Tag Archives: ideas

Where do ideas come from?

The idea of this blog was to bring you on the journey with me as I wrote a book. And after about 20 posts about writer’s block and procrastination, I finally got writing but stopped blogging. So I feel I owe you a couple of retrospective posts.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start . When you read you begin with ABC, when you sing you begin with … Excuse me, no idea why I was suddenly chanelling Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Actually, I do know. It started with the words: ‘Let’s start at the very beginning’ and the tune came into my head. It started with the WORDS…

So many ideas come as you write. It’s the magic, the very essence of creativity. So don’t sit there waiting for a great idea. Write and the ideas will follow and then you can shape them.

One idea I had stemmed from an image in Vogue magazine of a model on the Mongolian steppes with an eagle. Woman and bird were in profile, gazing into the distance. It was beautiful, striking. I decided to do an exercise with her as a character. I’d been playing around with a parallel world idea but as I started to write, the photo gave me a new beginning, actually a a whole new incarnation of the book, starting in the parallel world and having the character from our world fall into it.

The book I’m currently working on started because of news articles and TV programmes about the pressures on girls to be skinny, pretty and sexy. I was horrified that girls as  young as seven were worrying about their body image! In one programme girls were shown photos of themselves along with images photoshopped so they looked skinnier and fatter. In almost every case, the girls picked the skinniest version of themselves as being the best. I’d also read about teenagers aspiring to be models or wives of footballers, or just to be on the latest reality TV programme.

Then I heard the crime author PD James talking on Radio 4. She’s in her nineties and that got me thinking about what she must have seen and experienced in her lifetime and how it couldn’t have been easy for a female crime writer early in her career, then, BAM, suffragettes popped into my head. What would the suffragettes make of the world today? What if a modern day teenager met one? That was the genesis of my book.

So the media seems to be a big source of inspiration for me. Looking at the obituaries might seem morbid but they feature interesting lives and that gets you thinking. Or a crime report might give you a plot idea. Overheard snippets of conversation on a bus can spark an idea or a character’s voice, people-watching in cafes is endlessly fascinating, making up lives for them. Putting down your phone so that you’re not picking up emails and posting on twitter but actually observing the world helps a lot. Just asking the question: What if…? Your dreams could give you an idea. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight came from a dream. According to wikipedia, it led to Meyer writing a draft of what became chapter 13 of the book.

Travelling is good. Anything that makes you an outsider, that gets you looking at the world differently can trigger creativity. I recently went to an amazing hot spring in Malaysia with a big pool of geothermic water  surrounded by towering verdant limestone karsts with caves beneath. I felt humbled and inspired by those great architects, nature and time. It could have been another world. It could have been Eden.

The magnificent cavern with stalagtites and stalagmites that had been turned into a wine bar, was quite spectacular. A brilliant setting for a book. Something gothic, perhaps. If Stephanie Meyer had been to this place, Edward Cullen would have taken Bella on a date there.

Your own lives and experiences will give you ideas  – you may not write about them directly but they will certainly inform your writing. And once you’re writing, you start to think like a writer and notice things that you didn’t before. I will hear someone’s name and I’ll think, that’s a great name for a character and off I go. In short, ideas are all around you and you shouldn’t worry about the idea, just the sitting on your bum to write.

Whether it’s a commercial idea is another matter. What publishers are looking for is a good concept that will sell. This often comes from two ideas coming together. Vampirates, for example. Suzanne Collins is reported to have got the idea for the Hunger Games  while channel surfing. On one station was a reality TV show and on another was the invasion of Iraq and the two began to blur in her mind and she ended up with the idea of a dysptopian world where there’s an annual, televised, gladiatorial fight to the death.

I find thinking too much about commerciality blocks my writing, so I’m not going to put too much emphasis on this. The most important thing is to have something that you are compelled to write. If you have something special you can bring to it, you are an immigrant writing about the immigrant experience for example, all the better. You become commercial. The publisher can market you and you will sell your book. My friend Liz Trenow wrote The Last Telegram, which is set in the second world war – always popular– but she had a unique selling point. She comes from a family of silk weavers and she set her novel in a silk factory making parachutes for the RAF with her heroine running the factory.  As well as going to book fairs she goes to textile fairs to give readings. She knows her stuff and the sensuality the silk weaves through her story made it something that no one else could have written.

Write for yourself first but have your reader in mind. Be aware of trends but don’t try to follow them or predict them. You can help a publisher if you can give them a way to market it, something to peg it on. But underneath all that, they need a strong voice, a brilliantly evoked world, great characters and a cracking story.


Going for gold.

What a change to have role models like Jessica Ennis for the next generation of young women. What a change to see triumph born of hard work, grit and determination rather than talentless celebrity born of reality TV shows. What a change to see that beauty is  strength of spirit and a radiant smile rather than an inch of make-up and a pair of fake boobs. Perhaps now girls will aspire to be sportswomen rather than WAGs?

The likes of Jess Ennis and the female rowing team have certainly been an inspiration to me. They have rolled with life’s knocks and gone on to win gold. Jess Ennis suffered a setback in 2008 because of stress fractures to her right foot and missed the Beijing Olympics as a result. This meant switching her take-off leg in the long jump from her right to her left, retraining the neurological pathways until her weaker, less favoured leg was of Olympic gold standard. That takes guts.

Rower Katherine Grainger is an inspiration for keeping her eye on the prize and pursuing gold at the age of 36. Having won silver three times, and at an age when many would have considered it less likely she could do it, she won through.

And Helen Glover, whom with Captain Heather Stanning, won Team GB’s first gold medal in the women’s pairs, having started rowing only four years ago. Glover said: ‘If I can do it so can you. Take the chance to do something, do anything. Work hard and do your best and you can achieve anything.’

My something is writing. And I will work hard to write a brilliant novel and get it published. The world owes me nothing. It’s no use licking my wounds and sulking. I can do better than my last book. And I will. I am taking on this Olympic spirit.

I’ve highlighted three women at the Games but all the athletes put in time and effort day after day with relentless focus. Many medal winners talked of picturing or planning their race in their heads, of not thinking about others in the race because it would divert them from their goal. It was about the vision, deciding that the gold medal would be theirs.

I am focusing on writing, I am envisioning my idea coming together, of achieving flow and working day after day to finish my novel. I will write word after word, paragraph after paragraph, scene after scene and keep going until my book is finished. Then I will get the best agent to help me get it published, I will do whatever redrafts are necessary to make it perfect, I will roll with the knocks and I will not give up. I am not in control of the reviews or the sales. All I can do is write the best book I can, although I’m also envisioning rave reviews and high sales, and dammit, why not go the whole hog and envision the film too. I am going for gold.

How about you?

Attune your creative antennae

How do you come up with an idea for a novel?   Stephanie Meyer came up with the premise of Twilight after dreaming of vampires. She couldn’t get the characters out of her head, they were so vivid. You’re lucky if inspiration strikes that way. But so many people would have taken it no further. Stephanie Meyer made an international bestseller out of it.

Wordism: When inspiration strikes, write it down.

I tend to get inspiration more organically from the world around me: the news, a radio item, a snippet of overheard conversation in Caffe Nero. When I was a journalist I would hear something and think, there’s a story in that. As a fiction writer, I hear something and still think, there’s a story in that but it’s a different kind a story. Instead of newsworthiness, I’m catching on to characters and dilemmas. I believe ideas and inspiration come from being mindful and being open. It becomes a habit to listen out for them.

Inspiration can also strike in the act of writing. For my last book, this is how it came about: I was doing a research exercise for my MA – we had to write an historical piece set on the River Thames, which runs through London. I thought I’d write about the Thames estuary in Essex where I grew up. I had recently watched Pirates of the Caribbean and remembered that I liked adventure stories about smugglers when I was a kid. After looking up smugglers’  haunts on the Thames,  I discovered that a pub I used to go to was frequented by smugglers in Napoleonic times and secret tunnels had been found beneath it after a fire in 1892. This captured my imagination. In the stories I’d read as a child, the smugglers were always the baddies and the kids helped bring them to justice. But smuggling would have been a way of life for these poor fishing families. They were smuggling tea as well as gin, brandy and tobacco, because of the extortionate tax levied to pay for the wars with France. A child would grow up thinking smuggling was necessary to get food on the table and the Customs man would be the baddy.  I started to write about this child, Esther. She was standing on the dock at night, waiting for her dad to come back from a smuggling run. She was a feisty, ragamuffin tom-boy who wanted to be a fisherman and smuggler herself and she leapt off the page at me. At the time I was writing a contemporary adult book but Esther scuppered that. She took over and I wrote my first book for children.

Wordism: Ideas come upon you from unexpected directions, by exploring avenues you haven’t considered before, from looking at things from a different perspective.

The idea for my current book came from seeing stuff on TV and the news about the pressures modern teenage girls are under to be pretty, skinny and sexy. I have been witnessing this social pressure building up over the years and had become worried by it. They were growing up seeing the glamour model Jordan as a role model. My own peers are trying to balance motherhood and careers and, pulled in both directions, often feel guilty that they’re not committing enough time to either.

Then I was listening to an interview on BBC Radio 4 with PD James, the crime writer. It was her 90th birthday and I thought how much she must have seen of life and was wondering if she had experienced any problems in being a woman and a writer in her early years. I was thinking that women  had come a long way in her lifetime and what a success she’d made of her life.

And then it flew across my mind, a fleeting wisp of a thing I had to catch on the wing before it had gone. Suffragettes. What would a suffragette make of teenage girls today? What would they make of societal pressure on them. What would happen if a modern-day girl met the ghost of a suffragette? There was a story in that.

Wordism: Attune your creative antennae. Listen for the glancing thoughts that cross your mind. The ‘I wonders’ and ‘What ifs’. Be aware of the voice in your head that says, ‘that’s interesting’ and follow it a bit further. Note it down. Ideas come together in unexpected ways.

I wish you all a happy Christmas and a creative new year.