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Getting novel ideas

The most common question I get asked when people learn I have written a novel, is "How long did it take?" My answer is based roughly on the time it takes from putting the first words down to having the novel available for people to purchase, but in reality, the thought process behind the ideas for a novel can go back years.

That is sometimes the second question; "Where do you get the ideas from?" The answer to that is far more complex because the plot of my novels are always a long way from the original germ that inspired the initial thought process.

My train of thought gets going best when I am exercising alone - such as walking, swimming or cycling.

When it really takes hold I can arrive a mile or two away from where I started and not remember parts of the journey, which is a scary prospect when I realise I crossed a major road in autopilot. Most ideas are triggered by a 'What if?" scenario.

It was over a decade ago that I walked past a row of shops that would be the starting point for Dark Horse. It was a Sunday and the shops were closed. The simple thought was "What if I had to break in to steal things to survive?" In what scenario would I be desperate enough to need to take that course of action? I like the idea of a misunderstanding rather than hard criminal intent, and initially I started to dream up a plot in which our central character goes potholing for a day, in which time there is a large scale evacuation of the local town caused by the discovery of an unexploded bomb. Not knowing what's going on, or where everyone is, our character is scared, confused and forced to break into the shops for her survival.

That plot line was parked, since I felt a one character story would be pretty dull to tell, and it was several years later that I came across the "LETS scheme" - Local Exchange Trading Scheme. This is a recipricol arrangement of "I'll help you out if you help me out" without the need for money exchanging hands. Some of the things on offer include D.I.Y, catering, massage, PC training, driving tuition, ironing, piano lessons, typing, dog sitting/walking, book keeping and so on. I came back to the thought of someone being in a desperate situation - maybe someone on the run through no fault of their own - and having to get by on a finite amount of cash. Sound familiar?

The next steps for me are to start to scribble. A basic plot of where I want to start and where I want to finish, with some key milestones in between. It's like constructing the frame of a tent, and as the plot builds, I start getting a sense of the cast of characters, sub plots and themes.

The scribbles of a novel in the making

Characters are sometimes entirely from my imagination, but often are an amalgamation of different people. I may take the physical looks of someone and mix it with the personality of somebody else, with a lifestyle of a third person.

I start typing once a session at the pool or a walk into work has inspired the opening scene, and I try to write in order from start to finish, but occasionally I get struck by inspiration for a scene and have to write it down whilst it's fresh in the mind. As someone who works full time, writing has to be squeezed into evenings or weekends. Train journeys are a particular favourite time for typing a chapter or two!

Roughly a year to eighteen months later, I should have a draft that I let a handful of select people read. Whilst the editing and proof reading process refines the first draft, I start work on setting up the cover, and planning a launch. I love the flexibility and freedom of self-publishing. I only have to work to my own deadlines, and can simply write for pleasure, as and when the mood takes me.

Unfortunately I have more ideas than time; all those "what if?" scenarios in my head means enough book plots to keep me writing for many years to come. You have been warned...

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