Wednesday, 20 May 2009

I is for Inspiration

Quite an appropriate time for me to blog about this. I feel oddly drained of it this week. Inspiration, that is. There are times, while writing, when the words fly from my fingertips and, thankfully, fewer times when they don't. This week is a week when they don't, it seems.

I've tried all the usual things, of course. Chocolate. Extra coffee. Going for a walk. Going to the gym (all I got there was another knee injury). Shopping, except I'm not a great shopper. Research. Trash TV. Reading. Pottering in the garden. Hell, even all my ironing is up to date.

So what is it that inspires writers? Do we have an on/off switch? If so, then I must have slept funny on mine. It's somehow been (temporarily) turned off.

I have a suspicion it could be to do with planning. I do plan my novels. I think long and hard about them before I write. Plot, sub-plots, characters, themes. I make charts and graphs and breakdowns (lest I have one) and have copious notes and bookmarks to relevant information. But what happens, I think, is that sometimes I get just too inspired. I hear this...and read about that...and notice something else and oh, it all needs to go in my plan because it would be just perfect... Does planning stifle inspiration? Does a pre-set format make a writer blind to other influences? Writing a novel is an organic process. Throwing a load of twigs and leaves into a bin does not make compost.

Or perhaps writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants is the way to inspiration eternal. I guess, if I'm honest, I'm an in-between gal. I plan in detail. Then I chuck half of it away as I go along. So maybe that's the problem? I think I've got a complete plan, when actually I haven't. A bit like starting a bungee jump with a rope, then realising you don't have anything at all tying you to the bridge.

I heard a wonderful (actually it was grim) story about three weeks ago. It stirred me so much I was desperate to incorporate it into New Novel. I thought I had worked it in successfully. But in doing so, it's pretty much screwed up the rest of New Novel and what I'm left with is Different Novel, which, if I'm honest isn't as good as New Novel was going to be. So. Out with it. It will be in another book, for sure, but had no place in this one. It's left me a bit high and dry, however, because I'd invested so much in this new direction that I kinda, well, lost the plot. The original one that is.

So where does this whole inspiration thing come from? Probably the question I get asked the most, either at talks or when just chatting about my work, is where do I get my ideas from? In truth (and no one likes this) I have absolutely no clue. It's just life, isn't it? Writing emotional thrillers is so heavily based in the real world, all about what happens or somehow touches on each of our lives at some time or other, that by just picking up a newspaper there are probably half a dozen potential novels right there. Of course, there are characters to weave in, motives and themes, and sub-plots that help pull everything along at a thrilling pace, to a satisfying yet unexpected conclusion. Easy, then.

I guess, to distill, my ideas stem from bitesize snippets that cause big thought. Like the friend whose child went missing. Or the woman I knew who had to decide whether to have her frozen embryos destroyed. Or the marriage with a huge age gap, or the bond between a deaf child and her mother...Little glimpses of reality taken one step further.

I can't help asking 'What if...' about certain scenarios. Of course, What if it happened to me is a pretty good place to start and, often, painful to answer. But carry on with that line of questioning...what if that character did this, or what if that person wasn't really who they said they were, and soon a story will start to take shape. It may be that it's the wrong one, but being inspired is a skill to be learned, I reckon. The more you do it, the better you get. And the skill of inspiration, which quickly gives way to imagination, lies in observation and perception. Being open to...well...ideas. Noticing them. Harvesting them. Spotting what is useful to you. Eyes wide open.

New Novel is based around knife crime, but I couldn't just write a story about a stabbing. That would be a newspaper report. Other themes have waded in to make a story, about real lives, relationships, how flawed we are as husbands, wives, we don't notice things until it's too late...until we're living through what we feared most. The characters in this one are taking over. The structure is a little different, too, yet still very readable I hope. But there are some surprises in store for me, I just know (there have to be!). There is still some inspiration to be gained. I just wish I knew when and where I could find it. Contracts with publishers don't generally contain a clause for late delivery based on lack of inspiration. They kind of assume you will have lots of that.

Right, I'm off to hoe between the lettuces. I reckon that's where I'll find some much-needed oomph. That or a load of slugs. Writers: Where do you find yours?

Friday, 8 May 2009

Unspoken Downunder

A few photos from my Australia trip. I tried really hard not to dash into every bookstore we passed, but I just couldn't help it. After travelling twelve thousand miles, I really wanted to see it on the shelves. And it wasn't upside-down.

Youngest She-Devil found her favourite author's book - Chris d'Lacey's Fire Star.

Eldest son, who blanked the camera for the entire holiday, getting stuck in to Unspoken.

Unspoken on Headline in Sydney's reception shelves - with another of Chris's dragon books, Icefire, sitting above.