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Posted by Simon on 28th, June 2012 at 07:34:43
I've been on the receiving end of a few communications in recent days on the forthright lines of "don't be such a tease, what's all this you've been going on about secrets?!"
How can you ask an author of crime novels not to be a tease when that's exactly what he enjoys? Toying with poor readers and trying to put them off the scent. It's called suspense and intrigue!
However... I shall try to explain.
It's down to a couple of things. Firstly, it probably stems from the research I did for The Judgement Book, (tvdetective novel 4), which was all about secrets.
I found some interesting stats about how many people keep secrets which they think big enough to either destroy, or have a hugely damaging impact on their lives, if they became known.
The answer was surprising, (for me, anyway), and not a modest percentage!
From there, I've used secrets quite a bit in my writing. And so popping the concept into the teaching I do seemed a natural progression.
Characters are one of the foundations of any book, so I devised a little game, based on the kind of secrets that people might keep, and tried it out at the weekend in Winchester.
It was edgy, very close to the soul, and I had my concerns about whether it would work, or if people might feel too uncomfortable with it. But I'm delighted to say everyone played along and it turned out to be a very worthwhile exercise.
It gave us an insight into how to help build real and convincing characters, who may have powerful motives to commit crimes. Just what you want in a crime novel.
And more I'm not going to say, as I want to use the game again and it only works well if it's a surprise. But I hope that helps to (at least partially) answer the questions.
Finally a song for this blog, and this morning it's Black Eyed Boy, by Texas, because I love the metaphor and it kind of fits in with this musing.
Don't forget, if you've got a question 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
A Conference Report
Posted by Simon on 25th, June 2012 at 08:33:31
I've just returned from a whirl of thought, energy, education and creativity - the phenomenon that is the Winchester Writers' Conference.
It really did feel like a carousel of excitement and enthusiasm, as hundreds of aspiring writers rushed back and forth between seminars, lectures and so many other activities. An abiding memory will be sitting on the steps at the heart of the university, and watching people rush in all directions, a starburst of motion and colour, as they sought their next destinations.
I was teaching crime writing, and had a great time. I'd like to thank all those on my courses for being so keen, so creative, and for playing along with my strange way of doing things.
I can confess now that I threw things at you that I've never tried before - and some were very edgy indeed (I was actually nervous at a couple of points, in case you took umbrage!) But I did it because I thought you were up for it, and that it was worthwhile in getting to the soul of this writing business.
And as for the secrets game we played, I can reassure you now that your secrets are safe with me!
I came away with a sense of awe and wonder at the sheer amount of talent and energy on display - and that from writers who are, in the main, unpublished. I heard some wonderful ideas for books and stories, saw some excellent examples of the writing craft, and met people who made me think and smile in equal measure. It was a magnificent experience - thank you one and all, delegates and organisers.
I was so impressed with the conference that even a return to the student bedroom experience (width of bed - my backside plus a little margin for error, a plastic mattress, and shared showers and loos) made me feel nostalgic for the lost days of youth.
Here's to all those I met. I hope I managed to help you, just a little, upon your way, and wish you all the very best with your writing. And do keep in touch and let me know how it goes.
I love the teaching thing that I do, and when I hear about the success of someone who I may have helped, it can give me a warm glow for weeks.
(And don't forget the ten per cent cut of any future earnings. Did I omit to mention that bit?!)
Finally, as ever, a choice of one of my favourite songs to accompany this blog, and today I'm going for Bon Jovi's Keep the Faith. Because it's a reflection of how hard life can be when it's not running for you - and how often that can be the case for aspiring writers! - but also, critically, the importance of never giving up.
As I said when I ended my sessions at Winchester - just make sure you do Keep the Faith. Because from all that I've seen, I certainly have faith in you.
A different kind of talking
Posted by Simon on 17th, June 2012 at 15:49:03
As part of next week's teaching at the Winchester Writers' Conference, I've been asked to do a talk about the tvdetective books - but in a rather different way from usual.
Those who've suffered my ambling orations will know that I tend to make them light-hearted affairs, with a few (vaguely) amusing anecdotes from my life reporting and writing. But this time, I've been asked to make the talk more thoughtful and serious.
Cue a mild panic, as I try to come to terms with those weighty demands. However!
I've spent the last couple of weeks thinking about what I'm going to say, and am hopeful I'll make a decent stab at it. Without spoiling it for anyone who might be coming along, I'm planning to go into more depth on characterisation, the intimacy of the relationship between the author and the reader, and the old (yet still fascinating) issues of soul searching about how and why we scribblers write.
Anyway, as with so many things, when you start thinking about it in some detail you tend to learn a fair bit yourself. And I've come to this curious conclusion in recent days.
I've been writing for eight years now, and I think I could argue that time has effectively been a long, but hugely enjoyable, period of study akin to an English degree.
I've been trying to understand for myself how books work, how characters are formed and interact and live, how plots and sub-plots and various forms of narrative work, and all that kind of clever stuff.
I read Natural Sciences at the big school which is commonly known as university, as I harboured ambitions to be a teacher at the time. It would have meant I could teach maths, physics and chemistry, which seemed more interesting than just one single subject. Now I wonder if I got the decision wrong, and should have studied English.
Ah well, it's a Hall principle that there's little point having regrets, or overly revisiting the past, so I won't dwell on that one, however interesting a thought.
But it does go to reinforce what I always think about this wonderful game called life - there's plenty of time within it to have more than one career. And, as I shall be telling the doubtless fascinated and captivated folk at Winchester next week (hopefully!), I'm very glad I found this writing one, however late, and via however wandering a route.
Ok then, a song for this blog, and today I'm going for Rattlesnakes, by Lloyd Cole, because he's a great (and underrated, in my view) songwriter, and it's a very fine tune about one sad journey of life.
Finally, I've had quite a few good questions come in of late, and I will get around to answering some soon, I promise. Don't forget if there's anything 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
Secrets and surprises
Posted by Simon on 13th, June 2012 at 14:42:25
I've just got back from a (richly deserved, I think you'll agree?) holiday. And from this, I've concluded two things -
Holidays are good in that they exist. They're less good in that they come to an end.
However, I had a splendid time. As with my dear friend Dan in the tvdetective books, I tend to holiday close to home, usually in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.
The reasons are twofold - being frightened of flying (and I mean proper scared - wanting to open the plane door and get out, despite being 30,000 feet up) rather scuppers any hope of going much further afield. Plus, I just love the south west.
Walking is a preferred pastime, and not just to the pub. And where better than here for some fine walking? I've just followed some new trails, around the Roseland in Cornwall, and Falmouth too, and it was wonderful. The only thing missing was a dog like Rutherford to take along, but that day will come.
One of the finest gifts a holiday bestows is the time and space to do some thinking. The working week can get so busy and tiring that there's precious little space left for much, apart from the basic art of survival.
I used some of the respite to work on ideas for the latest teaching I'm doing; next week (June 22nd/23rd) at the Winchester Writers' Conference. I like to vary the lessons, and I've come up with a couple of exercises I hope are going to be both fun and thought-provoking.
They're on two themes - secrets and surprises.
Surprises, or twists, are so important in crime, and I think I've found an entertaining way to make people think originally in order to try to create them. I try to put at least a couple of surprises in each of the tvdetective books, and not just the fact I've actually written the things!
The secrets part may get a little edgy, as it digs into the danger zone of our souls, but I think (hope?!) it'll be worthwhile. It's my view that keeping secrets is a fundamental of human existence (The Judgement Book is all about secrets and was highly enjoyable to write for that), so it's certainly worth exploring.
No more about the exercises here - I don't want to spoil it for those of you coming to Winchester. I'm greatly looking forward to the conference, it seems a feast of writing fun. If you're interested, there's more on the News and Events page - www.thetvdetective.com/news.html
So, I'd better get back to planning it all, but first a favourite song for this blog. Today, it's Wrapped Around Your Finger, by The Police. A great tune, for the enigma of the music, but also the age-old, but no less intriguing story of master and apprentice...
Posted by Simon on 7th, June 2012 at 14:03:06
What an extraordinary time the Queen's Diamond Jubilee was. Even that miserable bugbear of the British, the darned intemperate weather, couldn't dampen the enthusiasm.
Everywhere you looked were people determined to celebrate, and in great numbers.
It set me thinking about the times when communities really come together. I see it myself in my day job as - as does Dan in the tvdetective books. And it's always about the extremes of emotion.
In the mundane, ordinary days of life we plod onwards, often with little thought for much but simply surviving the week. But when disaster strikes, it's about the only heartening element of the episode, the touching humanity and sense of society that draws people together to try to help each other.
There's plenty of bad news to be had for Dan and I in our careers. But I'm proud to say that we both do our very best to present the positive side of life, too however much it may be hidden. And that's what I've observed countless times, people helping others who are suffering or struggling.
At times such as the Jubilee, the togetherness is easier - it's a celebration, after all. But even there I saw strangers sharing cups of tea to keep warm and umbrellas to try to shelter from the rain.
I mention all this now because there's a big sense of community coming together in the new tvdetective book, which has made me reflect on all I saw at the weekend. It's a great human phenomenon, a real test of the strength of our society, an uplifting spectacle, and long may it continue, too!
Finally then, a song to go with this blog, and how about a bit of Beatles, to try to make the theme work? Let's go for Come Together, a very fine song and also a great sentiment.
A question of hobbies
Posted by Simon on 1st, June 2012 at 07:28:01
I've been thinking on the matter of hobbies, after another fine question arrived in my inbox.
It was this - why doesn't Dan, or any of the other characters in the tvdetective series, have a hobby? Would this not help make them more rounded people?
I do sometimes worry about how thoughtful my readers can be. I never claimed my books to be high literature - just a few hours worth of passably passable entertainment, some thrills, a good mystery and perhaps the odd insight into the world of television, (and my strange mind).
Anyway, I shall attempt to answer, and I think there are two parts to the response.
Firstly, there's the dull old practical one. You only have a limited number of words to play with when writing a book (circa 100 thousand), so the more time you spend on background characterisation like hobbies, the less you have for the real action and plot. And that tends to be the most important element in crime fiction.
But yes, of course, the characters have to be real. And that's where the second part of the answer comes in. My dear friends do have hobbies, but not necessarily of a widely-recognised kind.
I could, for example, argue that Dan's hobby forms the core of the series - solving crimes. It's not his real job, just something he finds interesting and has a talent for. He does also have a kind of other hobby in exploring the wonderful Devon countryside with Rutherford.
As for Adam, he's rather too dedicated to his detective work and family, Claire has her hands more than full dealing with Dan and his daft emotions and vulnerabilities, and El's driven so much by getting those lucrative snaps that you could call it his job and his hobby all in one!
And as for the (alleged) master of the gang (I say alleged as they don't always do as they're told by any means), I suppose his main hobby is writing. It's not my day job, after all, and I'm just fortunate enough that some kind people saw fit to publish my scribblings, and some even kinder folk decided to read them.
I also enjoy my walking, particularly around the beautiful River Exe, and composing the odd curious Tweet (as you may have noticed), plus some judging at Beer Festivals, and tending to my bizarre and often wayward gang of real-life friends. That lot's more than enough for a man.
So, I hope that's a satisfactory answer to the question of hobbies. Finally then, to a hobby that's been with me since the earliest days I can remember, singing along in the car to the tunes my parents would choose, and a song to go with this blog. Where would the world be without music?
Today, I choose T-Rex and Hot Love, as it's one of those that has stuck in my mind since the faraway days of being so young - I must only have been around 3 when it came out. I can still see Dad and I, drumming on the dashboard...
Don't forget, it you've got a question you'd like to ask about the tvdetective books, or any area of my writing, I always enjoy hearing from you. You can get in touch via the Contact page of the site - www.thetvdetective.com/contact.html And if you want to follow my Tweetings, you can find me @thetvdetective