I attended a local reader’s group a few weeks back. It was one that specialised in crime and murder mysteries. I was interested in what they did and it turned out that they were interested in what I did too. The first question, as always, was ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’
I couldn’t give a definitive answer as I honestly don’t know. I don’t want to investigate how my ideas are created too deeply in case it’s akin to analysing a joke. It’s never funny afterwards. For me the strangest aspect of being a writer is having to keep an open mind. I don’t mean this in the usual sense as in being intellectually open to new ideas or concepts. An analogy for that is like being in a house and looking out of the window at all the new ideas parading by and then inviting the ones you like or find interesting inside. For me as a writer an open mind is more like having your front door wide open and whatever decides to walk in, walks in.
I found this hard at first as my normal reaction was to try to filter what came in but that just stopped the ideas dead in their tracks. I had to practise relaxing and keeping the door open at all times and I’ve been lucky that enough ideas have walked in to fill ten books to date. There are still times when the door shuts itself for some reason and I know that I could sit in front of my computer all day and nothing would come. Thankfully these droughts don’t usually last too long.
I honestly have no sense of where the ideas were before they walked in. While some may have been connected to something I’ve been thinking about or read or heard about at least as many come straight out of the blue. Take yesterday for instance. I was having a walk with my wife through a place called Radwell Meadows not far from where I live. It’s a country park on a very small scale with a nice walk dotted with benches. Where we parked the car there were empty cans of beer strewn on the floor, probably I thought, from some young people having a clandestine drink the night before. We picked them up and disposed of them in a waste bin. Part of the walk is like a mini-version of the Dark Hedges (as seen in GoT) and I stopped and had a sort of vision.
I saw a young girl’s body lying to the right of the path. She was around fifteen, had long dark hair and bright red lipstick. Blood had dripped from one ear and her skirt was half pulled up. A collection of empty beer cans surrounded the body. On the path I saw Mac Maguire standing in a black coat with his fedora hat on his head. He just stood there and looked at the girl’s body and I could feel his sadness.
Now I don’t want you to think that I’m like the young boy in The Sixth Sense (‘I see dead people’) as the dead people I see are very welcome. That scene will, in all probability, form the basis of one of the Mac Maguire mysteries, it’s like a peg on which the rest of the story can hang.
So I still can’t say where the ideas come from but, as a writer, I feel that you have to open the door in your mind, put out the ‘Welcome’ mat and hope for the best.
(Thanks to Terry Freedman for the nice drawing and Ungry Young Man for the Dark Hedges)