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Loving where we live

Given the wonderful weather of late, I thought I'd share a few Hall thoughts about the delights of living in Devon and Cornwall.

For me, one of the kindest things people have said about the tvdetective series is that my love of the south west comes through loud and clear. Whether its the walks Dan and Rutherford take around Dartmoor, or on the coast, I often find myself getting a little lost in enjoying the moment (albeit in words) and have to calm and curtail myself from going on too much.

In fact, on reflection, it's quite true that writing about the south west scenery is one of my greatest joys in the books.  And the countryside here is a great asset to have for the series.

But there's even more to the region than just its good looks.  It's got great quirks and character too.

Witness this from the travel news I happened to hear on the radio last night, whilst brushing my teeth afore bed -

There's a big pile up on the M6, many vehicles involved... long tailbacks on the M25 after a crash... and on the A38 in Devon there are minor hold ups because the police have introduced a rolling roadblock after some sheep escaped onto the dual carriageway.

Now that's the way to have a jam Devon style!  And it's the kind of little curiousity which may well make its way into a future tvdetective book, and which makes the south west so very easy, and indeed delightful, to write about.

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A wobble

I knew it would come, and thus it has.  Following the completion of the new book - or the first draft of it, anyway - I've started feeling a little low.

Part of what bothers me is that it's such an illogical reaction. I know I should be feeling proud, even jubilant at managing to knock together a hundred thousand words plus, in some form of order that might just make a passable novel.  But, as discussed in previous blogs, it's simply that the book becomes such a big part of my life that when it's gone, even temporarily, I miss it.

However! It's not such a bad slump, just a mild version, and I am coping.  The wonderful weather, so atypical of the British bank holiday tradition, is helping. It's great to see people out and smiling with the sunshine.  A few days off is very welcome too.

From experience of this emotion, I've also learnt ways of managing it.  Going to the gym (however reluctantly), and catching up with friends over a coffee or beer helps, as does preparing for upcoming writing events. There are quite a few in the next months, details on the News and Events page as they make their way along -

I reckon I can busk a few more days of such work before I allow myself to begin reading through the book and thinking about the edits. I usually make myself have a couple of weeks away from it, so I can come back almost as a reader and pick up any inconsitencies, bits of waffle, digression, poor writing or just nonsense.

I've never been great at taking holidays, but in the meantime, it's scarcely a hardship to enjoy  a stroll out in the sun, so that's the plan for now - here's wishing you a fine Easter break too.

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A fine question has arrived, and it's this - why am I so very fond of Rutherford?

Firstly, I'm glad my correspondent noticed.  I am indeed hugely fond of Rutherford, and for a couple of reasons which I shall now plunge into.

The most obvious is that in the tvdetective books he's a very important character.  Dan is a bit of a loner, so he needs someone to talk to about the cases he's working on. Rutherford plays that part beautifully.

There's another motive in that he helps get Dan out into the wonderful Devon countryside when the pair take a walk, which is useful for variety in the books.  He's fun too, always causing mischief and getting into scrapes, which can be handy light relief in the midst of a very dark case.

But, as ever, there's a deeper reason for my love of Rutherford, and this is thus - for me, he's a reincarnation of the first dog I ever knew.

When I was born (in a pub, as previously mentioned, and to no one's surprise I noticed), Dad was worried about security, so went out and bought an Alsatian puppy to help guard the place. He was named Sam and I grew up with him as friend and companion.

Being a horrid kid I would poke him and pull his tail and it's family legend how he would never ever retaliate.  He also protected me throughout my childhood, always positioning himself between me and the gate to the garden when I was playing.  Even now, I remember crying for days when Sam died.

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The end...

I have, this very morning, with due fanfare and fly by of the Red Arrows etc., completed the first draft of the new tvdetective book.

The sharp eyed amongst you will have noticed I haven't mentioned a title - there is a working version, but I'm not sure it's going to be the final one yet, so shhhh for now is the way.  And no more detail about what's in it either, I'm trying to be suitably author like and mysterious!

Now, as I was saying, the final full stop on the page leaves me feeling elated in one way, and sad in another. See previous blogs for my tendency to melodrama at the finishing of a book...

Anyhow, the point of this little musing is that for a writer it's rarely the end.  The finishing of the first draft is merely the start of work on the second, and when that's done the third, and so on until the publisher loses patience and insists on releasing the thing.

Some clever person one said that writing is rewriting, and I think that's very true.  It's a smart way of pointing out one of life's broader lessons - that annoying though it may be, there's no substitute for hard work.

John Cleese was once asked why Fawlty Towers was so good.  You must be a genius, the interviewer said.  No he replied, we just had a good idea and worked at it, and worked at it, and worked at it until it was as good as it could possibly be.

That's a little story I often mention when I'm doing writing workshops, to emphasise the importance of polishing your efforts.  The tvdetective books usually take about 6 or 7 rewrites before they're in a passably fit state to publish. I know other writers who do even more.

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After a flurry of writing this morning, I've now reached the final chapter of the new book.

You may well think this should be a cause of me feeling pleased with myself. And I am, a little, but there's more of a sense of trepidation.

Allow me to explain.  When I write a book, it's such a huge process that it becomes a part of my life. There's the planning stage, which takes months, and effectively involves me falling in love with the idea as I develop it and grow fonder and fonder of it.

Then there's the actual writing, which again takes many months - about five in this case.  During that time, the book becomes so close to me that I write some just about every day, and muse about it even more often.

I've thought hard about this, but it's not an exaggeration to say it becomes like a relationship. We spend a lot of time together each and every day, enjoying each other's attentions (well, I certainly enjoy the book's and I assume it enjoys mine as I'm writing it), and then suddenly comes a point when I can see the end approaching.

I'm left knowing I'll miss it badly, and wondering what can ever possibly replace it.  From experience of writing the other five tvdetective books, I know this can prompt quite an unpleasant slump in me. Hence the trepidation. 

I know that may all sound rather bizarre, but as I've said before I try to be honest in these blogs, and that's the truth of it.

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A little self examination

A very fine question was posed of me yesterday at the Sleuths Crime Writing Festival, and as so often it was a short and simple one -

Why did I start writing?

It's something I haven't properly answered before, and prompted a little of that uncomfortable shining of the light within to see what murkiness might be found. 

After some such, here comes the best I can manage as an answer.

Top of the list, as so often in matters concerning Hall I fear, must be vanity. I just thought I could do it so I had a go.  I didn't plough into it thinking "oh, this will be easy", but I certainly didn't appreciate the dedication and degree of hard work required to produce around a hundred thousand words of fairly coherent and cogent book.  And that while working full time for a mistress who can be as demanding as the BBC.

Secondly I suppose, came the almost equally inflated thought that I had something to say, which furthermore people might be interested to read.

And thirdly came another lovely stroke of vanity in that I had the cheek to believe I could even make my ideas entertaining.

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Sunshine and inspiration

A beautiful morning has dawned here in Exeter, which leaves me reflecting on how much easier it can be to write when the weather is kind.

The inspiration for a book, character, storyline, or just some little quirk in a novel can strike me anytime, which is why I always carry a notebook, or at least a piece of paper and a pen.  But there are also certain ways of helping to promote some thinking.

One of my favourites is a walk around the river. I'm lucky in living close to the Exe, and it's a perpetual theatre. There are swans begging bread, ducks bustling about their busy trade, the wonderful spectacle of cormorants doing their wing spread drying thing, but I'm fondest of the gang of geese.

They're so excitable. The merest hint of a bread treat prompts a cacophony of honking - to my considerable amusement, if not that of those who live near where they nest!

A fine walk in the Devon countryside can also be a powerful source of inspiration. Dartmoor is my favourite, as witnessed in the many strolls Dan and Rutherford take in the tvdetective books. If you want a recommendation for these spring days, try the walk to the Ted Hughes memorial up on the north moor, as set out in The TV Detective. It's wonderful.

Finally for this musing, a simple way of making my errant mind work is to spend some time in my study. It's a converted attic and enjoys wonderful light.  I've got a desk and chair there, but also a little sofa, upon which I spread out and try to think.

The study is home to my vinyl collection too, going back to my old DJing days and even earlier, but that's another story!

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A week today I'll be in Paignton, as a guest of the excellent Sleuths Crime Writing Festival.

I'm doing two events, a crime writing workshop in Paignton Library and a talk about the tvdetective books at the Another Chapter bookshop in Brixham.  This Saturday morning finds me working out what to say at both, and happily making a little progress.

The talk is fairly straightforward, just the usual list of strange Hall thoughts and bizarre anecdotes, which many of you have been generous enough to say you find passably interesting or even amusing.

The workshop is rather more tricky.  Firstly, there's the self doubt bit.  Always when I'm asked to talk about how to write a novel, I start thinking - well, who am I to say?  All I did was one day - rather vainly - decide to write a book.  It came as more than a little surprise to get published, then to be asked for more! 

However, I'll do my best, as ever, and so this is what I've decided to try.  It's going to be a quick fire session in which I'll attempt to cover all the major points of a book. We'll start with the importance of a fine opening line, then go onto characters, plots and settings, and also one of the key parts of crime fiction - how to con the readers.

All that in an hour and a quarter!  It'll certainly be a challenge...

I always enjoy these events enormously, and often because I learn as much, if not more, than the poor unfortunates in the audience.  So, if you're coming along, I'll look forward to seeing you, and if you haven't got anything planned for next Saturday (9th April), do think about a visit to the festival.  It's a great event and growing event, and a real asset to the south west.

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