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A starting point
Posted by Simon on 28th, January 2012 at 08:19:02
Where do you start with writing a book?
I haven't answered a reader's question for quite a while - apologies - but just that inquiry came in a couple of weeks ago, and it chimes with me at the moment, so let's give it a go.
The problem is that there's no easy answer. I suppose the way I think of it is that it all starts with the idea. And that can be anything; a place (as with Evil Valley), a character (as with Dan for the whole of the tvdetective series), or a plot (as with The Judgement Book and The Death Pictures).
Then you get into a whole period of agonising as to whether the idea is good enough, interesting enough, has sufficient about it to sustain it for a whole book. My view on that one is simple, if strange.
Treat your idea like a relationship. Give it time. Don't go thinking this is the one, just because you've only recently met and it's all new and exciting. Spend some time together, and if the attraction keeps growing, if you're still in love with it, go for it.
Well, almost! The temptation at that point is to start writing, but maybe that's not such a good idea, however understandable. These book things take some writing - they average more than 100,000 words - and require months to do. If you just run at it, you'll probably end up with a great waffling lump of words which has missed some of the key points you need to get in.
I hate to sound like the teachers of our old schooldays, but you need a plan. And that usually takes me months in itself - to make sure the characters and backdrops are convincing and that the plot goes where it should, with plenty of red herrings and sub plot going on to keep the poor reader guessing.
When you've done all that, it's time to get writing. You'll know if it's working out because you'll look forward to every sentence you write, and the characters will follow you around, even when you're not actually writing. And keep going, and then...
Comes the real hard work, I'm afraid. The re-writing. And more re-writing, and then even more. I usually do about seven re-writes of the tvdetective books. Some lucky authors do fewer, others do more.
And don't worry about how the book starts. I was only thinking this week about how scary a simple blank sheet can be. Just get going is my advice. The opening usually changes with the re-writing, or at least it does for me. Not one of my books has been published with the same opening lines that I started it with, and some have changed perhaps even a dozen times.
But the key thing in all this - enjoy it. Writing is a hobby, a job, but also an addiction. I struggle to think of a time before I was writing, how I filled my days, and more importantly - how I ever felt fulfilled.
So go for it, and good luck! You never know where the journey will take you. If you'd told me, five years ago that I'd now have five books published, have written a play which is currently in rehearsal, and be invited to teach writing at so many wonderful places I'd have laughed myself silly.
It's a new world - and a wonderful one - and I'm so glad and grateful to have found it. I'd thoroughly recommend joining it.
Don't forget, if you want to ask a question about the tvdetective books, or any area of my writing or teaching work, or even the play, you can get in touch via the contact page of the site - www.thetvdetective.com/contact.html
Technology, manners and a most enjoyable rant
Posted by Simon on 25th, January 2012 at 07:54:11
Adam is very dear to me in the tvdetective books. He's often frustrating, with his uptight, moralist ways, but there's one of his views - a bugbear in fact - with which I very much agree.
It's the issue of manners, and particularly regarding new (ish) technology.
I mention it because I was on an outside broadcast last night, and was sitting in a bar, having a coffee (yes, I do mean coffee, I don't drink when I'm working - my brain is slow enough these days without the extra addling input of alcohol) and writing what I was going to say.
The place was quiet, with only about ten customers in there. But of those, two were on their mobiles - and that, despite sitting with other people.
A couple of thoughts immediately occur. Firstly, presumably they've come out to talk to the person or people they're with, so what are they doing on the phone? Rather curious behaviour, I would say, not to mention simply rude.
And secondly - why do they need to share half their conversation with the pub, anyway? What I overheard (it was impossible to miss, hence this blog) was so bland, dull, boring and mundane that it could surely have waited a few minutes, if not, perhaps, forever.
Now, here's a revolutionary idea! Prepare to be shocked to the very core by its dazzling boldness. How about... are you ready for this... showing some consideration for your fellows and taking a stroll outside to have your conversation?
Wow, what a truly radical proposal!
It's one of Adam's little themes, how manners are struggling to keep up with the pace of technological change. But I so very much wish they would. How much better the world would be without the bawled semi-conversations so often inflicted upon innocent people who simply wish for a quiet drink and chat.
And on that subject - why must so many people shout into mobiles? They're not tin cans linked by bits of string. Perhaps it's because of the noisiness of the surroundings. In which case, going outside would surely be an even better idea, eh?
Having discussed the matter with dear Adam last night (I often chat to my characters, they're my friends and I enjoy their company), we came up with a suggestion. How splendid it would be if the use of mobiles in pubs and restaurants could be treated in the way that smoking now is.
That's to say - a very simple request. Show some consideration and shift outside if you want to bawl into a phone!
Ah, that feels better. Blogging, it's so cathartic! The world put right and society transformed in a few lines of ranting. Splendid!
By the way, I did raise the issue with Adam as to whether we were both in danger of becoming grumpy old men. We decided that was a discussion best deferred...
Theatrical goings on
Posted by Simon on 21st, January 2012 at 07:51:58
Oh, what a wonderous week of theatrical events.
Wednesday was the headline act, the first get together of the cast of An Unnecessary Murder, for the first read through of the play.
I found myself abuzz and agog with excitement all day. Despite the passing of more than a few years since childhood times, I remain a big kid at heart. The only way I can describe it was like being a child on Xmas morning.
I still can't quite come to terms with - (1) that I've actually written a play, (2) that people who know about these things think it's passably ok to even moderately entertaining and worth putting on, and most importantly, (3) that it's going to be staged at a proper theatre to a real life audience.
I can feel myself getting over-excited again, so back to my report on Wednesday...
Most of the actors don't know each other, so there was the inevitable awkwardness and inhibitions that come with the first introductions of a group - much like at a party, I suppose. And they don't really know the parts yet, and haven't got a true sense of the characters or the plot.
But! And this was the lovely, heartening and warming bit - it didn't take long for the frost to thaw and for everyone to get into it. I was so impressed with how fast the cast picked up on their roles and began to transport them from lines of a piece of paper to making them live. I could almost see each person changing, to become the one they were portraying.
And with that, a chemistry was emerging. The actors were starting to get to know each other, and the feeling was transforming - from a number of individuals reading from a script into a cast, a unit, all living out a story.
By the end of the read through, I was giggling away at some of the lines (they were meant to be funny), very much enjoying the performance, and finding myself keen to know what happened in the end. This despite me being the one who wrote it!
And all that was just on a first meeting and read through. It's only going to get better as we go along. So, if you'll excuse me indulging myself a little - woo hoo, yee hah and yeah!! It's great!
And for any of the cast reading this, a quick reassurance - don't worry, I won't come along to all the rehearsals. It was only after the read through that a couple gently mentioned to me how intimidating it was to have the writer along.
That never occured to me! I just wanted to see it all starting to happen. So go ahead, dear and fair cast, do your stuff without me lingering and lurking, I have every faith - and more - in you.
There's one more thing to add to this. Yesterday, I did some strange clothes shopping. Yes, I can hear those of you who know me saying that all my clothes shopping is strange, but in this case I mean particularly peculiar.
I can reveal that - after due consideration - I will be taking a part in the play after all, but in a small and unorthodox way. Which required the shopping for special clothes. The reason - the only hint I'm giving is that it's going to be messy...
For more about An Unnecessary Murder, including the all important details of when and where it's being put on, see the News and Events page - www.thetvdetective.com/news.html
I'm away now to rehearse at the bathroom mirror. Lucky mirror, I hear you cry... maybe.
An Englishman Abroad
Posted by Simon on 17th, January 2012 at 07:43:13
Finally I find a spare moment to cuddle, and when we've finished our sweet and rare embrace, to reflect upon my trip to Geneva.
What a fine time! Lovely people who made me so very welcome - many thanks to all in the Writers' Group - and a wonderfully beautiful place. There's something that swirls the soul to being surrounded by ice-dusted mountains in a perfect blue sky.
The contrasts are both stark and amusing / frustrating. From the English transport system - train to Reading late, bus to Heathrow late, plane to Geneva late, no one apparently surprised or even slightly apologetic; to Switzerland, when anything running late appears to be a capital offence.
And the state of the country - England, litter strewn, graffitti daubed, Switzerland clean and tidy.
And my favourite, the standards of service. England with the all too often slouched shoulders, jutting lip and surly attitudes, whereas in Geneva it was all polite and prompt, and with smiles that felt genuine, even if they may not have been so.
I even liked the money, so much more colourful and interesting that Sterling, although I did cause amusement by thinking the chap on the 20 Franc note was Elvis himself (apparently he's not).
Most importantly, the workshop went well. The kind folk weren't phased by my strange methods and odd ideas, and didn't even blanch at the "eyes shut, spraying my cologne and spooky touches" game, and some great ideas when we played the Tweet the day exercise.
Yes, a splendid time, the only regret was that I had to jam it all into a weekend and couldn't have stayed for longer. Oh, and the chap at security on the way back, who insisted on confiscating my deoderant. Doesn't he have one of his own?!
The food was darned good too, the sole omission being a complete (as far as I could tell) absence of real ale. Which, you won't be surprised to hear, I made good as soon as I got back to Blighty. Medical reasons only, of course - otherwise, it would have been an entire weekend without beer, which would probably have sent my body into shock.
On then to the next thoughts for travel, and a cruise down to the Cape Verde Islands late in the year, where a doubtless incredibly fascinated (and happily captive) audience can suffer more of my thoughts/musings/rantings/nonsense on the matter of writing.
I truly am becoming a seasoned traveller... well, ish!
Finally, if any misguided souls should be at all interested in having me along to do some "teaching" (I think the quotes are well deserved here), the clever chaps who make this website work have set up a page to help - www.thetvdetective.com/teaching.html And if that still doesn't put you off, you can get in touch via the contact page of the site - www.thetvdetective.com/contact.html
Posted by Simon on 11th, January 2012 at 08:41:52
One of the many great things about writing is how much you can learn about yourself.
Traits, ideas, principles, beliefs, themes that you may have been vaguely aware of, knew were about somewhere in your character, can be sharply focused when you come to set them down in words. I never knew how truly sceptical I was about the British justice system, for example, before I wrote about it, and out came...
Well, I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't read the tvdetective books (first aside here - what are you waiting for?! Chop chop!), but those who have will know exactly what I'm talking about. The observations are far from fond.
The reason this comes to mind now, is that I've been thinking about the small matters of life, time and mortality of late. I suspect this is much to do with it being the introductory month of a new year, an obvious time for reflection. Plus it's my 40-somethingth birthday in a few weeks time, too.
I was writing a little section for a new book, about Dan going out with Rutherford for one of their familiar runs around Hartley Park. And I found myself describing how he could no longer go as fast, or as far, as was once the case. And Rutherford too was slowing up and not demanding quite the exercise he once did back in those younger years.
And then later on, when home at the flat, in the harshness of the electric lights - the growing grey in Rutherford's fur, the relentless erosion of poor Dan's hairline...
Yep, there's a definite feeling of mortality around at the moment, in a way I don't think I've ever known before. When you're young you can go on for ever - or so you think - but as you age you can feel time going about her insidious work.
Maybe that's not such a bad thing. It could be nature's way of dropping hints that it might be time to slow down a tad. But it is something I'm not finding so easy to come to terms with. In my mind I'm still 19, even if the physical reality is very different.
I'm wondering if it's unfair on Dan, and the rest of the crew in the books, to let time go about her work on them. Perhaps I should be more JM Barrie, and give them a Neverland to live in?
But then, I always do my best to keep it fairly real, so if I've got to suffer the attentions of the ageing process, then so can they!
Excuse me, I must be off now, think I'll pop down to the shops to see what anti-ageing creams they've got... industrial quantities ruefully required.
A new world
Posted by Simon on 7th, January 2012 at 08:12:00
Auditions for the play - an Unnecessary Murder - start tomorrow, and I'm going along, to help choose the cast.
This is a curious sensation, to say the least. How much help I'll be is very debatable. I still think my knowledge of the way plays work, how actors do their bit, and all the nuances of the stage world is approximately sufficient to fill an egg cup, and one which still contains the egg.
But what it certainly is - for me at least - is jolly exciting. I suppose part of the reason I became a hack is that I love learning and doing new things. And this jaunt into the theatrical realm is certainly that. Enter Hall, stage left, as we say...
I met up with the director and producer on Thursday night and listened to their ideas. Wow! The creativity and energy is a marvel to behold. They're already coming up with a range of thoughts to improve my script, and I'm loving it. I'm actually starting to believe this is going to happen, and maybe even that it'll be passably entertaining for an audience.
So now we go on to pick the actors, and this in itself is going to be fascinating. I've got a clear idea in my head of how Dan, Adam and the other characters look and sound. But given the wonderful way of the imagination, that's going to be different from everyone else, not least our producer and director. I've got to have a kind of vision in my thoughts, but still be open minded too as the three of us listen to our candidates doing their stuff.
And the pressure of getting the decision right... I'm not thinking about that at the moment!
And then we go on to the first rehearsals, and then the play is actually put on. And people come and watch - hopefully!
By that point, I shall probably be in a state of nervous excitement such that I'll appear a blur to onlookers. And as for the vision of being there for the opening night, that's just too strange to entertain at the moment.
Anyway, the thing is, it's all going ahead and I can hardly believe it. It's certainly warmed and lightened the cold month of January for me. What a way to start the year.
A quick thanks here to everyone who's offered help with the play, from rehearsal space, to stage crew, making props, a special beer for the occasion (yes, really! Come on, you know me by now.) Many thanks to all of you. Your efforts are much appreciated by me, as I know they are too by Hospiscare, who will ultimately benefit from all the work.
If you want more details of the production, they're all on the News and Events page - www.thetvdetective.com/news.html
I'm off now to practice shouting "cut!" in a suitably artistic manner, and to prepare some theatrical flounces for when the actors find themselves unable to correctly convey the subtleties and emotions of my finely crafted words...
Little people, big feelings
Posted by Simon on 4th, January 2012 at 07:40:29
I haven't answered a reader's question for a while, so I thought it'd be a good way to start this year's blogs. I hope no one is even for a second imagining I can't think of anything else to prattle about?!
That wouldn't be so, in fairness. There's lots going on - the play, the trip to Geneva, ideas for a new tvdetective book - but it was such a penetrating question, which made me reflect hard, I thought it deserved a reply.
It was this - why does Dan never mention, nor even think about children? And further, given the - extraordinary, highly speculative! - theory that there's much of me in Dan, and likewise, what of my own views of youngsters?
There are indeed similarities between our "hero" (my very strong quotes!) and me. Like him, I always knew from an early age that I didn't want to have children. At that time, I couldn't explain why. It was just something I knew.
Now I've come to believe it's down to a couple of things. Firstly that I had an unconventional childhood, which wasn't always contented - excuse me for not going into details, that's all very sensitive - and secondly, I think it's in the genes.
Both Dan and I suffer from this tendency to melodrama, to see the world in shades of blue, not to mention what Churchill always so aptly called the Black Dog - or The Swamp, as Dan knows it. And never would he want to hand that suffering on to a child.
Having your own troubles is one thing. But seeing one you love suffer so much, and knowing you are partly responsible, and that's there's nothing you can do to change it - that's very hard to bear.
So they, I think, be the reasons for the lack of youngsters in the tvdetective books. That's not to say there aren't any. I do appreciate there are some very happy families out there. Hence Adam and his domestic contentment, even though Tom is now approaching the teenage years, which could make life for our irascible detective rather more challenging!
However, as with the best of stories, there's a twist to the tale, or two in this case. Firstly, of all I do it's the working with kids, showing them the way to a career in the media, or teaching writing, which I enjoy the most. And secondly, and most extraordinarily, there's my daughter Niamh.
We met when she was two, and our relationship - unlike so many others - has never faltered, only grown. One of the most touching experiences of my life was when she asked me to be her Dad - to the horror of her mum, and quite understandably! - and then insisted I remained in her life, even if mum and I were no longer together.
I feel blessed in many ways, but to have Niamh, when I had neither hope nor expectation of a daughter, is the greatest of joys. So thank you life, even in this cold darkness of a midweek January morning, there is some sunshine to be found somewhere.
A final thought for this ramble - it's often the case with the blogs that I have no idea where they'll lead. I just start writing, to make them as they should be, an honest sweep of feelings. And sometimes they can really run.
I shall file this now before I have second thoughts and delete it. It's from the heart, and however sensitive such emotions may be, why shy away from them?
If you've got a question you'd like to ask about the tvdetective books, or any area of my writing or education work, you can get in touch via the contact page of the site - www.thetvdetective.com/contact.html I shall try to answer a little more straightforwardly in future!