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The Art of Little People

I try to be honest with myself about my books, and how my writing is progressing. 

I do believe that writing is like every other art in that you improve with practice. And I think - hope?! - I am getting better as I go along.

On the subject of which, there was one specific feature of the latest tvdetective book, Shadows of Justice, which I was particularly pleased with -

The minor characters.

These folk are one of the greatest challenges for an author, as they're very tricky to get right.  By their nature, you only have a limited amount of time and words to make them live.  And yet they're important, as they can hold the plot together and provide variety from the usual family of folk who appear.

So you've got to try to give a strong sense of them quickly.  In Shadows, there are four which are probably most important to the overall plot, and I took ages working on them, distilling a large amount of personality into a small space.

I was pleased with how it came out - I thought they were the most vivid set of minors that I'd ever created.

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The Conveyor Belt

I was warned about the conveyor belt years ago, when I first began writing and was starting to try to get published.

At that stage, it sounds like a dream.  You're desperate to get onto it.  But when you've actually managed to get a book out, and - heaven forfend! - another one is commissioned, or perhaps even more, that's when you start to feel it.

It's how authors often refer to the continual demand of publishers for more books - the pressure of expectation.  If your first effort has done reasonably well and made them some money, they immediately want more.

It's quite understandable - from a business point of view, anyway.  I've often said that, for all the romance surrounding it, writing is just a commercial industry.  If a publisher can make cash from you then you're in.  If not...

The trouble is that the commercial view often conflicts with the artistic spirit (cue creative flounce).  Writers don't want to be thought of as just commodities, churning out a product. 

We're special!  (Or so we like to think, anyway, even if that may not be entirely justified.)

About now is when you feel the conveyor belt the most sharply.  The glow of publication of your new book is starting to fade, and - that's just three weeks on! - the inevitable question comes.

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The Unifying Spirit

Writing means many things to me, but last week, for the first time, I had a sense of what a remarkably unifying force it can be.

On reflection, I should have expected it.  When you come to think about it, we're all taught how to read and write from such an age that it means it's ingrained. But I think now I appreciate just how deep that feeling runs.

I had the pleasure of teaching creative writing for an afternoon at Plympton Library, after doing a book talk there (this is me in full flow.)

Simon at Plympton.JPG

(How kind of the audience to look interested - at least that's how it seems in this view from the back!)

Anyway, as I was saying, about the unifying force.  To start the teaching session we did a few quick introductions, and it was remarkable the range of people who'd toddled along.

There was a barrister, a university science professor, a teacher and an actor, amongst others.  All come  to learn about the art of writing a novel.

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So far so good...

It's five days since publication of Shadows of Justice, and I'm a relieved author.

So far, all is going well.  Phew!

I've given the first talks about the book.  They've got good audiences and been well received, happily, in particular when I give a reading from the book.

This is the most nerve wracking part of all.  Will the audience feel the scene?  Will they be carried along with it? Will they believe in the characters, the setting, the action? 

I'm delighted to report that so far, they have.  There has been quiet, closed eyes, imaginations at work, and plenty of signs of appreciation.  Double phew!

This is me with some of the folk who got to hear one of the first Shadows of Justice talks, the lovely ladies of the Sidmouth Probus Club. (photo by Alex Walton, courtesy of the Sidmouth Herald).

Simon at Probus sidmouth.jpg

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