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New Year thoughts

Now this is fun, something the pompous side of my nature can latch onto and enjoy - it's time for some New Year thoughts!

I'm never quite sure about making resolutions.  It seems to me that often the only point of doing so is to see how quickly they're broken.  So I don't think I'll be worrying too much about that this year.

However, I think I will adopt some - how best to put this - maybe hopeful ideals?!  That sounds rather less daunting than the strident idea of a resolution.

The first is to make the tvdetective book for 2011 as good as it can possibly be, and perhaps a little different from those that have gone before.  As I mentioned previously, I'm shaping up some ideas, plot and characters at the moment, and enjoying it very much. I get the feeling they're all coming together well and should make for an entertaining novel.  Or so I hope!

The other hopeful ideal I'd like to follow is more educational work. This year saw me doing my first bits of teaching in schools about creative writing, story telling, all that kind of thing.  It was very hard work, and to be honest, daunting - I've never counted myself particularly good with kids - but it turned out to be hugely rewarding.  So a bit more of that would be welcome.

And I think, on consideration, I'll stick with those two.  I don't want to overdo it and stretch myself too far!

I've just had a look in the diary and I'm pleased to see I've already been booked for quite a few events next year.  I'll pop them on the News and Events page of the site as they come up, if you're interested -

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A myth debunked

Another fine question has descended upon me, and in essence it's this - do I think writers are born, and not made?

I used to be of the romantic school of thought, and believed that to be the case.  I thought some people were simply destined to be writers, were so full of creativity and talent that they had little choice elsewise.  But since I took up this scribbling lark, I've come to see it differently.

My view of the tvdetective books is that generally, they get better as they go along. I think with each I grow more confident in how to handle a plot, when to tell the reader what's going on and when to hide it, and how to form good characters and set out convincing locations.

I've come to think that as with so many things in life, writing comes down to hard work.  Yes, you need a certain amount of talent, and yes, you have to have an idea or two, but essentially, if you work hard at it, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to make a decent fist of being an author.

I'm reminded of what the great John Cleese said when asked about Fawlty Towers.  The question was a flattering one, about how brilliant he must be to write such a masterpiece.  No, Cleese replied.  I think we had a pretty good idea, which we worked on and worked on and worked on, until it was as good as it could possible be.

Such is the way with writing.  Most of the tvdetective books get around seven re-writes, plus plenty of editing as well.  As I recall, the start, and much of the first part of The Balance of Guilt, changed about a dozen times until I was finally satisfied it made for some passable reading!

If you've got a question you'd like to ask, you can get in touch via the contact page of the site -  - and I'll do my best to answer!

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Ice and spirits

Being the keen observer of life that I am, both as a hack and a writer, I spotted almost instinctively that it's been cold of late.

Ok, that's rather an understatement.  It's been absolutely freezing, and how I know it - I've spent much of the last three days standing out in it.  I'm not a lover of the cold at the best of times, and my feet have been so chilled as to be largely missing.  Hot baths aplenty have been the order of the day.

The consequence of all this hectic broadcasting is that work on the new book has more or less ceased. Not only has there been no time to write, there's been little even to think about how it's going to all shape up.

But that's a familiar feeling.  A fair while ago I got used to writing in fits and starts, as it were. Some days, weeks even, were quiet enough on the news front for me to get some writing in before work, and then again afterwards.  But when there's a big story afoot, I get to bed early and sleep in as long as possible to help give me the energy to tackle it.

However, I've got a few days off over Xmas, so I'll be back at the writing then.  I'm looking forward to the break. As some of you have noticed, it's been an emotional year in the Hall world, so I'm expecting a quiet and reflective Xmas, which will do me fine.

Anyway, back to the point of this blog, which was twofold, and as often happens, got a little lost in the familiar Hall digressions.

Many of you will know how proud I am to live in the south west, and how much I love it here. It's been something quite a few have commented on in the tvdetective books, the sense of place that comes through.  Well, I'm particularly proud at the moment.

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My favourite friends

Another of those excellent questions in which readers of the tvdetective novels specialise has appeared in my inbox.

It's this - who is my favourite character in the series?

What a great question, so simple and direct, as the best tend to be, and as such, I'm afraid I'm going to have to be a politician here and fudge the answer in a very non simple and not at all direct manner.

I don't think I could say I have a favourite character, just that I'm very fond of them all. It'd be like asking a parent to admit which of their children they like the most!

All of the cast of the series have become like friends to me.  I love El for his deviousness, Dan for his occasional denseness, particularly on the relationships front, Adam for his cutting wit and determination, Loud for his surliness, Lizzie for her single minded insanity, the list just goes on and on.

And also the occasional characters I'm very fond of, most usually the villains. As a writer, you can have such fun with the lawless, often more so than with the good guys and gals.

So, I'm sorry not to be able to give a straight answer, but instead I can say there's something about all the tvdetective characters which appeals to me, and in a range of different ways. Otherwise, I suppose I wouldn't magic them into existence in print.

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An unpleasant blockage

My apologies for not being in touch for a while. My excuse - or reason - is twofold. 

Firstly, I've been away seeing my family for the pre-Xmas exchange of greetings and gifts.  And secondly, in truth, I've been in a bit of a sulk.

As some of you will know, or have guessed from the dedication in The Balance of Guilt, it's not been an easy year on the family front.  That's really come home as Christmas approaches, it being a time of reflection, and particularly one when we miss those who are no longer around. So that hasn't helped my mood.

Secondly, as I've mentioned before, I've been working on a new book in the tvdetective series.  It had been ticking along affably and comfortingly, but now I've hit a barrier and I can't, try as I might, work out exactly what's wrong, or where to go next.

Yep, it's a case of the old Writer's Block, that fabled and dreaded phenomenon amongst the scribbling types.

When I do talks about the books, one of the questions I'm often asked is whether I suffer from writer's block, and if I do, how I cope.

So, the answer to part one of that question is obviously a sizeable yes.  As to how I cope, I usually say the only solution is to walk away for a while, not hammer your head against the creative wall in frustration, and the answer will come to you when it's ready.  Such is the way of this writing lark.

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More names

An excellent question has arrived in my inbox, as it were, and it comes from a self-confessed frustrated aspiring author.

It's this - how do I name my characters? I've said something on this before, but am happy to embark on another ramble, as ever.

For what a fine question it, and as with so many such, I hadn't really thought about it.  So, the enquiry has prompted a little searching of the curious maze of oddities which is my mind.

The answer is, a variety of ways.  Some names come to me instantly.  Without giving too much away, the idea behind Dan was that he'd be a generally ordinary chap who discovered a hidden talent for detective work.  Hence a very average name. 

Adam was supposed to be a little harder, but still a fairly average chap - hence what I thought to be an kind of ordinary name, but with a suggestion of being a bit tougher, having a potential edge.

Some characters give me endless trials with their names - it's quite common for me to have to go through the phone book, page by boring page, until I chance upon one which feels right for the person.

Other times, I'll meet someone, either through work, or just in day to day life and think - that name I have to use somewhere, it's great! Pinecoffin was one, Silifant - the old police doctor in the tvdetective series - was another. His name came from a firm of local undertakers, and was just too tempting to resist.

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The television TV Detective

Various people who have been kind enough to read the tvdetective books have told me they think the series would make good television.  And so, have there - I'm asked - been any such expressions of interest?

Well, it's funny you should mention that, because yes, there have.  A couple of companies have been in touch, asking about the rights to the books.  Now, I don't get too excited about this, because authors have become a tad cynical about such approaches. What's tended to happen in the past is that the TV companies buy up the rights for a fairly modest sum and then do precisely nothing with them.

These days, the clever people who are literary agents have grown wise to that ruse, and put a time limitation on the rights. No programme or series within a certain time and they lapse, and quite right too in this humble scribbler's view.  Who wants the good friends that are your characters languishing unloved on some company's shelves, when they could be having fun and living their lives on the screen?!

Anyway, the point of this - before I got into one of those traditional Hall digressions you'll probably be familiar with by now - is that yes, it is indeed possible that the tvdetective series could one day lurch onto television.

For now, it's a favourite little fantasy of mine, as nothing is signed and in production, but it's a notion I nonetheless enjoy entertaining.  It does however bring a couple of problems.

The first is that TV adaptations tend to bend the nature of the characters and stories. I've steeled myself for this - other authors tell me it's necessary, but that the producers have a lovely way of beguiling you into agreeing to their plans. Apparently, what happens is that they invite you onto the set as a "consultant" (note - no real power, just a comfy chair and a good view), and if they think something needs changing from your wonderful original work, they then put it to you.

But!  The clever part is they keep you well oiled with hospitality, thus vastly increasing the chances of a response in the affirmative.

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Missing feet

Apologies for my absence awhile, but I've been out reporting on the snow and there's been plenty enough of it to keep me busy.

Like Dan in the tvdetective books, I don't suffer the cold well, and for the last three days my feet have been largely missing. Happily, with the aid of a very hot bath, they seem to be back - for now at least.

But it is so very cold! It feels to me even more bitter than those extraordinary two weeks at the start of January.  We did a broadcast on the north Devon coast on Wednesday, and it was so icy I could barely get the words out.  Now that is something, when it's so cold it stops me talking!

The snow has however given me an idea for a new book.  As I've mentioned before, the weather plays an important part in the tvdetective series, but now I think I can see a way to make it even more prominent, almost to become a character itself. I shall keep plotting - but only when my hands have thawed out sufficiently!

A couple more things to mention here. I'm doing a book signing on Saturday at  Waterstone's in Exeter.  It'd be a pleasure to see you if you fancy popping in.  I've also just been interviewed to within an inch of my life on the radio.  You can hear that, or find more details of the signing, on the News and Events page -

Bye for now, and keep warm out there - this week I set a new personal best with 7 layers of clothing, and sometimes it still didn't feel sufficient...

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