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Rhythm and rhyme

'tis time I answered another question, and this occasion sees a cultured one.  These worry me a little, as I'm never sure how well I'll be able to respond, but I'll give it a go.

The enquiry was about my thoughts on poetry, and was prompted by some of the stranger verses which I occasionally post on the long-suffering Twitter.

The answer is that I love poetry and always have, since even before schooldays.  In those early years I delighted in trying to read the tongue twisters of Dr Seuss (Tweetle Beetles were my favourite, along with the chicks with their bricks, blocks and clocks), and the wonderful works of Edward Lear (the Yonghy Bonghy Bo could make me both laugh and cry.)

In fact, I do sometimes wonder if such early influences helped me to become a writer - with the evocative and entrancing use of language, but also the creation of so many memorable characters.

In later years my tastes developed to more classical poetry.  In this field, as in many others, I tend to the old-fashioned.  Some will wince at me saying this - how twee! - but I still prefer my poetry to rhyme.

I love the gentler poets, particularly those who write about the natural world. John Betjeman is a delight, but probably my favourite is Housman.  And here, I shall attempt a Hall first for these blogs and try to quote one of my most loved of his works, and very appropriate for this time of year -

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now / Is hung with bloom along the bough / And stands about the woodland ride / Wearing white, for eastertide."

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Play time

As they say in the theatrical trade - and now, ladies and gentlemen, we proudly present... an update on the play, as requested.

Sunday saw the first full run through of An Unnecessary Murder and thus an overexcited Hall, perhaps akin to a puppy out for his first walk, and with a choice of balls to run after and scents to sniff, as it were.

It's the first time I've been to a rehearsal for a few weeks - they don't need me hanging around, getting in the way - and I was hugely impressed with how the cast have done.  They've really bonded as a group, working together to carry the story along. And they've also got to know their own characters and are truly starting to feel and be them.

The interactions and exchanges felt genuine to me, and I found myself being drawn into the tale.  I started off with notebook and pen poised, looking for anything that needed work, but soon ended up just sitting back and watching and enjoying it.  That feels like a very positive sign and the passing of a significant test.

It's tricky for me to comment on how An Unnecessary Murder works as a play - as I wrote the thing, and so am more than a little close to it! - but I got the sense the director, producer and cast all believed in it and were enjoying themselves, which was plenty enough for me.

It's designed as the personal journey of a series of characters, set around a passably cunning murder mystery, and as such I think it does its job.  The rest will be up to the audience, and not so very far away that big moment now, the small matter of only a day over four weeks (gulp!)

So, this Tuesday morning finds me happily optimistic that we're going to achieve the aims we set out with - to entertain a few people and raise some money for Hospiscare. Yeah!

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The blessed night

I was walking along the river last night, reflecting upon the beauty of this changing time of year, and in particular the nights.

It might have been because of the conjunction of the twin diamonds of Venus and Jupiter in the western sky, or the warmth, clearness and peace, but it was a stunning evening.

(And first aside here - to the more cynical of you, because I can almost hear you thinking it.  No, I'm sure it wasn't anything to do with the three pints of ale I'd enjoyed beforehand.)

Anyway, the point of this blog was a little musing about the night.  It's a favoured Hall time, not because I'm a creature of the darkness (although that may be entirely arguable), but because it's my chance to think.

The way I tend to write, whether it's the tvdetective books, or anything else I'm working on, is to do the actual scripting in the early morning, normally around this kind of time (6 - 8am).  But the evenings I set aside for thinking about what I'm going to be writing the next day.

I find it an effective way to clear my mind before setting of to sleepland, to help me relax after whatever chaos the day has inflicted, but also a very good time to explore a few ideas.

I lay back upon the sofa, or sometimes recline in a chair in my study, close my eyes and think.  There's always some music on in the background, not too loudly, just enough to tickle the consciousness (listening to music with the eyes closed always enhances the experience, in my view - it takes out the dominance of sight and makes for better concentration) and I let my mind wander.

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An awed author and some handy tips

As regular readers will know, I take a notebook with me everywhere. It's an indispensable tool for an author; you can have an idea for a book, or piece of writing, can see a quirk of character or a nuance of description anywhere at anytime, and I hate losing them.

This weekend, my notebook grew very fat remarkably fast with all I witnessed on my 70's themed Butlins weekend stag do.  How could it not?

Being the jealous type, I'm keeping them to myself. I can definitely see a tvdetective book based on such a premise!  But, as part of my public service duties, I thought I'd use my experience of the weekend to offer some tips about how to survive such times.

1. Don't bring a watch. You won't want to know how slowly time appears to be passing.

2. Drink lots (even if you're teetotal). If you're not drunk, you'll see the place as it really is, which would never do.  Note - your car can be searched for alcohol on the way in. If you haven't got enough, the security staff give you extras.

2(a). The drinking also helps you to deal with the undead creatures of the night which you'll meet, somehow magically resurrected by the power of a 70's weekend.

3. Leave sanity, dignity and civilisation at the gate.  As (2), you'll be searched on entry and if you've got some, it will be confiscated.

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I was privileged to enjoy a simple, but very beautiful experience at the weekend, which set the Hall mind on one of its little treks into the musinglands.

(Don't worry, it's nothing too shocking, reading on is safe - or as safe as it ever is with me.)

It was about midnight, the turning point between Saturday and Sunday, and I was strolling home along with river.  There was a big splash and I looked over, but could see only ripples in the water.  I thought it was a fish so kept on walking, but then looked back - and there was an otter, happily swimming away on the surface.

I stopped to watch, and it was apparent the creature in question was enjoying itself (maybe otters have Saturday nights out, too?)  It swam back and forth for a while, hopped out of the river, shook itself off, stretched, and then plunged back in.

(No, it wasn't the beer, I'd only had a few, it really happened.)

How about that? An otter, right in the heart of a city.  What a great boast for Exeter.

Anyway, what it got me thinking was this - you've probably heard me say before that writing is a great way to tap into the subconscious.  You find yourself returning repeatedly to subjects which you weren't particularly aware were important to you, but clearly are. 

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The Sweet Bird of Youth

I've been working on some ideas for a new tvdetective book, and a potentially fruitful theme which has emerged is the disaffection of today's young folk.

It's not easy being young at the moment.  We're saddling the generation with huge debts if they have the cheek to want to go to college for further study, and when they come out unemployment is a constant stalking spectre.

The thoughts - and obviously I can't give too much away here, they're mine and precious! - were along the lines of what might happen if a group became dangerously disaffected, so bitter and disillusioned that they decided to take revenge on society.  It feels like the idea has mileage, so I'll keep thinking about it, to see if it's got enough for a book.

Part of the reason I mention this now is that I had the pleasure of doing some careers teaching at Exeter University on Thursday.  (First aside - thanks to all who came to the session - I hope it was worthwhile - and for playing along with my strange games. As I warned you at the start, I don't like to teach conventionally!)

I like teaching for a variety of reasons, much of it altruism, but it also helps reassure me.  The young people I meet are invariably extremely clever (sometimes fearfully so), and equally keen, dedicated and determined to make a way in life and do some good.  Exposure to such energy and verve is invariably good for the soul, and that was exactly how I came away feeling from Thursday.

Young people get a lot of criticism, but the vast majority I meet are great and that's very reassuring  to know. 

(It won't, however, stop me inventing some bad ones as characters if this book comes to pass, but that's a thought for another day.)

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Lessons of Life

A question that often comes up, particularly when I do a talk about the tvdetective books, is - why do I write?

I don't think I've ever found a satisfactory answer. Sometimes I go on about a feeling inside, some drive or calling, or the desire to amuse / entertain people.  But there is another good reason and perhaps a little deeper one, which I didn't realise when I started out.

Writing is a great way to learn about life.

I love the whole education thing.  I think that's partly why I chose this strange career as a hack - you get to meet so many people, go to so many places and see such extraordinary events.  It all means you learn something (and usually quite a chunk) every day.

Maybe it's also why I enjoy the education work, passing on to others the few things I've worked out about this great game called life.

Anyway, that's a digression.  What I was thinking about writing is how much it teaches you, and in particular about one area of life, perhaps the most important of all.

I've learnt so much about characters since I've been scribbling; what makes people the way they are and how it influences their reaction to any given situation.  The contrasts and conflicts between the surface and the reality.  The debate about the influence of nature and nurture.  Instinct versus rationale.  All that stuff which goes into making people.

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An anniversary

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of me joining Twitter.

How do I know? Not because I've looked up the tweets in question, or that the info is stored in my smartphone (I don't think it's so smart, it's never made me a cup of tea or won an argument with me etc, but that's an early aside.)  I know because I've written the snippet in my diary.

Which, in itself, probably tells you much about where this particular musing is going. I don't keep my life on a computer, as do many these days, but still in that spectacularly old fashioned manner of a diary.

I suppose it's partly the same reason I haven't got an ebook reader.  I just like the physical contact of the thing.  It's a kind of comfort.  Plus, my diary has never crashed on me and erased everything I've written in an electronic brainstorm.  A small, but important issue.

Anyway, back to the point of this, which was a few thoughts about technology.  From a wary beginning, I've come to enjoy tweeting.  It strikes me as an obvious thing to do for those talkative types - like writers - who think they have something to say and that the world (lucky place that it is) should hear it.

I've set a few rules, like don't get into the mundane (I'm having a coffee... I'm cleaning my teeth...) and don't overdo it.  Instead just try to keep it either insightful, whismical, thoughtful, or just plain daft.

(The latter is my specialist subject.)

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