‘Where do you get your ideas?’
This is one of the first questions people usually ask me – and I’m pretty sure it happens to other writers too. It kind of makes me want to groan, because it’s very difficult to give a sincere and considered answer to this question without boring the pants off everyone. The short, somewhat trite answer might be ‘Everywhere!’
But if we really want to answer the question, it takes a minute or two. Because really there’s no one answer. Ideas don’t come from one single, unvarying source. Nor do they come in the same way. Anything from the world seen or unseen can come to my attention and lead me to think, ‘hmm, that’s interesting…’
Inspiration, which is what ideas really are, comes from everywhere and nowhere. A snatch of song, a news story, a colour in the paint section of the DIY store, the turn of a person’s head making you think just for one split second it’s someone else, someone from another time, someone who should be dead. An overheard snatch of conversation, ‘don’t lose my hat, man, my hat’s my identity,’ and ‘of course she never did find out who’d sent it.’ (What writers call ‘research’, as Carol E Wyer so rightly points out.) A film, a book, a taste, a smell, a memory, a story your mother told you – you’ve known her all your life yet this is the first time she’s ever mentioned this particular incident.
I have based two stories on dreams, three on songs, a poem on a piece of art, another whole story is being built up now on the basis of a documentary I saw on TV about ancient tapestries. I’ve written a story about an arrowhead, and another about a trip to Skara Brae in the Orkneys. I’ve written a whole series of stories about the fact that all too often people think it’s okay to take the law into their own hands. I’ve written about work situations, about hopes and plans for the future, about family tree research, about children, and pets, and parents. About books I read as a child. And books I read as an adult. I saw a gorgeous man on the bus many years ago and wrote a story about him. I’ve read news reports and been inspired to create my own story around some of those. I’ve written in hospital having just given birth, at work during my lunchbreak when feeling so depressed I just wanted to run away and hide, sitting on the loo, sitting in the garden, on holiday, in bed with flu, and in cafes all over Britain, Europe and Australia. I’ve written on buses and trains and planes. I’ve written when someone I cared about has died. I’ve even got inspiration from sitting down at my desk every day and making myself write. Sometimes I’ve written two pages of ‘I don’t know what to write.’
If you are a writer, you squirrel away in the eccentric filing cabinet known as your brain EVERY single thing that you ever experience, and a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle or creating a patchwork quilt, you keep trying pieces together every which way until something fits and makes a pleasing and meaningful picture. That’s where I get my ideas.