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Cute!

A lovely email has arrived in my inbox, and it's so cute that I'd like to share it with you.

It comes from a chap who's just become a father (congratulations!)  He writes to thank me for the tvdetective books, as he tells me they've proved invaluable in the first days of parenthood.

This is how it goes - when it's his turn to get up in the midst of the night, he paints a picture of rocking the cradle with one hand, while reading one of the novels with the other.  And he's kind enough to say I'm helping to keep him sane with my attempts at scribbling.

Now that's a first!  Normally it's rather the other way around and I drive people towards insanity...

Lovely stories like that remind me of one of the common quirks of feeling of being a writer. It's knowing that your books are out there, in shops and libraries, that people are reading them, and then imagining the strange places they're doing so - in the bath, in bed, rocking the baby etc etc...

I remember the first time I saw someone reading one of the tvdetective books on a train. It was a very strange sensation indeed - but a most pleasant one.  I watched the person's reactions for a couple of mins and was delighted to see them nodding, occasionally smiling, but most importantly never letting up in their reading.

Wherever and whyever people read the things - be it in the flush of fatherhood or whatever - I'm just glad they do and hope they enjoy them.

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Love

A very interesting email has been providing plenty of gunpowder for the fireworks of my thoughts.

It's fairly long, but in essence my correspondent's contention is this - that the tvdetective series is no more than a vehicle for the love story between Claire and Dan.

Now that's some claim, and so has required consideration aplenty in return. 

It's certainly true that Claire and Dan, and their various ups and downs, is the consistent sub plot in the series.  But I'd never before thought that it was so prominent in the books as to eclipse the other things going on.  Having said that, looking back on each, I can see the point my reader is making.

As ever, having carefully read the book on How to be an Author, I won't comment any further, holding true to the old adage that mystery sells!

But one more point from the email which I would like to address is this. My correspondent - rather cheekily, in my humble view! - wants to know how it all ends up between Dan and Claire, and even offers her own opinion!

Upon that matter I shall certainly be making no comment... but read on, and you'll see...

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Reawakening and intimidating

I get the feeling the world is stirring a little after the January hibernation.

This is purely an anecdotal thought of mine, based on the number of emails, comments and invitations which have been coming through.  There's been a sudden increase, as if people can sense the dreaded opening month of the year finally coming towards an end.

Now, one of the emails contains a most interesting, and a tad intimidating, request, which I had to read several times to make sure I'd understood correctly. 

It's from a magazine called Ariel, which is a BBC in house publication, but available publicly, in libraries and everywhere that wants to stock it. The BBC is producing a series on fiction writing, presented by Sebastian Faulks, and I've been asked to contribute to an article to tie in with the series. 

Unsurprisingly, the Beeb has more than a few writers amongst its number, and some of us have been approached to say a little about their personal writing processes, and particularly characterisation.  They also want the writers to choose a passage of their own work to illustrate their thoughts.

This is a wonderful invitation, but also more than a little unsettling. Faulks is a great author, and a favourite of mine - Birdsong is one of the finest books I've ever read - so the idea of appearing in anything associated with him has sent Hall into another of his spirals of literary fear and self doubt.

However! I'm doing my best not to be daunted and working on what to say, and what piece of writing to quote as an example. But I have to confess I'm doing so with nervy fingers on the keypad.  I'll let you know when the article comes out so you can have a look, should you so wish to.

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Humour

My last blog, of the weekend, has attracted some interest - of a positive nature, I'm happy to say.  It sems plenty of you are fond of Dirty El and his antics too.  I'm delighted to hear it and will make sure I pass on your thoughts, next time I write about him!

A broader question that's come out of the little discussion is the role of humour in the tvdetective books.

I like to read crime novels myself, and have experienced plenty which are unremittingly bleak.  It's fair enough, sometimes there's little room for a laugh when you're dealing with some dreadful cases, but they're not my favourite and I fear they miss something fundamental.

I can't imagine myself writing a book which doesn't contain at least a little foolery or fun.  For me humour is one of the glues that binds us together as a society. Even in the darkest of times, I often see people raising their spirits with a joke or a laugh. That's certainly the case with the police officers I've been lucky enough to know.

From your feedback, I know the fun times in the books are some of those you value the most.  Thanks for that, because it can be an intimidating moment for a writer, and a delicate balance to find, when to stray into the land of humour.  You've reassured me I'm getting it roughly right, which I appreciate.

On then with the next book, and a courage newly fortified to stick by my instincts and time to inject a little fun!

If you've got a question you'd like to ask about the tvdetective books, please do get in touch. You can do so via the contact page of the site - www.thetvdetective.com/contact.html

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Dirty El

I receive a fair few emails about the characters in the tvdetective books, and as you'd expect most concern Dan and Adam.  But following that pairing, and not far behind in fact, comes Dirty El.

Interestingly with El, readers are nigh on unanimous in their love of the idiot.  Only a couple of times have I read adverse comments about what he's been up to, despite him probably being the naughtiest of the bunch (after the criminals, of course).

I can happily reveal that I too am an enormous fan of El.  I'm fond of all my characters in different ways - they're like family to me - but I notice when I'm writing sequences about El, I inevitably end up smiling and often even laughing out loud at his antics.

So, back to the point, and the email posed the very fair question - what is the point of El?

That might be a little harsh - for what's the point of any of us?! - but I think I know what my correspondent asks.  It's rather a high level inquiry, the sort of thing a literature student might ask, and a tad worrying for that.  I'm not sure my writing bears such thoughtful analysis, but here we go with an attempt at an answer...

Firstly, as a freelance, unfettered by company policies, El can do things that Dan can't, so he's a great conduit for a little mischief.  Secondly, he's simply fun and I like to have a few laughs in a book.  Thirdly, I think he's just a great character.  He's also a kind of court jester, being a fool most of the time, but occasionally capable of unexpected wisdom.

But most importantly, for me El is a sort of link in the books, often holding various different parts of the plot and sub plot together. He's kind of a theme that winds through the narrative.

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Summer holidays

What a sweet prospect, amidst the depths of dark January, as we are.

But - a thought for you about what sounds like a fun way of spending part of August, particularly if you're an aspiring writer.

I've been invited to spend a week at the Swanwick Writers' School in Derbyshire, as their resident crime bod, doing my best to pass on what little I know about being a crime author.  It's a kind and flattering offer, which I'll be delighted to take up.

I've said it before and I suspect I'll say it again, and probably many times.  When I get invited to try to do some teaching, I go through agonies of doubt along the lines of - what do I know?!

But the kind folk at Swanwick have been gracious enough to say they like the tvdetective books, and all that's required is to talk (in some kind of structured way!) about how I get the ideas, plan, and then write them. Such I shall attempt to do.

In truth, I very much enjoy teaching.  Did I mention I thought about becoming a teacher when I was younger, only to be beguiled by the world of the media?  Anyway, much of the reason I like it is that I learn so much too, arguably more than the poor students.  It's only when you really think about, and break down how you do something, that you start to understand it better.

So that's part of my summer hols sorted.  It's not to say I won't be eyeing a beach and  cocktail related excursion for others!  And thinking about all that certainly helps the winter weeks to edge by...

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January

I'm not exactly a child of the internet age.  More the ZX Spectrum generation me when it comes to computing power and ability, if even that.

However, I do my best to keep up with current affairs, and so am aware of this smart and efficient new way to do a bit of campaigning on a theme which is important to you.  I'm talking here about either starting up a Facebook page, or putting a petition on the Downing Street website.

But one movement that I haven't seen anywhere - and a good idea, I reckon - would be this. How about abolishing January?

It's only a week or so into the month, and I've had enough of it already.  It feels so quiet and dull, lethargic even.  Usually I get a good traffic of interesting emails, about the tvdetective books, literary festivals, all that kind of thing.  I reckon the flow rate is currently down to about half of normal.

Many people I know are reluctant to venture out for a beer, lunch or even a coffee, citing the unkind weather and being less than well off after the excesses of Xmas.  It feels almost as though the world around is toughing it out, with a collective gritting of the teeth and a wish that January would hurry on by.

Keen eyed readers of the tvdetective books have noticed that I tend to pop a mention of hedgehogs into each.  I'm a big fan of the little creatures, they're much underrated in my humble view.  One of the things I most admire about them is their attitude to January, and the winter in general - sleep through it.  Good idea hogs, wish I could join you!

So that's my little rant about January done, but there is also one point to this, of a writing type, anyway.  I've got an idea for a new plot that I think would work well if set in the dreaded month - I suspect you've already guessed it's not going to be a cheery one!

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Tea and ideas

I was having a cup of tea earlier, when an odd thought struck me.

A while ago, at a talk, I was asked where my ideas for the tvdetective books come from. In reply, I said all the places you might expect - stories I've covered, court cases, newspapers, or simply pure and weird imagination.

I've just realised that was a partial answer, but by no means complete.  Another important element is where and when ideas strike.

For the last couple of days, a problem with the new book has been bothering me and I haven't seen an obvious way to resolve it.  But I was just sipping the first few molecules of tea when the answer came along.  And that made me think that perhaps a setting or situation can be a big help when trying to do some thinking.

Work through the suggestion and I'm starting to believe there's something to it.  I have some of my best ideas first thing in the morning, as soon as I wake up.  That's why I always keep my notebook by the bed.  I suspect the reason for this is the brain waking up refreshed after some sleep - or perhaps the curious deeper reaches of the mind have been chewing the matter over while the rest of me has a break.

I've also noticed I have quite a few ideas when I'm out for a walk. Maybe it's the exercise, or the fresh air and scenery that helps.  Sometimes I even have little inspirations at the gym, so it might be down to getting some oxygen and blood pumping in the brain.

Whatever all that may add up to, there's certainly a lot to think about in this thinking lark.  I raise my cup of tea in tribute!

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Opening lines

As we're at the start of a new year, I thought the opening lines of books would be a good subject for this ramble.  Who says no thought goes into these blogs?!

It's something which has been on my mind of late, for a reason which will become apparent.

For me, the first line, or paragraph, is perhaps the most important part of a novel.  It's the one that sets the tone, tells you what kind of book you'll be reading, suggests what it's about, where it's going to take you, and all that in a matter of a few words.  Given that, it's not surprising it takes some getting right.

In the tvdetective books, of all the work that goes in, and all the rewriting and rejigging that gets done, it's the first line over which I agonise the most.  And I think that must come back to my journalistic instincts. 

As a hack, it's drilled into you early that the first line of your report must try to summarise the story, and be as interesting, attention grabbing, eye or ear catching as possible.  Otherwise, why would the reader, viewer or listener bother with the rest?

So I think it is with books. I try to imagine someone picking up one of mine, looking at the cover, the blurb on the back, then opening it to the first page and seeing how the novel starts. If that opening line doesn't make them read onto the second, then as a writer I think I've failed even before I've really begun.

I mention this now because I've been wrestling with the first line of the new book.  I've already written a fair few sections, got the plan mostly all sorted, the characters etc., but I still can't settle on the first line.  I was getting frustrated, but now I've reassured myself that's perfectly normal - I can't think of a tvdetective book where the opening line hasn't changed at least half a dozen times before the thing finally gets published.

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