Where do ideas come from?

Various commenters on my last blog have asked about work rate; ie, in my case, 5 novels in 4 years.  The simplistic answer is that I had a lot of free time.  I lived in Germany and my partner was in Portugal.  On weekends, after the shopping was done, I was free to do what I wanted.  The TV was mostly German-language and I don’t watch much TV anyway, so evenings were free as well.  Plus, I lived in a peaceful, quiet valley and there were no distractions.  Result = time to think, time to read = ideas.

I sometimes wonder whether ideas are like forlorn umbrellas in a lost property office, just waiting to be claimed.  I try to recall what, exactly, inspired each book.  In the case of the first book, Miracle in Carvoeiro,  the seed was buying a business in the little Portuguese village and I wanted to record my impressions while they were fresh.  Most of the characters in it are based on real people as well (I don’t do that now).  The Eye of Sayf-Udeen was a sequel and was fed by my discovery of the rich Portuguese history.  Artcore was inspired by the idea of a serial killer who  painted pictures of what he was intending to do next (I also paint).  The Zarathustra Principle was inspired by the ideas of Nietzsche and I wanted to write a German novel while I was still living there.  Flight Into Darkness was actually inspired by Peter Buckman (Ampersand) who advised me to write about what I knew (I was an aviation safety regulator).  So I did.

In each case the inspiration was the seed.  Then came the characters.  Know them well, and they actually write the story for you.  You may have some good ideas but, if you ignore what the characters are telling you, you’re fighting against the tide.  I always defer to my characters.  The results of this can be surprising.  For instance, in three of the books I found myself writing about religion, even though I’m not in the least bit religious.  It was the characters you see.  I become like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

As for work rate,  I tend to have a brain dump and sort it out later.   In some books, a lot of research is necessary but the writing itself I tend to do quickly, generally 80,000 words in 3-6 months, including research time.  Then comes the refinement by a professional editor, in my case Debi Alper.  Essential.  If I had another good idea, I often started a new book whilst rewriting the previous one. 

When writing, sometimes I come across a fork in the road and need to rest and think about which direction the story should take.  The wrong direction can be disastrous as it will eventually leads to a bad plot, massive cuts and a rewrite.   Generally, I look into the heads of the characters for some guidance and it always comes.  I may have to wait a week or so, but it comes.

So, there you have it.  That’s how I work.  Of all the elements above, I would say that the most important is to have time free from distractions.

Now, where’s the idea for my next book?  I’d better look through the lost property office; there’ll be a good one lurking there somewhere.

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