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Eyes Forward

I always grow reflective in these dying days of the year (so much so that I can start to appear like a high-vis jacket!).  Sorry, I'll dispense with the jokes (alleged) and stick to the point.

Which is this - I'm trying not to get nostalgic, downbeat, and feel the weight of the passage of time, and instead to look forwards.

So, here we go, in my final blog of 2012, a glance towards the new year as it looms large upon us.

One of the great experiences of this year was the play, An Unnecessary Murder, and people kindly keep asking me if I'm going to write another.

Not for now is the honest answer.  I need to get back to some novel writing.  My new book is out on May 1st.  I'm told I can finally reveal the title, and so, with due fanfare...

... ta ra raa etc ...

It's to be called The Justice Mirror. 

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The Impossible Holiday

I don't like failing, but on this occasion I've realised there's no choice.  And strangely, I'm not in the slightest upset by it.

Before Xmas came upon us, I'd decided to give myself a couple of days off from writing. Just two, nothing excessive, only a little break to recharge over the festive season.

No chance!  Not a hope.

I lasted a couple of hours at most.  Then my mind wandered to a new plot I've been thinking about for a tvdetective book.  Some fresh ideas sparked.  And there I was, grabbing a pad and busily writing them all down. 

As so often happens, the momentum built.  One idea beget another, then another, and it was like the snowball tumbling down a mountainside.  Before I knew it, I'd been happily scribbling away for an hour.

Right, I think - now that's done I shall have a break. 

And then... another hour or so later, up pops yet another idea - this time for a teaching exercise (on finding your voice as an author, in case you're interested) and I'm writing away again.  

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A major and minor conflict

Sad to report at this festive time of year, but I've come up against a conflict.

It's one familiar to writers of crime novels, but that's not to say it makes it any easier to resolve. 'tis this - how to make minor characters feel real when you've only got a limited amount of words to lavish upon the poor creatures.

It comes down to the old debate between plot and character lead books. The majority of a crime novel tends to be dominated by the plot, so that's where the mass of the writing has to go.

You're always working towards a word count target - usually around 100,000 - which leaves less scope for characterisation.

The major players - Dan, Adam, Claire, El, Rutherford, etc., tend to take care of themselves, especially in a series like the tvdetective books.  Most readers will already know them, and they feature so heavily in the plot that it's easier to make them live - by introducing their habits and hobbies, showing glimpses of their home lives etc.

It's with the minor characters that the problem comes.

I'm thinking about this now, because I'm working on the story to come after the new book (released May 1st, since you ask, I know you'll want to put it in your diary!), and I'm going to need quite a few minor characters for the plot I have in mind.

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A question of feelings

I haven't answered a question for a while, so 'tis that time again - and it's a good and timely one, as so often they are.

I've been asked this - how do I feel in the run up to a book being published?

Excitement is the headline.  Not a day goes by without me thinking about it.  A seasonal comparison is that it's like having an extended advent calendar.  I do tend to mark off each day in my mind.

The publication date for the new tvdetective book - all being well with the editing etc. - is May 1st, so it's almost half a year's countdown.  That's quite some build up!

The other prevalent feeling is nervousness, which alternates with the excitement.  How will the book be received?  What will people say?  Is it worthy of being published at all?

I've developed what I've come to think of as a fear scale this year.  I'll explain it in the traditional reverse order.

At number three is being on TV.  That's nerve wracking enough, particularly when broadcasting live.  But at least the camera doesn't react to what you're saying.  It just stares at you, in its emotionless way.

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Pride and sadness

The new book is complete and has been sent off to the publishers.

I'm still not allowed to tell you the title.  It's being kept back, ready for the trumpeting of the marketing launch.

But I can say that it's number six in the tvdetective series, it's 98,000 words long, and - yet again - one of the main themes is justice and revenge, that old Hall favourite.

The body count is quite high for one of my books (I'm not usually that bloodthirsty, but must have been in a grim mood when I was planning it), there are explosions and kidnappings and the odd twist or two.

And yes, for those of you who keep asking, it will update you on how Dan and Claire are getting along, or not, as the case may be.

And no, I'm not telling you any more about that yet, either.

I'm feeling a mix of pride and sadness at finishing the book.  Pride because it's been two years of work finally completed, and so much effort has gone into it. 

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The last word

That sounds rather melodramatic (and perhaps very me), but what I mean is the last word on the cruise.

Now that I'm back on the lovely firm land, the wonderful stuff that doesn't bob up and down all the time, I've been doing a little reflecting (yes, ok, that's also very me.)

It's been interesting how many people have referred to my "jolly" and "holiday", since I've been back, when I have to say the cruise was neither of the above.

I know it was a trip overseas, and to some fine places, and I'm grateful for that.  But it was working.  Honestly, it was!

And yes, I have often said it's a lucky person who can call it work - firing up their imagination, writing down the results and then talking about it all - but work it definitely was.

I had a fascinating time, which was often fun, but I did spend long periods thinking about what to say in the next lecture; how to structure it for a mix of fun, poignancy and insights into the writing process. 

(When you've got several hundred people staring at you, all waiting to see what you're going to talk about next, it does tend to concentrate the mind.)

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The last few hours

We're less than 24 hours from home, and so 'tis time for a few final thoughts on this cruising adventure.

Firstly, I'll be a good professional (for once) and do the work bit. 

The final lecture, the R in my MURDER acronym has been delivered.  It stood for ridiculousness, and contained some of the strange and bizarre experiences that can befall a TV reporter and author.  And there are plenty of them, believe me.

The idea was to cheer us up as the end of the hols neared.  And it seemed to work.  As so often, the favourite story "What to do when you really need a dead otter" made an appearance, and was much enjoyed.  It's one I never tire of telling, which is just as well.

A confession here - when first I was asked to do this trip, I was fearful I wouldn't have enough material to fill almost six hours.  But I'm feeling chuffed I managed to string together a series of reasonably coherent and entertaining talks, whilst also occasionally fighting the clammy grip of seasickness.

And naturally, when do I seem to find my sea legs?  On the last couple of days of the 17, of course.

The people on the cruise are largely older, and it's been touching to see how many couples have grown old together.  They've looked after each other for years and go on doing so, even in the silvering times of life.  They bicker, of course, but you can see the love and respect, and it's warming and heartening.

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