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Posted by Simon on 27th, July 2012 at 15:40:18
I'm just over half way through a new tvdetective book, have been doing a little checking back on the previous novels, and have noticed something curious.
My chapters are getting shorter.
When first I was published, the chapters tended to be around three thousand words in length. Now they're about half that.
Which set me wondering - what's going on there?
I'm not sure is the honest answer. I suppose you'd expect a writing style to change and evolve. It happens with everyone in the arty way - from musicians to painters, and all in between.
As to why, perhaps some of it is about learning. As you go about this great writing journey, you try out new things. Some work and some don't, and you learn and adapt.
One of the great benefits of shorter chapters is that they bring real pace to a novel - they ensure that developments happen fast.
I wonder if it's a reflection of modern life, with busy people and shorter attention spans.
It could be similar to these television programmes, like soap operas, where the writers try to make sure no single scene lasts for more than about two minutes. That way they can do their best to retain their viewers' interest.
Or maybe it's just the natural pushing the boundaries thing that we curious humans do - trying out new things.
Whatever, it wasn't a conscious decision - it just happened. Which is a key theme in these little musings, as regular sufferers will know. One of the great joys of writing is that it taps straight into the nexus of your mind, to reveal what's going on there - even if you may not know it yourself.
Now, a couple of other things to mention, before I sign off for this particular wandering of the thoughts.
My publishers and I have just begun thinking about the cover and blurb for the next book, which is all jolly splendid. As it's a new publisher, I expect the jackets to look very different from the previous selection, which is both a little daunting and exciting, too.
There's some work to be done and doubtless a few robust discussions to be had. But that's the way of these things and I'm looking forward to it. The book is on course to be released in April of next year.
I'm afraid I still can't reveal the title though, as these things can change at short notice!
Finally, a tune for this blog, and today I'm going for Free Fallin', by Tom Petty.
That's for no better reason than I heard it on the radio whilst driving to a story this week, was reminded how fine a song it is, and also because it feels appropriate for the current (unprecedentedly!) sunny weather.
The Puzzle of Children
Posted by Simon on 23rd, July 2012 at 07:09:19
I don't think I ever really got the hang of youngsters, particularly what entertains, interests and amuses them. Which is quite a concern when you're soon due to be teaching a couple of groups of them about writing.
I've spent part of the weekend thinking / wondering / agonising about how to do it (most of the rest I've spent along with the others of the English nation, staring in awe at the fiery newcomer to the sky. And about time, too.)
I've come up with a conclusion, which is that probably the best way to teach them is to disguise the fact that it's happening in lots of fun and games. So goes the theory, and that's all very well - now it's a case of trying to make it happen.
I've devised some exercises which I hope will appeal, and interestingly they're much the same as the ones I play with the grown ups when I'm teaching them. Which I suppose is a good thing, or indeed tells you something in that they're just smaller versions of we lumbering adult things, after all.
I know it's something I should be doing, however much thought it's taking. In this age of the internet, and video games everywhere, I think it's more important than ever to get youngsters interested in the magic of books and the kingdom of the imagination.
But it is the teaching of children that drags me furthest out of my comfort zone, forces me to think the hardest, and makes for the most apprehensive. It's also the time when I do the most improvising, and sometimes in very strange ways. You just never know what they're going to ask.
One session I did, a young lad put up his hand, right in the middle of the lesson. I thought it must be urgent so I asked what he wanted to know, and he said "Do you like ice skating?" Which wasn't exactly what I was expecting, to say the least.
(Not really is the answer - I'm not very good at balance and coordination and tend to fall over a lot.)
I reassure myself that I shall have excellent assistants to help me through, but also with this thought - as I'm a big kid myself, it surely can't be too much of an ordeal.
Right, music time, and this morning, as another Hall favourite, I'm choosing Price Tag, by Jessie J. Partly because I was stung by a recent comment - do I like any modern music?! - but mostly because of the sentiment behind the song, and how it fits with today's ramblings.
A little improvisation
Posted by Simon on 19th, July 2012 at 18:25:54
It's one of life's underrated arts, a bit of improvisation.
It comes to mind now after last night's talk at the Chudleigh Literary Festival (my thanks to all who came along for laughing at the right points in the performance, and being so kind and welcoming.)
I enjoyed myself, and felt the talk went well (hope you did too, if you were there!), but it was particularly noteworthy for two of the oddest interruptions I've ever experienced.
The first was the arrival of a large dog, who came bounding in the entrance to the marquee, sniffed around at a few people, chairs etc., frolicked a little, and was then retrieved by his flustered owner.
And there was me hoping it was someone else coming to hear me...
Well, I managed to move on from that rather bizarre interlude, and a few minutes later came the next ....
... a mobile phone burbling out loudly with a ring tone which was none other than The Archers.
I must confess, I found myself at rather a loss to know what to say. What can you do in situations such as those but ride with them and laugh along with everyone else? In fact, I'm still giggling now. It was quite an achievement to get through the rest of the event.
It all served to remind me of an occasion at work (day job work), where a man strolled up to me for a chat. That, in itself, isn't unusual, but what stuck in my mind was that he did so while I was live on air.
It took a few seconds to explain that I wasn't being rude, but really couldn't speak to him at that moment. And he was kind enough to understand. But I was sure I could hear the laughter around the region, and all directed at me.
Such is life. I suppose it would be dull if it all went the way we expected - it certainly doesn't for me, or for poor Dan in the tvdetective books. But then again, I wouldn't mind if it just occasionally ran according to my plans! Just once or twice...
Right, time for a favourite Hall tune, but first a quick answer to a question. I received an email last week asking how many of my top songs I planned to list here?
(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 - www.thetvdetective.com/contact.html )
I hadn't considered before, but have decided around a hundred will be it. I average about two blogs a week, so that's a year's worth of songs and it feels right.
Back then to this ramble's choice, and today it's Pulp and Common People, because of that fantastic video, but also as there's a bit of fine improvisation in the song in what Jarvis decides to show his new found friend. It's a wonderful piece of work all round, and always makes me smile.
Posted by Simon on 16th, July 2012 at 17:37:19
I can't help but notice I do have this innate thing about always trying something new; innovating, and testing myself.
I sometimes think it's a curse. It means I can never stand still, and any notion of a holiday which consists of just laying upon a beach is banished to the far reaches of fantasy. But, on the whole, I'm glad of it.
I think it makes life more interesting. Indeed, what's this great game of existence for if not to explore as much of the thing as you can?
I raise the thought in this blog, because last week I did a talk to a business breakfast group in East Devon (quick aside - thanks for all being so welcoming and kind, by the way), and decided I'd try something new, just to see if I could do it.
When I give a talk, I usually note down a few key points that I want to mention and chat around them. But on this occasion, I thought I'd put the notes aside and see if I could just talk for half an hour, without referring to them.
It was a little nerve-jangling at a couple of points, when I found myself wondering what the bloody hell (if you'll excuse the phrase) to say next, but I think it mostly worked. And it was a very interesting experience, forcing myself to think on my feet and talk, whilst at the same time working out what was going to come next.
For a man, that's taking multi-tasking to a nigh unprecedented level. It certainly gave me a buzz and allowed me to think I'd tried something new. Which ticked a big Hall box in the list of life.
I'm currently working on the next talk, for the Chudleigh Literary Festival, on Wednesday (July 18th), and may try the trick again... but then again may not. I suspect it'll depend on how big the audience is, and how confident I'm feeling.
If you're coming along, I'll leave it to you to judge how it goes! There are details of the festival on the News and Events page - www.thetvdetective.com/news.html It looks like a great event, and a real tribute to the community to set it up, so do please support it if you can.
Finally then, another favourite Hall song, and today I choose one of my top Beatles tunes. It's Don't Let Me Down, because of the sentiment, the soulfulness of the vocals, and no doubt the sentiment the poor people at Chudleigh will now be suffering after this blog.
History and hairlines
Posted by Simon on 11th, July 2012 at 18:21:21
A "friend" (I use the term loosely) posted a picture of me on Facebook last week. Circa late 90's, it's of the squad of the football team I used to play for when I lived in Cornwall, Pelynt.
And it got me thinking of the past, as these things can often do.
It's a lingering regret that I didn't study history after the age of 16. I realise now how much I enjoyed it, and how much I would probably have got out of it.
I raise this now partly because there's a historical sequence in the new tvdetective book. It's not so very far back, only the 1980s, but the research was great fun. It made me feel very nostalgic, which is always kinda cute, as the saying goes.
I've noticed I often put a dabble of history in the books. There's a fair chunk in The Balance of Guilt. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it, but it's about the dilemmas of history, and what the Churchill - Coventry bombing debate taught us. There's something about a dimension of history which adds great depth to a book. It's like a trip to another world.
Which brings up a theme I've commonly followed in these meanderings - how much you can learn about yourself when writing. That's one of the great joys of the journey. It's as much an exploration of yourself as anything else.
The delight of it is that it's all subconscious. Never did I sit down and decide I'm going to write something with an historical echo. It just emerged. Which is all very interesting.
Writing, it seems, allows me to let myself go. Perhaps it's even a form of therapy. It's certainly a stress release. Heaven knows I need it some days.
Anyway, back to the history thing, before I digress too far, and perhaps what set off the nostalgia was the sight of a me with less stomach and more hair. Ah, those lost perks of youth.
Right, before I start shedding tears, perhaps it's time to get back to the writing.
Finally then, a song for this blog, and today it's a strange one, but I'm going for it anyway as we're on a history / time theme.
It's Abba, and The Day Before You Came. Yes, because it's of the past, but also because I love the way of describing that wonderful moment in life when everything can change so much in just one instant...
An unexpected problem
Posted by Simon on 7th, July 2012 at 07:34:51
In this strange game called life there is always a but, don't you find?
I'm a happy chap, because the contracts for the new tvdetective books have been signed and all is going ahead swimmingly. The kind publishers want three, spread out over the next two years, which is all very flattering but of course brings a little problem -
Writing the things!
However, that's not so bad. As regular sufferers of these rants will know, I write as a hobby. The fact that people actually read, and even enjoy my scrbblings, is a delightful side effect.
The ideas for the next three books are in place, which I always think is a large part of the battle. The plans and structures for the stories are mostly done, just need a bit of refining, and some of the writing is there too, so all is on course.
Where the unexpected problem comes in, is here - it's in the titles of the new books.
Usually, I don't have a trouble with titles. They're one of the first things I feel about a book, and normally I have a strong instinct if they work well. Maybe that's down to my journalistic background - the way we hack-creatures hunt for a headline to sum up a story. It's a similar art to coming up with a title for a book.
But on this occasion, the titles are proving problematic. Not for the first of the books, I think I've got that taped (and no, I'm not telling you what it is yet - mystery and suspense is part of being a crime writer, and you know how I like to tease.)
Books two and three however, are proving slippery. Try as I might, I can't quite find the titles to suit.
Ah well, I console myself with the thought that I've got plenty of time, and something will come. For now, I'd best just get on with writing the things. Which, if you'll excuse me, I shall duly do.
I'll keep you up to date with progress and publication developments etc. on the News and Events page - www.thetvdetective.com/news.html But I can tell you that the provisional plan is for the first of the books to be released in the spring of next year. Yeah!
Finally for this blog, another favourite tune. I did get an email asking how many I intended to pick (it was largely complimentary about my choices, happily!), to which the answer is probably about a hundred. That equates to around a year's worth of blogs, which feels right.
So today I'm going for Genesis, and Turn it on Again, because it (very approximately) fits with this blog, but mainly because I very much like the song.
Posted by Simon on 3rd, July 2012 at 17:28:24
Not content with writing these strange tvdetective books, I'm now getting the chance to read them, and aloud, too.
BBC Radio Devon have kindly asked me to serialise the most recent in the series, The Balance of Guilt. I've completed a sequence of five recordings of various sections of the book, each lasting around five minutes.
As you can imagine, this entailed some considerable agonising. I wanted to give a good sense of what the book is about, but without giving away all the plot and twists and turns, and certainly not the ending.
If you consider the book is about 100,000 words long, and each reading no more than around 800, that's only a tiny fraction of the actual novel.
So, there were many late nights sat up in my lovely study, debating, deciding, then changing my mind, then changing it back, before I finally settled on which sections to read.
Then came the actual recordings. And for a chap who's quite used to sitting in front of a microphone, it was strangely nerve-pummelling. I suppose it's the old story, because it's such a part of me, so very close to my heart, that makes it all the more pressured and potent.
I love reading aloud. When I do a talk about the books, it's one of my favourite parts (although the audience may well disagree!) It takes me back to childhood, and being read to - and also to the old days of reading to Niamh.
All these memories I could feel following me as I sat in the studio, reading away. Never did I ever suspect I would become one of those people whose scribblings people read - a writer is the correct technical term, I believe?! - and it felt so curious, yet so warming and wonderful.
This authorship lark is an utter privilege, and don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
I'd better mention the details of the serialisation, or I'm not doing my job and giving you the whole story. The readings are on the excellent Judi Spiers programme, which runs from 9am to noon. I'm told I'll be on in the hour from 10 - 11. If you miss it, the show is on the BBC iplayer for a week following the broadcast. There is no excuse or escape!
Finally then, a song to go with this blog, and today I shall choose Radio Gaga, by Queen. Not as any comment on the fantastic medium of the wireless, because it gave me my break in the media back in my DJ days, and I love it greatly.
It's because it's a great song, particularly when performed live. Once I was lucky enough to see that, but there lies another story...