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A starting point

Where do you start with writing a book?

I haven't answered a reader's question for quite a while - apologies - but just that inquiry came in a couple of weeks ago, and it chimes with me at the moment, so let's give it a go.

The problem is that there's no easy answer.  I suppose the way I think of it is that it all starts with the idea.  And that can be anything; a place (as with Evil Valley), a character (as with Dan for the whole of the tvdetective series), or a plot (as with The Judgement Book and The Death Pictures). 

Then you get into a whole period of agonising as to whether the idea is good enough, interesting enough, has sufficient about it to sustain it for a whole book.  My view on that one is simple, if strange. 

Treat your idea like a relationship.  Give it time. Don't go thinking this is the one, just because you've only recently met and it's all new and exciting.  Spend some time together, and if the attraction keeps growing, if you're still in love with it, go for it.

Well, almost!  The temptation at that point is to start writing, but maybe that's not such a good idea, however understandable.  These book things take some writing - they average more than 100,000 words - and require months to do.  If you just run at it, you'll probably end up with a great waffling lump of words which has missed some of the key points you need to get in.

I hate to sound like the teachers of our old schooldays, but you need a plan.  And that usually takes me months in itself - to make sure the characters and backdrops are convincing and that the plot goes where it should, with plenty of red herrings and sub plot going on to keep the poor reader guessing.

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Technology, manners and a most enjoyable rant

Adam is very dear to me in the tvdetective books.  He's often frustrating, with his uptight, moralist ways, but there's one of his views - a bugbear in fact - with which I very much agree.

It's the issue of manners, and particularly regarding new (ish) technology. 

I mention it because I was on an outside broadcast last night, and was sitting in a bar, having a coffee (yes, I do mean coffee, I don't drink when I'm working - my brain is slow enough these days without the extra addling input of alcohol) and writing what I was going to say. 

The place was quiet, with only about ten customers in there.  But of those, two were on their mobiles - and that, despite sitting with other people.

A couple of thoughts immediately occur.  Firstly, presumably they've come out to talk to the person or people they're with, so what are they doing on the phone?  Rather curious behaviour, I would say, not to mention simply rude.

And secondly - why do they need to share half their conversation with the pub, anyway?  What I overheard (it was impossible to miss, hence this blog) was so bland, dull, boring and mundane that it could surely have waited a few minutes, if not, perhaps, forever.

Now, here's a revolutionary idea!  Prepare to be shocked to the very core by its dazzling boldness.  How about... are you ready for this... showing some consideration for your fellows and taking a stroll outside to have your conversation? 

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Theatrical goings on

Oh, what a wonderous week of theatrical events.

Wednesday was the headline act, the first get together of the cast of An Unnecessary Murder, for the first read through of the play. 

I found myself abuzz and agog with excitement all day.  Despite the passing of more than a few years since childhood times, I remain a big kid at heart.  The only way I can describe it was like being a child on Xmas morning.

I still can't quite come to terms with - (1) that I've actually written a play, (2) that people who know about these things think it's passably ok to even moderately entertaining and worth putting on, and most importantly, (3) that it's going to be staged at a proper theatre to a real life audience.

Eek!

I can feel myself getting over-excited again, so back to my report on Wednesday...

Most of the actors don't know each other, so there was the inevitable awkwardness and inhibitions that come with the first introductions of a group - much like at a party, I suppose.  And they don't really know the parts yet, and haven't got a true sense of the characters or the plot.

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An Englishman Abroad

Finally I find a spare moment to cuddle, and when we've finished our sweet and rare embrace, to reflect upon my trip to Geneva.

What a fine time!  Lovely people who made me so very welcome - many thanks to all in the Writers' Group - and a wonderfully beautiful place.  There's something that swirls the soul to being surrounded by ice-dusted mountains in a perfect blue sky. 

The contrasts are both stark and amusing / frustrating. From the English transport system - train to Reading late, bus to Heathrow late, plane to Geneva late, no one apparently surprised or even slightly apologetic; to Switzerland, when anything running late appears to be a capital offence.

And the state of the country - England, litter strewn, graffitti daubed, Switzerland clean and tidy.

And my favourite, the standards of service.  England with the all too often slouched shoulders, jutting lip and surly attitudes, whereas in Geneva it was all polite and prompt, and with smiles that felt genuine, even if they may not have been so.

I even liked the money, so much more colourful and interesting that Sterling, although I did cause amusement by thinking the chap on the 20 Franc note was Elvis himself (apparently he's not).

Most importantly, the workshop went well.  The kind folk weren't phased by my strange methods and odd ideas, and didn't even blanch at the "eyes shut, spraying my cologne and spooky touches" game, and some great ideas when we played the Tweet the day exercise. 

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Mortality

One of the many great things about writing is how much you can learn about yourself.

Traits, ideas, principles, beliefs, themes that you may have been vaguely aware of, knew were about somewhere in your character, can be sharply focused when you come to set them down in words.  I never knew how truly sceptical I was about the British justice system, for example, before I wrote about it, and out came...

Well, I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't read the tvdetective books (first aside here - what are you waiting for?! Chop chop!), but those who have will know exactly what I'm talking about.  The observations are far from fond.

The reason this comes to mind now, is that I've been thinking about the small matters of life, time and mortality of late.  I suspect this is much to do with it being the introductory month of a new year, an obvious time for reflection.  Plus it's my 40-somethingth birthday in a few weeks time, too.

I was writing a little section for a new book, about Dan going out with Rutherford for one of their familiar runs around Hartley Park.  And I found myself describing how he could no longer go as fast, or as far, as was once the case.  And Rutherford too was slowing up and not demanding quite the exercise he once did back in those younger years.

And then later on, when home at the flat, in the harshness of the electric lights - the growing grey in Rutherford's fur, the relentless erosion of poor Dan's hairline...

Yep, there's a definite feeling of mortality around at the moment, in a way I don't think I've ever known before.  When you're young you can go on for ever - or so you think - but as you age you can feel time going about her insidious work.

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A new world

Auditions for the play - an Unnecessary Murder - start tomorrow, and I'm going along, to help choose the cast.

This is a curious sensation, to say the least.  How much help I'll be is very debatable.  I still think my knowledge of the way plays work, how actors do their bit, and all the nuances of the stage world is approximately sufficient to fill an egg cup, and one which still contains the egg.

But what it certainly is - for me at least - is jolly exciting.  I suppose part of the reason I became a hack is that I love learning and doing new things.  And this jaunt into the theatrical realm is certainly that.  Enter Hall, stage left, as we say...

I met up with the director and producer on Thursday night and listened to their ideas. Wow! The creativity and energy is a marvel to behold.  They're already coming up with a range of thoughts to improve my script, and I'm loving it.  I'm actually starting to believe this is going to happen, and maybe even that it'll be passably entertaining for an audience.

So now we go on to pick the actors, and this in itself is going to be fascinating.  I've got a clear idea in my head of how Dan, Adam and the other characters look and sound. But given the wonderful way of the imagination, that's going to be different from everyone else, not least our producer and director.  I've got to have a kind of vision in my thoughts, but still be open minded too as the three of us listen to our candidates doing their stuff.

And the pressure of getting the decision right... I'm not thinking about that at the moment!

And then we go on to the first rehearsals, and then the play is actually put on. And people come and watch - hopefully!

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Little people, big feelings

I haven't answered a reader's question for a while, so I thought it'd be a good way to start this year's blogs.  I hope no one is even for a second imagining I can't think of anything else to prattle about?!

That wouldn't be so, in fairness.  There's lots going on - the play, the trip to Geneva, ideas for a new tvdetective book - but it was such a penetrating question, which made me reflect hard, I thought it deserved a reply.

It was this - why does Dan never mention, nor even think about children?  And further, given the - extraordinary, highly speculative! - theory that there's much of me in Dan, and likewise, what of my own views of youngsters?

There are indeed similarities between our "hero" (my very strong quotes!) and me. Like him, I always knew from an early age that I didn't want to have children.  At that time, I couldn't explain why.  It was just something I knew. 

Now I've come to believe it's down to a couple of things. Firstly that I had an unconventional childhood, which wasn't always contented - excuse me for not going into details, that's all very sensitive - and secondly, I think it's in the genes. 

Both Dan and I suffer from this tendency to melodrama, to see the world in shades of blue, not to mention what Churchill always so aptly called the Black Dog - or The Swamp, as Dan knows it.  And never would he want to hand that suffering on to a child. 

Having your own troubles is one thing. But seeing one you love suffer so much, and knowing you are partly responsible, and that's there's nothing you can do to change it - that's very hard to bear.

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