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Curious habits and echoes of childhood

I've been doing a fair bit of driving around of late, which is a necessary chore of the day job, but I don't like to waste time so I try to put the hours of travelling to some good use.

Whilst ensuring I concentrate on the road at all times, naturally (quick aside - that sounds like one of those awful disclaimers so beloved of the legal profession; we can no way be held to account for anything whatsoever we do in any circumstances arising from anything at all etc...) I also like to do some thinking as I drive.

I'll commonly be working through the plot of a piece of writing, or maybe a quirk or two of the characterisation, perhaps even mulling over a twist or turn for the narrative. But one of the most curious things I do - as I noticed yesterday - is that I like to have a chat with my passengers.

Which is odd, because I'm always alone.

This is what tends to happen. If I'm thinking about a story I'm covering, then I'll talk it through with Dan; how best to start the report, what we need to ask the interviewees, if there's anything creative we can do with the filming or structure.  If it's a crime we're covering, I like to speculate with Adam about who might have committed it and why, and perhaps how they're trying to cover it up and get away with it.

And when I'm thinking about a plot for one of the tvdetective books, I'll often ask the boys how they'd react in a given situation. 

Now, this may seem odd to you, as initially it did to me.  And I know that when I think there's something odd about myself, it's likely to be very strange indeed. But this is what I've come to believe.

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I'm feeling dangerously close to somewhere approaching the near proximity of possibly getting the hang of this new media lark.

Yesterday, being the beautiful day it was, I mused a little on Twitter about the season and was flattered by getting plenty of feedback about it.

For those of you who missed the Tweet in question, it went thus; "Sweet September, King of the Devon months. Summer's love lingers, the county becalmed, & seasonal yellow sunlight caresses autumn's colours."

Quick aside (as ever) - I'm not sure whether you're supposed to use quotation marks on your own words, but hey, that's for clever people like editors to discuss, and not one to get bogged down in here.

Anyway, as I was saying, the Tweet prompted plenty of comment. Poetic even, one of my correspondents called it. Now, I'm not sure I'd go that far - poetry in 140 characters or less? Quite a challenge! - but what did strike me was the level of agreement my praising of autumn drew.  It's clearly a popular season.  Which in turn made me think, for the first time, about the seasons in which the tvdetective books are set.

I came up with an interesting realisation (at least i think so), and maybe this is another to file under the catgeory I've discussed many times here - how much you can learn about yourself through writing.

None of the books are set in the summer. One is rooted in the winter, the others go for spring and autumn.

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Body and mind

An innovation in the Hall blogging field - this time I'll start with an aside, but an important one.

It's a big thanks to the very kind and dedicated people who organised the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival.  I had a splendid time, felt very looked after, and hope the festival lives long and prospers, as they say in Star Trek.  It certainly deserves to.

Thanks also to those who came along to my talk, which is where this little musing arises from. One of the questions posed unto me was - are the characters or the plot more important in the tvdetective books?

It got me thinking, which regular readers of this will know to be a dangerous phenomenon, but anyway, here we go with an (attempted) answer...

It's something of a dodge, I suppose, but the truth is that I believe both are equally important. 

I've come to think of the characters as the mind of a book, the plot the body.  In life, you can exist and even thrive with a weak mind and a strong body - as perhaps some might say befits more than the odd professional footballer - or with a weaker body and a strong mind, as can be the way with some of the older generation.  The most feisty and opinionated emails I get about the books tend to be from older readers, but that's a digression I shall resist until another day!

Anyway, following my analogy, I'd say the body / mind relationship is roughly the same with books. You can get away with weak characters if you've got a compelling plot, and vice versa. But I think the best results, the most memorable writing, tends to come when both plot and characters are strong.

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I'm getting nervous, an impressive 36 hours before the event.

I don't do nerves particularly fetchingly.  Where some fortunate folk can show no visible effects at all, and others seem to manage to put on only a healthy and becoming glow, I flush and sweat in a manner which might best be described as looking like a beetroot which has been caught in a downpour.

I always get nervy before a performance, but some more so than others. For the smaller talks, perhaps to a group of 30 or so at a library, I'll give myself the grace of only being nervous on that day, maybe for a few hours.

For the bigger ones, I can work myself up into the kind of spin of which a Tasmanian Devil would be proud, and a lot longer beforehand. When I did a talk to the Women's Institute in Torbay this year - audience 1400! - I was so stressed and strained it was a wonder I didn't snap. And as for the week's teaching in Swanwick last month, I started to feel the flutters of concern in... wait for this... January.  

That was the record in the Hall annals, and one that still stands, an onset of nerves 7 months before an event!

I do tell myself it's only natural, and good for me, that the gut-wobbles come visiting. It pumps me up, makes me perform, but be that as it may it's still a companion whose company I could often well do without.

As a quick aside here (you knew it was coming!), I can still remember how nervous I was when I did my first TV outside broadcast - mere fragile words could never capture it, but I did wonder at the time whether the sensation would be sufficient to propel me into orbit.

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Literary recycling & my new old friend

I don't like waste, never have.  Even as a kid I hated to see anything go to waste, and that feeling has only intensified as I've (mostly) grown up.

I was reminded of this yesterday, and in a curious way.  You know how I sometimes (often? incessantly?!) say one of the greatest gifts of writing is how much you learn about yourself? Well, it happened again last night, as I was sitting in my study, looking out at the inspiration of an early autumn sunset, and thinking / working on some ideas for a new tvdetective plot.

Commonly, when I write a book, it doesn't come out as I'd planned, and sometimes nowhere close.  Because I like to have plenty going on, the usual problem is there's a sub-plot or character too many.  It happened in The Judgement Book for example, and so when it came time to do the edits, an entire sub-plot had to be removed. 

It felt like an operation, and was strangely painful as I was rather attached to it... 


I didn't throw the idea away.  Aside from the notebook I take with me everywhere, on the desktop of this very computer from which I write, is a file less than flatteringly called "Left overs".  In there I put anything that doesn't make it into the final cut of a book, and from out of there last night was revived this particular character and the sub-plot which she creates.

It felt good because, on one level, it was exactly what the idea for the new book needed, a strong second strand to the narrative.  But in a more curious way - and this is where you'll perhaps start to fear for my fragile sanity again - it felt like meeting up with a long-lost friend.

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Chasing thoughts

I've been thinking about thinking, following a curious mental quirk which visited me once more this week.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was writing a stage play, based on the tvdetective books?  Well, it's almost done - albeit after much sweating and swearing - but that's not what this little post is about.  Instead... 'tis this.

When I was on one of the play's key scenes, I was happily typing away, following the plan I'd set out in my notes when something stopped me. 

Exactly what it was is hard to say, but I'll do my best to descibe it. I do try to make a living from lacing these slippery word things together, after all.

It was like a whisper from a corner of my mind.  And the strange thing was that I couldn't quite hear what it was saying.  All I knew was that it was there, both persistent and insistent, but I didn't know what it was.  And that, of course, was frustrating, to put it mildly.

Now, before you start to worry about me (I like to think you would), I've known this happen on many an occasion before. The first time I can recall was when I was at university, sitting some final exams.

An aside here - come on, you were expecting it, and it's a long way into the blog, they normally arise far sooner! - but exams are so traumatic that to this day, twenty years on from the last time I faced one, I still have a recurring nightmare about them.  It pops up on average once a month, and involves me sitting in the hall, being utterly unable to answer any questions. 

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My apprenticeship

A lot of rot is talked about writing, in my humble view. Amongst the largest of the dung-heaps is the oft-heard claim of someone being a "born writer".

I think it's quite true that some people have a natural aptitude for writing, as with so many areas of life.  But what narks your spleen-venting author is the assumption that those lucky enough to have a modest talent in a certain direction then go on to churn out wonderful works of literary art in the passage of almost no time, and with the expenditure of little, if any effort.


Time for the traditional Hall aside here, and I think that must be the shortest paragraph I've ever written in a blog. I confess to feeling quite pleased with myself for that, I do like a first.  An innovation a day keeps boredom away in my eyes, or some such thing, but anyhow, back to my narrative of choice, or somewhere close...

What I was saying was how I find it galling that some people seem to think writers are born and not made, and simply need to wander up to a piece of paper, armed with a pen, to then go about setting down strings of enchanting words.

My experience is to the contrary, to say the least.  I'm penning this today, because it's a kind of anniversary for me. I have now been writing (or attempting to write, at any rate) for seven years.

And in simple summary, this is how it went.  To start with, I had little, if any idea what I was doing, and the consequent product was of the most dubious of quality.  But I kept working and working and working away at it, learning what made for the better ingredients of a book and what didn't.

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Happy side effects

This foggy Friday morning finds me musing on the many benefits of writing.

I'm not just thinking about the straightforward ones here; the pleasure of seeing your scribbles published, the delight of getting to know more about yourself through such a simple act as setting down a few words, the satisfaction of capturing a thought or feeling on a page etc etc.

No, here I'm talking about the related benefits.  And in particular, there are two which have been engaging me of late.

The first is the teaching I've been doing.  I've mentioned before that in my younger years I always thought I may be a teacher. So teaching writing now has fulfilled that ambition, and it's been a delight; the places I've been asked to go, the people I've been lucky enough to meet. Plus passing on a few of my menial thoughts about this writing lark.

Attempting the gazing into yourself thing - "as like what these blogs is supposed to be about", apparently - it seems to satisfy some of the altruism of my nature, that I commonly feel I have to be doing something beneficial, or worthwhile, however small.

The other benefit I've been musing upon is the ability writing brings to highlight the odd cause and help out with it.  Without being pompous about it, I've had the pleasure of being asked to associate myself with one or two fine charities and have gladly done so.  Again that ticks my mental "making a difference" box, and thus makes me happy, too - or at least as happy as an often pessimistic soul such as I ever manage.

You've been preparing for the random - but traditional - Hall aside, I know, and I wouldn't want to disappoint you, so here we go.  A strange thought occured to me yesterday. 

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