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Teaching the teachers

A first in the life of Hall beckons.  I've been asked to do some education work of a type I've never tried before - a case of teaching the teachers.

It's lecturing the education students at Plymouth University.  It's a great privilege to be invited, and I'm flattered.

But, as ever in life, there's a but...

It's also more than a little intimidating. 

These are keen and talented young men and women who are au fait with the ins and outs of all areas of education theory.  They spend three years learning how to be teachers, and know their stuff to degree standard.

Whereas my formal qualifications in the environs of educating add up to exactly zero.

So, as often when it comes to teaching, I find myself wrestling with the question - who am I to say what I think is the way to do it?

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A Long Run Up

I'm not thinking about bowling in cricket, or an attempt at a long jump, but the way I deal with major writing projects.

I've been writing the final details of the six talks I'm giving on next month's cruise, and I realised I've now been working on them for almost a year.  Now, that's a long run up!

But such seems to be my way when faced with something new and sizeable to tackle.

I noticed it when I did my first extended spell of teaching of writing, at the wonderful Swanwick Summer School last year.  I started the planning eight months in advance, during an Xmas break from work.

And for the cruise I can top that - it was more like a year ahead.

It's not that I do the detailed work at that stage.  It's just important to me to start considering the flow of what I'll be doing, and how to divide up the various stages. 

But perhaps more importantly is the variety in what I'm presenting.  I always try to make sure any event I do has a mix of the poignant and funny, insights and entertainments.  And when it's in lecture format, also interactions and exercises.

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Talking clothes

I had a little wardrobe issue at my talk at the Sherborne Literary Festival today.

First aside of this ramble - thanks to all those who came along for being so kind, and to the organisers for being so effective and excellent.  I had a splendid time.

Right, back to the main point.  This may come as a surprise but I always think carefully about what to wear for a talk.  I never claim to be a master of fashion (an apprentice might be more accurate), but at least I can try.

The balance I try to strike for talks is to be smart enough to look professional and prepared, and to ensure it's obvious I'm taking it seriously ...

... yet relaxed enough to be a cool, arty, authory type  (and also to feel comfortable.)

It's not easy, to say the least!  In fact, it's multi-tasking, and I'm a man so say no more.

However, the look I've settled upon over the years is a good pair of shoes and a decent shirt (always some shade of blue; it goes with the eyes, don't you know?) and a jacket (to demonstrate the smartness), but a pair of jeans (to emphasise the cool side.)

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"Regrets... I've had a few... but then again... too few to mention..."

Fear not, I don't intend to burst into song on you.  Even via a blog, that would be a cruel and unusual punishment, as I believe the saying goes.

Today I'm thinking of regrets about writing.  Or, more accurately - regrets about not writing.

It's an issue which has come up several times in recent weeks in my chats with aspiring authors.  They very much want to start writing a book they say, but they can't find the time.

I understand the problem. Who wouldn't?  Life is busy.  There are jobs, families, friends, a whole world to attend to. 

But I still very much believe there's always time.  It's just a question of finding it. 

For those who work hard, but still yearn to write, I sometimes ask this question - do you wake up in the morning eagerly looking forward to going to work?

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There'a a particular area of that writing I'm very much enjoying at the moment.  Are you now?  Oh, yes.  What's that then?  Well, since you ask...

Yes, it's dialogue.  (And yes, as I can sense you thinking, the World's Funniest Man does indeed strike again.)

I've always just got on and done dialogue without really thinking too hard about it.  It's important, of course, for conveying character, moving a plot along, giving a sense of reality to a book, and for so many other reasons.  But this new tvdetective book is the first time I've stood back and really studied the art.

I've noticed the dialogue this time around is shorter and sharper than it's ever been before, in particular the interchanges between Dan and Adam. 

And the parts where they're bickering - as often the pair do - are becoming highly enjoyable to write.  They can be such an old married couple and that's a delight to capture!

I suppose it's only natural they're like that.  The boys have been together for seven years now, and you know what couples can get like after such a considerable period of time.

Anyway, that's more of a character issue and I'm digressing again, as so often I do in these blogs.  Apologies.

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Dream thinking

So many times now I've gone to sleep thinking about a problem I need to resolve in a tvdetective book, some teaching work, or a talk.  And so very often I've woken to find I know the answer.

It happened again this morning.  I spent some of last night working on how to communicate a strangeness in a character, without resorting to something obvious like have them running down the street naked apart from their undies, waving the flag of the European Union. 

I was tired and not getting anywhere, so I got fed up with it and put it aside.  And lo! There's the solution when I awake, clear and beautiful.

It just goes to emphasise how powerful are these wonderful brain things that we've kindly been kitted out with - and how little we really know about how they work.

I was wondering if the reason for the sudden inspiration this morn was simple - that I'd had a chance to rest and so was fresher to find the idea as I woke.

But I suspect it's deeper and more subtle than that.  I'm sure the mind is working away, even as we sleep.  It's a restless machine of remarkable abilities.

I did wonder if the dream-thinking thing is connected to instinct.  How often we sense something is right or wrong in an instant.  And then go on to convince ourselves otherwise, perhaps because we've been brought up to think long and carefully about problems or issues.  And so any answer we find at once must - we suspect - be wrong.

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The Packing Priorities of a Writer

I'm going shopping this morning, for a large case for next month's cruise.  And it's got me thinking about what I need to take with me.

Socks, pants, shorts... fear not, before you stop reading right here, there's more to this blog than a laundry list. Or I hope there is, anyway.

I was thinking about the priorities of what I need to take.  And I've realised that the first things I pack whenever I go away for a writing event are the tools of the trade, and they're very simple - it's a notepad and pen.  The mundane bits of clothing, toothpaste etc. come a long way second.

And it doesn't stop there.  Such is the way whenever I go out anywhere. I feel naked unless I have a piece of paper and a pen with me.

My poor friends are quite used to us being out for a beer or two, and I'll reach for my pen because some idea has just struck.  At night, I keep paper and pen by the bed, as I know I'm prone to waking up with an idea.

And I hate losing them!  They're the raw materials of the job. 

One of the great things about writing is that it's such a simple art, requiring so little in the way of start-up materials.  All you need is pen and paper, some time to think, and some ideas.  And off you go...

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A surprising discovery

I've often said that this writing lark is a fascinating journey of discovery.  Well, that thought has just come upon me again.

I'm doing some teaching of creative writing tomorrow at Cheriton Bishop Primary School in Devon.  Every time I do a session, I like to vary it from the last one, or try something new.  That way I don't get bored, and I can also find out what works well and what doesn't.

Tomorrow, once more I'm going to try something a little different.  But it's different in a samey kind of way.

Perhaps I'd better explain...

I want to do some work on characterisation.  So I've been thinking about how to do it, how to make it work with fairly young children. And I've come to an unexpected conclusion.  i'm going to try teaching it in almost exactly the same way as I do with the adult novel-writing classes. 

I'll sub down some of the detail, and pitch it rather simpler, but in essence it'll be much the same. And do you know what?  I think it works.

Which has left me reflecting - how odd that a certain technique can be effective over such an age range. 

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