I thought I’d start this year off by addressing a question which I get asked rather a lot. It’s this one:
How do you get your ideas?
The short answer is this:
I wish I knew!
But I don’t. They just sneak into my head and pop up in my brain at completely random moments. One time I was pushing a trolley around a massive branch of Tesco in Cardiff and as I by-passed the racks of women’s shoes, I was reminded of when I’d worked as a Saturday sales assistant in a cheap shoe shop as a teenager. And this got me thinking about the friend who worked in the shop with me and the fun we had every Saturday. Somehow, from one row of shoes, an entire plotline for a teen novel grew in my head and soon after, I began to write the novel Lottie Biggs is Not Mad. By the time I got to the end, the setting and characters were all established so the next two books about Lottie sort of just wrote themselves. But don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying they were easy to write because they weren’t. Weeks and weeks of frowning at a screen were involved. But during those many weeks, the voices of my characters bounced around continuously in my head and I wrote down their conversations and tried them out in various different scenarios and bit by bit those books got written.
And since then, I’ve written a whole other book which will be out this June. What’s Up With Jody Barton? is set in London and it’s about twins. I’m not a twin and I don’t live in London – although I did once. But the truth is I haven’t got a clue how I came up with the idea for this novel. I just know that I started writing, managed about a paragraph or two and then scratched my head and thought, ‘Hang on, this is boring. What about if….?’ I can’t tell you anymore than that or I’ll give the plot away. But I can tell you that Jody Barton is in some ways a very personal book. Because it’s a complete melting-pot of ideas and references which are important to me. Central to the plot are a couple of admired American singers. And two of my favourite films get a mention. And inspirational graffiti spotted on a wall in Brooklyn last summer is transported – by the magic of imagination - to a wall in Willesden Green, London.
So I suppose the long answer is that I get my ideas from everywhere. And then I sit down for hours and hours and hours and shut myself in a room and weave new worlds around them. And I can’t manage one stage without the other. In order to write, I need to live a little. And in order to keep paying the bills, I need to write. So it’s a tricky old balancing act.
But before I go, I’m going to point you in the direction of another blog I stumbled across just before Christmas. By total coincidence, I discovered http://sherlocktales.blogspot.com and after reading, intrigued, for just a few minutes, I realised that the blog’s author and I were in Felixstowe Sixth Form together at the same time. Unlike me, Jilly Sherlock does not sit in front of a computer and weave stories out of random bits of graffiti and fleeting remembrances from the past. Her whole life is a story. A remarkable one. Last April, she left Felixstowe on her bike and began cycling east. She is now in China and still pedalling. Her blog is one of the most informative, inspiring and incredibly funny and well-written blogs you will ever read. I urge you to have a look at it. Especially if you are a publisher or a literary agent!
Thanks to everyone who emailed me over the Christmas holidays. If I haven’t responded yet, I will.
See you next month.