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Curious habits and echoes of childhood
Posted by Simon on 28th, September 2011 at 06:41:09
I've been doing a fair bit of driving around of late, which is a necessary chore of the day job, but I don't like to waste time so I try to put the hours of travelling to some good use.
Whilst ensuring I concentrate on the road at all times, naturally (quick aside - that sounds like one of those awful disclaimers so beloved of the legal profession; we can no way be held to account for anything whatsoever we do in any circumstances arising from anything at all etc...) I also like to do some thinking as I drive.
I'll commonly be working through the plot of a piece of writing, or maybe a quirk or two of the characterisation, perhaps even mulling over a twist or turn for the narrative. But one of the most curious things I do - as I noticed yesterday - is that I like to have a chat with my passengers.
Which is odd, because I'm always alone.
This is what tends to happen. If I'm thinking about a story I'm covering, then I'll talk it through with Dan; how best to start the report, what we need to ask the interviewees, if there's anything creative we can do with the filming or structure. If it's a crime we're covering, I like to speculate with Adam about who might have committed it and why, and perhaps how they're trying to cover it up and get away with it.
And when I'm thinking about a plot for one of the tvdetective books, I'll often ask the boys how they'd react in a given situation.
Now, this may seem odd to you, as initially it did to me. And I know that when I think there's something odd about myself, it's likely to be very strange indeed. But this is what I've come to believe.
I reckon it's only right that my characters should truly live for me. Because if they don't, how can I know them well enough to make them live on paper, for the readers?
Or is that just an oddball's justification for his insanity?
Anyhow! As I was saying... and you may well think this even odder - Dan, and Adam, and all the other main characters in the tvdetective series have become like friends to me. Even when I'm not writing, they're still around, talking to me (and, as we've seen, I like to talk back), and often asking when I'm going to start writing about them again.
Well, I suppose everyone needs friends. And this little confessional all reminds me of what my late mother said, when I told her about me trying to become a writer, and then the publication of my first book.
"Well", she said, wisely, "I suppose I could have seen it coming. From childhood, you always had a lot of imaginary friends..."
Posted by Simon on 24th, September 2011 at 06:57:29
I'm feeling dangerously close to somewhere approaching the near proximity of possibly getting the hang of this new media lark.
Yesterday, being the beautiful day it was, I mused a little on Twitter about the season and was flattered by getting plenty of feedback about it.
For those of you who missed the Tweet in question, it went thus; "Sweet September, King of the Devon months. Summer's love lingers, the county becalmed, & seasonal yellow sunlight caresses autumn's colours."
Quick aside (as ever) - I'm not sure whether you're supposed to use quotation marks on your own words, but hey, that's for clever people like editors to discuss, and not one to get bogged down in here.
Anyway, as I was saying, the Tweet prompted plenty of comment. Poetic even, one of my correspondents called it. Now, I'm not sure I'd go that far - poetry in 140 characters or less? Quite a challenge! - but what did strike me was the level of agreement my praising of autumn drew. It's clearly a popular season. Which in turn made me think, for the first time, about the seasons in which the tvdetective books are set.
I came up with an interesting realisation (at least i think so), and maybe this is another to file under the catgeory I've discussed many times here - how much you can learn about yourself through writing.
None of the books are set in the summer. One is rooted in the winter, the others go for spring and autumn.
Why should this be, I ask myself? Well, the lack of a summer book doesn't surprise me. I've never got on well with heat and too much sunshine, never been one for holidays which consist only of laying on a beach. I'm more a creature of the darkness - hence perhaps becoming a crime writer - so seeing most of the books based in the darker months probably befits my character.
But I wonder whether spring and autumn dominate my writing for another, more subtle reason.
A book, on a basic level, tends to be about some kind of journey, whether it's a character's personal quest or experiences, or in my case an attempt to solve a crime. Which means it's all about change. And spring and autumn are the changing times, so perhaps they feel more appropriate to accompany the narrative.
On the subject of which, it's time to venture out into another fine autumn morning to head for my weekly circuits class at the gym, followed by some work on a couple of talks I've been asked to do.
There are quite a few gigs coming up in the months ahead, I'll post details on the News and Events page as they arise - www.thetvdetective.com/news.html - in the hope I might provide you with some entertainment as we travel together into the winter...
Body and mind
Posted by Simon on 20th, September 2011 at 06:56:49
An innovation in the Hall blogging field - this time I'll start with an aside, but an important one.
It's a big thanks to the very kind and dedicated people who organised the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival. I had a splendid time, felt very looked after, and hope the festival lives long and prospers, as they say in Star Trek. It certainly deserves to.
Thanks also to those who came along to my talk, which is where this little musing arises from. One of the questions posed unto me was - are the characters or the plot more important in the tvdetective books?
It got me thinking, which regular readers of this will know to be a dangerous phenomenon, but anyway, here we go with an (attempted) answer...
It's something of a dodge, I suppose, but the truth is that I believe both are equally important.
I've come to think of the characters as the mind of a book, the plot the body. In life, you can exist and even thrive with a weak mind and a strong body - as perhaps some might say befits more than the odd professional footballer - or with a weaker body and a strong mind, as can be the way with some of the older generation. The most feisty and opinionated emails I get about the books tend to be from older readers, but that's a digression I shall resist until another day!
Anyway, following my analogy, I'd say the body / mind relationship is roughly the same with books. You can get away with weak characters if you've got a compelling plot, and vice versa. But I think the best results, the most memorable writing, tends to come when both plot and characters are strong.
So, i do my humble best to come up with a mix of the both. Whether I succeed or not, of course, is an entirely different matter!
One final thing to mention here. You may remember how I resolved to get more "with" this new technology thing which is so pervading the world.
There's impressive news on that front (at least, I think so) - I have now reached a century of followers on Twitter, (if so minded, you can follow me via the link further up the home page - www.thetvdetective.com/ ) and am feeling quite proud of myself. So much so that I'm even going to tweet the birth of this blog, to a doubtless fascinated and entranced world. Or something such...
Posted by Simon on 16th, September 2011 at 06:32:48
I'm getting nervous, an impressive 36 hours before the event.
I don't do nerves particularly fetchingly. Where some fortunate folk can show no visible effects at all, and others seem to manage to put on only a healthy and becoming glow, I flush and sweat in a manner which might best be described as looking like a beetroot which has been caught in a downpour.
I always get nervy before a performance, but some more so than others. For the smaller talks, perhaps to a group of 30 or so at a library, I'll give myself the grace of only being nervous on that day, maybe for a few hours.
For the bigger ones, I can work myself up into the kind of spin of which a Tasmanian Devil would be proud, and a lot longer beforehand. When I did a talk to the Women's Institute in Torbay this year - audience 1400! - I was so stressed and strained it was a wonder I didn't snap. And as for the week's teaching in Swanwick last month, I started to feel the flutters of concern in... wait for this... January.
That was the record in the Hall annals, and one that still stands, an onset of nerves 7 months before an event!
I do tell myself it's only natural, and good for me, that the gut-wobbles come visiting. It pumps me up, makes me perform, but be that as it may it's still a companion whose company I could often well do without.
As a quick aside here (you knew it was coming!), I can still remember how nervous I was when I did my first TV outside broadcast - mere fragile words could never capture it, but I did wonder at the time whether the sensation would be sufficient to propel me into orbit.
Anyway, on this occasion, the nerves are probably around the medium stretch of the Hall scale. They're setting upon me because tomorrow it's the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival - Words by the Sea - and the kind (misguided?) folk there have asked me to come along and play.
I think I've got the talk worked out, I think it's got the right mix of insight into the writing of the tvdetective books, along with a bit of poignancy and humour, and I think it's the right length (another aside - the issue with my talks tends not to be having insufficient material but knowing when to shut up.)
But the thing is, and this is where the nerves come in, however much you plan and rehearse, however much you prepare... you never really know how it's going to turn out until you step onto that stage, and start to talk, and see the reaction of the audience... and if they don't laugh at your first gag... if there's a cold and barren silence... aagghhh, don't go there!
(Pause to collect myself!)
Anyhow, as I was saying, the festival begins today, they've got a great line up, and so if you fancy something to entertain you this weekend do pop along. There are more details on the News and Events page - www.thetvdetective.com/news.html
Excuse me now if I go for another wander around my study, practising my oration, and no doubt stoking further the fires of nerves which are already enjoying their first dance of the day
Literary recycling & my new old friend
Posted by Simon on 13th, September 2011 at 06:50:36
I don't like waste, never have. Even as a kid I hated to see anything go to waste, and that feeling has only intensified as I've (mostly) grown up.
I was reminded of this yesterday, and in a curious way. You know how I sometimes (often? incessantly?!) say one of the greatest gifts of writing is how much you learn about yourself? Well, it happened again last night, as I was sitting in my study, looking out at the inspiration of an early autumn sunset, and thinking / working on some ideas for a new tvdetective plot.
Commonly, when I write a book, it doesn't come out as I'd planned, and sometimes nowhere close. Because I like to have plenty going on, the usual problem is there's a sub-plot or character too many. It happened in The Judgement Book for example, and so when it came time to do the edits, an entire sub-plot had to be removed.
It felt like an operation, and was strangely painful as I was rather attached to it...
I didn't throw the idea away. Aside from the notebook I take with me everywhere, on the desktop of this very computer from which I write, is a file less than flatteringly called "Left overs". In there I put anything that doesn't make it into the final cut of a book, and from out of there last night was revived this particular character and the sub-plot which she creates.
It felt good because, on one level, it was exactly what the idea for the new book needed, a strong second strand to the narrative. But in a more curious way - and this is where you'll perhaps start to fear for my fragile sanity again - it felt like meeting up with a long-lost friend.
That emotion stayed with me all evening, kept me grinning as I thought about her, even (am I really writing this...?!) accompanied me to bed, and - get this - came to join me in a very peculiar dream.
Yes, I know I'm fond of asides, but on this occasion down that particular alley we don't need to go...
This morning, I'm off to do a bit more work on her, as it were (sounds like something from a Carry On film?), and I'm enjoying that thought too.
So, I'm thankful for my little habit of trying not to waste anything. I think originally - as with so many character traits - it must have come from my parents. We weren't well off in my younger days, and I always remember Mum and Dad doing their best to plan meals so that any leftovers could be recycled for the coming days. It's a poignant memory.
A final aside here - the one commodity (and I use that word deliberately, because I think it's the most precious of all) that I really can't abide being wasted is time. Our fleeting stay on this fantastic planet is so limited that I always try my best to make the most of it, and sometimes in some curious ways.
But that's for another blog...
Posted by Simon on 9th, September 2011 at 06:56:19
I've been thinking about thinking, following a curious mental quirk which visited me once more this week.
I mentioned in a previous post that I was writing a stage play, based on the tvdetective books? Well, it's almost done - albeit after much sweating and swearing - but that's not what this little post is about. Instead... 'tis this.
When I was on one of the play's key scenes, I was happily typing away, following the plan I'd set out in my notes when something stopped me.
Exactly what it was is hard to say, but I'll do my best to descibe it. I do try to make a living from lacing these slippery word things together, after all.
It was like a whisper from a corner of my mind. And the strange thing was that I couldn't quite hear what it was saying. All I knew was that it was there, both persistent and insistent, but I didn't know what it was. And that, of course, was frustrating, to put it mildly.
Now, before you start to worry about me (I like to think you would), I've known this happen on many an occasion before. The first time I can recall was when I was at university, sitting some final exams.
An aside here - come on, you were expecting it, and it's a long way into the blog, they normally arise far sooner! - but exams are so traumatic that to this day, twenty years on from the last time I faced one, I still have a recurring nightmare about them. It pops up on average once a month, and involves me sitting in the hall, being utterly unable to answer any questions.
Anyway, returning to the point, and it was this. Back then, in 1990, there was a question facing me and I knew I had the answer. The problem was, think as hard as I might, the thing wouldn't come to mind. I remember getting stressed and anxious, to the extent that I decided to try the only possible remedy I could think of.
I started imagining something else, probably going out for a few beers to celebrate the end of the exams, knowing me. And lo! Into mind the answer popped.
Thus it was earlier this week with my play. I had this whispering sense that there was a much better way of tackling the part I was writing, but it stubbornly refused to come to mind. So instead of worrying about it, I went for a walk around the river, fed the geese, and.... it duly materialised.
This is the strange way I've had to come to manage some of my creativity. My ideas clearly like to tease me, and the only way to deal with them is to play hard to get. It's almost as if I have to mentally walk away from them, even stick out my tongue and call "na na na na naaa!", and eventually they'll come back to me.
What I'm wondering is - whether it's just my mind that works in this peculiar way, or whether others suffer similarly? On second thoughts, maybe you'd better not anwer that, it might just make me worry about myself even more than I do already...
Anyway, a couple more things to mention here. Firstly, there's the excellent Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival - Words by the Sea - next weekend (Sept 16/17), so if you're free, do pop down. They've got an impressive line up, with the possible exception of a strange, gangly, bespectacled crime writer chap who's appearing on the Saturday. There are more details on the News and Events page - www.thetvdetective.com/news.html
And finally for this post, being the keen child of the white hot heat of the technological revolution that I am (or not), I think I've managed to link my Twitter feed to my Facebook page. I'm not quite sure how this happened, or what it all does, but it sounds good, and for you, dear reader, I'm afraid I suspect it means this... even less chance of escaping my meanderings and musings!
Posted by Simon on 6th, September 2011 at 12:54:02
A lot of rot is talked about writing, in my humble view. Amongst the largest of the dung-heaps is the oft-heard claim of someone being a "born writer".
I think it's quite true that some people have a natural aptitude for writing, as with so many areas of life. But what narks your spleen-venting author is the assumption that those lucky enough to have a modest talent in a certain direction then go on to churn out wonderful works of literary art in the passage of almost no time, and with the expenditure of little, if any effort.
Time for the traditional Hall aside here, and I think that must be the shortest paragraph I've ever written in a blog. I confess to feeling quite pleased with myself for that, I do like a first. An innovation a day keeps boredom away in my eyes, or some such thing, but anyhow, back to my narrative of choice, or somewhere close...
What I was saying was how I find it galling that some people seem to think writers are born and not made, and simply need to wander up to a piece of paper, armed with a pen, to then go about setting down strings of enchanting words.
My experience is to the contrary, to say the least. I'm penning this today, because it's a kind of anniversary for me. I have now been writing (or attempting to write, at any rate) for seven years.
And in simple summary, this is how it went. To start with, I had little, if any idea what I was doing, and the consequent product was of the most dubious of quality. But I kept working and working and working away at it, learning what made for the better ingredients of a book and what didn't.
After almost four years of labour, I finally made enough progress to get published, which was wonderful, a milestone, an achievement, all that stuff, don't get me wrong. But...
But... even looking back today on the first of the tvdetective books to be published, The Death Pictures, if I were writing it now I would go about it so very differently. Because I believe that each time you write, you learn a little more about this subtle and beguiling art.
That's the point of this blog. I reckon that now, I've - more or less, give or take, leave me a little leeway, with due and appropriate modesty etc. - got to the stage where I can claim to be a mostly passable writer. And seven years it's taken for that. Seven!
So, all this stuff about born writers... I wish! It would certainly have saved me a great deal of time and effort, were that the case for me.
Finally for this blog, a quick plug and a couple of thank yous. The lovely people I met at the Swanwick Writers' Summer School were kind enough about my efforts to teach writing to suggest a new page on the site dedicated to my work. And the clever people who run the site have duly obliged, so if you get a moment, please do see what you think - www.thetvdetective.com/teaching.html
I'm off now to continue with my apprenticeship. That's one of the great things about writing - the training course lasts for the whole of your life and never, ever gets dull.
Happy side effects
Posted by Simon on 2nd, September 2011 at 07:29:25
This foggy Friday morning finds me musing on the many benefits of writing.
I'm not just thinking about the straightforward ones here; the pleasure of seeing your scribbles published, the delight of getting to know more about yourself through such a simple act as setting down a few words, the satisfaction of capturing a thought or feeling on a page etc etc.
No, here I'm talking about the related benefits. And in particular, there are two which have been engaging me of late.
The first is the teaching I've been doing. I've mentioned before that in my younger years I always thought I may be a teacher. So teaching writing now has fulfilled that ambition, and it's been a delight; the places I've been asked to go, the people I've been lucky enough to meet. Plus passing on a few of my menial thoughts about this writing lark.
Attempting the gazing into yourself thing - "as like what these blogs is supposed to be about", apparently - it seems to satisfy some of the altruism of my nature, that I commonly feel I have to be doing something beneficial, or worthwhile, however small.
The other benefit I've been musing upon is the ability writing brings to highlight the odd cause and help out with it. Without being pompous about it, I've had the pleasure of being asked to associate myself with one or two fine charities and have gladly done so. Again that ticks my mental "making a difference" box, and thus makes me happy, too - or at least as happy as an often pessimistic soul such as I ever manage.
You've been preparing for the random - but traditional - Hall aside, I know, and I wouldn't want to disappoint you, so here we go. A strange thought occured to me yesterday.
I don't want to trouble you too much with my weird mental processes - you may never want to come back to this blog, let alone read any more of the tvdetective books! - but I commonly consider this cheery question -
What would I like as my epitaph?
I suppose, if space were limited (as it's likely to be) something as simple as "he made a difference" (however small) would do me.
Right, before I get too maudlin, one final thing to mention, and it's on the theme we've been discussing. If you're free tomorrow (Saturday) and in the Exeter area, I'm doing a little something to help Hospicare, a cause very close to my heart.
If you can support it, there are more details on the Home page - www.thetvdetective.com/index.html and it'd be great to see you...