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Curious questions

An entertaining question has arrived in my inbox.  I sense a certain incredulity to it, but be that as it may, the issue raised is this - Where do I get the ideas for these bizarre Tweets that I post?

Literally speaking, the answer is anywhere.  I always keep a notebook, or at least a piece of paper and pen with me, ready to jot down any gems which may suddenly arrive in brainworld, and the ideas for Tweets can strike at any place, any time.  They can sometimes be triggered by an event or situation - I had one yesterday while dropping off empties at the Bottlebank! - or just materialise from apparently nothing, as can often be the way with thoughts.

I do sometimes make a conscious attempt to create a Tweet.  And, if you really want to know - and you did ask! - I tend to do that in what I think of as downtime.

I don't like to waste time, as regular readers of my rantings will know, it being the one commodity we have a very limited amount of, and - in one of the great mysteries of life - never in fact know how much. So, even when I'm going about mundane tasks, like brushing my teeth, showering, or driving somewhere, I can often try to use the time profitably by thinking up the odd Tweet.

One that's aroused quite some interest of late is the Things and Thongs, Rights and Wrongs rhyme.  Many questions were asked along the lines of - What the hell were you going on about there?!

Good question!

A fair few folk also thought there was something a tad naughty to it, which made me smile.  I like your thinking, but I'm afraid I'm not 19 any more, nor indeed anywhere close...

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Looks, appearances etc.

I've been working on characters for a new book, which has set me musing about the subject of appearance and how to describe it.

How can words capture something so distinct and esoteric as a person?  I suppose the question answers itself.

A few writers rather better than I have wrestled with the problem of the inadequacy of the language. I remember Eliot talking about words slipping and cracking, never staying in place, and Orwell putting it more simply but still elegantly - as was his wonderful way - when reflecting on a love letter, and asking when in life do we ever manage to say exactly what we mean?

However, as words are our only weapons, we give it our best and come up with what we can, however we might look back and wonder whether it all works. 

I had a lovely comment about Adam, and how one reader imagines him looking like Alan Hansen, the Match of the Day pundit.  With that I was pleased, as in my mind it's not far off - a kind of focused intensity - so I must have got the description roughly right.

As for Dan, most people tell me they imagine him as pretty ordinary (apart from that precious perception), which again is mostly what I intended; an average man aside from his journey to discover and deal with that one wonderful gift.

And as for Claire... sigh.  Regular sufferers of my ramblings will know very well how I feel about her!

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The practising of the preaching

I'm suffering a nasty bout of hypocrisy to go with my writer's block.  It must be the time of year, more germs in the air etc.

Regular sufferers of my ramblings will know about the attack of the dreaded block which has been bothering me.  Those with longer memories will also recall that on a couple of occasions I've happily served up hearty portions of advice about what to do for those similarly afflicted.

Don't get too wound up, says I.  That only makes it worse. Walk away, ignore it, rise above it, don't let it goad or get to you, I preach.  It'll go away in time to be replaced by the sunrise of inspiration.

So, has Dr Hall been following his own recommendations?

He has not, you may be unsurprised to hear.

Yep, I've been trying, but it's not that easy.  It's so frustrating.  When you love something as much as I do with writing, it really is like being parted from a sweetheart when it's not working out.  So, despite my best advice, I've been getting cross and narky and entirely failing to be cool about it.

I have tried a few solutions. I've been running myself cross-eyed at the gym, and around the river, in the hope some pumping blood spurs my lethargic brain into action, and then going to the other extreme and laying back in a dark room, eyes closed, just trying to think.

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The spice of writing

If variety is the spice of life, I've just come to the thought it can also be the catalyst of writing.

I suppose I'd best explain, or you'll be lost in my commonly puzzling thought processes without a map.

That rather opaque opener for this blog comes from a very specific question which has been posed of me, which is this - how do I write? And my interrogator is keen to point out she doesn't want some wafty artistic answer, but a solid and grounded description of where and when.

The easy part, the when, is usually I write early in the morn, say from 6am onwards. It's for two reasons - one, that's the only time I can guarantee not to be called by work and so have a chance to concentrate, and two, it's when my brain tends to be freshest and most willing to disgorge some passable ideas.

The more interesting element, or so I've come to realise (first aside - thank you questioner; as ever, often the person who learns the most when being interrogated is the subject themselves), is where I write.  Because it varies.

I commonly start the day by writing in bed.  That's part laziness - I'm very fond of bed - and part warmth, particularly in the winter, but mostly because I usually have a head full of ideas as soon as I wake and want to write them down before they evaporate, as they have an annoying way of doing.

But, just as I used to break up my revision in those long ago student days, I like some variety to keep me entertained. After an hour or so, I'll commonly decamp downstairs to the lounge, and write there (I work on a laptop), perhaps to partake of a coffee to accompany the artistry, and then, maybe another half hour later, upstairs to my study to continue.  That was never a conscious decision, merely instinctive; I find the change of backdrop helps keep me refreshed and creative.

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Easy ideas and hard work

My little tweet of earlier in the week has attracted a few comments and questions. For those - difficult though I find it to believe that there may be many - who aren't following my e-musings with a rabid hunger, and even keener delight, what I said (in fewer than 140 characters) was this -

In my mind, the hunk of stone and the chisel. Afar, far afar, the sculpture.  Time to be brave and begin...

The question of where do my ideas for books, bits of writing, teaching etc. come from is one of the most common I'm asked, and I've waffled about it before. But perhaps what I didn't make clear was this...

I have lots of ideas and much of the time, and the large majority come to exactly nowt.  They're just passing fancies, the clicking of some electric synapse in the head area, and quickly discarded.  But I'm always glad that they're appearing, because at least it means the brain is firing, chewing away at some thinking, however sub-consciously.

The times I don't care for at all are when no ideas are coming, but that's another story and I'm trying to cut down on my asides!

What I was trying to answer here is how I know when an idea's good enough to be worth entertaining, perhaps even to the level of writing more than a hundred thousand words around it, ie. a book.

A tricky question, but what I've come to believe is this - you can often tell the worth of an idea by how much it grabs you. If the thing takes on physical form, leaps up at you, sinks its teeth into your arm, insists it leads you somewhere and simply won't let go, that tends to suggest it may well be worth bothering with.  If it loves you that much, I suppose it's only fair you should pay it some attention.

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A chucklesome review

This business of reviews is a sticky subject with we writing folk. Fine ones are flown like the brightest and most boisterous kites from the highest peaks, less flattering ones can spark feuds which endure for lifetimes.

I've heard a few scribblers say they either don't read, or don't bother about, reviews; claims which I believe not at all, not in the slightest.  There's not a writer who isn't proud of what he or she has come up with, who doesn't feel some sort of bond, or need to protect it. 

In some ways it's like being a parent.  You just have to look after and defend that which you've created, however flawed you know it might be.

Anyhow, given all that, let's trespass a little way into the dangerous land of reviews, because I was told of one offered of a book of mine this week which has made me chuckle every time I think about it.

It was on The TV Detective, penned by "The Librarian", and, in summary, went something thus - I was enjoying the book, got half way through and then left it on the tube, so I can't say any more.

Wonderful! This has set off all sorts of mental meanderings. What's become of the book? Has someone else picked it up and is reading it? And what of The Librarian? Has he or she gone out and got another copy, or were they perhaps not enjoying it quite that much?!

It's quite the most distinctive review I've ever had, so thanks to The Librarian for your contribution to my writing career, and for raising a much-needed smile in what's been a tricky week. 

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A nasty blockage

I'm trying to work on the outline for a new book, and making less progress than poor Sisyphus.

In fact, I might even cast him an envious look. At least he got somewhere with that boulder.  Mine currently feels like it's stuck fast to the bottom of the hill.

A few years ago, when first I started trying to write, this sort of situation would be the cue for much wailing and anguish.  It's true, I was very young when I first learnt the meaning of melodrama, and I've cherished the word ever since.

These days, life has taught me it happens.  I've learnt, through annoying experience, that when the muse decides to go off for a wander all my flailing attempts to lure her back will be spurned, and as befits such a fickle creature the only thing to do is wait until she decides to wander back.

That's not to say it's anything other than frustrating.  But at least I'm feeling irked with pursed lips and a glower, rather than a running around screaming episode.

Anyway, the point of this blog (you knew I'd come to it sometime?!), is that I've been wondering if the changing of the season and the harshening of the weather has been an influence on the absence of inspiration.

For all we like to think of ourselves as civilised and advanced creatures, in my humble view we humans are in essence animals, only with less hair (quite a lot less, in my case).  I wonder if the darker, colder days are sapping my energy and inspiration in much the same way as they're leeching colour from the world around.

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My greatest pleasures

Having just written that title, I've immediately got the feeling some of you - the suspicious, cynical ones - or maybe just the ones who know me? - will be expecting an e-outpouring on the subject of beer, curry etc.


No, this is a response to a very fine question I was asked last week at the Chudleigh Book Fair (hello to anyone who went along, and thanks for such a fine evening - never before have I given a talk from what felt like a pulpit, another new experience).  It went thus - which of my activities do I enjoy the most? (that's professional activities, before you start over-imagining again).

I count myself very lucky in that I enjoy all I do, aside from the occasional off-day, which appears a contractual part of this thing called life.  But as for a favourite?  Well, having now thought about it, I'd say it changes depending on which of the particular fields is proving the most stimulating at that point.

On the TV and news side, I get a great buzz from covering a big story and trying my best to do it well. It's the sense of being at the centre of events, and so many people looking to you to tell them what's happening.

Writing-wise, it can be the simple of moments, like the idea for a new novel, character or piece of work, and happily filling in pages on a notebook, polishing it, extending it, testing it, seeing if it's got what it takes to make it to publication.

And as for acutally being amidst writing a book, that's a joy.  It's almost as if I leave this world for a while, to go and reside in the fantasy land I'm creating.

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Reading and regressing

One of my favourite parts of doing a talk about the tvdetective books is when it comes time to read a sample to the audience.  I've been wondering a little why this may be, and hence today's musings.

The first thought that came to my chaotic mind was that it's a kind of regression thing, a draw back through the years to childhood, and memories of those safe and carefree days of laying in bed, being read to. 

Reading aloud to a group of people, you often see them relax in a manner which is rare in this pressured world of modern life. Eyes close, faces ease, minds wander far from their usual haunt of troubled lands...

In fact, to this day, one of the richest experiences of my life, simple though it is, has been reading to my daughter Niamh, in her childhood times.  It was the age of Harry Potter, and, being the dramatist type I am, I would put on voices for the characters.

When I thought Niamh was falling asleep, I'd wind up and go to put the book away, and invariably a little hand would emerge from the duvet, grab me, and the word "more" would be whispered into the twilight of the bedroom air.

Quick aside, you knew it was coming - that, of course, was way before she became the teenager of today, fixated on the latest music, fashions, the agonies of exams, and boys.  Boys!  Eek!  And there I go no further!

Anyway, back to this reading aloud thing, and there's one other sizeable reason I think I enjoy it so much.  I won't overdo the loneliness of being a writer (I can imagine the tears forming in your eyes now), but it is a curious experience. 

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