The Question Every Writer Gets Asked: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Posted on 21st March, 2024

A question writers are often asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ The answer is that they come from all over the place – a snippet of overheard conversation, something on the news, a picture, a song…


I once got a terrific plot idea from listening to a talk given on a training day at work!


That idea subsequently added an extra layer to the scene in The Poor Relation when Mary, Nathaniel, Alistair and the men of the local community work through the night to get the clinic ready for business.


When I was writing The Surplus Girls' Orphans, there had to be a series of crimes going on, and these crimes had to fit in fully with the story and in particular with the children in the orphanage.


I gave it a lot of thought. Then, one morning, when I was listening to Today on Radio 4, a certain news report gave me exactly what I needed. It had to be adapted, obviously, for my book, but the idea was there.


That's the way it is with ideas - they don't get transferred onto the page unchanged. When a writer gets an idea, it doesn’t just mean using that exact snatch of conversation or that particular detail from a photo. What happens is that the original thing, whatever it was, blossoms and expands into something bigger and completely different inside the writer’s mind.


Before I had even thought of The Sewing Room Girl, I was told about something frightening that had happened to someone... and that's where the book originated - though nothing in the story bears any resemblance at all to the original event.


The wedding day details in The Railway Girls in Love were inspired when I saw two wartime wedding photographs in Bombers and Mash by Raynes Minns.


One photo was a close-up of three women – the bride and two bridesmaids. The bride was wearing a suit and hat, as many wartime brides did. As the war wore on, it became increasingly difficult to find new wedding dresses and many dresses were passed from bride to bride. So what was it about this photo that made it special for me? Well, it was the hats worn by the bride and one of her friends. Each hat had a frothy decoration attached to it, a cross between a flower and a pompom, to make the hats more suitable for a special occasion. The moment I saw these, I knew that knitting-mad Mrs Grayson would love to add the coordinating touch of knitted flowers to the wedding hats in my story.


The second picture was a group photo showing the bride and groom, an adult bridesmaid, two men and three child bridesmaids. It was the way the three little girls were dressed that gave me my second idea. I’m not going to say here what it was in case you haven’t read the book yet, but you may well work it out when you get to that part in the story.


Looking at the two wartime wedding pictures (which you can see for yourself in Bombers and Mash – they appear on page 177 in my paperback copy) didn’t just provide me with ideas for wedding clothes. Suddenly I was able to see the whole of the wedding day happening in detail from start to finish inside my imagination, complete with everything that would make it into the very special occasion that I loved putting on paper, including the flood at the church hall that meant the reception had to be moved at short notice into the station buffet.


The basic idea that started me off writing The Deserter's Daughter, my first published novel, came from seeing boxes of bits and bobs at an auction. If you fancied something, you had to buy the whole box.


That idea never got used in The Deserter's Daughter....


.... but it did get used some ten years later in The Surplus Girls.


It might take longer than you think, but ideas always get used in the end!



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Comments (1)

It was lovely to read the blog and I thoroughly enjoyed reading how you got some of your ideas. I suppose it’s a question you have been asked many times. I was really surprised at your fact finding! So interesting. Keep finding the ideas so we can keep enjoying your wonderful stories. I know there are more to come so,lol, forward to all of them as always.