Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Thursday, 10 August 2017

People always want to know where writers get their ideas from. Let me tell you: ideas are the least of my worries. I have ideas all the time. For example: what if everyone else in the world can read minds except for me? I occasionally worry about this on the bus, when I have a rude thought about someone and then they immediately look annoyed. Then I spend the next few stops trying to figure out whether there is a dystopian novel in it, and also whether everyone else on the bus is secretly discussing whether my book idea is any good through the power of clairvoyance.

So it's not really about the idea; it's all in the execution. A writer might walk past a farm and think 'Pigs are pretty clever, I wonder what they would say if they could talk?' and end up with anything from Peppa Pig to Animal Farm by way of Pigs in Space, or, if they are me, more likely they will read a huge pile of books about porcine intelligence, write three chapters of a reworking of Sense and Sensibility in which the main characters are all pigs, and then give up.

When I got the idea for Oh, I Do Like To Be... I was actually working on another book that never saw the light of day. This is pretty typical of me. I'll hit the tricky spot on a book (there's usually one about 10,000 words in and then another at about 50,000) and suddenly the best possible solution will be to be writing another book entirely. In this case I was writing a book about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but told from the point of view of the dwarfs: Seven Normal Sized Humans and One Giant Princess, if you will. I was at the early tricky spot, and struggling with several aspects: the paucity of the source material, the demands of characterising such a wet character as Snow White, the difficulty of writing multiple scenes in which seven (at least) characters are all supposed to be participating at once, the fact that I'd decided to write the dwarfs as a group of mine-dwelling slaves turned freedom fighters ridding their land of giant invaders, and I'd done a whole bunch of research on indigineous land rights, and it's just quite tricky to turn the Trail of Tears into quirky comedy. To make matters worse, there were about eighty six (I approximate) films around at that time updating the Snow White tale, so I was writing a cliché before I'd even begun.

Then one day I was out walking on the beach and I turned to my boyfriend and said, "What if someone cloned Shakespeare?" I mention that we were on the beach because the book that came out of it is set in a seaside town, so it feels significant, even though it was a whole year before the seaside became any part of the idea. Why did I think of that idea at that moment? I have no clue. I got the ill-fated Snow White idea in a taxicab in Toronto. Why there? The people of Toronto are not unusually short. I can trace the roots of the Shakespeare idea to a few places; the recent digging up of the body of Richard III from underneath the car park of Leicester County Social Services; the fact that I once read a excoriating online review of Gods Behaving Badly that inexplicably compared the book with King Lear before concluding that "Marie Phillips is not Shakespeare", which couldn't help but prompt the thought "obviously not, but what if I were?" In any case, that day on the beach, there the idea was, its siren call tempting me away from thoughts of Snow White forever.

Yes yes, some of you are thinking, but maybe we want to read this Snow White book. It sounds kind of cool. Well, there is no book, but there are parts of a book, and before we move on with the tale of Oh, I Do Like To Be... I will share some of it with you. But this is a public blog, and the Snow White material is unfinished, unpolished stuff that I'd already decided I was never going to put out there. So here's how it's going to go down. In my next post, I'm going to publish an extract, but only in a private post for people who have already pledged. You pledgers are Within The Circle Of Trust. The rest of you are Outside The Circle Of Trust. Sorry guys, but that's just the way it is. You can join the Circle Of Trust by pledging money, which tells you a lot about how I learn to trust people - something I should probably revisit in the future. Anyway, those Within The Circle Of Trust will get a private blog post featuring an exclusive glimpse of the Snow White material, which is something nobody other than me has ever seen. The rest of you, well, if you want to see it, you know what to do. After that, we will move on with the story of how Oh, I Do Like To Be... came to exist.

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