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In fact, make that a large phew!, a sigh of relief of some resonance.

The reason - the first reviews of The Balance of Guilt have come back.

In my experience, the time between the release of a new book and starting to get feedback on it is one of the most nerve wracking in a humble author's life.  All this effort has gone into plotting, planning, writing, re-writing, and re-writing the thing once more, not to mention the discussions about the cover, the blurb, the marketing, all that stuff, and at last the book is finally out.

Then... all you can do is wait.  You see it on shelves, you know it's online, you imagine it sitting on people's bedside tables as they work their way through it.  And you wonder what they're thinking.

At last, you get some emails, and you gather your courage and open them.  Then you gather even more courage and actually read them.

Well, a dozen or so people have now got in touch with me about The Balance of Guilt, and I'm delighted to say they've been positive.  Hence the phew.  The very loud and very long phew.

Thanks to all who have been in contact, I very much appreciate your feedback and am delighted you liked the book.  And for those who have said that two of the new characters should make an appearance in more books, I agree and I've already started thinking about how.  More of that another time.

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Island life

I'm back from my little travels, so prepare to be blogged at once more.

When I do go away, I rarely go far.  Have I mentioned I'm scared witless of flying? I know it's sad, I know it's illogical, I know it's the safest form of transport, I know all that, but fear defies logic, or mine does, anyway. 

I don't like the take off, I can't bear the landing, and the bit in between I don't care for at all.   And the fear has got worse, rather than better as I've grown older, so these days I tend to holiday at home, or near it.  And I also love the south west of England to an extent that it takes some beating in my mind. There are plenty of great places to explore here, so that's what I tend to do.

Anyhow, what all this is coming around to is that I've been on the Isles of Scilly, which is a convenient 20 minute helicopter journey away, well worth it for the treat of the Islands. I did a little book event when I was there, the first in the series to promote The Balance of Guilt in fact, and I'd like to say a few thank yous -

to the people of the Scillies for making me so welcome, the library users and book club members who came along to the event and were so kind, the lovely people at the St Mary's Hall Hotel for their hospitality, and Linda and fellow interviewers of Radio Scilly, for talking to me for their bookshow.

All in all, I now feel refreshed and relaxed, and am most grateful for it! 

I'll be doing a few more events to support the new book.  If you're interested in coming along to one, there are details on the News and Events page -  Hope to see you there...

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A favourite hobby

I've been doing this for years, but it just gets better and better.  I think that's probably because it helps me so much with writing the tvdetective books.

And before you start to wonder what Hall's going on about now, I'll tell you.  It's the simple pleasure of people watching.

I'm often asked where my ideas for characters come from.  The answer is a range of sources. Some are born of pure imagination, others take parts from people I know, have met, or hear or read about.  But often I find an element to make a character from the delicious delight of people watching.

It can be a mannerism, a detail of appearance, a quirk of their speech, just anything to make a character come to life. 

When I go out for a beer, or to meet some friends, I usually arrive about half an hour early, so I can sit in the corner of whatever bar, or cafe, and just watch the people doing their people things.  It's a rich source of material, I can promise you.

The reason I mention all this now is something I saw at the weekend, in a pub.  I was sipping a beer, reading the paper, and there was a couple opposite me having a meal.  He went up to the bar to get some more drinks, and the moment his back was turned, she scooped some of the food from his plate and swallowed it down!

Initially I thought she might confess when he returned to the table, and they'd share a smile about it, but not a bit of it.  She just kept quiet.  It was a lovely moment, a quirk I shall now bestow upon some poor character in a future book, probably to create the subtext - this is not a person to be trusted!  Who could put any faith in someone who steals your food, and so very ruthlessly?!

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A beautiful relationship

As a 70's pop song might have it - in the style of Hall - it's a love thing, and it's growing, showing no signs of slowing, just keeps going.

Ok, I'll stick to writing books...

But, the point is this - we go everywhere together.  Rarely do a few minutes pass without me stealing an admiring look at the other half of the partnership.  The subject of my adoration plays it a little cool - as they're wont to do - and just sits there, loftily, probably secure in the knowledge of its own beauty, but I think it loves me back.

It should do, after all the work I've put into our relationship.

It's been only a week or so now that we've been together, but I think a beautiful future beckons for us.  As the old saying goes, sometimes, you just know.

Yes, I'm talking about my time with The Balance of Guilt.  It is a funny thing - how I can't resist having a copy by my side when I'm at home, and taking one out in my satchel when I'm out.  I suppose it's because it's a culmination of all this work, the plotting, planning and writing and re-writing; days, weeks and months worth of effort finally made real.

Sorry for the strange meanderings, but it's just about the only way I can express the fact that I'm mildly chuffed with the new book!

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A question arrives - why did I choose to set the tvdetective series in Devon, and specifically Plymouth?

Like many a good question, it sounds simple but requires a fair chunk of thought and a longer answer.

The first and most straightforward reason is that I'm familiar with the city, after living there for almost ten years.  Some authors like to invent whole towns and countries, even universes, but I think there's plenty to go on in this strange world of ours, so I prefer to stick with what we've got.

It's more than just knowing a place, though. The location has to have enough about it to make it interesting to a reader.  In that, I reckon Plymouth certainly succeeds.  Take the history, those hundreds of years of naval tradition, the centuries of growth of the city, then the horror of the bombing of the Second World War, and the enormous effect that had on the Plymouth of today.

There are also the contrasts an author looks for - the affluent areas, particularly those of the old Victorian gentry, and the more gritty, inner city ones.  There are wonderful contrasts in the geography too, from the stunning Hoe and waterfront, to the functional concrete grid of the shopping centre.

And moving outside of Plymouth, where else could a writer need than Devon, and the south west of England? There's such beauty, such wonderful places - and more than a few odd and mysterious ones too - and such brilliant characters, inhabiting everywhere you might choose to go.

I'm often told that my love of the south west comes through in the tvdetective series, and I'm delighted by that.  It's absolutely true, I've never been happier anywhere. I came to Devon as a career move in 1996, with the idea of staying for two or three years.  I never left, and hope I never will.

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Late guilt

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, even if it's not my fault, I'm sorry.

I have been assailed with emails wanting to know where The Balance of Guilt is (that's literally, not metaphorically).  Amazon is telling you it's not in stock yet, as is whichever bookstore you've ordered it from.

The answer is, I'm told, that there was a problem at the printers.  Some technological, or mechanical issue, apparently - I'm just hoping it wasn't a quality filter going off and an alarm sounding, saying warning, warning!  We cannot possibly inflict this book on the public.

It is frustrating, I know, because I want you to have it, believe me.  I reckon it's worth reading, although I would have to say that, wouldn't i? The good news is that I'm told the problem has been resolved and The Balance of Guilt should be reaching you by next week.  Thanks for bearing with me.

To those who - cynically, suspiciously - wonder whether this was a deliberate ploy to up the anticipation, in much the same way that some entertainers like to keep a crowd waiting, I can assure you that's not the case.  Just like the dear Adam in the tvdetective series, I like to be punctual.  All I hope now is that the thing is worth waiting for. Hopefully, in the next few days, you should be able to answer that for yourselves.

Aside from that frustration, I've been flattered to be invited to a range of events to mark the publication of The Balance of Guilt.  If you fancy coming along to one, there are details on the News and Events page -

And if you do come to one, I promise not to be late (this time)...

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More Balancing of Guilt

Sounds painful, but is in fact a little update to a previous post, when I was feeling like a child waiting for Xmas Day as I counted down to the publication of The Balance of Guilt.

I've now flipped to feeling more like a new father. The finished book has arrived, and I'm going through the immodest but frankly irresistible "carrying it around with me everywhere" phase.

I'm not sure if other authors suffer this - it's not a question I've yet been sufficiently brave to ask any! - but I just can't help keeping a copy in my bag, or the car, and occasionally taking an admiring look, or perhaps opening a few pages and having a flick through.

I think I'd probably better stop here before I go a little too far!

I suppose such a feeling is inevitable (he says, trying to reassure himself).  Firstly, on an analytical level, the actual appearance of the book is the culmination of a mass of work.  The Balance of Guilt has been more than two years in the making, from the idea stage, to the plotting and outlining, the details of the characters, the structuring, and then the writing and re-writing, and re-re-writing etc.

In fact, on a quick calculation, I'd say the book has had eight re-writes, which is about average for one of the tvdetective series.

Then there's the harder to actually pin down part which is the emotion of the novel being published.  As the great Eric Morecambe might have put it, here, at last is this book what I wrote, held in my hand.  It all feels suddenly real.

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I tend to think of the summertime as equivalent to a holiday from work - it goes so remarkably quickly, compared with the rest of the days of the year.

However, there is one compensation, which is now upon us. Being the keen and astute observer of the world that I am, I noticed almost immediately that the month has turned to September.

It's my favourite of the year's dozen offerings, and for a range of reasons.  Firstly, it's still relatively warm and the weather can often be clement.  It might be my skewed memory, but I seem to recall recent Septembers being as kind, if not more so, than the alleged months of the formal summer which preceded them.

Secondly, Devon and Cornwall grow a little quieter as the influx of tourists withdraw for another year.  I try not to be too selfish and possessive about the south west, but - akin to many others down here - we have this almost jealous thing about keeping much of the place for ourselves. 

I also love September for the colours.  I noticed on Thursday that some trees are already taking on the coppers and browns of the coming autumn.  Beautiful as that may be, it's not what I like most about the month.  My favourite is the colour of the sky at dawn and dusk.  For me, sunrise and sunset in September are the finest of the year's spectacles.

It's never been a conscious thing, but looking back, I've noticed a fair few of the tvdetective books are set in September.  I suspect the reasons I've outlined above may be why.  Only now have I really come to think about it - and yet again, I realise you often learn so much about yourself when you write these book things.

Finally for this post, I can't resist but mention that it's now only two days until The Balance of Guilt comes out.  The Hall excitement is mounting!  Thanks to all those who've been in touch, saying they're looking forward to reading the new book - here's hoping you still feel good about it when you've finished it!

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Dartmoor musings

I was looking for a new walk on Dartmoor yesterday, which started me thinking about the importance of the moor in the tvdetective books.

It was never a conscious decision to make Dartmoor such a feature, it just arrived in the series, which I suspect is because of my attachment to the wonderful wilderness.  I got to know it well during my days covering the environment, and came to see it as the heart of the south west, both geographically and emotionally.  Given that, I suppose it was inevitable the moor had to feature.

So, what does it add?  Well, it's a beautiful counterpoint to the standard fare of the books, which is far more gritty, the reality of dealing with some awful crimes.  I also think Dartmoor tends to be more compatible with Dan's personality - that kind of way of his of melancholy, or simple depression - than other notable areas of the countryside, like the region's coastline.

It's a great place to give Dan space to think about some of the crimes he's working on, and sometimes provides an inspiration too.  And depending on how his relationship with Claire is going at that moment, it can be a powerfully romantic backdrop - see, I told you I had a heart!

Dartmoor's also a brilliant setting for a bit of action.  When I saw the name Evil Coombe on a map, I just had to set a book there.  So came Evil Valley.

I get quite a few emails asking about the walks I describe in the tvdetective series.  They're all real and I've followed the lot, so I can thoroughly recommend them.  My favourite is the walk to the Ted Hughes memorial, as described in The TV Detective, but that's one you have to prepare well for and is probably best tackled on a day of benevolent weather.

Finally for this post, there's my dear friend Rutherford.  I very much would like to have a dog of my own, but the lifestyle currently just doesn't allow it.  Rutherford delights in Dartmoor, so describing the days he and Dan have there is the nearest I can get to having a dog of my own at the moment, and I love it!

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