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The inclement prevailing climatic conditions - or bloody awful weather, if you will - of this bank holiday has prompted me to begin work on a major project.  It's one which I've been putting off for a while, for the sensible reason that it's daunting. 

And it's also encouraged a little of the dangerous pastime of doing some thinking, of which more in a moment.

First, that project.  I'm off on a cruise at the tail end of the year (the first time I've ever tried one), where I've been asked to give six lectures, each of an hour, on my books and writing.

I'm not complaining, naturally, but it is a little worrying.  Never before have I tried to string together so many coherent talks about how I write, the important question of why, my thoughts about how to do it, characters, plot, all that heady stuff.

At first, the main worry was that I wouldn't have enough material - which may come as a surprise to those of you who could be of the opinion that I can talk all day on just about anything. Well, I now think I'll be ok for content, but it did nonetheless give me a few fretful hours.

As for the spectre of thinking it created, that went roughly along these lines -


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The Long Drop

I'm facing one of the most unpleasant moments in the life of this humble scribbler.

It's second only to the dreaded writer's block.  I've come to think of it as the long drop, and it's the point at which you part company with a major piece of work.

How best to explain it?  Well, probably like this -

I think of writing as all about relationships, with the author at the centre. I have relationships with my agent and publishers, my characters, and most of all my readers.  And with every new book, or other big writing project I get involved in, I come to have a relationship with that, too. 

It's often little different to falling in love. 

You find an idea you like - it comes upon you, or you just meet up.  You spend some time with it, and the fondness grows.  And then it matures into the knowledge that the initial idea can become a book. 

You spend many months planning it, and then even more months writing it.  And so, when you reach the end of all that, and it's done... you can feel lost without it.  You get used to having it around, thinking about it every hour, and suddenly it's all over, and you're wondering how you're going to cope without it.

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A wonderful week of firsts

An unexpected acting role, a sweaty impromptu book signing, and a grope of what could be found of my muscles, amongst other experiences -

I've just about landed back in dear Devon after a week of teaching at the wonderful Swanwick Writers' Summer School, so 'tis time for some reflections.

Well, it was certainly a week of innovations.

Firstly, never before have I tried to explain what the media are interested in regarding writers, so that was quite an experience.  Thanks to my class for playing along with my strange ways of doing things, particularly the newsroom exercise - it was certainly illustrative how many of you went for the tutor caught in bed with a delegate story.  You scandalmonger bunch!

Here's a tale to learn from - beware of friends who ask for a "small favour".  Would you help me by reading a couple of lines in a play I've written? he asked, with all innocence. No problem, said I... only to discover my part was half of the play - I was a dim and officious policeman, say no more -  including some very bad dancing on stage in front of a couple of hundred people. 

Give me live TV for being less nerve-jangling anyday.  In future, I shall stick to writing the words, not trying to perform them.

Thanks also to the small group of most amused delegates who gathered to enjoy me cooling down and stretching on the lawn after a run across the beautiful Derbyshire countryside - I was only sweating so hard because of the weight of all the food we'd been eating, ok?  It's nothing to do with my fitness levels!

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Teacher's report

"Simon is a pupil who sets himself modest very aims and continually fails to achieve them..."

So might the verdict have gone at any stage of my education, but the point of this report is that it's mine on my day of teaching the youngsters of Falmouth about the joys of books, writing, and being a journalist.

I think it went well.  Or do I mean hope?!

I've never quite come to understand how of all the talks and teaching I do, it's the sessions with the kids that make me the most nervous. 

I was thinking about that as I drove to Cornwall yesterday, and wonder if it's because I believe they're the most important.  The battle for a child's mind in this modern world is such a competitive one.  They're always being bombarded with the lure of video games, TV, the internet and so much else.

To instil a love of reading and writing seems quite a challenge.  But I'm glad to say, from what I've seen, that love is very much there.

My main message of yesterday was about the joy of the imagination. Why, in summary, I'd contend that books are better than films - because films force someone else's imagination upon you, but with a book you have to engage your own and picture the world the writer is creating.  It's harder work, yes, but far more rewarding.

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A Choice of Endings

A dilemma has come to visit - entirely unexpectedly, and without so much as a "by your leave", as sometimes they do.

I spent some of last night tieing down the details of the end of the new tvdetective book, and found myself with this problem -

I thought I knew exactly how I wanted it to end, but now I can see a different denouement is not only possible, but perhaps more appropriate, given the subject and the roles of the various characters.

Cue some agonising, searching of the soul (or what's left of it after all these years as a reporter), lots of scribbling, lots more crossing out, and (more happily), several tins of beer to help me wrestle with the ogre.

I still haven't quite resolved it, but I'm mostly sure which way I'm going.  Forgive me for not revealing too much, as it could spoil the book for you if you come to read it, but what I can tell you is this.

It's a classic issue which has faced authors all down the years - whether to go for a happy or sad ending.

It's also caused huge debate throughout history.  Years ago, I read with fascination about Dickens battles with himself - and indeed his publishers - about how he should end his books.  Great Expectations was the argument I found chimed particularly.  I was never convinced a more optimistic ending worked.  As, indeed, was the great man himself.

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Fact and fiction

I've just been reading a debate on the merits of realism in detective fiction, and think it would make a worthwhile few words for a blog.

So, here we go, with the Hall take on it all -

It is a question I sometimes have put to me; that a problem with the tvdetective books is that, in real life, it's unlikely a journalist would be allowed so close to a police investigation. But happily,  I never worry too much about reality.

(Quick digression - I suspect I'm all the happier for it, but back to the point...)

As to why I don't worry unduly about reality, well, there's a clue in the specialist word for these book things that we such authors write, and it's this - fiction.

We're here to entertain.  Not to give you chapter and verse on police procedures.  For that, a book known as non-fiction is required.  And they tend to be rather less popular as good old escapist entertainment.

The world can be unpleasant enough - or even less than exciting - for plenty of people. Why add to it?  Why not entertain instead?

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