Three Frequently Asked Writer Questions
‘Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?’
This old chestnut crops up from experts and amateurs alike, and with such regularity that the creation of any work of fiction is clearly a source of continuing interest. Whether you relish the planning process or prefer to throw all your cards in the air and see what lands, you still need to be inspired by something.
For me, sometimes it’s about fulfilling a wish.
‘I wish there was a book in which an unusual heroine investigates a crime but proves to be her own worst enemy.’
Sometimes it’s an idea based on a friend’s experience. ‘A friend of mine had to house-sit as a favour to a friend and thought someone was stalking her.’
Sometimes it’s an idea that twists a cliché. ‘How about an old-dark-house tale set right in the middle of a noisy city?’
Sometimes it’s all about a character. ‘This guy thinks he’s doing really well in life but in truth everyone hates him.’
Stephen King seemed to popularise the dual-idea approach. ‘A girl takes revenge for being bullied at school. But she also has latent psychokinetic powers.’ The only trouble with high concept novels is that their permutations are often doggedly worked through by authors. God forbid you write a time travel novel that doesn’t throw up a paradox.
It’s a question with no correct answers, because we all approach it differently.
“Can You Run Out Of Ideas?
I used to think no, but lately I’ve begun to wonder just how straitjacketed we still are by Victorian narrative structures. The wild experimentalism of the 1960s led nowhere. The interactive novel failed. Story structures on TV shows have become braver and stranger (if less intellectually challenging) than in novels. Look at the staggeringly bizarre structure of ‘WandaVision’, which to the 19th century eye would seem incomprehensible, or any of the SF series currently running on streaming services, like ‘Severance’. Look at the MCU film ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’, in which a tourist viking ship is towed across the universe by screaming goats.
Now look at the crime novel. It seems frozen in time, unable to go forwards or backwards. The comic novel? All but extinct. The thriller? Mostly the province of the mature writer and reader. And it seems that if there is an appetite for these categories, there’s only room enough for one or two writers in each.
Does future salvation only lie in the endless reblending of fantasy and myth? Or will there be some kind of breakthrough that combines reality with outrageous ideas?
‘Do You Write under Your Own Name?’
This is often the first (and only) question I’m asked. I can only think of a handful of instances in which authors use pseudonyms, one good example being EM Delafield, the daughter of a count whose real name was Edmée Elizabeth Monica De La Pasture. I’ve written under two pseudonyms, ‘Chris Fowler’ (for the disastrously handled YA novel ‘The Curse of Snakes’) and ‘Little Boy Found’ (née ‘There’s Something I Haven’t Old You’) written under ‘LK Fox’, my mother’s initials plus a surname that would require the book to be filed close to ‘Fowler’.
If you’re typecast, a pseudonym is understandable – but it usually becomes such an open secret as to have no point beyond flattering the author’s vanity.