I went *fake* camping the other day – I highly recommend it, by the way, it has all the benefits of meeting up with your friends who are sleeping under canvas, drinking wine and talking, but you get to go home and sleep in a warm, comfortable bed when they head off to their tents! My friend and her sister had both read my first full-length novel over the summer and we raised a glass or three to the new four-book deal I’d been offered a couple of weeks before. They asked me, though, if I was at all worried about having enough ideas to fulfil the contract. All I could do was smile and hope the red wine hadn’t stained my teeth too much.
Time is probably my biggest writing issue, fitting it around the rest of life’s commitments; ideas on the other hand crowd my brain and pop up at every turn. Some of them spark plots for full-length novels, novellas or even a series, and others for short stories for women’s magazines – a competitive market which I’ve finally managed to crack.
Everyone loves people watching, right? But my husband certainly thinks it’s a bit weird when we’re watching people in a coffee shop and I start guessing what they do for a living, what their backgrounds are and giving each of them a life story. My mum tells me that even when I was tiny, she’d constantly lose me in supermarkets and shops and find me standing between groups of other mothers, listening to their conversations and asking them extremely nosey questions. Now, when my husband discreetly taps the side of his nose, to let me know that my eavesdropping is getting just a little bit too obvious, I tell him that I’m not just being nosey, I’m working!
Ideas can come from anywhere, take this past week for instance. Last Monday, I took the children to London and, standing-up on the tube, we noticed two impeccably dressed and made-up women with tears silently streaming down their faces. They weren’t talking to each other or wearing black, like they were on their way to a funeral, and they didn’t appear to have just received bad news on their phones. If it had been one woman, I might have imagined a relationship break-up but, with the silent tears and the two of them sitting side-by-side, my imagination was working overtime, trying to work out what scenario that had led to this point. Even the fact that everyone noticed, but no-one said anything, sparked an idea for characterisation – why we act the way we do? Maybe it was because if felt wrong to intrude on their grief, to check they were okay, or because there were two of them, but we all obeyed the unwritten rule of the tube… don’t talk to a stranger, whatever the circumstance.
Later in the week, my husband and I set off for a rare weekend away without the children and we spent a lot of time in restaurants and pubs, leisurely reading the papers over breakfast and avidly eavesdropping over bottles of Prosecco come the evening. Listening-in to the pub conversations of others is like sprinkling glitter on your imagination and the heated discussion one couple were having, about how there was no way they were letting their son borrow their camera for his trip to Paris with his girlfriend, who they clearly couldn’t stand, left me imagining another host of scenarios. Maybe he’d propose out there, then what would happen to the family dynamic? Or perhaps the girlfriend would prove to be as obnoxious as the parents clearly thought she was and the city of Paris would be anything but romantic! Of course, I’ll never know how the story panned out, but it sparked off an idea for a possible story about what happens when a family member brings someone new into the fold who just doesn’t fit it. Torn between your first love and your family, who would you choose?
Taking a break from eating and drinking, we decided to have a walk up to the Epsom Downs and, on the way back down, the phone’s sat nav directed us through a cemetery. It was quiet and leafy and, as I can never help doing when I find myself in one of those places, I just had to read the grave stones. There was one that really struck a cord – the burial plot of Luke and his Lily. He’d been killed out in Italy in the last year of World War II, she’d died some forty years later, clearly not having remarried. There was a whole life story on that stone, particularly as their three children had left a touching dedication, and she’d obviously raised them alone during a time when being a single mother was even more of a challenge than it is now. There’s definitely a novel in that.
For me, inspiration can be found anywhere and, whilst none of my characters are based on real people, conversations with friends definitely spark off ideas too. If they make a really funny comment, there’s a chance it might appear in some form or another somewhere along the line. So, as the sign says, be careful what you say or you might just find yourself in an eavesdropping writer’s next story!