Sunday, 31 August 2014

Dear Author, Where do you get your ideas from?

One of my young readers contacted me this week. She had lived in foster care for several years and had ended up in a school like High Fell Hall, the school in Where Bluebirds Fly. She was very open about her own troubled life and said my book had made her feel that good things do come out of bad. She wanted to thank me, but she also wanted to know where I got the idea. 

People often ask me this difficult question. Since I write realistic contemporary fiction, my answer is usually ‘real life’. This is a quite a broad subject.

Inspiration is not a single light bulb moment,
but that moment repeated hundreds of times.
To be succinct, I told my reader how inspiration had come while I was working at a school similar to High Fell Hall. This was my initial inspiration for Where Bluebirds Fly, but it’s not the complete answer.Writers don’t just get one inspiration for one story and that’s it; we get a whole truckload of inspirations dropping on us constantly while we write, and that’s what makes it such a difficult question to answer.

The original idea was to write a story about a girl (Ruby) who carried a bag of rocks with her everywhere she went. It was supposed to be a story about how the weight of these rocks got in the way of everything she did and stopped her living the wonderful life she was born to live. The rocks were a metaphor for all the emotional baggage she carried around with her, and the story was supposed to be about how Ruby learned to let go and find her true and precious self.

My background in therapy and teaching informed me about school life and the play therapy sessions Ruby attended. The first draft was fairly faithful to the metaphor and my personal experiences, but not enough to sustain a whole book.

Subsequent drafts (of which there were many) drew inspiration from …
  • a newspaper story about two girls who grew up not knowing they shared a father
  • a theatre trip to see Wicked
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • the  dozens of bird statues and art works on Morecambe promenade
  • a conversation with a friend who told me how she had trained a robin to come to her kitchen windowsill for food
  • seeing a Kingfisher flying upstream, while I was out walking my dog
  • my own lovely grandma, who used to call me Ducky
  • my dad and his garden full of wonderful things
  • a multi coloured cloak once used in a school play but relegated to the dressing up box
  • me, when I too was a messed up kid, struggling with identity
  • the little moments -- like waking up in clean sheets and remembering the feel of a good night’s sleep, an overheard conversation on a bus, a fossil found on a beach ...
... and a hundred other things buried deep in my unconscious mind that I don’t even remember.

Because stories, just like people, are complex; they are influenced and inspired by all sorts of things you can’t put a name or a date to. In the case of a book, you reach a final definitive draft, and when people ask you “Where do you get your ideas from?” you supply them with a definitive answer.

But of course, there really isn’t one. 


  1. That is so true. My now completed novel is the same - there was one image from my childhood that provided the initial spark, but the other influences that helped it to grow have been incredibly disparate and often random. That's what makes a piece of fiction, albeit non-autobiographical, so unique.

    1. Hi Claudia, yes - so true about how unique fiction is. If you gave the same bones of a plot to twenty different writers, I am sure they would come up with twenty very different stories.
      Good luck with your own finished novel - I shall look out for it. x

  2. Excellent post! What's fascinating though is the fact that brilliant authors can turn all these random ideas into a coherent story that resonates with readers.

    1. Hello KN - that's the exciting bit of writing for me - getting all the pieces together and working out how they fit together.
      Thanks for commenting X


Thanks for commenting.