Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Where Do you Find Your Ideas?

All writers are asked this question from time to time. I once wrote a short story that used the question as a key plot device, as well as a title - and it later became the title story of a book-length collection of my stories, each of which I introduced with a short account of the inspiration for that particular mystery.

When one is casting around for ideas – as I am today, in planning the next Lake District Mystery - there are endless possible sources. It may be a news story, it may be a chance remark overheard (like ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’, which so intrigued Agatha Christie.) In so far as there is a secret of success in coming up with ideas, I suspect it involves keeping an open and receptive mind at all times.

Before I wrote my first novel, I used to worry about ideas, and plots, and this anxiety held me back. Now I’m much more relaxed. The challenge is to come up with ideas that offer something fresh, rather than familiar. But this may sometimes simply be a matter of giving an old idea a new spin. In my case, this is especially true with short stories. One of the first I ever wrote, ‘The Boxer’, is really a late 20th century take on that Sherlockian classic, ‘The Red-Headed League – transplanted to Harry Devlin’s Liverpool. But I’d like to think that not many people realised this until I pointed it out.

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