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The Best of Books
Posted by Simon on 28th, February 2012 at 07:41:58
I've been invited to join an event to celebrate World Book Night in April. It's an honour, but has also set the old Hall brain stumbling and stuttering into action, because some thinking is required.
This is why - I've been asked to talk about my favourite children's book, the book which has influenced me the most, and my guilty pleasure (of a reading nature, I assume, or hope.)
Good questions... and ones which set me ruminating on the place that books have had in my life.
In the tvdetective series, it's Claire who tends to read more than Dan, usually settling down at night with some crime fiction. A little ironic for a Detective Sergeant, and a fine one at that, but she enjoys comparing them with the reality of her job. Dan tends not to read, he's usually engaged with thinking through a case.
Which raises the question about whether I read a great deal? Well, the answer is that I do, athough not as much as I used to. These days, spare time being rare and all that, I tend to spend my evenings thinking of the next piece of writing or teaching I'm going to do and working on ideas.
But it's always a book before bed, even if just for a few minutes. It helps me to relax into a sleeping mindset and I suppose is a habit I picked up in childhood. I've always loved books and creating stories and characters in my mind. Which, I suspect, is much of what has enticed me into becoming a writer.
Anyway, back to the World Book Night event, and my thinking on the works I shall talk about. I've already mostly decided - if you're like me, some books just stay with you and never leave - but I won't reveal them yet. It'd be like telling you the end of one of the tvdetective stories before making you wade through the preceding hundred thousand words first!
But what I will say is that there's going to be some humour in there, some poignancy, and also some fun. Which, strangely (or not) reflects a fair amount of my character.
The event is at Plymouth Central Library, and I'll post more details as I get them. Keep an eye on the News and Events page www.thetvdetective.com/news.html if you're interested.
Finally for this blog, another of my top tunes, as I might have said back in my DJ days. As a guilty pleasure is to be part of the World Book Night event, I thought I'd post a favourite song of a similar ilk.
So, with all due hesitation, a squirm and a reddening of the face, I thus unveil.... MacArthur Park (the Richard Harris version.)
Yes, I know what you're thinking, I can almost hear it, but hey - anyone who can write a song which compares the break up of a relationship to a cake in the rain certainly deserves acknowledgement, if not necessarily respect.
The art of interviewing
Posted by Simon on 25th, February 2012 at 06:55:30
I was interviewed this week about the tvdetective books and my work as a journalist, and one particularly thoughtful and resonant question came up - what's the secret of carrying out an effective interview?
It certainly made me think, as I suppose it's something I do more or less instinctively now.
Well, part of the answer can be found in that original question. It's a clever one, because it's open ended, gives scope for a whole range of responses, and it's short and sharp. I've seen far too many interviews where the questions are long and rambling, and it's entirely unclear what sort of answer may be required.
For me, the best questions are those which penetrate far deeper than a simple factual response. The old; who, what, where, why, when and how can be revealed by just about anyone working to a formula (see Kipling's "I Keep Six Honest Serving Men"). But it's the uncovering of a sight of the soul which is much more memorable.
In essence, it's the old "how do you feel?" question which is key, but hopefully expressed in a rather less clumsy and cliched way.
Interviewing is such a fundamental skill, as we all use it every day - to find out what's bothering a friend, what's required from work, whether we do really need to buy some gadget etc. But because it's so commonplace, the elegance of the art can be overlooked.
Much of the reason for Dan's success as an amateur investigator in the tvdetective books is that he's a perceptive interviewer. He has that great gift of being able to read people and get a sense of what it is they're really thinking, the story behind the story, if you like. And that can take someone a very long way in life.
A final thought about interviewing, and it's this; one of the greatest tricks is silence. It leaves a great big space for the other person to fill, and we're so afraid of silence as a society that it can often be filled to startling effect. That goes as much in everyday life as any professional sphere.
I think I shall curtail this blog here, before I give all my secrets away!
One last thing to mention - as I said last week, I'll list a favourite song in each entry, as my taste in music is one of the areas I'm most constantly questioned about.
For this week it's Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat. Because it was of my era, of course, but also because the song is a powerful summary of the sad intolerance of the time, something which thankfully we've (at least mostly) left behind.
Cash for questions, and to music
Posted by Simon on 21st, February 2012 at 20:32:34
I must be in a whimsical mood. That's one of the more curious titles for a bout of my ramblings. Standby, I shall explain - or try to.
I haven't answered a reader's question for a while, so I thought I'd tackle a couple in one rant.
The more substantive of the two is about money. My correspondent perceptively notes that the tvdetective books contain few references to money and it's hardly used as a motive, when in the real world it's a very common one in crimes.
She goes on to ask why that may be? Which, as with so many questions from you educated and erudite bunch who somehow choose to read my books, is another very good one. It's set me thinking, because it's another example of a part of myself coming out in the books which I was only vaguely, if at all, aware of.
Right, it comes down to this. I don't much care about money.
Now, I know that's a big statement and easy for me to make, as I do ok on the financial front. But even when I was younger, money never really bothered me. Friends from college days set out to get rich, but I only ever wanted to do something passably interesting and worthwhile with my life.
(First aside here - please try not to start considering whether I've come anywhere close to achieving that!)
If I'm brave and journey further into the jungle of my past, I wonder if I might - at least in part - have a form of explanation. If so, it's an odd one, but I'll try it anyway.
Much of my character is built on not being like my parents. Don't get me wrong, they loved me hugely, did their very best for me, made some immense sacrifices and I appreciate all that enormously. It's just that, from an early age, I realised I had a very different outlook on life.
They worried continually about money. I have a powerful early memory of them budgeting to get through a week, and thinking how unfair that was for such fine and hard-working people. I wonder if formative influences like that made me determined never to worry about money.
That then is my answer, as best as it can be. I simply believe there are far more important things in life. Which, almost seamlessly, you'll note, leads me onto part two of this blog, the happier subject of music.
Despite me answering this in an entry last year, I still get much asked about my loves in music. So, for the next few months, I'm going to add one of my favourite songs to the end of each blog (assuming the aged and less than efficient Hall brain remembers.)
So, to start us off, put the needle to the record - as it were - for The Rolling Stones, and Paint it Black.
And as to why? What an evocative way of summing up a mood we've all know. Think of Dan and the eternal foe of his Swamp...
If you've got a question you'd like to ask about the tvdetective books, or any area of my writing, you can get in touch via the contact page of the site - www.thetvdetective.com/contact.html
The Spectre of Time
Posted by Simon on 18th, February 2012 at 10:33:37
Having a birthday fall this month, I've been doing a little musing on the issue of time.
It's something which has always bothered me. I often blame the childhood Saturdays of being terrified by Dr Who (Tom Baker was mine) for my fixation with time. But be that as it may, it's never let me go.
It was a few years ago, perhaps just after I turned 40 that I started to feel truly mortal for the first time. I couldn't run as fast as I used to, stay up as late as I did, all that stuff which is nature's less than subtle way of hinting you're getting on. Time was going about its insiduous work. And I liked the feeling not at all.
I'm not going to spend all this scribbling complaining about time - how pointless would that be?! For an author, time can be useful.
In the tvdetective books, some form of deadline always helps to up the drama and tension. Without giving anything away, I've used a similar device in An Unnecessary Murder (the play wot I wrote) to add to the pace and plot. It's a well trodden path by writers, after all.
When i was thinking of what I was going to write for this blog, I remembered just how much some of the great artists were bothered by time. One of my favourite paintings is Dali's Persistence of Memory (the floppy clocks) which I find a beautiful but unsettling work. And Eliot's Four Quartets is a favoured poem ("Footfalls echo in the memory...") Now that's writing!
Given that attachment to time, I wonder if it's unsurprising I chose the curious career of becoming a hack. Time is the eternal enemy there too, with deadlines always chasing you down. For poor Dan in the books, it's even worse, with the twin deadlines of producing a report and the solving of a case to face.
I've come to the conclusion that time bothers/ fascinates me for one main reason. In life, I've always done my best to overcome any difficulties, do as well as I can with whatever is presented to me and try as I might not to be defeated, however impossible an aim that can sometimes be.
And in the tvdetective books Dan and Adam do likewise, and - more often than not - face down whatever adversaries are set against them, and win through.
But for them and for me, as for all of us, time is the one enemy we can never defeat. The final foe, if you like.
One aside here (it's a first - I don't think I've ever finished a blog with an aside before); what a cheery musing for a Saturday morning! My apologies, I blame it on a hectic week which has left me rather jaded.
I suppose it's as I said. There's just never enough time...
The Love Thing
Posted by Simon on 15th, February 2012 at 10:31:50
As I'm in a frivolous mood, I thought I'd start this musing with an aside.
Wow! How creative and crazy am I?! Or yes, perhaps just daft. But anyhow, the aside is - what a sweeping title for a blog. I just hope the rest of the rant can live up to it...
So then, love. Well, I was prompted by the passing of Valentine's Day to think about the issue of love in my scribblings. And I suppose I've come to the conclusion I never really got the hang of it.
Even we bloodthirsty and nasty crime writers have to dabble a little in love in our books. It's such a fundamental part of life and this curious experience of being a human. It can't be all murder and disaster, you've got to give your characters some leeway for other feelings, not to mention the poor reader.
But Dan, as many will know, is not good with the concept of relationships, to say the least. Poor Claire - of whom I'm incredibly fond, as you may have noticed - suffers so much with the insecurities and doubts of the man she loves. I sometimes wonder why she bothers, as indeed does she.
(Another aside - and yes, we will find out one day how that all comes out... or not.)
Anyway, I have been reassured by feedback from male readers of the tvdetective books that Dan is a fairly normal chap in regard of love. And interestingly, there was a worry from my publishers, agents etc. that Dan being such an emotional idiot may alienate female readers.
But it doesn't seem to have done so, fortunately - I'm told that the majority of those who suffer my books are women.
Maybe they've met many a type like Dan before?!
So, that's it with the love thing, I've come to the belief that I'm just writing about what I know (or, in this case don't), which is often said to be the best way. And finally on this subject, another important love matter... as for taking it all one step further, and putting some sex into the tvdetective books, that's a definite no!
If I never really got the hang of love, then I'm certainly not going into my understandings of sex!
And there I'm going to end this blog, before I get myself into some real trouble, aside from to say....
There is a dabble into the world of relationships in the play, too. I couldn't resist mentioning it because it's such a big part of my world at the moment, and I'm loving it.
The rehearsals and preparations are all ticking along nicely, and I'm ridiculously excited, more than two months before An Unnecessary Murder even takes to the stage. Even more so as I heard yesterday that tickets have just gone on sale and some have already been bought.
Thank you, kind people, whoever you are - at least I now know I won't be sitting alone in the theatre!
There's more about the play at the bottom of the Home Page - www.thetvdetective.com/index.html Hope to see you there.
Posted by Simon on 11th, February 2012 at 10:38:00
I love the old saying "it's not as easy as it looks". It's come to mind this morning, as I've certainly been bearing it out this week with my foray into acting.
I did promise faithfully I wouldn't take a part in An Unnecessary Murder, much to the relief of very many people. But, I was told, if I did it'd be good for the play's profile, and jolly fun, and also encouraging for the cast and all concerned to have me there, so I relented.
Quick aside (you knew it was coming) - in truth, as a chap who may suffer from the odd attack of egotism, the actual persuading work wasn't that tricky.
However! Thursday saw the time for my acting career to begin, and hell! It wasn't straightforward. Far from it, in fact.
I did think that, because I spend much of my time working in the curious world of television, I might just have a decent grounding in theatrics. Much of what we do on the box is faux drama, after all.
How wrong I was. I had a mere few words to deliver, and I could just about hold them in brainland adequately. But here's the issue - I had to walk, as well as talk, and also try to pull some form of vaguely convincing facial expressions.
Talk about multi-tasking overload! How could anyone ask so much of a mere man?!
Anyhow, I can't give too much away about what happens, so all I'll say is that after a couple of hours work I think we more or less cracked it. I shall remember forever - if not treasure - the look on Jac, the director's face, at my first attempt at saying my lines. Scathing wasn't it, but horrified might be!
And all that time, thought and effort, was just for a very small part in the play. So, I come away from it with a renewed, and very sizeable appreciation of actors, and even more so of the wonderful folk who are playing the parts in An Unnecessary Murder.
They're all giving their time for free, so we can raise as much money as possible for Hospiscare, and it's very much appreciated.
I can't wait to see it all played out on the stage. A certain small segment, featuring a very ham actor excluded...
The play premieres on April 25th, at the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter. I very much hope to see you there. And if you do come along, please be merciful about my acting efforts...