I was asked a question on local radio this week: ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ ‘The news,’ I responded, which is true but probably not the total answer because a news item, small or large, is only the trigger for a series of thought processes. It’s followed by the ‘What if…’ or premise. Take a tiny snippet from a newspaper about a banker who had fallen to his death from a balcony of a hotel in Shanghai and my immediate thoughts were as follows: Was he pushed or did he jump? If pushed, what kind of individual would do the pushing? Was it someone paid to do it? And what kind of man or woman would do such a thing? Is he/she driven by greed, revenge, getting kicks from it, or something quite different? As a result of this, Hex, my main protagonist in ‘Wicked Game’ and ‘Game Over’ was born. Clearly, character has a huge bearing on a story. A memorable main protagonist lights up the plotting process. I always try to be as loose in my thinking as possible at this stage. That’s where distraction therapy comes in.
I have various techniques for ‘cooking ideas and it usually involves the physical. All the time I’m swimming, walking, cleaning, or more hideously, ironing, I’m doing my best not to think at all. I’d even go so far as to say that I get my best ideas when brandishing an iron because my sub-conscious is desperate to dump the laundry and do something, anything, more stimulating. I’m a great believer in having a notebook within handy reach to jot down notes too cryptic for anyone else to decipher. I then end up with a mess of ideas, most of which get dumped for being too clichéd, done to death (no pun intended) or lacking staying power. It can be a fun process as long as I don’t get too serious about it – there’s plenty of time for hard work and drilling down those ideas at a later stage.
A spin-off question from the broadcaster touched on how I got into writing. I explained that I’d fallen into it by chance and was ridiculously naïve about how difficult it would be. I also mentioned that I’d taken a traditional route. By ‘traditional’ I mean that I wrote and wrote and wrote for seven years before I got a sniff of a book deal. No sooner than the words left my mouth I realised how old-fashioned that sounded. Back then, and I’m only going back to early 2000, (my first novel was published in 2007) self-publishing was regarded as the only route for the desperate. A stigma was attached to it. One publishing editor warned me ‘never to self-publish because you won’t be taken seriously ever again.’ With this threat hanging over me, I soldiered on and it was miserable. You’d think a natural filter, in the form of an agent, would guarantee success, but the window of opportunity for obtaining a mainstream publishing deal was and remains narrow, sometimes stupidly so. How times change!
The indie author has no need to beat his or her breast, to suffer tears and tantrums and for that I’m genuinely glad. I don’t care what anyone says, none of that ‘character building’ stuff is good for the soul. On more than one occasion I had a strong desire to chuck my computer and fledgling novel out through the nearest window before hurling myself out after it. Now, independent writers are not only respectable they are on the rise. The most successful will often obtain publishing deals from the very publishers who once wouldn’t have given them houseroom. The British have always admired the underdog. Good luck to them, I say, and about time too