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More secrets

I've been on the receiving end of a few communications in recent days on the forthright lines of "don't be such a tease, what's all this you've been going on about secrets?!"

How can you ask an author of crime novels not to be a tease when that's exactly what he enjoys? Toying with poor readers and trying to put them off the scent.  It's called suspense and intrigue!

However... I shall try to explain.

It's down to a couple of things.  Firstly, it probably stems from the research I did for The Judgement Book, (tvdetective novel 4), which was all about secrets. 

I found some interesting stats about how many people keep secrets which they think big enough to either destroy, or have a hugely damaging impact on their lives, if they became known.

The answer was surprising, (for me, anyway), and not a modest percentage!

From there, I've used secrets quite a bit in my writing. And so popping the concept into the teaching I do seemed a natural progression.

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A Conference Report

I've just returned from a whirl of thought, energy, education and creativity - the phenomenon that is the Winchester Writers' Conference.

It really did feel like a carousel of excitement and enthusiasm, as hundreds of aspiring writers rushed back and forth between seminars, lectures and so many other activities.  An abiding memory will be sitting on the steps at the heart of the university, and watching people rush in all directions, a starburst of motion and colour, as they sought their next destinations.

I was teaching crime writing, and had a great time. I'd like to thank all those on my courses for being so keen, so creative, and for playing along with my strange way of doing things.

I can confess now that I threw things at you that I've never tried before - and some were very edgy indeed (I was actually nervous at a couple of points, in case you took umbrage!) But I did it because I thought you were up for it, and that it was worthwhile in getting to the soul of this writing business. 

And as for the secrets game we played, I can reassure you now that your secrets are safe with me!

I came away with a sense of awe and wonder at the sheer amount of talent and energy on display - and that from writers who are, in the main, unpublished. I heard some wonderful ideas for books and stories, saw some excellent examples of the writing craft, and met people who made me think and smile in equal measure. It was a magnificent experience - thank you one and all, delegates and organisers.

I was so impressed with the conference that even a return to the student bedroom experience (width of bed - my backside plus a little margin for error, a plastic mattress, and shared showers and loos) made me feel nostalgic for the lost days of youth.

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A different kind of talking

As part of next week's teaching at the Winchester Writers' Conference, I've been asked to do a talk about the tvdetective books - but in a rather different way from usual.

Those who've suffered my ambling orations will know that I tend to make them light-hearted affairs, with a few (vaguely) amusing anecdotes from my life reporting and writing.  But this time, I've been asked to make the talk more thoughtful and serious.

Cue a mild panic, as I try to come to terms with those weighty demands. However!

I've spent the last couple of weeks thinking about what I'm going to say, and am hopeful I'll make a decent stab at it. Without spoiling it for anyone who might be coming along, I'm planning to go into more depth on characterisation, the intimacy of the relationship between the author and the reader, and the old (yet still fascinating) issues of soul searching about how and why we scribblers write.

Anyway, as with so many things, when you start thinking about it in some detail you tend to learn a fair bit yourself. And I've come to this curious conclusion in recent days.

I've been writing for eight years now, and I think I could argue that time has effectively been a long, but hugely enjoyable, period of study akin to an English degree. 

I've been trying to understand for myself how books work, how characters are formed and interact and live, how plots and sub-plots and various forms of narrative work, and all that kind of clever stuff.

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Secrets and surprises

I've just got back from a (richly deserved, I think you'll agree?) holiday.  And from this, I've concluded two things -

Holidays are good in that they exist.  They're less good in that they come to an end.

However, I had a splendid time. As with my dear friend Dan in the tvdetective books, I tend to holiday close to home, usually in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.

The reasons are twofold - being frightened of flying (and I mean proper scared - wanting to open the plane door and get out, despite being 30,000 feet up) rather scuppers any hope of going much further afield.  Plus, I just love the south west.

Walking is a preferred pastime, and not just to the pub.  And where better than here for some fine walking? I've just followed some new trails, around the Roseland in Cornwall, and Falmouth too, and it was wonderful.  The only thing missing was a dog like Rutherford to take along, but that day will come.

One of the finest gifts a holiday bestows is the time and space to do some thinking. The working week can get so busy and tiring that there's precious little space left for much, apart from the basic art of survival.

I used some of the respite to work on ideas for the latest teaching I'm doing; next week (June 22nd/23rd) at the Winchester Writers' Conference.  I like to vary the lessons, and I've come up with a couple of exercises I hope are going to be both fun and thought-provoking.

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What an extraordinary time the Queen's Diamond Jubilee was. Even that miserable bugbear of the British, the darned intemperate weather, couldn't dampen the enthusiasm.

Everywhere you looked were people determined to celebrate, and in great numbers.

It set me thinking about the times when communities really come together.  I see it myself in my day job as - as does Dan in the tvdetective books.  And it's always about the extremes of emotion.

In the mundane, ordinary days of life we plod onwards, often with little thought for much but simply surviving the week.  But when disaster strikes, it's about the only heartening element of the episode, the touching humanity and sense of society that draws people together to try to help each other.

There's plenty of bad news to be had for Dan and I in our careers. But I'm proud to say that we both do our very best to present the positive side of life, too however much it may be hidden.  And that's what I've observed countless times, people helping others who are suffering or struggling.

At times such as the Jubilee, the togetherness is easier - it's a celebration, after all. But even there I saw strangers sharing cups of tea to keep warm and umbrellas to try to shelter from the rain.

I mention all this now because there's a big sense of community coming together in the new tvdetective book, which has made me reflect on all I saw at the weekend.  It's a great human phenomenon, a real test of the strength of our society, an uplifting spectacle, and long may it continue, too!

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A question of hobbies

I've been thinking on the matter of hobbies, after another fine question arrived in my inbox.

It was this - why doesn't Dan, or any of the other characters in the tvdetective series, have a hobby?  Would this not help make them more rounded people?

I do sometimes worry about how thoughtful my readers can be.  I never claimed my books to be high literature - just a few hours worth of passably passable entertainment, some thrills, a good mystery and perhaps the odd insight into the world of television, (and my strange mind). 

Anyway, I shall attempt to answer, and I think there are two parts to the response.

Firstly, there's the dull old practical one.  You only have a limited number of words to play with when writing a book (circa 100 thousand), so the more time you spend on background characterisation like hobbies, the less you have for the real action and plot.  And that tends to be the most important element in crime fiction.

But yes, of course, the characters have to be real.  And that's where the second part of the answer comes in.  My dear friends do have hobbies, but not necessarily of a widely-recognised kind.

I could, for example, argue that Dan's hobby forms the core of the series - solving crimes. It's not his real job, just something he finds interesting and has a talent for.  He does also have a kind of other hobby in exploring the wonderful Devon countryside with Rutherford.

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