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Back to school

I've spent the last couple of weeks teaching creative writing and storytelling at Tiverton High School, and it's been quite an experience!

Firstly, contrary to the impression some newspapers seem to want to create about youngsters today, I wasn't once threatened with a gun or knife, and neither was I mugged or abused.  In fact - and sorry to spoil the myth of many a hack - I met lots of keen, polite and very bright and enthusiastic kids, who it was a pleasure to work with.

I'm very new to this teaching thing, so I suspect I'm learning as much as the youngsters themselves. Like most authors, I write by instinct.  Some ideas just seem to work and so I go with them.  But when you come to analyse why, break down what's going on with the writing process, that's when you start to really learn how it all goes together.

So - a big thanks to all the youngsters at Tiverton for their efforts, for teaching me plenty, and also for putting together some fine stories. I saw some excellent work and was delighted with it.  If you're reading this - keep up the writing!  You've got talent, that I know, so go use it.

Whilst I'm in mid Hall flow, I must also add an even bigger thanks to the teachers. Yet again when visiting a school, I was hugely impressed by their dedication and commitment.  The work they do never seems to get the recognition it deserves, in my humble view. They're not just teachers, but entertainers, social workers, friends and so much more.  I was wonderfully well looked and that's very much appreciated.

As an example of how hard the teaching job can be, when I came home yesterday, having finished my teaching stint, I fully intended to wander into Exeter, do some shopping and have a beer to celebrate. Instead, I was so tired I fell asleep on the sofa!

But maybe that's just a mark of getting old...

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Some simple sums

Excuse the alliteration, but I'm off work for a few days and it can put you in a frivolous mood.

A question has descended upon me, and it's one I've heard a few times when I've done talks about the tvdetective books. It's this - how do I find the time to write a novel?

In fact, the more common form of the question is - I'd love to try to write a book, but I could never find the time.  Well, this is what I've come to consider to be the best answer to that.

We're well on our way up to Xmas (sorry, sorry, sorry for mentioning it), which is a time when people often look back on the year that's coming to an end.  And here's what I'd ask - how quickly does it feel the time has gone?

The answer that usually comes back is that the time flies by. It goes just like that, as Tommy Cooper might have said. Right then!  So, here's my simple sum.

If a year can slip by, seemingly sometimes as quickly as a blink, how many words per day would you need to write a book?

Most novels come in at around a hundred thousand words. So, by my menial reckoning, you need only write a mere 300 words a day or so for a year, and by the end of it - ding dong! You've got your book.

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Balance of Guilt

It's now been a couple of months since The Balance of Guilt came out.  A fair few people have read it, and the feedback has been positive.  Which equals - a large phew!

It's such a peculiar feeling.  All the work goes into planning and writing the book, then rewriting and editing it, and when finally it's published... it's like taking a very deep breath, handing this precious, very personal thing over to a group of strangers and saying - go on then, here it is, tell me what you think.  And because of all that work, you're always nervous about what people will say.

So, thanks to everyone who has read it and taken the time to get in touch, I do appreciate it.

One thing I've particularly enjoyed is what people said about the end of the book.  Without giving too much away, in the other tvdetective novels I think it's fairly obvious within the first few chapters what the title refers to.  But in The Balance of Guilt, you don't get to find out until the very last four words - and even then, I wonder whether you can really be sure!

On which teasing note I shall leave you for now.  It's the weekend, the weather has finally been kind enough to stop raining (at least for a while), so I'm off to walk along the river and then head to the gym for a session of stretching and exercising.  Maybe more of the former than the latter!

One final thing to mention in this post.  If you're in Cornwall next Saturday (Nov 27th), it's the Callington Book Fair, a fine opportunity to purchase some Xmas gifts.  I'll be along, signing copies of the tvdetective books, and hopefully doing some Xmas shopping of my own! There are more details of the fair on the News and Events page - www.thetvdetective.com/news.html

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A holiday - not!

I'm officially on hols for a couple of weeks, but that doesn't mean I'm taking it easy and relaxing, by no means.

Firstly, I'm teaching at Tiverton High School this fortnight, on a project to encourage and improve creative writing.  The theme is superstition and beliefs, which gives us plenty of scope.  It's great fun and very rewarding, but also tiring - the kids are such a bundle of energy and ideas!  Every time I work in a school, I come away with more and more admiration for the wonderful work that teachers do, and Tiverton is no different.

As I've learnt you young folk say - respect!

A quick aside here in the rambling Hall tradition - years ago I thought I might like to be a teacher. But I just don't know if I'd ever have had the talent, stamina and commitment.  And anyway, I suspect the world of education breathes a sigh of relief that never came to pass...

Today, I'm in north Devon, doing some careers work with a couple of schools there - in Barnstaple and Ilfracombe - talking to the youngsters about a life in the media. Of all that I'm fortunate to be able to do, it's the education and careers work I find the most rewarding. I suppose it feels like a legacy thing, the ability to try to have just a little positive influence on a few lives.

In between all that - and there's not much time left, I assure, you, but I'm still trying to find some! - I'm working on ideas for a new tvdetective book.  Publishers are hungry beasts, who always like to know there's a new meal being prepared, so I'm trying to meet that demand too.

But after that little list of how busy life can be, I will now happily admit that I prefer it this way. A quiet life is something that somehow, I never got the hang of, and long may it continue.

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Readers' groups, wine and supper

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to receive a very kind email from a readers' group, who had enjoyed The Balance of Guilt, and wanted to ask me some questions about it.

A few I was able to help with, as they seemed simple points of detail, others I was not - because you know what we writer types are like.  We revel in the mystery thing about our books and like to leave plenty of room for readers to imagine, discuss and debate.

Howsoever, the point of this blog is thus.  After an exchange of emails came the question as to whether I might be perhaps interested in talking to the group about the tvdetective books. It was delightfully (by which I probably mean flatteringly!) phrased, along the lines that doubtless I had many such requests, I was clearly a very busy and important man, and it was of course an imposition, but they just thought they would ask etc etc.

I told you it was very kind!  Anyway, this busy, important etc etc. man duly accepted, partly because a gentleman shouldn't turn down such a lovely request, but also for a couple of other more practical reasons.

Firstly, I think readers' groups are great.  They're vital in making sure the written word and a love of books continues to thrive, they're very sociable, and they're extremely effective in introducing people to books and authors they might not otherwise have tried.  They've always supported me well and I've spoken to a few in my relatively brief writing career, and always enjoyed it.

There is another reason though, and it's this.  I think I've learnt a great deal from readers' groups, about the sort of things people like and don't like in books. And I believe that's helped me become a better author.

The fact that the offer I mention came with the added bonus of a bite of supper and some wine didn't hurt at all!

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Armistice Day

This is a day which always makes me feel reflective, so please excuse a more serious blog than usual.

My grandfather, Percy, was a gunner in the Second World War.  He survived, but the noise of the guns left him profoundly deaf for the rest of his life. I always think of him today, and how his story is just one of the many millions of sacrifices men and women of our past have made for our future.

As regular readers will know, I rarely talk about my day job in my blog, but on this occasion please indulge me. I'll be out on the road today, reporting some of the Armistice Day services, and it's something I consider to be an honour, just a little contribution to making sure those sacrifices will never be forgotten.

Much has been debated about the wearing of poppies, and I have no intention of getting into that here.  All I will say is that I shall be wearing my poppy with great pride and a similar degree of reflection.

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Settings and seasons

A confession (isn't it odd how this blog so often turns into a confessional?)

I was doing some wandering around the shops in Exeter yesterday afternoon, when I... and steady yourself for this... are you ready?  You sure?!  Ok then, when I...

...did some Xmas shopping!

How's that for organised?  Or just oddly premature?!

It wasn't deliberate, I was just looking in some windows in Gandy Street (for those who don't know it, that's our little avenue full of distinctive, independent stores) and came upon a jeweller's.  I saw something which I thought would make a great gift for my adopted daughter, Niamh, and there you go, before you know it the Xmas shopping is underway.

Like so many such bugs, it took a hold fast and within an hour I'd done a load more. I've even bought and sent my Xmas cards, which will make the remaining relatives in the Hall clan either smile or grimace.  Mind, by sending them early I suppose you get better value for money.  This way they can be on display for a couple of months!

Anyhow, the point of this, before I started digressing (in the familiar manner) was that my little burst of seasonal shopping started me thinking about the times of year in which I set the tvdetective books.  I've noticed most tend to be in the turning seasons of spring and autumn. 

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Dreams and notebooks

A funny thing happened to me last night, as the old saying goes.  Fear not, you can read on, it's not that distressing.

I had a bizarre dream, which took me back 20 years and more to my university days.  I don't know if I mentioned before, but I started in the media business by becoming a DJ, and I began spinning the "platters that matter" on the "wheels of steel" as it were at the college radio station.

In the dream I was back on air, aged 19 or 20, and I kept reliving every mistake I made, whether it was forgetting to cross to the news on the hour, or not playing the right records.  A strange angst dream indeed, but it did give me an idea for part of a plot or a character in a future tvdetective book.

So, to the nub of this blog, which those of you who are kind enough to read regularly will know can go missing, presumed lost, in a Hall ramble. Anyhow, the point was this - I've learnt from writing that inspiration for a story, or one of the participants in a book, or even a location or scene can strike at the most unlikely and unexpected of moments.

Hence I now keep a notebook, or at least some paper and a pen, with me wherever I go, be it out for a meal or a drink, shopping, just a stroll, or even when I'm at work.  Inspiration has a habit of striking when you're unprepared, so I now do my best to be ready for it.  I still live in fear of my early writing days, and how many good ideas may have been long forgotten and lost because I never had a chance to write them down.

On the subject of blogging, I received an email asking if my strange thoughts are all recorded on the tvdetective site.  The answer is (I'm afraid) yes, and if you're interested in my mental meanderings, you can find them on the blog page - www.thetvdetective.com/blog.html 

Personally, they sometimes prompt me to wonder what goes on in my mind, but make of them what you will, and charitably please, if you'd be so kind...

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A strange attraction

Thanks to everyone who came to the Poole Literary Festival yesterday, and to the organisers for such a fine event.  I very much enjoyed it and hope everyone who toddled along did too.

A very good question was raised at the Crime Writing Panel, and it was this - can you explain the continuing appeal of crime in literature, particularly when the subject matter can be so very shocking and distressing?

It set me thinking, so I'll do my best to try to venture an answer, in my humble view anyway.

Firstly, if we're honest, I think there's an element of voyeurism to it, a desire to witness events which are outside of our experience, and from the safety of our imaginations.  It's a kind of taboo thing, exploring that which is almost unthinkable.

There's the challenge too, the desire to try to outwit the author and uncover the killer, or perpetrator, from amongst a list of suspects.  That also is a powerful allure - just look at the enduring popularity of crosswords and other such puzzles.

Finally I think there's a big element of the age old story of a battle between good and evil.  In crime writing, you know which side's which and you can root for the good guys and gals and hope they come through.

Those are the main reasons I can think of - I'm sure there are plenty of others, as many as there are readers in fact.  But in brief, I'm just glad crime is still appealing, as it provides me with a great pastime in writing it!

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