Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Spark

The past week I have been assisting a book festival find authors to attend. This in itself is a tremendous treat, but not what this post is about. The topic came from a discussion with one of the possible authors. She asked me what would she talk about...

So I told the writer in question she could talk about why she wrote the book or how the idea for it came to her. This author writes non-fiction which is a slightly different kettle of fish to fiction but...the spark, the trigger could be similar. The magic of inspiration has been on my mind since most of mine comes from Cornwall and being physically present there works a treat by seeming to pull random pieces together.

A strange incident in evening dusk occurred in our garden (after enjoying some wine with my husband), which gave me the title for a book I didn't know I intend to write...once I knew without a doubt what this title was...well other pieces seem to fall into place - almost like magic.

This hasn't been the first time. August Rock, my first book (that I'm willing to own up to) began by looking at the marine charts in our boat. The scene was a glorious summer's day as we were bouncing across Falmouth Bay at the mouth of the Helford River. I shout to my husband, "What's August Rock?".

He pointed to a green buoy in the distance.
"So, what is it?"
"It's a rock that only appears above the surface of the water in the very low tides of August."
"Sounds like the title of a book." I said.
"It does." he agreed.

That was the seed, which over the next two weeks in Cornwall grew (from drinks one evening at house overlooking the Helford, a ghost, and my daughter's lavender pin-tuck dress). So that by the time I was driving back to London they had mingled in my brain and I had basic plot of the story of August Rock in my head.

Having clearly explained how simple it can be, it never ceases to amaze me the alchemy that occurs in writers brains. I never tire of hearing how a story got it's spark or how 'the uncle' walked out of the closet and took over the story at the half way point when he was never planned in the first place....

For writers do your sparks come out of the blue or when you do some activity or visit a place...? For readers is there a book for which you would love to know where the inspiration came from?

Please stop by on Thursday and when Biddy is in charge.


  1. My "sparks" come out of the blue, just like yours, and it's amazing how serendipity often has a hand in it. Something triggers a scene in my head and then the story grows from that. The weirdest thing is that once I start to do research around that particular subject, I usually find things that fit in really well, as if it was meant to be. A bit spooky, but wonderful at the same time!

  2. I remember in middle school we would have to do some creative writing as part of our English classes. We'd be asked to come up with an idea and plot out each chapter before starting to write anything. I was terrible at that, and it convinced me that I wasn't any good at fiction. I stuck with that belief until last summer, when an idea struck me out of the blue during a long drive. By the time I reached home I had some idea of characters and initial plot. I didn't know how the plot would play out, necessarily, but I started writing anyway. I was amazed at how the story just formed itself. Since that initial spark, I've been hit with a dozen or more story ideas, none of them through any particular trigger. I think maybe the classroom experience wasn't really reflective of how most authors work. My impression has been that story ideas are more often spontaneous rather than deliberately thought of or planned out.

  3. Hi! I am writing my first novel and my 'spark' for this idea came to me via a dream! And the idea for my next novel came to me whilst walking around the zoo - so I truly believe that my own personal good ideas are best when they come unexpected.

  4. I totally agree, the ideas come when they want to! I was rubbish at writing at school as well, but only because I could never think of anything to write about just then (or we were given really boring subjects to write about). Maybe teachers should tell students to keep an ideas file so they have something to choose from when it comes to writing projects? I do that now and find it very useful, and if I don't write something down when it occurs to me, I'll forget anyway :)

  5. Many of mine come when two disparate ideas which are ok slam into each other and become greater than the sum of the two parts. Showers, train journeys and walking is when it usually happens. But the components can come from anywhere. Watching a TV programme, finding out something about a friend, visiting places.

    I always loved writing at school. I always found that there were ways of subverting those boring subjects. It used to give my mother, a teacher, nightmares. Supposedly the teachers are looking for certain things from those boring titles. Ahhh well.

  6. Christina - I love the idea of an ideas file...I do something similar but not quite.

    Seabrooke - I have been in creative writing classes where ideas just went ping ping ping and others where nothing happened at all. I can't write to outline on the first draft but am finding it useful once beyond that stage. I confess to feeling my way...

    Lucie - I love a zoo :-)

    Biddy - slamming have something there I think :-)


  7. Loved this post, Liz, and the inspiration behind August Rock - all I can say is that it's a wonderful, delicious feeling when the spark catches! It's those moments that make writing so satisfying!

  8. Chris - I think it's those moments alone that keep me going some days :-)


  9. Hi there, My sparks come out of the blue too. When I first started writing I got lots of sparks and thought they could all be books but of course, a spark doesn't always flicker into a flame - many fizzle out. I find the spark ignites part of the story, but I have to take time and develop the rest. I got the idea for It Should Have Been me from a combo of the old Yvonne Fair song and a picture of the hero in a magazine.

  10. Some sparks ignite with a bang. I'd gone through a phase of reading a lot of regencies back to back and had become tired of the heroes being the handsomest, richest, most sought after and the heroines being the most beautiful and alluring. I wanted to read about people who seemed average but proved their worth and became the most attractive people to each other, and the entire story just built from there.