Journalistic reports on matters of interest to writers, often practical, from a broad perspective.
A few years ago I ran into an old college contemporary in a London club.
Storm Thorgerson was one of those people instantly recognised by their manner or bearing. On this occasion, he was sitting in a corner reading a volume of Shakespeare. Rather ostentatiously I thought, but that was Storm. He'd achieved success in life as a graphic artist, notably on album covers for the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
Anyway, his career was a long way from the English and Philosophy degrees for which we had both opted at university. When I asked him about the Shakespeare, he said he'd always been grateful for studying literature. It had provided him with a lifelong interest and pleasure.
What’s in a name?
Quite a lot, it seems. Of all the topics raised over the TV series on which I’m working, none has generated quite so much discussion as its title.
I had come up with the idea of The Hampstead Detectives a few years ago, with a general plotline about a new kind of officer being recruited by police forces. The idea continued to grow in my mind, but needed something to take it forward.
It was then that I came across the ‘super-recogniser’ unit at Scotland Yard. This was a specialist group recruited for their pronounced ability to recognise suspects, often glimpsed only on poor-quality CCTV or surveillance footage. That was interesting. Although all were trained police officers, they were a very mixed group of individuals. That idea led to our company considering a new title, Facehunters.
Surveying recent discussions about different approaches to writing, I spied a glaring gap. Little, if anything, has been said about the essential avoidance strategies available to the seasoned writer embarking on a new project.
For instance, the meticulous lining-up of pens, pencils and paperclips along an arbitrarily ruled straight line on the desk (if using the old-fashioned, pre-computer approach). Even before that, deciding whether a cup of tea, or should it be coffee, is the better way to kick off the working day? And should that beverage go with a chocolate biscuit, or is a slice or two of toast with honey or preserves called for?
For some, the answer to undertaking a really rewarding day's work may involve preparation of what's known as a 'Full English' – various breakfast combinations of egg, bacon, toast, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread, orange juice, etc. Which can take up to the best part of an hour.
It’s been said that history is the new sex. Certainly, regarding trends in literature, historical fiction has been enjoying a remarkable renaissance in recent years. Numerous spin-offs into generously budgeted productions for film and television now make the genre a tempting prospect for authors.
Recent successes over here include the much lauded Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. Set in the time of Henry VIII, and focussing on his machiavellian chancellor Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall was adapted into an award-winning series for television.
As far as I know, there was no prior book on which the magnificent HBO series Rome was based. However, the production demonstrated some techniques common to historical fiction. One of these was to follow the fortunes of two ordinary soldiers in Julius Caesar’s XIIIth Legion, as the story took us through the events preceding and following Caesar’s assassination. In this way, the momentous transition of Ancient Rome from Republic to Empire was given a believable and sympathetic human dimension.
Cousin Ann arrived in best Miss Marple fashion on her bicycle late the other Saturday afternoon, in a state of some excitement.
A trained historian, she has been involved in the official archaeological investigation (‘dig’ as she would say) at a series of ancient burial mounds, or barrows, on a nearby heath.
That week the team had unearthed what is strongly believed to be an intact and complete Early to Middle Bronze Age burial urn - a find now being further investigated at a specialist unit in nearby Winchester.
It will not be the first of such discoveries, of course. But when it happens on your doorstep, and in a place that was until recently part of a golf course, it gives one pause. The urn is thought to be anything between 3,500 and 4,000 years old.