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Playtime

Now here's an exciting opportunity - for me, at least.

I've been asked to write a stage play based on one of the tvdetective books.  This has filled me with both eager anticipation and more than a measure of concern.

First (being one of life's pessimists), the worries. All that I know about writing plays you could compare with the average humility of a premier league footballer.  Ok, I've read some plays, I've been to see them at the theatre, but that's just enjoyment, nothing to do with thinking about how they work and all the effort that goes into them.

A quick aside here - Arthur Miller is my favourite playwright, partly because he matches my tendency to need some high drama in his work, and little he wrote can be allowed to end without the termination of society as we know it, or at least an impressive pile of corpses. All My Sons.. what a masterpiece!

Which admission, I suspect, tells you something about how my efforts may work out. 

However!  As I was saying... so to try to get an idea of the art of playwriting, I've been skipping through some dusty old collections in my study and doing my best to pick up tips from the masters.  Like so many things in life, it all looks very easy, until the critical moment that you actually try it yourself...

But, I'm going to give it a go, because it's something I've never tried before and I do have that need in me to continually try to break some new ground.  Even if it's with my taste in shirts and ties - they both seem to attract comment aplenty, and often far from positive.  But what's life for if you can't try something a little different?

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Dinner time..

Another of the fine questions that often arrive via the website has descended into my inbox, as it were.

It's this - am I a big food fan, or as reflected in the character of Dan in the tvdetective books, rather less than a culinary star?  Poor Dan, he does get some flack - rarely if ever attempts to cook anything fresh, and very seldom takes himself out for a decent meal, let alone the long-suffering Sergeant Claire.

Well, as for me, I suppose the answer to the enquiry comes in two halves.  Firstly, yes I am a food fan.  I love great cooking, particularly Indian, Thai, Mexican, and my favourite of all, Portugese. 

When I was doing my year's journalism diploma in Cardiff I first visited a Portugese restaurant, and was absolutely stunned by the wonderful flavours and style of cooking.  I've never forgotten it and will always seek out a Portugese restaurant if there might be one around.  Their take on fish is particularly sublime.

But the problem comes when it's time to think about cooking for myself.  I can do a reasonable range of fairly straightforward dishes, but nothing too complex. I love pasta with fresh tomatoes and pancetta, olives, mushrooms, that kind of thing.  It's something Dan goes for in the books too - easy to cook but so tasty.

The other issue for me comes with organisation. Life can get busy, and just like poor Dan I sometimes struggle to get to the shops.  Which can leave a less than enjoyable hunt through the backs of cupboards for enough ingredients on some kind of theme to knock together into something approaching food.

Funnily enough, however busy, the beer section of the cupboard never seems to run dry though!  Now why aren't you surprised by that?

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The strange world of my dreams

Yesterday (when all my troubles seemed so far away etc.), I was doing some editing of the new tvdetective book, and working in particular on a dream sequence.

I don't put many of these in the series, just the odd specimen, and usually to illustrate some kind of anxiety or fear.  I don't know if that's because I think they can be overdone in books, or whether there's something deeper going on.  I am a vivid dreamer, and sometimes the visitations of the night can stay with me for days or even weeks.  I wonder if that means I'm a little intimidated by them?

When I was at university for example, I had a recurring dream at the end of the first year that I was going to die. Now, as you'll notice, it didn't actually come to pass.  Perhaps it was some kind of a metaphor, maybe for the end of one part of life - I was going through a very  emotional teenage type break up with my first real love at the time - but it did leave me fearful of sleeping for quite a while.

So, what's prompted this particular ramble is as follows.  To this day, even 20 years and more on from last taking an exam, I still suffer a recurring nightmare.  I see myself in an exam hall, turning over the paper, and being unable to answer any questions whatsoever.  It's horrid, and invariably leaves me waking up breathless.

There's an even worse variation, which my strange mind must reserve for the most angst-ridden of occasions. That has me in the exam hall, as before, and still unable to answer any questions, but this time I've even forgotten to put some trousers on.

Further into that I don't think I should go...

Anyway, back to the point, which regular readers of these meanderings know I'll probably get round to sooner or later, and it's this - last night, I managed a lovely new variation on the school / exam type nightmare.

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Little things..

Sunday morning, reflective time, and I'm in a thinking way - not actually writing today, but working through some ideas for a new book, a couple of events, and also the week's teaching I'm doing at Swanwick in August.

I was musing on what I actually achieve when I write a book and see it published. There are lots of answers to that; the self satisfaction, the entertaintment I (hopefully) provide for a few folk, even some extra pocket money if you want to be very basic, but the question was nagging - is there anything more significant to it?

One of the most rewarding parts of becoming an author for me is small, but important nonetheless. You'll probably be aware that in the tvdetective books, Dan suffers with depression.  The swamp, he calls it, and I know that's a metaphor that chimes with quite a few people, because they've been good enough to get in touch to tell me.

Depression is far more common than many realise, and it's one of those ailments which shame people; is hard to admit to, even harder to come to terms with and tackle.  It can also strike the most unlikely of folk - I've known highly successful, charming, witty, outgoing and seemingly sorted people, those who should never be tainted, hiding the savage secret.

It's been a great source of pride to me that I've had more than a few emails along the lines of - hey, I suffer that, I know exactly what you mean with the Swamp, you've helped give me the strength to come out and admit it and try to do something about it.

A small something yes, but it means a great deal to this humble scribbler who knows how dark and dense the weight can be, and what a relief it is to have allies in the fight against it.

One final thing to mention here, and it's a book signing next Saturday (25th June) at Waterstone's in Yeovil.  It's my first visit to the store and I'm looking forward to it. If you fancy coming along I'd be delighted to see you; there are more details on the News and Events page - www.thetvdetective.com/news.html

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Not such adventurous holidays

Another fine and perceptive question has arrived in my inbox (I did promise I'd get round to answering some of these eventually!)

It's this - what do I tend to do for my holidays? 

The question is broader, and indeed more cunning, than it first appears.  My correspondent wants to know if I favour the same kind of things as Dan in the tvdetective books, and further, if he can then deduce an element of how autobiographical they are.

Regular readers of these blogs will know the time honoured Hall answer to that question, and here it comes again. I always plead the Fifth Amendment - so, no comment!

Anyhow, back to the matter of hols, and yes it's true, there are similarities between Dan and I, but with one very big difference.

I can confess here that I'm terrified of flying, which rather restricts the range of what I might be able to do.  When I was younger, I could tolerate it, albeit only for a few hours, but the fear has only grown worse with the passing years.  So these days, as does Dan, I tend to holiday closer to home.

I love the literary festivals which I'm invited to across the country, they allow me to see lots of new places, which is a delight. But I'm rarely happier than when taking a break in my native south west.  For me, Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset are very hard to beat. 

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Conference report

One of the greatest joys of this "becoming some kind of a writer" thing has been the new places it's taken me and the people it's introduced me to.

One such was at the weekend, when I was privileged to address the Southern Writers' Conference in Sussex. 

Now, regular readers of my wafflings will already know the high state of angst that Hall manages to work up in himself when doing talks about the tvdetective books.  I won't bore you with another run down of that, but it was as enthusiastically present as ever.

It is a curious thing - you walk in there as a stranger to just about everyone assembled and thus go through a process which I suppose is similar to being the new kid in class.  You have to quickly work out who's who, what the unwritten ground rules of the group are, and most importantly of all - will they take to you?

It is a nervy experience, particularly when you know you're going to do a formal address at some point, which they will be expecting to be, in some measure at least, informative, educational, and perhaps even entertaining.

So, how did things go in Sussex? Well, first of all, let me report the oddities.  I found only two, and they were so minor -

1. The peacocks, although beautiful, rise with the dawn and do so noisily.  The first person to breed a mute peacock will be very rich very quickly.

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Mannerisms and catchphrases

I'm a real sucker for mannerisms and catchphrases, because just about everyone has them and they can be so revealing - a great attribute to give to characters to help make them real. 

Here's a little example from my recent trip to Bournemouth.  I was having breakfast in a hotel and the butter was all runny.  I asked for some more, and the waitress promised to get some, saying "there's nothing worse than runny butter."

Well, thought I, you could contend there may be one or two things worse - coming home to find your house on fire and your family trapped inside, for one.  Or the end of the world as we know it, for another. Etc etc!

But, nonetheless, it's a lovely little verbal tic, and one I fully intend to donate to a character in one of the tvdetective books.

As for mannerisms, they too can be most entertaining, useful, and sometimes downright offputting. There's one chap I know who nigh continually picks and scoops at his ear, but not content with that, then minutely examines the delightful harvest.  Even over dinner...

One of the great things about writing is that you learn about yourself.  I now realise I found such traits fascinating even before I was aware of it.  In the first tvdetective books, you get Lizzie and her heels, and Dirty El and his rhymes.  I didn't think hard about putting them in, I just did it.  I know I've always been a people watcher, but it was interesting to discover just how much.

Excuse me now, I must be away. It's time to prepare for the Southern Writers' Conference at the weekend where I'm doing one of my rambles of a talk.  And it's time for breakfast too, and definitely no runny butter - there's nothing worse!

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Notes from the chair

So them, this chairing a Reader's Day for the first time...

Well, firstly it's plenty of work!  I felt like a father / shepherd / performer all at once, and that's a fair bit for my little brain to cope with.  There's the research on the seven other authors, gathering up the audience, keeping things to time, making sure the writers are happy, everyone can hear/see/knows what's going on next, thinking of decent questions to ask, and lots lots more besides...

However, given all that, I think from the feedback it went well, which is a mighty relief!  We were certainly blessed with some fascinating writers.  For me, one of the most interesting things was the extraordinary variety in the way people write.

Some get up at 6 in the morning, others don't start until after midnight.  Some can set down four thousand words in one sitting, others struggle to get much past four hundred.  And as for the reasons they write, the passions that came through about their characters and periods of history - it was a delight to hear, a real privilege.

So, a big thanks here to the authors and the audience, and not least the organisers, the fine folk of Bournemouth Libraries.  Now I've at last calmed down and got some rest, I can certainly say I enjoyed the day greatly and hope many more follow.

For me, it's next stop the Southern Writers Conference in Chichester at the weekend.  Good job it's a Sunday - best start working on my talk!

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Responsibility

...something many of us dread and do our best to avoid, particularly us boys - and surely second only in the male annals of horror to that all time fear called commitment - but responsibility has nonetheless come calling upon me.

On Saturday, I am chairing a Crime Readers Day at Bournemouth Library.  In the spirit of these blogs, which often turn more into confessionals, I can now admit it's the first time I've undertaken such a role and I'm feeling more than a tad nervous. To put it mildly!

It's difficult enough talking about my own books, which (in theory at least) I should know something about and be able to answer questions upon.  But introducing a range of other authors and attempting to make some sensible and insightful comments - cue something approaching a tailspin!

So, this morning, you find me in mid-research on a range of other writers, attempting to be calm, but feeling progressively more in awe as I go.  There are some wonderful authors out there, writing so evocatively about so many places, people and periods of history. 

I'm happy to say I've somewhat (only somewhat) come round from feeling daunted to believing that it's going to be a privilege to chair the day.  And this is mostly due to a resolution I've reached about how to go about it.

I'm going to take a lesson from the day job and employ a mantra which is drilled into cub broadcast hacks from the start.  If in doubt, just KISS - keep it short and simple.  So I shall introduce the acts, channel questions from the audience and largely attempt to fade into the background. 

It should be as the football pundits say of the referee - if you don't much notice him, he's had a good game. Hopefully!

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