Where Do I Get My Ideas From?
Inspiration is a tricky, hard-to-pin-down business. It is also, by definition, deeply private and - at times - extraordinarily mysterious.
But with twenty years of writing and thirteen novels under my belt, I am prepared to reveal the following:
- Nothing makes inspiration disappear faster than the sense that it is being actively ‘hunted down’. This is, I am sure, why it always strikes me at the most inopportune moments, like when I’m stuck in a traffic jam, or pinned to the dentist’s chair, or in the small hours too nearly asleep to be bothered to stumble in search of a pen and pad...
- For no matter how fantastic the idea, I have learned that I need to WRITE IT DOWN, or it will be lost under the jumble of shopping lists, decisions about what to eat/wear, latest hot gossip, what to watch on telly and all the other vital things that constitute my action-packed, non-inspirational life.
- Curiosity/Observation about the world…nosiness…?! Whatever you want to call it, I find that the tiniest physical detail – buck-teeth, a head of lustrous hair, bitten nails, a fallen tree, the shape of a cloud – can set in motion the idea for an entire character or scene. It’s like reality is the trigger, but then my imagination barges it out of the way and takes over.
This is a game I play all the time in order to get under the skin of my characters.
For example, in writing my novel The Godmother, I asked myself:
What if I had pursued a career in business and hadn’t had children, or got married? What would I do if I decided that, although single, becoming a mother was important after all?
Or, in writing A Family Man:
What if a decent, hard-working thirtysomething Dad came home one evening to find that his wife had simply disappeared, leaving behind their four year old son?
Or, in writing Relative Love:
What if the worst, most unforeseeable tragedy befell a close family?
Or, in writing Life Begins:
What if the direction of an entire life was based on a single, seismic childhood event?
Or, in writing The Love Child:
What if a 40 year old had sex with his best friend's just-sixteen year old daughter? Could that ever be deemed 'right' or truly 'consensual' ?
More Personal Stuff
My inspiration also appears to be propelled by a combination of the following:
- Terror (of failure, of missing a deadline, of an empty day, of losing my touch... of pretty much anything, in fact).
- The right coffee mug, the right pen... superstition rules.
- The weird, wonderful, occasional sense of the story pre-existing, of it needing, simply, to be told, with me in the happy position of being the one to tell it.