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A Brilliant Question

What might well rank as the best question I've so far been asked has arrived in my inbox, and although it's a beast, I'm going to answer it anyway - because it's so good, it deserves a response.

It's this - what do I really think of myself as an author?

I did wonder if my correspondent was a fellow hack, as it's a great reporter's question.  It's short and sharp, straight to the point, and it doesn't allow for refuge in bumbling or dull lists of facts.  It cuts straight to the soul and demands an insight to a person. 

(I shall remember it for future interviewing!)

However, enough evasions and time for an answer.  So, deep breath and here we go -

(Why did I once promise to always be honest in these blogs?!  Anyhow... )

In honesty, the answer is this - I think I'm a mid-ranking, jobbing and adequate author. 

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Speed teaching

Beware, I've been thinking again (I know it's dangerous, but I can't help it.)

I'm teaching writing in Falmouth on Saturday (26th Jan), and it's quite a challenging assignment.  I'm trying to cover how to write a book and tips to get published in... wait for it... an hour and a half.

Which is taxing, but also fascinating.

So, it's going to be a quick fire session, that's unavoidable.  But to make it work, everything has got to be stripped back to its basics and it can't just be me waffling.  It's got to be a good mix.

This, I've come to conclude, is much of the art of successful teaching.  It's about variety. 

It's like my day job, and the wonderful old mantra of the BBC - to inform, educate and entertain.  And all that in the space of a relatively few minutes.

I've tried to fill the time with changes of pace; from me waffling to set the scene for a subject, to an exercise, to a group discussion, to the odd anecdote and some fun, to a few minutes for thinking and even a musical interlude. 

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A New Jacket

As I wrote the title for this musing, I immediately started to grow concerned - my fashion sense has, after all, commonly come under scrutiny for not being the finest.

However, take heart!  On this occasion, I'm talking about a book jacket.

Work has begun on the cover for the new tvdetective novel, The Justice Mirror.

This is a time of high excitement for an already easily excitable author.  Suddenly, the reality of publication is coming home and it feels most delightful.  All that work nearing fruition!

But first comes the sizeable matter of acutally agreeing on a cover.

This is a curious process.  It tends to happen relatively late in the lifetime of producing a book.  We've gone through all the initial talk about plots and characters, then editing, the marketing angles, publicity stuff, and the blurb for the back.

Then, as if as an afterthought, someone says - Oh yes, we mustn't forget the cover.

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New experience, familiar nerves

A series of readings of The Balance of Guilt have just been aired on the wireless, narrated by the author.  And as usual when something new happens in my writing life, it's left me reflecting upon it.

A strange feeling it was, listening to myself doing the readings.  I'm used to hearing myself on the radio when I've been reporting a story, but this was very different.

I was all nervous and wobbly about it, and had to keep stopping the readings for a few minutes (I listened back on the iplayer) before I was calm enough to carry on.  Even when I actually recorded them, I was nervy. 

And I've sat in a studio countless times, talking to a microphone...

I think the reason must be the stepping over the line thing - going from being objective, impartial, distanced and dispassionate about something, as I am in news mode, to actually being a part of it. 

It's something you've created, and as is usually the case, that means it's something you love.

These books things you write, it's impossible to do so without letting part of yourself seep into them.  It's a kind of exposing of a segment of your soul, and that's scary enough to do in public, let alone with thousands of people listening.

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Technology and the soul

A jolly good question has been posed of me, which is this - Do I write my books in longhand or on a computer?  And why?

(Technically that's two questions, but call it a new year sale thing and I'll deal with both for the price of one.)

As with many answers, it's a simple one but with deeper layers.

The simple fact is that I write the acutal novels onto a laptop.  But, there's a but!  And it's this - there's an awful lot of longhand work that goes in first.

I'm aware more and more writers do just about all their work onto a computer; from planning a plot, to outlining the characters, to imagining, and even sketching out the settings.

But not me.  I like my notes to be handwritten.  I think scribbling away on pieces of paper, adding thoughts and ideas as they occur, crossing other bits out, then popping in loads of arrows to connect up various disparate themes just feels more appropriate.

It's a kind of link to the heart and soul, which is where the writing thing comes from.  I find if I try to think onto a computer, it acts as a barrier and takes away that creative random bouncing around of ideas which can be so essential.

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Deceptive appearances

A question -

What doesn't look like work, but actually is?  And very important work, too.

The answer - thinking.

I was sitting in a pub over the weekend (surprise, surprise), doing some of that very thing.  I know this, not because I remember it well, but because someone said to me today "I saw you sitting around, doing nothing".

Hence I feel stung into writing this little blog-rant to refute the charge.  Because for me, thinking is one of the most important things a writer can do.  Thinking time is never wasted time.

And it's certainly not doing nothing!

In fact, I'd go further.  I'd argue that the art of thinking is easy to avoid, or overlook.  You watch people when they're sat on their own for a minute (as I often do when in observing mode.)

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