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Tom Bale Q&A

Are your books available in different formats/territories?

Yes. SINS OF THE FATHER is now out of print as a paperback, but it’s available as an ebook download in all territories and in many different formats including PDF, which can be read on a PC or laptop screen. The other titles are also available as ebooks in a variety of formats, as well as paperback, audiobook and large print. For more details, click on the BOOKS tab above and select the individual title from the dropdown box.

In addition, SKIN AND BONES and TERROR’S REACH are also available in French and German translations – see Foreign Editions above.

So can I buy your books in the US and Canada?

My first book deal with Random House gave them World English rights, so SKIN AND BONES and TERROR’S REACH are available in all English-speaking territories, although to date there isn’t a specific US edition. With BLOOD FALLS, Random House have UK and Commonwealth rights only, so this won’t be available in the US unless a Stateside publisher decides to acquire it.

Where do you get your ideas?

Writers often complain about this question, albeit usually in a good-hearted way, but I think it’s a perfectly valid one – and I’m as fascinated as anyone by the answers that other writers give. The short answer is: everywhere. From anything and everything. From things you see, or hear, or read. An overheard conversation, a distinctive-looking character, a landscape or a building, a piece of music, a news item. And once in a while, if you’re really fortunate, it gets handed to you in a dream – see the Bio pages for the bizarre origins of SKIN AND BONES.

It took you many years to get published. Why didn’t you give up?

That’s a question that I still ponder. Certainly I came very close to it around the time that I submitted the opening chapters of what became SINS OF THE FATHER. But as to whether I could have given up completely – thus ensuring that all those years of writing had been for nothing – I really don’t know. Usually, after several weeks of not writing, I start to get restless. Ideas pop into my head and refuse to be ignored. In fact, in the later stages, as the pressure to release them becomes irresistible, I have been known to catch myself converting my thoughts into prose:

“A strange habit indeed,” he admitted to himself as he updated the Q&A for his redesigned website, “and one that possibly I shouldn’t disclose, for fear of being thought a lunatic...”

Did you ever consider self-publishing?

Not really. Throughout the years that I spent trying to become a professional writer, any form of self-publishing was disdained – often quite rightly – as a waste of time and money, a pointless vanity project that would do nothing positive for your career and might actually damage your prospects when it came to attracting a publisher.

Nowadays, largely because of ebooks, it’s a very different scenario – and believe me, I can’t help feeling slightly rueful that I finally made it past the gatekeepers at the very moment that the entire citadel began to be demolished. At the same time, I suspect it’s unwise to draw too many conclusions about the future on the basis of a handful of self-published writers who have become bestsellers. As with conventional publishing, those lucky few represent the tip of an enormous pyramid. With millions of books competing for attention, the toughest challenge for all writers now is simply to get noticed.

How long does it take to write each novel?

Generally a first draft takes me about six months. After that, another three or four months of rewriting, which tends to be far more intensive in terms of hours worked, but also hugely rewarding. Here you’re crafting the story, watching it take shape, and sometimes that involves a fierce struggle. But even if you have to pull the whole thing apart and put it back together, that’s still preferable to producing the first draft because you’re not having to confront the horror of the empty page, the blank screen.

Then there are the various rounds of cutting and polishing as the manuscript comes back with notes from the editor, the copy editor and the proof reader. By the final stage I might have been through it twenty or thirty times, I might be thoroughly sick of every word, and yet still it’s an unbearable moment when those typeset pages have to be signed off and despatched, and I know that I can no longer influence how my story will be read and received.

What’s your writing routine?

It’s evolved quite a bit since I made the transition to full-time writer. After years of only writing in the evenings and at weekends, I found it a difficult adjustment to make. With TERROR’S REACH in particular I found myself procrastinating during the day – surfing the Internet, making coffee, watching TV, back on the Internet, another coffee – before launching into a burst of guilty activity from about five or six p.m.

Not only did it waste a lot of time, but working from home was making me fat and lazy. So now I walk or cycle to a cafe where the absence of an Internet connection means that I can usually complete a thousand words during the course of a morning. In the afternoons I do paperwork and chores (and waste a bit of time online) and then I try to write some more in the evening. If I’m rewriting, I’ll often work until late at night as well, until about two a.m. My aim now is to complete my first drafts in three or four months, rather than six or seven as before.

What sort of research do you do?

It varies. Talking to people – usually starting with friends and family. It’s amazing how often you can locate someone with the specialist knowledge that you seek. Libraries are still valuable for in depth reading, and the Internet, of course, offers a remarkable range of opportunities to uncover knowledge – although I find it’s best done separately from writing. Pause mid-sentence to look up, say, the make and model of your character’s car, and the next thing you know you’re reading a blog or watching something on YouTube and another hour has mysteriously vanished...

Google maps is an extraordinary tool for research and I often use it to scout for ideal locations, but I still like to visit all the major sites in person, as you can see from my Location Research page, which contains background on the setting for each book as well as a selection of photographs.

What are you working on now? (Autumn 2011)

Various things – I’ve had a glut of ideas recently, which means I’m itching to write about six different novels. It’s always a bit dispiriting to know that some of those projects will have to wait years – and invariably one or two will fall to the wayside as better ideas come along and displace them. I recently looked through an old notebook and found a stack of things that I’d completely forgotten about, some of which sounded quite intriguing, even twenty or so years down the line – and others which made absolutely no sense at all.

But I digress. The answer, I hope, is at least a couple more Joe Clayton books. A standalone, provisionally called The Catch, of which about a third is already written. Another standalone thriller which, in a record for me, went from initial conception to 10,000 word synopsis in just four days. Then there’s a James Herbert-style supernatural story. And possibly a supernatural thriller for young adults... oh, and a big apocalyptic thriller that could work best as a trilogy. Only I wouldn’t get it done before December 2012, so it’s probably best to leave that for a while! What bitter irony to work for months on a story about the end of the world, only to have its publication thwarted by the end of the world...

Is there going to be a follow-up to SKIN AND BONES?

There are no definite plans at the moment, but it’s certainly not something I’d rule out. Although initially it was a bit daunting to write a novel with a female protagonist, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the world from Julia’s point of view, and I do have one or two ideas that would work perfectly with Julia as the heroine. Watch this space.

Who do you like to read?

My Links page will give you an idea of who I read in terms of crime and thrillers, and even that list is by no means exhaustive. In addition, the literary inspirations and heroes of my youth include Graham Greene – probably the writer I admire more than any other – as well as Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Ian McEwen, Rose Tremain, DM Thomas, William Trevor and John Updike.

In terms of making me a writer, I probably have Enid Blyton to thank for starting the process. A little later, Arthur C Clarke, and then Stephen King, whose writing was of monumental importance to me during my teens.

These days I read a fair amount of non-fiction as well. I adore Malcolm Gladwell’s writing, and no one has irritated my wife more by making me laugh out loud while we’re both reading than Bill Bryson. On the subject of laughter, I have to mention the two greatest comic novelists of our time: David Nobbs and Sue Townsend. When I first fell in love with their work I could have been mistaken for Adrian Mole – a spotty, bespectacled teenage wannabe writer prone to hopeless crushes on beautiful girls – while now I've reached the age Reggie Perrin was when he embarked on his mid-life crisis. The next train to Chesil Beach, anyone...?