It’s such a common question for writers to ask and be asked. Now that I’m contemplating writing another novel, I’m asking it myself.
Many people, when they find out I write, say, ‘Oh, I’ve got so many amazing ideas for a novel.’ Really? Generally speaking, I haven’t got any. I have a hunch that those people who are brimming over with ideas are often the people who never actually get around to putting pen to paper. Whilst those of us who struggle to come up with one paltry crumb of a story are the ones who actually see it through to the end. Perhaps that’s just me trying to console myself. What does it matter anyway?
The point is you have to come up with something. But, how? Some people trawl through news stories to see if anything grabs them. Some trawl through their own lives. Some use writing exercises to spark off ideas.
Personally, I don’t find I can force a novel to come to me this way. What I try to do is simply to keep my mind on the alert and open to all possibilities. It may be that the most innocuous thought or circumstance has the potential to grow into a story if I allow it.
The novel I’ve just written began with a childhood memory of a teenage boy being knocked off his bicycle outside our house and ringing the bell, all bloodied from his injuries. I didn’t write anything down at first. I simply allowed this image to breathe and expand in my mind. I conjured a character who would complement this boy and I got to know her. I developed a vague notion of the plot and pictured the key settings. Most of all, I cultivated a strong sense of the overall feeling of the novel; the kind of atmosphere I wanted to create and the emotional temperature. By the time I allowed myself to start tapping away on the keys, I was raring to go.
As far as the next novel is concerned, I have one or two possibilities simmering away. But I gladly welcome any suggestions. My swimming club friends believe I should write a swimming club novel, like a Jackie Collins, full of parental rivalry, bile and recrimination. Start off with a body floating in the pool and take it from there. Yea, but I’m interested in creating fiction, guys, not regurgitating the facts of life.