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An uplifting evening

My thanks to all who toddled along to Stoke Library in Plymouth on Thursday for the Murder Mystery evening. I had a splendid time, and I think from the reaction of the audience that they did too.

The Writers' Club plot was beautifully put together, supremely well performed, and kept everyone guessing as to who may have been the killer, myself included.

And who would ever suspect the vicar's wife, eh?!  Scandal!

But a particular thanks must go to all those who were kind enough to come have a chat and be so very warm and encouraging about my fledgling attempts at writing novels.

I've mentioned before - it's a recurring theme in fact, looking back - how lonely this writing lark can feel.  You sit there, day in and day out, tapping away on your computer, and often you wonder whether what you're doing is any good at all, worthy even of ever seeing the light of day.

And even when you have the reassurance of a book actually being published, then comes the angst of imagining people reading the thing and imagining what they're making of it.

So it was a great pleasure to hear so many of you seem to enjoy the tvdetective series - many thanks for telling me so, it is hugely appreciated.  Some days a man needs an uplift, and you certainly provided it.

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A sparkle in the darkness

I was just looking through the plans and plot for tomorrow's Murder Mystery Night in Plymouth, and it started me musing on the subject of ideas and where they come from.

The title of this blog is the way I often think of the arrival of a new idea - as though you're looking into a great dark sky, searching for something, and suddenly comes this spray of light.  It's an instant transformation, from incomprehension to understanding, and can even leave me breathless. 

In the tvdetective books, Dan too sometimes marvels at that wonderful moment when he sees the solution to a case.  He calls it an epiphany, and sees it in much the same way.  It can be so powerful as to leave him unable to do anything for a while, apart from sit and come to terms with it.

Anyway, before we wandered off on one of the familiar Hall digressions, what I was saying was this - for me, ideas can come at any time and from anywhere.

I often get them from the newspapers, or seeing the proceedings of a court case, or just hearing or noticing something about the world as it flows around me.  But if you look at it ruthlessly, most books - well, certainly mine, simple creature that I am - usually come down to one basic premise upon which the great edifice is built.

For me, with The TV Detective it was the shock of the change of life for Dan and how he coped. In The Death Pictures, all revolved around that simple idea for how a code could work. Evil Valley was based on one very unbalanced man, The Judgement Book was all about the secrets we keep, and The Balance of Guilt was based on the unfolding horrors of terrorism and the extremes that some go to in order to fight it.

As with so much of life, for a humble scribbler the idea is all.  If that's right, then so much can flow from it.

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Vengeance

Nothing too heavy for this fair Saturday morning, fear not, just a few thoughts to follow up last week's musings on Treasured Hates, my dear friend Adam, and his dislike of ill mannered behaviour.

Writing books is a wonderful way of taking revenge, or even vengeance on people in a suble, and commonly not so subtle manner.

It has been noted in the tvdetective series that I can descend into what the kinder readers describe as "social commentary", the more straightforward ones "a bit of a rant" about a particular subject, or group of people, who have the misfortune of attracting my ire at that moment.

Guilty as charged is my unavoidable response!

Petty officialdom is a common target, the legal profession also often feature, as do journalists who may not be in the Gifted and Talented set of the ignoble profession.

As ever, the question comes up; is this a reflection of my own views, and if so, what have these folk ever done to upset me?

And as ever, my answer is - no comment!  You must read into the novels what you will (it says this in my little book of How to be an Author - always be enigmatic, mystery sells, apparently.  And who am I to argue, a relative newcomer to this fascinating trade?)

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Nostalgia

The fair city of Exeter has been full of beaming young faces and wonderfully proud parents this week.  It's graduation time, and very touching too.

It's drawn in my emotions for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, I'm lucky enough to be an occasional teacher at Exeter, passing on what scraps I know of the media and how to go about getting a job in this curious industry.  As part of that I mentor students, and it's always a delight to see them graduating and heading outwards and upwards for the career of their choice.

It all feels like a nervous step into a fascinating new world, and so very exciting for it.  Despite me now being twice their age, I still find myself sharing the thrill.  It's a wonderful sensation. 

In fact, the teaching and mentoring work I do is probably the area of my life of which I'm most proud.  Every Christmas, when I get cards from the young folk I've helped into the media, it makes it all so very worthwhile.  I suppose it's the old story of feeling you've made a difference in life, and actually achieved something.

The other reason the graduations have drawn me in is that they're always an instant transportation through time, twenty years and more, to my own day.  It was pure sunshine, surrounded by many friends who still endure and family who I've since lost.  I think I'd better stop this little passage now before the keyboard gets damp...

However, back to the eventual point of this blog, which was something to do with these tvdetective books that I churn out.  I've been asked a few times about Dan's history, of his upbringing and education, something which keen-eyed observers have noted doesn't much feature in the series.

It is a part of his life which is important, but in a way that makes it difficult for him to talk about.  Suffice to say, as with many matters concerning Dan, it's far from straightforward.

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Treasured hates

I received an email this week; one which was mostly a comment on the tvdetective books, but contained a question too.  I liked it, and lots in fact, so here comes my answer...

My correspondent was kind enough to tell me of his enjoyment of the series, and his particular fondness for Adam. It's our detective friend's upright and moral ways which were most appealing, and importantly his dedicated dislike of ill manners.

Mobile phones, and their inconsiderate use was a key theme.  As you might expect, Adam has to have a mobile, but doesn't greatly care for it.  If he receives a call in a pub, or restaurant for example, he'll always answer it outside.  He regards people shouting (as they always seem to feel they must) into a mobile in the company of - and more to the point, to the annoyance of - others, a great discourtesy.

Do I, my correspondent enquires, share that view?

The answer is a very sizeable yes! It's incredibly annoying and utterly inconsiderate, when people are trying to relax and chat, to be forced to listen to half a conversation - and one which is invariably entirely tedious anyway.

I agree with Adam and his oft-aired view, that etiquette hasn't caught up with technology, but how I wish it would hurry up and do so.  I have a secret (not so secret now!) fantasy that mobile phone use in pubs and all public buildings will soon be treated in the same manner as the fate which befell smoking.

And while I'm in the familar rant mode - here's another keen Hall detestation regarding mobiles.  As frequent readers of my ramblings will know, I often take a walk around the river here for its beauty, enjoyment, inspiration, sense of tranquility, all that.  And how often do I suffer someone shouting into a mobile as they walk, and thus totally missing all those natural wonders, not to mention polluting the peace with their lack of consideration?!

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Time

I've always been dreadful at just whiling away time.  It's something I've never really got the hang of.

Don't get me wrong, I love moments of leisure.  Sitting by the river, watching a cormorant fishing, or the ducks swimming their endless circles, finding the corner of a pub for a quiet pint, or just strolling through the wonderful Devon countryside, they're all firm favourites.  It's just that while I'm doing any of that, I'm usually thinking about some idea for a new book, or how to write a particular scene, or maybe some element of teaching work.  My mind just doesn't idle well.

I was reminded of this at the weekend with a strange little quirk of my character.  I've made a resolution to get better to grips with this modern world thing, and try to use the new fangled internet and all its social media rather more effectively.

I am on Facebook, now have more than a hundred friends (which I'm very proud of - almost all of them I even know!), but am trying to get into the habit of using it more.  I don't think I'll ever be continually updating what I'm doing, as some people manage, but I have found a few little features which I fancy.

One is the quotations page, where you can leave a few words summing up your current thoughts, feelings, state of mind etc.  I've always been a sucker for some finely drafted lines, so I'm going to try to pop some on my profile.

I've never much used quotes in the tvdetective books - I think they can be a little exclusive, alienating more than bringing people in to the writing, and even too highbrow for my style - but now I see an opportunity to quote galore!

So, back to the point of this blog, which was my inability to waste time.  Up in my study is a dictionary of quotations, which has been fished off the shelf, dusted down and placed in the smallest room of the house, for me to peruse for long forgotten quotations while I go about my shaving, ablutions etc. 

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Mind and body

It's Saturday morning, I'm up early after a kindly and refreshing night's sleep (the week was a 7, perhaps a little more on the Hall rush around like a fool/ get stressed scale), I'm in my study, looking out over a yellow sunlight Exeter, and I'm contemplating some exercise.

For me it comes in two forms.  There's the straightforward go to the gym, do a bit of running, some rowing and a few weights, or there's the jog around the river.  The latter is my favourite by far; it's much more interesting in terms of scenery, fresh air and variety and is wonderful for getting my mind going.

If I've got a problem to solve, either in life or one of the tvdetective books, it's remarkable how often the answer will come to me when running around the Exe. It can't be a coincidence, it must be to do with the body working hard also prompting the mind to get a shift on too.

Curiously, as an aside here, I've come to enjoy running most in the rain.  There's something about its cooling, atmospheric effect, that I enjoy more than sunlight. Or maybe that's more to do with my sometimes depressive and pessimistic personality?

Anyhow, before I went off on the traditional Hall meander, the point of the blog was this. An enjoyment - or at least, a sufferance - of exercise is something Dan and I share. We both find it great for working off the stresses of a day, or week, and more than useful for giving ourselves some effective thinking time. 

I've noticed in the tvdetective books that Dan can often make a breakthrough in a case when he's out on Dartmoor with Rutherford, or just running around Hartley Park.  Commonly I haven't planned that, it just feels the natural point for it to happen.  I got into the exercise habit almost 20 years ago now, just after my time at university (college days were too filled with DJing, drinking beer and chasing girls!), and am very glad I did.

So now it is I'm off for some exercise (after a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich of course - a true athelete's preparation!), with a range of things to think over.  I've got a week's teaching of writing at the Swanwick Writers' Summer School next month, and there are a few little exercises and some strange bits of fun I want to try out on the poor students.  Well, you know me... nothing's ever straightforward!

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The ups and downs of television

Something I'm often asked is whether I'd like to see the tvdetective books take to the small screen.

The obvious answer is - of course!  I'd be delighted at so many more people being able to enjoy (hopefully!) the series.

There are, however, a couple of layers of caveats behind that. The first is - and this is a curious irony, given my day job - I'm not much fond of television.

That's an oversimplification, in fact.  I believe TV has enormous potential to do great good and provide a fascinating insight to the world.  Just think of those wonderful natural history programmes, or travel series - they can take us to see things we never otherwise would.  And there's some great entertainment too; wonderful comedy, drama series etc.

What I don't like about television is the way it's become misused - all pervasive and sometimes a substitute for thinking.  Is it just me that finds the endless daytime house makeover and fly on the wall programmes utterly tedious?  You can't visit some homes without the TV blaring all day in the background for no particular purpose. 

And as for televisions in pubs - don't get me started! If you go to the pub, surely you go to socialise, for a chat to your friends?!

Anyhow, that aside, back to the main point. There have been a couple of expressions of interest from TV companies in the books, but nothing has yet come of it.  (If you're a TV producer and in need of a new series, feel free to get in touch, despite all I've just said!) I suspect I'll need to write a few more novels first, to hone my craft and give a good basis for a series before there's any prospect of television.  I still count myself a newcomer to this writing lark, and learning all the time.

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My ideal woman

A brilliant question has arrived - cheeky, but great. 

I usually keep a rough log of what questions I have to answer in these little rambles, and try to be good and British by addressing them in the order they find themselves in the queue.  But in this case, because it's such a good question, it's been promoted.

It's this - is Claire my ideal woman?

My correspondent believes she detects more than a certain softness towards Claire in my writing, and perhaps an irritation regarding how Dan (in his bumbling, idiot of emotion way) treats her.  The question goes on to ask - as quite a few do - how autobiographical this may be?

Well, some of that I can answer, some I can't, and - in the traditional manner - some I'm not going to!

I did once have a fairly brief relationship with a detective, a few years ago, but it didn't work well because like most of the breed she was adept at spotting the little falsehoods of male life.  (No, I'm not going to the pub after work, no I'm not planning to go to the football on Saturday afternoon, I'd much rather come shoe shopping with you instead etc etc..)

But yes, it's true, I am very fond of Claire. In terms of how she looks, she's certainly the sort of woman who would attract and hold my attention.  And as for her character, I love that mix of calm intelligence and patient tolerance, yet mixed with a core of steel. She's one of the people in the books I enjoy writing about the most.

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