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New Friends

How long does it take to truly make friends with someone - to properly get to know them?

It's a thought I pose when I'm taking writing courses. As with many good questions, there isn't a single or simple answer - it can range from weeks to decades. And with some people - you may never truly know what goes on inside, and why.

I'm thinking about this now, because I've been working on a new book, one for young adults. Which means I've had to create a whole new cast of characters, all from nothing.

It's not been a chore, quite the opposite. I haven't done this for many years, and it's challenged my imagination and been a delight.

There are two main characters in the plot. I'll call them S and A.

(Apologies for being so cryptic, but you know how we writers love our mystery. Not to mention how we guard our ideas jealously.)

Anyway, I've been working with S and A for about six months now... 

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A killing question

An excellent question was posed of me when I was giving a talk at the Crediton Community Bookshop at the weekend.

It was this - why do crime writers so very often seem to choose murder as the basis of their plots?

I suppose (he says, after some thought) that it's because it's the most heinous of all crimes, at least so the legal profession thinks - murder demands a statutory life sentence, the only question is the minumum term in jail.

Perhaps it's to do with selling yourself as a writer. If you're going to interest a reader in your book, amid all your competitors, maybe you have to go for the worst of crimes.

And murder, of course, is about the most awful of our nightmares - imagining it happening to ourselves, a member of the family or someone we know.

But whatever, the questioner was quite right - there is a lot of murder out there in crime writing.  And I'd never really thought about that before.

I was pleased that I could offer a partial defence, in that half of my novels aren't about murder. Death Pictures, on the surface, may seem to be, but actually isn't. Evil Valley isn't either, and nor is Judgement Book.

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Real books

There's a big shift going on in the publishing world at the moment - more of a landslide, really - with the advent and growth of ebooks.

You can read pages and pages of agonising from people who think they're armageddon for writers, and just as much from others who believe they're a boon.

My own view is that they're simply another advance, just a new trick of technology, because they don't change, at heart, what writing is all about.

In my humble thoughts, it's down to telling stories. We've been doing it since language evolved, sitting around the camp fire, listening to the tribal elders tell their tales. We learn and are entertained. And that remains the case to this day.

It's all about imagination and the way we, as writers, tell our stories. So I don't much mind whether my efforts are being enjoyed on a piece of paper, a screen, or if I'm reading them out loud to a group of youngsters.

So long as it's working, stimulating the imagination and being passably entertaining, that'll do for me. Because it all serves the same need - one which I believe is fundamental to us as a species, and which will never change.

We like to be entertained, and we need to learn.

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Pride in the Darkness

There's a kind of email of which I get quite a few, but it never makes me feel any less proud.

I received one such last week, and wanted to mention it here.

It's partly, I suppose, because the days are growing ever darker and colder, and it's that combination which can trigger an old and familiar foe.

I'm talking about the swamp, adversary of so many, and often in an unspoken way.

The email was from a chap who had been kind enough to read the tvdetective books. I won't use his name, of course, but he got in touch in particular because he wanted to say how accurate he thought my descriptions of depression felt ...

(Yes, there's a reason for that, but we don't need to go into it here.)

... and, far more upliftingly, to say the books had helped him.

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