed that back in 2012, the whole of the UK was suffering from Olympic fever. This was the year that London hosted the Olympic Games. It was the first games in my lifetime to be held in the UK, and perhaps the last.
So it was certainly a big occasion and as part of the lead up to the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, I spent the summer presenting and producing a documentary on the Olympic Torch Relay. Covering the torch as it made its way through the East Midlands to the Market Town of Melton Mowbray and the medieval city of Lincoln, the documentary was broadcast on local radio station 103 The Eye and later made available to stream online. In addition, during the summer of 2012, I was also invited to present live coverage of the torch relay as it passed through Melton Mowbray and this was again broadcast on 103 The Eye. I’m pleased to say that I did eventually manage to bag myself some tickets for the games themselves, although only for the cycling road race on the first day! To attend, I had to camp out with all the other attendees at a converted school sports ground in Stratford – the big highlight being that we all crammed into the local pub to watch the opening ceremony together, a very special experience!
Another big highlight of 2012, was being invited to produce a short film for the Lincolnshire Media Education team (LIME) to be used as a learning resource for primary school students across the county. Our short film focused on the subject of Modern Foreign Languages and was a stop motion piece featuring a variety of kitchen utensils and food items that came to life whenever the owners were not around. Ala Toy Story, our film The Cheese Thief introduced a series of characters each of which spoke a different language, from Spanish to French, Portuguese and even Welsh! For the Welsh language part, we were lucky to secure a father and son team based in Cardiff who were happy to record their lines and send them over to us – a very authentic addition to the film. The whole thing was filmed in one very busy afternoon in Northamptonshire, with a family farmhouse kitchen acting as our makeshift film set!
2013 was a year of change in many ways. In the summer I finished my undergraduate degree course in Media Production.
My final project on the degree was to produce an interactive radio drama, Charlie and the Moon, aimed at re-introducing children to the world of radio drama. The genesis for this project was the idea that children don’t really listen to the radio and that radio drama in particular, is usually aimed at an adult audience. Partnering with a graduating illustrator for her final project and my good friend Hannah Webster-Sudborough (with whom I’d founded Dreaming Tiger Productions the previous year), we wrote a script in the ‘choose your own adventure’ style, with the idea that our children’s audience would listen to scenes from the drama accompanied by animated illustrations and they would then be able to choose what happened next. By the end of the piece, each listener would be able to download their own, individual drama that would be different for every listener.
In addition to this final practical project, I also wrote a 10,000-word dissertation on the subject of The Changing British Attitude to Country Music from the 1960s to the Present Day. This piece was fascinating to research and write and focused on the way that British audiences have responded to and engaged with American country music over the past half-century. This piece was the genesis behind my decision to write further about the subject of country music in the years that followed and, eventually, to pursue PhD studies in the subject starting in 2020.
In September 2013, I graduated from the University of Lincoln with a First Class degree in Media Production and was awarded for my ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Lincoln School of Film and Media’. A few months prior to my graduation, in June 2013, I started my first full-time job as a social and digital media intern for the Human Resources department at the University. In this role, I would go on to design a range of marketing materials and build the first successful mobile app launched by the University of Lincoln.
In 2014, still chasing my dream of working in the media, I set embarked on a new challenge when I set up my own business, Tall Lime LTD and moved into office space at the Sparkhouse Studios on the campus of the University of Lincoln.
In June of this year, I completed my internship in the Human Resources department and was awarded the ‘Intern of the Year’ award for my work over the previous 12 months. The department was keen to keep me on, so I began to work for them on a contractual basis through my fledgling business.
Tall Lime LTD was set up a small, independent digital agency providing website design, graphic design and mobile app development services to small businesses, charities and arts groups in the East Midlands. In the early days, I worked closely with a number of arts organisations to design marketing materials, brochures and programmes for productions in Lincoln and Newark. In addition, I took on contractual work with the British Growers, an agency based out of Louth in rural Lincolnshire and I was delighted to have the opportunity to design and build the national websites for British Carrots, British Onions and a number of agricultural conferences and events.
If that wasn’t enough, in late 2014 I had the opportunity to apply to study for an MA in Digital Media back at the Lincoln School of Film and Media. I was successful in securing a scholarship to study for my Masters Degree and began work in September 2014, focusing on digital media and media theory while, of course, bringing my love of country music into my work at every opportunity.