Where do those ideas come from, the ones that give you stories to write about, characters to walk through the landscapes of words, and shape your world out of the ether? Everyone probably has their own answers, or may not even be able to pin them down.
I think of inspiration as minute silver particles floating around the world. Sometimes they strike you dead on, sometimes it’s more of a glancing blow that leaves you groping around the edges of an idea. You can’t really catch them or pull them out of the air, but you can try and make yourself more open to them so that more of them hit you, and when they do, you recognise them for what they are.
(One way seems to be to have fewer clothes on. In bed, asleep, in the bath or shower, or even dropping the kids off at the pool – they all seem to work for me…)
There have been a number of times in my life when I was aware of being struck by one of those particles. My usual reaction at that point is to scribble it down or type it into a phone. One of the first that I can remember being aware of happened to me in the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London. I was looking at paintings depicting scenes from the Bible, both the Old and New Testament. Suddenly I started thinking about a particular culture in a fantasy world that I’d already started writing a story about. I suddenly saw the start of their history, how one man had found a goddess in a mountain cave and founded the city that would become their capital.
I legged it to the Gallery gift show, bought a notepad and a souvenir pen, legged it back to the room with those paintings and wrote it all down. Bits have been tweaked since as the world took shape, but the basic story germ had been planted in the soil.
I kept that notebook and ended up filling it with a number of other short stories, creation myths, background information, and other brushstrokes on the canvas. Not all of them came from those little silver particles striking me; most were more deliberately shaped. However, every now and again another bit of inspiration struck me and did all the shaping themselves. I’ll talk about another one of these next time.