Unearthing Ideas


Where do ideas come from? Ambeth was inspired, as I’ve said before, by something that happened to me when I was a child. But it has grown and evolved, the characters telling me things and taking me down paths I didn’t realise were there, and I’ve learnt to sit back and let them tell the story, my fingers mere conduits on the keyboard for what they wish to say. I’ve a few other ideas floating around – a house full of leaks, a glimpse of something in the Thames, a porcelain cap for my tooth, a dead woman – they are all jumping off points for other stories that are still percolating in my brain, waiting to come out.

I’ve heard the feeling of finishing a story being described as ‘entering open water’ – heading out to sea. But for me the analogy that rang true immediately came from the great Stephen King. He described finding a story as ‘unearthing a fossil,’ and as soon as I read those words I could see mine. Can still see them, poking out from the forest floor, delicate carapaces of bone or polished wood, it’s hard to tell as I unearth even more of them. Three are now clear of the ground, the stories complete, just a bit of polishing required. The others are still offering up new discoveries, new aspects every time I look at them, whether it is a change of only a few words or a whole new idea. But the important thing is that I keep looking at them, keep exploring the angles, the nooks and crevices, until the job is done, the story told.

Perhaps it is something to do with the way a writer’s brain works. That we can take a single small event, or notice something strange while out for a walk and spin from them a story. Ideas are everywhere, if you care to look for them.

The Big What If

Pick your path...

Pick your path…

I was speaking with a friend the other day.

One of my oldest friends of all, the one who’s known me since grade school, who shared in my teenage indiscretions and was maid of honour at my wedding. We live far apart and have for some time, but whenever we get together it’s as though time and distance dissolve and we are ageless, one moment fifteen-year-old girls giggling like mad, the next women in our forties with husbands and kids and work and all that implies.

It’s great. I love it.

So we were talking about choices and the things we’ve done in our lives. Looking back, as you do. She wanted to know more about my writing, saying,

‘You know, you’ve always been a fantastic writer.’

She’s not the first of my friends to say this to me. To point out something it took me years to realise, that my passion lay with the written word. I reminded her of how, when we were eighteen and going through the routine of university applications, I was accepted into the Creative Writing degree at York University in Toronto. And I turned it down. She nodded, remembering. I went for a different degree instead, a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Visual Communication, a pathway along which I thought my future lay. We were so young to have to make those decisions, she said. Her degree was in something for which she had no particular interest – it was simply to get a degree, for that’s what was expected of us in those days. We talked some more about choice and where it can lead you, and decided in the end that we’d both lived interesting lives so far and that there was no point, really, in regrets.

In the Narnia series, still one of my all time favourites, I remember Aslan, the great Lion, telling Lucy (and I may be paraphrasing a little here) that ‘we never get to know what if.’ And I love that thought. I find it very comforting. There are theories out there about parallel universes, that every time we make a choice another universe branches off from our own, an alternate version of us living the life we would have had if we had chosen the other route. Yet we remain blissfully unaware, forced to deal with the consequences of the choice we did make. Thank goodness for that! I think it would be insanity to live otherwise, to be able to see the myriad repercussions of choices we did and didn’t make, all spread out in some horrific Bosch-ian tangle of limbs and lives.

If I’m honest, every so often I do think of the chance missed to take that degree in Creative Writing. And then I consider the fact that I’m writing anyway. And I wonder, would I be able to write the books I have, the work I’ve had published, had I not lived the life I’ve lived? Everything happens for a reason and I think we are brought to where we are supposed to be in the end, as long as we’re willing to keep searching, keep taking chances, keep making choices. And I’m glad I don’t know ‘what if,’ for I am very happy with ‘what is.’

How about you? Are there any what-if’s hanging around in your life?

PS Health update – I’m healing well and was able to sit at the computer long enough to write this today – yay! Onwards and upwards 🙂