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A sense of loss
Posted by Simon on 29th, April 2012 at 09:49:16
I'm feeling as though I've lost a great friend. I've only known them for a few months, but they've become such a huge part of my life. I've come to love them and now they're gone.
And also this morning I'm reminded of the great TS Eliot quotation -
"Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place..."
It's difficult to sum up the emotions but that's a part of this writing lark, so I'll have a go.
An Unnecessary Murder was like nothing I've ever done before. I've been given an insight into another world, the life of the stage, and it's been utterly fascinating. But that part I expected.
Here's what came as a surprise, the twist so beloved of we crime writers - it was the extraordinary, uplifting camaraderie. The taking of a group of people who largely didn't know each other and watching them grow into a team, close knit and bonded by the desire to do something worthwhile and do it bloody well. And the privilege of being a part of that.
Last night, at home, after the final performance, I realised how it felt. It took me back more than twenty years to the night I left university. When a life forged in shared experience was coming to an end, and the world would never be the same again.
And that I never expected, and has come as the most moving part of an amazing journey.
Alongside the searing emotion, I've learned so much from the talented and dedicted people who I've been so very fortunate to work with. I've been touched and humbled by the kindness and generosity of all those who have helped and supported us. And I've delighted in the reaction of our audience, night after night.
It's been delight upon reward upon insight upon privilege upon joy. And so much more, too.
I've been a long way from my comfort zone these last few weeks. It was a risk - no one might come to watch, people could hate it, it might all go wrong in a very public manner - but it was a chance worth taking. Because how wonderfully it feels that it's all paid off.
And so life returns to normal. But then, as Dan reflects at the end of The Balace of Guilt, that's a concept which has always tended to elude him - and indeed us both.
I know I said it last night, but I want to set it down again, here on my website, in writing - thank you one and all for such an extraordinary time. Thank you so much.
Right, finally, before I choke - or break into a Penelope Ramsden waterfall of tears! - a favourite song to go with this blog.
Today I choose the beautiful, and very moving, Ain't No Sunshine by Bill Withers. I'd like to dedicate the song to An Unnecessary Murder, and all those who sailed with her.
Those book choices..
Posted by Simon on 24th, April 2012 at 06:56:41
A fine time appeared had by all at last night's World Book Event in Plymouth Central Library. I certainly enjoyed myself, and found the other panellists' choices fascinating.
As promised, my 3 literary picks (after all due agonising) -
1. Favourite Book as a Child - The Nonsense Rhymes of Edward Lear.
I chose this because Lear gave me the great gift of friends to accompany everywhere with his characters (I was an only child and life could get lonely), and because I loved the imagination and rhythm and rhyme of the verse. The humour was wonderful, too.
On top of which, how he stands the test of time. His work is still read and loved by children today, more than 150 years on from its creation.
My personal favourite of the whole set - The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo. Because it's a mix of funny and also, as with much of his work, there's a little message in there.
2. Book Which has had the Most Influence - Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell.
Orwell is my favourite writer; he's so deceptively simple, yet so powerful and evocative. Yet the thrust to this question isn't favourite, but most influential, which is why I chose Down and Out.
Firstly, Orwell was a journalist, and the book is a model of how a hack should do his research. He went out to find poverty and actually lived it. The result is a vivid slice of history of the dreadful times of the 1930s.
But perhaps more importantly for me, Orwell made the journey from hack to writer. It's one I've followed, and I wonder how much I have him to thank for inspiring / making me think such a transition could ever be possible.
3. Guilty Pleasure - Dr Seuss
I chose Dr Seuss because he takes me straight back to the carefree days of childhood, something I think we all need every now and then. Plus, I'm still a kid at heart.
To this day, I keep a copy of his work in my study. I defy anyone to have a bad day, then come home and read Dr Seuss and not smile and feel better about life.
I also greatly admire the clever way he lures young people into loving books and writing with his extraordinary characters and sense of joy with the language.
My personal favourite of all his work - probably the Tweetle Beetles and their battles, but there are so very many.
It was a great evening, and one which really made me reflect on my love of books and the great privilege of actually being a writer. Thanks to all who came along, my fellow panellists for their fascinating and insightful choices, explained so thoughtfully - often poignantly - and always entertainingly.
And also the fine folk of the library service who put in all the hard work of organising the event. It was a pleasure to be a part of it.
Tricky literary choice
Posted by Simon on 21st, April 2012 at 07:57:31
I've been engaged in some enjoyable emotional wrestling of a literary kind - trying to choose some books of great importance to me. And I'm wondering how you'd get on with the challenge?
Monday (April 23rd) is World Book Night, and I've been invited to Plymouth to be part of a panel to discuss some of our favourite books. But the cunning librarians have made it a lot tougher than that.
They've asked us to pick three books, in these categories -
1. You favourite book as a child
2. The book which has influenced you the most
3. Your guilty reading pleasure.
It's taken a great deal of thought, to say the least. Part three I managed to nail without too much agonising. Number one took quite a while - there are so many to choose from! Books were a great companion to me as a child and how many I read and delighted in.
But it's question two which took the real time, partly as it's such a smart one. Not my favourite book, but the one which had the most influence, and that's very different. I spent several hours in my study, going through the shelves of books, narrowing the list down and then debating with myself which deserved to win - and, importantly, why.
It was quite a task, but ultimately an enjoyable and very rewarding one. And it taught me a big lesson, about just how much of an influence books have had in my life. I'm forbidden from revealing any answers here, but I'm looking forward to the event (Plymouth Central Library, 7pm onwards) to see what books the others on the panel have chosen and what the audience think. I'll reveal my choices after that.
Finally, I'm not talking about An Unnecessary Murder in this blog, despite it being just four days away from the play opening, as I'm already in quite enough of a state about it! But I think we're on track and doing ok... think.... hope... pray... beseech the powers that be etc etc.
And lastly a tune, and again with remarkable planning, here's one to go with the books and reading theme (told you this was all planned, didn't I? It's nigh on seamless!)
My choice of song is Wonderful World, by Sam Cooke. It's just a delighful piece of work, simple but joyous and endearing. All say aaaahhhh!
Posted by Simon on 18th, April 2012 at 07:26:37
It's a week to the opening of An Unnecessary Murder and I'm busily engaged in self-management.
I'm trying to distract myself with work, writing, exercise, composing even dafter than usual tweets (quick aside - I'm proud to now be followed by the UK Asparagus Festival - how wonderfully random is that?!), but not much is working. The play won't leave my mind.
I'm not surprised. It's the first time I've tried a venture like this, and you know what doing something new can be like. Plus with this writing lark you inevitably expose part of yourself, a piece of your soul in your work, which makes it all the more daunting.
However, I do want to say this, and it's a massive thank you. I've been so touched by all the support we've received. From the cast and crew, of course, but everyone else who's got behind us - printing, designing, sponsoring, putting up posters, promoting the play on their work message boards and so much else.
It's been a wonderful and incredibly kind effort and is hugely appreciated. Whatever may happen over these next dramatic days, I just wanted to make that known.
And now to the performance itself... I've been warned each night will be different. There'll be ad libs, departures from the script, improvisations, varying reactions from the audience and so much more. But that's what makes it live and that's what makes it theatre.
I'm a curious mix of abuzz with anticipation and utterly terrified. But I'm also immensely proud of everyone involved and all we're doing for Hospiscare, such a fine charity.
If you want to know more about the play, there's a special page on the site - www.thetvdetective.com/play.html And if you'd like to come along (and please do, it's all for a great cause) there are a couple of media articles with details about how to buy tickets at the foot of the home page - www.thetvdetective.com/index.html
Right, I'm off for a run to clear my mind before the working day (or at least try to). But first, another top Hall tune.
I'm tempted to say The Final Countdown, as it's appropriate, but certainly not a favourite. So instead, how about - on a dramatic and crime type theme (see how well-planned these blogs really are?!) - Sinnerman, the Nina Simone recording.
I can't listen to it without a shiver, and that certainly fits in with the feeling of the coming week...
The simple pleasures
Posted by Simon on 13th, April 2012 at 06:58:36
Time after time as I wander through this strange place called life, I've been grateful for one particular element of my outlook. I'm blessed with not being materialistic.
Don't get me wrong, I like a few pleasures like any of us - a fine ale, good meal, a new shirt (not always terribly tasteful, it's true), but I'm not driven by accumulating wealth.
This little musing arises from a question I received about the tvdetective books, and Dan in particular. As some seem to think he and I share much in common - how could they, when he's so bumbling and hopeless at so much of life?! - my correspondent wanted to know if I enjoyed similar pleasures? Simple things like walking the countryside, time to think.
The answer is yes. I've never hankered after new kitchens, the latest model of car, luxury holidays, all that stuff. I've tended to find contentment closer to home, and often just within myself.
I've never been driven by money. So many of my fellows from college days have earned mass multiples of anything I've managed. But that doesn't always make them happy from what I've seen - often far from it.
My pleasures are writing - I love the challenge, the fulfillment, and the opportunity to entertain a few people. The teaching work I do is hugely rewarding, and I still very much enjoy being a journalist, on the scent of a story, that sense of ferreting out a hidden truth that the public should know.
But on an even simpler level, just give me a walk around the river. A few minutes watching the geese and ducks squabble over some bread, a cormorant fishing. A drink in the pub with some of my fine friends. Or a quiet night, trying to crack a crossword, listening to some music, or reading a book. Maybe even composing some of the strange tweets which a few people have been kind enough to say they find entertaining.
I try not to think it, but perhaps the headline for this little stroll of the mind should be - simple man, simple pleasures. (And very glad it's that way, too.)
Finally then some music for today, and how about the charming JCB song, by Nizlopi? Because it's so simple, in tune, lyrics and concept, and all the more delightful for that.
Posted by Simon on 7th, April 2012 at 07:58:44
No, not that sort of crusing, before you even start thinking it. The proper type, like what on a big ship, see?
I've never tried a cruise before. So, it was a very pleasant surprise to be invited upon one to talk about the tvdetective books. I'm off down to the Cape Verde islands later in the year, since you ask, sailing from Southampton, and with a few stops on the way.
To earn my passage, I've got to give a series of talks, and that's what is currently causing me more than a twitch of angst. Six in total are requested, each almost an hour long.
It'll come as little surprise to you that I don't think I'll have a problem with talking for six hours. The issue is making that time in any way interesting, or vaguely entertaining. Only now have I started to realise the scale of the task - hence these initial wobbles.
Last weekend, I set about the challenge by doing something I've never tried before. I went back through all the talks I've done about my books (I keep the notes for each, they're a handy reference point for when called upon to say something with little notice) and set down every single anecdote, story, fact, quirk, idea, thought or detail I've ever spoken about.
The good news is that I reckon I can cover six hours. The bad news is - only just! It's going to be a tight squeeze.
(If by chance you're reading this and you're coming on the cruise, may I ask a favour - you laugh for as long as possible at any gags I throw in, and also do some extended clapping too, please? It all helps to fill the time.)
The cruise is another of those wonderful opportunities which are daunting, but all the more worthwhile for that. I'm looking forward to it with that sense of nerves which just makes it even more fascinating.
(And on that subject, no, I'm not going to mention An Unnecessary Murder here. I've banned myself even from thinking about it - not that that's in any way working, of course - as the tension is heightening as we get nearer and nearer to the play's opening night. Eek!)
So, finally a favourite song for this blog, and I'm going for On the Border, by Al Stewart, because it's got a maritime theme (see how well planned these apparently random rantings really are?!), but mainly because it's a beautiful and haunting song, as are so many of his.
Posted by Simon on 3rd, April 2012 at 08:32:27
I must just mention this, as it's been amusing me for days.
The producer of An Unnecessary Murder has hauled in a few extras for various scenes, and they're tending to be friends of both hers and mine.
Now, my friends are a wonderful, but by no means shy and quiet bunch, as I suspect you can imagine. But when it came to their first rehearsal and the fledgling flaps into their parts... what a fascinating transformation!
They were so cutely touching. A normally self assured and confident bunch went all withdrawn and bashful! Ahhh!
I can appreciate it's intimidating, but what was particularly funny was the following. As they started to get their bearings, some became louder and more themselves, playing their parts perfectly well, but a couple - they just couldn't get enough, gobbling up all the available lines and even starting to ask for more!
Methinks we may have discovered a suppressed yearning to be on the stage and perhaps a shining future in amateur dramatics.
There is one specific tale I'll tell, without naming the chap as it wouldn't be fair (although tempting). It appears that, for him, the little part he's been given is proving a kind of therapy.
He confessed to me the reason for his initial quietness was a throwback to childhood. He'd been aged around 7, in a school play about The Wombles, and he had the opening line. On to the stage he'd strode, in front of hundreds of parents, teachers and fellow pupils, and.... the poor lad had been stricken by terrible stage fright and utterly unable to deliver his words.
From that day onwards, he says, set in a vivid fear of public performance. And now I'm honoured and flattered that he's chosen my attempt at a play to face down his historic demons.
This dramatics lark just gets more and more fascinating. And now we're only three weeks from the premiere. Ah, what exciting times and what jolly fun. It's certainly been an experience, one of the most absorbing I've known for many a year.
Right, finally a favourite song to go with this theatrical blog, and how about David Bowie's wonderful Starman? I choose it as a tribute to everyone who's put so much into the play (even taming their most secret fears to do so). You've all been both Starmen and Starwomen, and I'm hugely grateful.