Between the Lines

When people ask me how I write or where the inspiration comes from, it's sometimes difficult to explain off the top of my head. I usually mutter a few vague platitudes and then feel guilty afterwards for having appeared to dodge the question. But since I am always fascinated to hear how other writers approach their work I thought I'd use this page to explain how my stories are born and then grow - in as much as I understand the process myself!

The Idea

An idea for a story often crosses my mind. It can come from a news item on the television or in a newspaper, or the snatch of a story seen on the internet. Sometimes it's prompted by an overheard conversation or an argument in the street, or even an earnest but unheard meeting between two people in a café. Often body language can be more revealing than words. Occasionally, the idea has no obvious source at all and it looms into my head unbidden when I'm trying to do something else (usually the ironing!). I nearly always carry a notebook around with me so, when possible, I immediately scribble it down. Sometimes the notes even make sense later.

The Story

The real work comes in trying to work out how to translate the idea into something which I can expand and develop into a 100,000 word novel. I feel it's like composing a painting. You can't just paint a view that captures your attention, you have to consider and analyse it from all angles first and then edit it to make a meaningful composition. So it is with the plot. The original idea usually offers a one-dimensional thread, then other strands form which I try to mesh with the main story line, weaving a web of sub-plots in and around it. As each new character is created, he or she suggests fresh avenues the story might go down. If I'm lucky at this stage, so many possibilities present themselves that I need to contain and even ruthlessly reject some to stop the story becoming too convoluted and confused.


The characters are inspired by all sorts of people, some I've met but most by people I've never even spoken to but have observed around me or seen on the television. Every character is actually a composite of a number of people, never one, with mannerisms and passions which are peculiarly their own. Sometimes a character is the inspiration for the story, sometimes they are created to fulfil a function in the plot; either way, they quickly develop a life of their own and - weirdly - insist on having a say in what they will do next.

Working Routine

I'm a morning person so I start work quite early and get most done before lunch. By mid-afternoon, my brain goes walkabout. I try to do 1500-2000 words a day. (On a good day.)

When is it Finished?

This is the hardest part. I write and rewrite several times over, each time changing less but honing the story and the characters, the dialogue and the description. Again it's like painting a picture: difficult to know when to stop and to risk letting someone else see it. Then, after some feedback, it'll be another rewrite. But even finishing a story is a bittersweet thing. After months and months, maybe years, of living with the characters and inhabiting a different world, it's over and I miss it. So then I start musing on what the next one will be…