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I should begin by saying that my name isn't Tom Bale; it's David Harrison, and I'll be explaining a little more about the reasons for my pseudonym below.

First, the basics: I was born in Sussex in February 1966 and grew up in the town of Peacehaven, about ten miles east of Brighton. I attended Tideway school in Newhaven and left at eighteen with three A Levels. I had harboured dreams of studying English at university, but in those days for some bizarre reason every English course required a GCE (O Level) pass at Maths - and I was hopeless at Maths. (Actually, I hated it with a vengeance, and spent my main exam plotting out the novel I intended to write that summer, so no real surprise when I received an "Ungraded" result, which I think means I scored less than 20%!)

After brief spells working in a factory and an electrical shop, interspersed with periods of unemployment and some Inter-railing around Europe, I inadvertantly began a career in general insurance, working as a claims handler. In the years that followed I worked for several companies in various locations, including a very enjoyable five-year spell as manager of a claims office in Leeds.

In 1997, with my wife and young son - and a baby daughter on the way - I moved back to Sussex and spent several years as a househusband. The idea was to have more time to write, but changing nappies and watching Teletubbies often took precedence...

After some near misses with the writing (more on that later) I returned to full-time employment, working as a business analyst and project manager for a company in Haywards Heath. Unfortunately a takeover and the arrival of a new regime with very different ideas about management prompted me to resign in late 2005, without another job to go to. With some vague ideas of setting up a business of my own, combined with some freelance consultancy work, we managed to scrape a living, mostly relying on savings and my wife's income while I made one last attempt to get somewhere as a writer.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION

CHAPTER ONE: YOUTHFUL ENTHUSIASM

I wanted to be a writer from the age of seven. I have a very clear memory of the moment when I learned there were people who earned a living by making up stories, and I thought: that's what I want to do!

My first attempts were mainly comic strips, heavily influenced by a whole range of popular comics of the day: Tarzan, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, UK comics like the Beano, Dandy and Whizzer & Chips, and the wonderful Tintin and Asterix books.

From that I moved on to writing great science fiction epics (I was a child of the Star Wars era) but most of these tended to run out of steam after a few pages. The breakthrough came at thirteen, when my mum brought back a collection of Arthur C Clarke stories from the library. This was my first taste of short fiction, and it was a revelation: I wrote my first proper story, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HILL, in October 1979 in a school exercise book, and I still have it. On the left is the first page:

In the years that followed I wrote dozens of short stories, and from the age of fifteen began sending them off to science fiction magazines, men's magazines (even though I was too young to buy one of them!) and just about anywhere I thought might consider them.

Although I was soon very familiar with the dreaded pre-printed rejection slips, I also treasured some personalised and often very encouraging rejections, particularly from the ground-breaking UK magazine INTERZONE. I also wrote four novels in my teens, most of them heavily influenced by Stephen King, as horror fiction began to replace SF as my favourite reading material.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO: A TASTE OF SUCCESS

At nineteen I won a short story competition held by the local paper, the Evening Argus, in conjunction with the Brighton Festival. The prize ceremony took place in a Brighton hotel, with the story read out to the audience, and I attended with my parents and my grandmother, who had always been hugely encouraging and supportive of my ambitions.

I sold several short stories in my twenties, mostly romantic fiction to women's magazines, and went on piling up dozens if not hundreds of rejections. Then the demands of a career got in the way, and for the five years that I lived in Yorkshire I wrote very little, apart from a couple of comic novels that are destined never to see the light of day.

The return to Sussex in 1997 marked a renewed determination not to waste all the years of effort, and for a time it looked like success was just over the horizon. I was now reading a lot of crime and thrillers, and my first attempt at a crime novel got past the first couple of hurdles at a major publisher. Then, after waiting six agonising months for a response, it turned out to be bad news. At the same time I wrote a couple of feature-length TV scripts and a sitcom, and again had some interest from various quarters which ultimately came to nothing.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE: DARKEST BEFORE DAWN

Coming so close to a breakthrough was, if anything, even harder to deal with than outright, immediate rejection, and by 2003 I was the closest I'd ever been to giving up. After nearly quarter of a century, it seemed perverse and absurd to go on putting myself through this misery into my forties. At that point I was 10,000 words into another crime novel, and not sure if I had the will to continue.

Then I heard about a brand new publisher, launching a competition to find debut crime writers: it turned out they wanted to see the first 10,000 words...

I sent off the opening of what became SINS OF THE FATHER, having decided that this would be my last ever submission. So as not to tempt fate, I resolutely did no further work on the novel in the months that followed, even when I heard that I had gone through to the second stage. Finally, in early 2004, I heard that I had been selected as one of twenty "development writers" who would have the chance to complete their book: if it made the grade, it would stand a chance of publication, but there were no guarantees.

A lot of work followed. The initial draft came in at around 110,000 words, which I managed to cut to 98,000. After sending it off, I was told they would be willing to publish it - if I could cut it down to 80,000 words, and get it back to them by the end of the year. I had seven weeks to cut 18,000 words and leave a story that still made sense...

Even though I managed to do it in time, the trials weren't over. After several months of silence, I was told there was a possible problem with the following year's schedule, and the book might not be published after all. And this came after I'd told all my family, my friends and my colleagues that I was finally going to see my name in print!

This coincided with a bad time at work, and with my fortieth birthday only a few months away I had what was probably a bit of a mid-life crisis. I handed in my notice and decided I would try to set up my own business. Within a week of making that decision, in August 2005, I had an email from Creme de la Crime, saying they were now able to go ahead and publish SINS OF THE FATHER, in April 2006.

It wasn't until the book came out that I discovered an awkward problem: searching for "David Harrison" on book sites brought up dozens of titles written by what I assume is a whole host of people who share my name. To make it worse, one of my dopplegangers had written various travel books about Sussex, and another had written a crime novel. But at that point, finding a pseudonym was the least of my worries...

Click here for part 2...