What’s The Big Idea?

How do authors come up with so many different ideas?

Stories generally start with a simple idea by the author and there are many ways in which an author can get inspired to write. In this blog, I wanted to write about how I came up with the idea which would develop into my debut novel ‘Alive’. Before I do that, let me touch on ideas and inspiration first of all.

I mentioned before that I often use song titles as inspiration for my stories. Sometimes I begin with that and see where it takes me, other times I have an idea for a story and try a work a song title into that story. Either way, I enjoy linking music and fiction together, whilst being careful that the story is not connected, in any way, to the song.

I only started writing seriously in my mid 30’s, mainly due to a lack of confidence. I enjoyed writing stories at school, but back then I was reading a lot of James Herbert and his genre was not best suited to high school English class. I remember writing a story in a mock exam which was highly influenced by Mr Herbert and being proud of the outcome. The story was of a man dreaming of being brutally killed before awaking to find a murderer in his bedroom. Ultimately I received a poor grade, not because the story or prose were poor, but because the question was to be a true life example.

I did get a better grade later, on a story I wrote about a boy called Ricky who shot and killed a friend in a teenage drunken evening. I stole the idea (and the main characters name) from Skid Row’s ’18 and Life’ song. A school friend wrote a similar story, based on the same song, but had the sense to change the main character’s name.

Many famous authors have different ways of inspiration. Lots carry around books and scribble notes when an idea appears. I took my eldest daughter to the Edinburgh International Book festival where she met a famous YA author for a signing. She loved her unusual name and took out a notebook from her bag and wrote it down. A couple of years later, my daughter’s name was used as a character in one of her books.

Ian Rankin uses an ideas box, where he keeps scribbles of ideas, or newspaper articles that may inspire his stories. I have a book that I use for some ideas that I may come back to, but I need to get better at recording them whilst they are still fresh in my mind.

When I wrote ‘Christie’s Early Cases’, I came up with the idea of writing a series of short stories to introduce the main characters. I then decided that each story would represent a case that Christie was involved in after her promotion to DI. With her partner DS Lyle being a big fan of Classic Rock music, I took a further step and I decided to name the 11 stories after the track list of a Classic Rock album. I’m not sure why I chose Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ album, although it is a great album and fits the Classic Rock genre perfectly. Some songs were easy to make into crime stories, but I did struggle somewhat with ‘You Make Loving Fun’.

So, let me return to the start and tell you about ‘Alive’.

The year was 2011 and all I had to begin with was the title. ‘Alive’ by Pearl Jam is my favourite song of all time (I can debate this on another blog) so I just had to name my book after this song. Secondly, I had a genre. I wanted to write a crime novel. The fact that the end product is more thriller than crime is immaterial.

Next, I wanted to do it differently to other, more traditional crime novels. I decided that the detective would not be the main character, police or amateur sleuth regardless. I considered writing from a killer’s perspective, but this has been done (by Agatha Christie at least – I won’t reveal which novel as I don’t do spoilers). I settled on the idea of writing it from, what I call, the target’s perspective.

My next consideration was, how can I write from the target’s perspective without revealing whether they live or die? My solution was writing it through Steve’s diary. Great idea, I thought. One of my favourite books as an early teen was Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Aged 13 3/4). Ok, very different subject and genre, but I liked that you could dip in and out of the book without forcing yourself to the end of a chapter. It also helped with my writing, as I was focused on completing weeks, then months and before I knew it most of the book was complete.

From there, the story took shape. The set up was that the main character, Steve, would receive a note on the 1st of January saying he would be murdered that year. The story would be centred around not only who was doing this, but why they were doing this and would they be ultimately successful in doing it? The diary format did have some issues though. I was writing in the first person and struggled somewhat with description and getting the other character’s perspective over. These turned out as minor issues and overall I’m very happy with the outcome.

Fortunately. most people I have spoken to who have read ‘Alive’ have agreed. I guess my idea was ok after all.

To read ‘Alive’ select Books on the main menu and click on the book cover. Alive is available in both paperback and eBook.

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