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Going Viral

Posted by Simon on 24th, June 2017 at 17:58:04

For the first time in my life this week, I went viral. 

I was covering a story about some young lads in Devon who wore skirts to school in protest at not being allowed to put on shorts in the recent heatwave. 


That evening, after this picture had been shared around the world, and I received tens of thousands of responses, I wondered why it had made such an impact. 

And I came up with a familiar reason. 

It's all down to people and pictures. The same combination that's been fascinating the public, and selling books and films, plays and dramas down the years. 

People as in characters. And look at the great mix of characters in the young lads. The thinker, the joker, the rebel...

Pictures as in the story. Whether it's shown on a screen or left to the imagination to create from the writer's words, it all comes down to the same. 

Pictures and people. 

We love a good story. And we delight in interesting people. 

All that was summed up in one split second in one single photograph.

And with it was a lesson for writers everywhere.

Get the pictures - the story - right, and the people within it, and all else will follow. 

And one further thought for this blog. I'll wager you two bets now - 

1. That picture will make it into more than a couple of best man's speeches in the years ahead. 

2. Some of the lads in the image will go on to become writers, or join other creative industries. 

And they'll be very welcome. Because they're just the type we need for the future. 

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Horizontal and Vertical Thinking

Posted by Simon on 14th, June 2017 at 14:04:11

Even by my standards, that's a strange title for a blog post. You must be wondering what's coming next. 

I suppose it's an experiment. And here's a lovely, and very appropriate picture to introduce it -


I usually start my writing day in my study, or at the kitchen table. But both involve sitting at a desk.

However! When I have a problem to think through, I tend to start the day in bed.

I stretch out on a couple of pillows, grab a notebook and start scribbling thoughts. 

And this is one of the great joys of writing - the way you learn so much about yourself. 

I worked out early on that my best thinking wasn't done sitting at a desk, starting furiously at a screen, trying to come up with ideas. 

My brain seemed to like the relaxation of laying back, and feel encouraged to chuck out some thoughts. 

So that's the way I tend to work. The actual typing at a desk, the thinking in a far more laid back manner. 

The question is then - is that just me, or a more common experience? 

Let the experiment begin...

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The Inside Out Impact

Posted by Simon on 11th, June 2017 at 08:38:41

It's scary and hard, probably one of the toughest things to do in life, but it can be so very powerful.

I was reminded of its impact this week, when I did a talk about careers in the media at the excellent Park School in Barnstaple, north Devon. 


There's a story I sometimes tell and sometimes don't, depending on the group and their mood.

But this day I told it. Probably, I think, because of the dreadful attacks the country has suffered in recent weeks. 

I suspect it was also partly because earlier in the week I was speaking to a friend who had done something very brave. 

She'd suffered tough times in the past, so bad that she considered suicide. And not just thought about it, but actually stood there, on the edge of a bridge, balanced between life and death. 

Since those terrible days she's gone on to success and happiness in life, I'm delighted to say.

But then came one hell of a request. She was asked to tell the story of what happened to her, in a very public talk. 

After some agonising, she did so. And for all the right reasons. 

To let others who are suffering know they're not alone. And that the world can change for them, as it did for her. 

The reaction was extraordinary, from both the audience, the media and the public. She touched so many people and I believe did a great deal of good with that wonderful, light in the darkness message. 

There's always hope. 

My own version, the story I told the youngsters at Park, was of being sent into London to help cover the 7/7 attacks, the first suicide bombings Britain has suffered. 

The horror of that day, the sense of the world changing, an assault on the very fabric of our society. And what it was like to feel that, all around. 

Like my friend who stood on the bridge, it's a memory I hold deep within. Only to emerge when the time is right. 

Like to tell the young people around me that despite the horror of the terror attacks on our country, there is still goodness and hope in the world. And lots of it. 

The way communities pulled together. How we carried on with our lives, with freedom, friendship, love and support. How hatred would never be allowed to win. 

It's hard, letting out that which we keep deep inside. 

But sometimes it's necessary. 

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The Science of Writing

Posted by Simon on 3rd, June 2017 at 16:52:45

I've got a couple of teaching events coming up, which require some in depth work. So I've been enhancing my model of characterisation for writers. 


I usually focus on what makes people do the things they do, but now I've added some new dimensions - 

Touchstones, what's most precious to a person; temptations, their weaknesses; and secrets, that which they most fear becoming known. 

They've really added life, depth and tension, particularly when you put the different factors in opposition. 

Someone succumbs to temptation... it creates a secret... which threatens their touchstones...

So what lengths would the character then go to in order to protect the secret? Cue some great drama!

It all reminded me of my college days, when I read natural sciences. 

Physicists were forever coming up with models to describe the world, then refining them, then refining them some more...

But what I always found interesting was this - 

No matter how clever and detailed the model, it was only ever an approximation. 

Life just doesn't correspond to a formula. And so it goes with people. 

No matter how much you analyse someone, think you know them, they always retain the capacity to surprise. 

Which, of course, is one of the joys of life. 

As I used to say to my (increasingly exasperated) professors - 

Surely the last thing you want is to know everything. Because where does that leave you left to go?

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That Coming Alive Moment

Posted by Simon on 20th, May 2017 at 16:30:27

I was asked a very good question at a book talk this week - 

Why do so many journalists go on to become authors? 

There are many theories and thoughts, but here's mine, and I wonder if it holds an important lesson for writers.


Why a picture of pipes and wires? Because this, the wisdom of the internet tells me, is a conduit. 

And when you become a conduit as an author, that's a big moment. 

You spend months planning the book and the characters, the settings, the twists and turns, and then you start to write. 

And, if it's working well, one day a beautiful and breathtaking moment comes. 

Instead of referring to your notes, and thinking about what happens next, the story and the people in it start to live for themselves. 

You're not writing a book any more. You're merely describing what's happening in front of your eyes. 

Just like a journalist does with a real life event. 

Which maybe helps to explain why lots of us journo types go on to become authors. 

We're used to being conduits. 

And that's a very handy helper in this wonderful writing life. 

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