You have probably read countless blog posts about how an author gets inspiration. As an author, you probably get asked ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’, on an almost daily basis. I don’t want to bore you with a blog post about inspiration and ideas, but I thought I’d just share a little about how I set about writing a story.
Since ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ published and I have done a few school/bookshop visits, I have been asked the above questions, but I have also been asked,’What did you think of first, the actual plot for the story or the main character?’ For me, it is always the main character. It is the character who ‘tells’ me their story. This probably sounds a bit bonkers, but then most writers do tend to have a little of the bonkers gene floating around in their body.
‘Grace-Ella’ is the first children’s story that I have ever written and to have my first ever attempt published went way beyond my pink fluffy cloud dreams. When I made the decision to actually write, I waited patiently for something to happen in my frazzled brain (I had two young children and was teaching full time). The lightbulb moment came as I was driving to work one morning. The name ‘Grace-Ella’ suddenly whooshed through my brain causing a mini tornado. I executed a pretty nifty swerve into a lay-by and skidded to a stop. ‘Don’t go, don’t go’ I shouted rather maniacally to myself. I pulled out my notepad and pen and began scribbling.
By the time I arrived at work, I knew who Grace-Ella was and I knew that on the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year of her life, she was going to discover the truth about herself, and this secret was going to be revealed by Mr Whiskins, a talking cat.
Needless to say, I was excited. I had a character who was
desperate to tell me her story. My fingers twitched ready to write it. And that’s how my first children’s book was born.
Where the name came from, I have no idea. But once she made herself known to me, it was like planting a seed. Her roots became firmly anchored and her story germinated and flourished.
After sending ‘Grace-Ella’ off to Firefly Press, I acted on the advice that I had read and began writing another story immediately. Once again, it was the character who made herself known to me first. This time, it was 7-year-old Hetty, who lives in a flat above a hat shop. For now, Hetty is resting in a drawer, waiting her turn to be pulled out, dusted off and polished, because I am currently writing a second ‘Grace-Ella’ story.
So, in the battle of character vs plot, character always wins for me. Since losing my son last year, I spend some time every day at the cemetery. As a child, cemeteries did nothing other than spook me. Now, I find myself at peace as I wander amongst the old headstones, reading the names of those who have passed away. It has become like a library for me, a library of stone books. Beneath each headstone hides a story.
I recently came across a name which leapt out at me and sent the cogs in my brain into a whir as a story began to take root. I am currently having to battle against this new character so that I can finish Grace-Ella’s second story. As soon as I have finished, I know my fingers will be twitching to write about this new character that I have befriended … I’m not going to reveal her name yet, not until her story begins. I am excited about her, which does mean that perhaps poor Hetty has to gather a few more cobwebs.
Sometimes, therefore, a character forms from a name I see – maybe on a headstone, maybe from a book of baby names, sometimes from browsing names and their origins online (I do admit to spending far too much of my writing time doing this, but I find it so fascinating), and sometimes they just randomly leap into my mind as did Grace-Ella (this can cause a few funny looks when it happens in public and I begin to talk to my character).
Wherever the name comes from, it will always be the seed for my story. Until I know my character, I have no story to tell. My main character speaks his/her own story through me, through my tapping fingers. So if you find yourself in a bit of a writing slump, go for a walk through your nearest cemetery – trust me, it isn’t morbid. Cemeteries are full of stories and as they are so peaceful, I find my mind clears and allows that creative door to open.
As I sit next to my little boy’s grave, I sometimes wonder if one day in the far off future, someone walking through the cemetery will pause at his headstone and wonder about the story buried deep underground; the story of my little boy lost. This doesn’t mean a historical search of facts, but a fictional story inspired by the inscription on his headstone. Ned only lived to be five years old. He devoured books and was always making up stories and shows for us to watch, so yes, I think that one day he will catch someone’s eye and through that person, will tell a story.