Tom Bale is a popular crime fiction writer based in England. He was born in Sussex and now pursues writing full time. He has written The Catch and Sins of The Father (published under David Harrison, his real name). Contact him here. born in Sussex
NAW- How long have you been writing? What made you decide that you wanted to become a writer?
I’m afraid I’m one of those strange people who knew what they wanted to do at a very early age. I can remember writing and drawing comic strips virtually from the moment I could read and write. Certainly by the age of seven I’d discovered that there were people who earned a living from writing stories, and I just decided that was what I wanted to do. I have no idea why I felt so strongly about it, but the ambition started then and didn’t really waver for the next thirty years or so, which is how long it took for me to achieve that ambition.
With this book it was the characters that came first. I wanted to explore the idea of a childhood friendship gone sour. Dan and Robbie have reached their late twenties without acknowledging the fact that they no longer have much in common. Whilst Dan is essentially a good man, he gets talked into doing something he shouldn’t by Robbie – partly because Robbie is a bit of charming rogue, and partly because Dan is secretly in love with Robbie’s sister, Cate.
I love to write stories about ordinary people whose lives are suddenly thrown into chaos as a result of some unexpected encounter, so the next step was to place Dan and Robbie in a predicament that not only exposed the differences between them, but also forced them to work together for self-preservation. Their attempt to cover up a terrible mistake sets off a chain of consequences that ends with a predator on their trail – a man called Stemper, a torturer and killer for hire whose creepy unpleasantness made him fantastic fun to write!
NAW- How did you come up with the title? Who designed the cover? How long did it take to finish the book?
I often struggle with titles. Either the perfect one pops into my head when the idea first occurs to me, or else it doesn’t come at all, and I often end up typing page after page of random words and phrases in the hope that something will jump out at me. This book falls into the latter category, and from memory it had quite a few different working titles until my editor and I finally agreed on THE CATCH as the one that we both disliked the least.
The cover design was handled by my publishers. I didn’t have a huge amount of input, to be honest, though overall I think it’s a very strong image. If given the chance I might have changed the figure in the foreground to look slightly less heroic, because the story is more in the vein of, say, Robert Goddard than Lee Child.
NAW- Tell us about your other works? How difficult was it getting your first book into print?
It took me a very long time to get published, and I won’t pretend there weren’t times when I seriously wondered if I should give up and do something more productive with my time. After selling a few short stories in my twenties, there was a period when things like settling down, starting a family and building a career had to take precedence over writing. But I knuckled down to it again in my thirties and completed my first crime novel, which attracted a little bit of interest from a publisher before ultimately being rejected. My next book, SINS OF THE FATHER, was selected for a competition run by a new publisher of crime fiction, Creme de la Crime, and published in 2006 under my real name, David Harrison. (It was at that point I discovered there are various other writers with the same name, including one who has written about my home county of Sussex!)
With the next book, SKIN AND BONES, I signed with an agent and agreed on a pseudonym, Tom Bale, and then was lucky enough to get a contract with Random House which meant I could write full-time. Since then it’s been an interesting and sometimes precarious ride, to say the least, but so far I’ve published four books as Tom Bale. I also regained the rights to SINS OF THE FATHER and self-published it as an ebook, which over the past year has actually been more successful than the “Tom Bale” books.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing? What are you hobbies?
I can’t say I have many proper hobbies, probably because for years writing was my main focus when I wasn’t at work. I’ve always been an avid reader, so any spare time I get I’m likely to be lost in a book. To keep in shape I like to walk and cycle as often as possible, and I’m a dedicated sea swimmer when the weather allows. I’m a big fan of tennis – watching rather than playing – and like most writers I also spend far, far too much time online.
NAW- How do you research for your books?
In a variety of ways. Firstly, despite the danger of procrastination that I’ve just mentioned, the internet is an astonishing resource, particularly for the thousand tiny details and decisions that have to be made during a novel’s construction: where will your characters live and what do their homes look like; I go online to find the cars they drive, the clothes they wear – even what names they should have. It’s also a great way of locating experts on practically every subject under the sun. And there are some extraordinary documents in the public domain – for example, SKIN AND BONES features a shooting spree in a tiny Sussex village, and while researching online I was able to find the official report into the Hungerford shootings in 1987.
For advice on procedures, I’ve had great assistance from some local police officers, and I’m also fortunate to have one brother-in-law who is a former cop and another who is currently a fire fighter. I’ve found that asking around among family and friends often unearths people with all kinds of useful expertise.
My favourite form of research is visiting the locations for my books. Even when I’m creating a fictional town or village, as with the luxury Sandbanks-type resort in TERROR’S REACH or the Cornish seaside location in BLOOD FALLS, I found it extremely helpful to visit similar places for inspiration. Of course nowadays it’s possible to “go” almost anywhere with Google Earth, and there are indeed times when that comes in very handy. But those images on screen will never convey the feel of a place – and capturing the atmosphere of a particular location is often a crucial component in crime fiction. I’ve also found that new ideas are often inspired by the simple act of walking the terrain that my characters are about to inhabit.
NAW- What are you reading right now?
I’ve just finished Ian McEwan’s SWEET TOOTH, and next up is APPLE TREE YARD by Louise Doughty.
NAW- Please name your favourite authors.
Oh, this is so difficult because there are so many. All I can give you is a selection off the top of my head: Graham Greene, Stephen King, John Sandford, Michael Connelly, Simon Kernick, Lee Child, Mo Hayder, Martin Cruz Smith, Kate Atkinson, Ian McEwan, Rose Tremain, Elly Griffiths, David Nobbs, Sue Townsend, Bill Bryson.
NAW- What is your favourite quote?
“The only thing that matters is to love and to be loved.” Though off-hand I can’t remember who said it or where I first heard it.
NAW- What are your upcoming projects?
I have several things on the go at the moment. I’ve just finished a YA book which I’m hoping will be the first of a series. I’ve also got a standalone thriller that’s awaiting feedback from my agent, and I’m about three quarters of the way through a new book that’s quite different to anything I’ve done before. In essence it’s still a thriller but with some elements of horror – going back to my teenage love of Stephen King, I guess. But bearing in mind that “precarious ride” I mentioned, it’s quite possible that one or more of these projects will end up being self-published.
NAW- Any advice for budding crime fiction writers?
Read as much as possible. Persist with the books you don’t enjoy, and try to work out why they’re not holding your attention. Then compare them to the books you race through – what’s different?
And with your writing, remember that it’s the re-writing that is key to producing a publishable book. Before I was published, I had no idea of the extent to I’d be encouraged to go over the book time and time again to make it as good as it can possibly be. It’s also vital to get a fresh perspective on your own work, and that can only be done by leaving a reasonable amount of time – several weeks at least – between completing the first draft and beginning the rewrite. Work on something else in the meantime, and when you go back to the manuscript you’ll be much more likely to see it with a reader’s eye – when both the good and the bad aspects will be all the more apparent.
Lastly, get used to rejection, I’m afraid. It happens at every stage of a writer’s career, and it doesn’t just come from agents or publishers. A lot of people are in love with the idea of “being a writer” but you have to want it to the point of madness, almost, to take the knockbacks and keep on going. If you can honestly say that you do, then good luck!