I am definitely NOT one of those ‘bubbling geyser’ type writers, whose brains are full of stories just waiting to get out. Inspiration, if it happens, is very welcome. In its absence, the process of finding a new story to write can be slow and tortuous. I’ve described it as like carving a lump of granite with a teaspoon.
The seed that began my book, TORN, was a momentary impression which imprinted itself like a snapshot in my mind's eye. On a car journey to Somerset I was the passenger. I had just a split second to register a turning on the left and a lane sloping steeply down to the huddled centre of a village. It was apparent that the road we were on had been developed into the main road to by-pass this tiny village. At that instant, the random thought which went through my head was: ‘I bet those villagers were pleased.’ But it was swiftly followed by: ‘I doubt the people who lived here were so delighted!’ I went on to reflect that life is rarely black and white. There are always two or more sides to every question.
That was the light bulb moment, but other real experiences from my own life then fed into the developing story - an altercation on Streatham High Road; a party I went to, and its aftermath; an incident recounted to me by a friend who had taken her young child walking on a local hillside. Nothing ever remains exactly as it happened, but these re-imagined episodes begin to form a skeleton in my mind’s eye, around which I can begin to weave a story.
LIFE CLASS was a title waiting for a story. I had attended a life class for many years - so that was the research dealt with - and the name was just too good not to use as a book title. But I had no story.
So I began to think about the people I know. I lighted upon a good friend of mine who did a very interesting and sometimes amusing job. This was the crucial seed which set off the chain reaction and turned on the ‘what if’ part of my brain. If I gave the heroine of my story a job like my friend’s, she would be coming into contact with people - maybe people she knew - at very vulnerable, embarrassing and possibly life-changing moments. More than that, she might make perfectly reasonable assumptions about those people, assumptions which might colour her view of them and give her an ethical dilemma.
Life Class grew from those two elements - the job and the weekly class. Of course, from then on, other remembered incidents and experiences from my own life were absorbed into the story which, once I’d begun it, mixed into the cocktail, along with a generous helping of imagination.
But still it didn’t come easily. The only book which came really easily was the first complete novel I ever wrote - Just Before Dawn. That experience was one I have never repeated. It was as if I had a hotline to the fiction fairy. All I needed to do was open the channel and the story down fed onto the page from goodness knows where.
I wish I could find the route to the fiction fairy every time I write a book!