A couple of weeks ago, I attended a ‘Meet the Author’ event at our local library. One of the questions she was asked was, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ It’s a question most writers have been asked at some point.
I immediately thought of the well-known writer I heard at a conference speech (whose name I sadly can’t remember) who was asked that question and replied, ‘From a little shop round the corner.’ One member of his audience failed to see the joke and asked for the address!
I’ve lost count of the number of times the question has been put to me. Some non-writers seem to think that all you need for a best-selling novel is a brilliant idea. Which of course, they have. One gentleman even suggested that he could give me his, I could write the novel and then we could share the profits!
My stock response to the opening gambit, ‘I’ve got this idea for a novel . . .’ is ‘Then you should write it.’
The truth is, ideas are everywhere. Writers have more ideas for novels than they have time to write. My main inspiration is travel. I have to force myself not to let my imagination take hold when I’m on holiday. To stop the inevitable, What if? On average, I produce a book a year and I’m lucky enough to take far more ‘holidays’ (including lecture cruises) than one each year.
It was a coach tour to Holland that first prompted me to write the first of my Fiona Mason Mysteries. I was fascinated by the idea of finding a dead body in the beautiful Keukenhof Gardens. I knew the story would revolve around the coach tour. My main character would be the tour manger. Our holiday took us to Amsterdam famous for its diamond cutting. Inevitably, this prompted thoughts of diamond smuggling. A little research told me that most smuggled diamonds are blood or conflict diamonds from countries such as Sierra Leone and that this illegal activity is controlled by terrorists. I had the outline for my plot!
I still hanker to write, ‘Tiger, Tiger.’ Yes, I even have the title. A few years ago, my husband and I went with our two grownup children tiger watching in India. It was a fabulous holiday – one none of us will ever forget. We saw several tigers up close including this male you see here in the photo only eight feet away from our jeep, plus I have a 12-minute video of a tigress. Our photos included leopards, jackals, wild dogs, a herd of wart hogs wandering down the path towards us plus peacocks in the trees and colourful birds galore.
I came back not only with a superb setting but the complete plot. There were only sixteen of us on the trip and two young women fell out big time, which impacted on everyone. The friction between them came to a head in the early hours one morning. After a night of drinking and another argument, one of them left the compound and went out into the reserve, putting not only her life but that of the man who went to rescue her at considerable risk. In the middle of a reserve miles from anywhere, it was impossible to put her on a plane back home and the tension of last few days affected everyone. Even our final meal was interrupted by an hysterical outburst from one of them. The only thing needed for a crime novel was a dead body.
I doubt I’ll ever have time to write that novel. And I’m not sure I should. However well disguised, taking real life scenarios as the basis for a novel is fraught with problems. That’s why other people’s ideas have little appeal for writers because they tend to be based on events that have happened to them.