Tell people you’re a writer and invariably you get the same responses coming up time and time again. These are the four I get the most:
1. You should tell my life story – it’s fascinating.
2. I’ve always wanted to write a book but don’t have the time.
3. But what do you really do?
4. Are you the next JK Rowling?
It’s the first one that I’m going to delve deeper into today. Not by telling someone’s life story, although I have been told some great ones on some of the long train journeys I’ve been on, but in looking at the inspiration for writing and where ideas come from. For me, it’s a very different process for my novels and short stories.
The premise of my debut novel, As If I Were A River, came to me over a period of months as I kept coming across stories about people going missing. I was living in London and sometimes on the tube I’d flick through the Metro or the Standard and tucked away amongst the celebrity gossip there’d be little news pieces about missing men and women. I started to wonder how you would deal with it if someone in your life went missing. What it would feel like to not know.
A documentary programme on the same subject then inspired the main character, Kate, whose husband vanishes one night on a trip to the local shop. After watching that, Kate took up camp in my head and I had to start telling her story.
The novel I’m writing now, working title of All Be Forgotten, has also been brewing in my mind for a long time. I first had the idea around 3 years ago and it was inspired by my day job as a features journalist, in which I write about sustainability and renewable energy. I became a little obsessed with visions of the kind of world we could end up with because of global warming. The main character, Evie, is an environmental and social activist who ends up living in that world. But although this provided the initial inspiration for the setting and the idea, it’s turning out to be about superstition and prejudice, that element of human nature that takes the dark path even though there’s a chance to start again.
My third novel is actually the one I’ve been thinking of writing for the longest. I had the idea for this one about a decade ago. It’s historical crime fiction inspired by real life events that happened in my home town of Reading, close to a flat I used to live in by the River Thames. A story I stumbled across when researching something else in the local library. I’ve been researching it and thinking about it on and off for all of this time. I finally figured out how to tell it so the planning proper commences this summer.
So my novel ideas are creepers. They come from the things around me and I never know what might turn up next. In contrast, every single short story I’ve had published has come from a prompt or writing exercise. Usually where I’ve written the entire thing in one burst. In starting to write novels, I discovered I love to write short fiction. Thanks to the creative writing tutor in one of my first ever courses who said writing shorts was a great way to keep your motivation going as you actually get to finish something!
This post is brought to you by Amanda Saint.