Definitely the most common question I get as a writer is “Where do you get your ideas from?” I will attempt to answer that question here using the example of a book I am only researching at the moment.
Research! Max Power does research? Well I have to for this one. Maybe the reason I get asked that particular question so much is because my subject matter varies wildly as does genre. Darkly Wood is a smorgasbord of Ideas that I am currently continuing on with in the sequel. Larry Flynn had a very particular origin based on a radio interview I heard and Bad Blood began with one simple sentence. “Men like James Delaney don’t get many kisses in their life.” Little Big Boy came from a childhood memory. It is often the smallest things that start me off.
As anyone who reads my books knows, the one thing you don’t know is what to expect. Each one is intentionally different as I get most enjoyment from testing myself and finding a new challenge. Perhaps that’s why I never suffer writer’s block. I am writing one book at the minute which as I mentioned is the sequel to Darkly Wood, I am editing another book set in Australia called Apollo Bay so after that I needed something new.
I am an avid historian and have always been fascinated with the Irish Famine. As an Irishman, I know the history well but I wanted to write a novel set at the time but not about the famine as such. It is to be the backdrop, to a large extent the bedrock of the book, but it won’t be the subject. So with that as a desire, I still had no idea what I would write. Now here is how it happened.
Some time ago I was driving back from a small town in Wexford called Taghmon, listening to the radio. I heard a story about four Irish women who had worked for the NGO Concern in Somalia during the 1990’s. There was a particularly touching interview played as part of the documentary and I remembered hearing it all those years ago on the news. Our then President Mary Robinson, touched me with her compelling words and she later addressed the UN to ensure that the world did not forget the people ravaged by famine in Somalia. We Irish have a strong affinity with those suffering from famine. It is a genetic scar that has been passed though generations.
It brought me back to considering my book and then I heard three little words that helped me see immediately what form my book would take. A Somali working with concern said, “Used to be is a term we say all the time. I used to be a teacher, I used to live there, I used to drink coffee.” Those words “Used to be” set me away with a character who ‘used to be’ – and I won’t say what he used to be or I’ll spoil the story. The key thing is, that while I had a notion, it took the spark from some little thing like that to ignite the flame in me to start the book.
And there you have it. Three little words and I’m off. So here I am writing one, editing another, researching a third and there is another one somewhere in the pipeline that I don’t even want to begin to think about. Sounds hectic but that’s the way I like it. If you could only get inside my head for five minutes you’d see what I mean. Better still read one of my books. You’ll get the idea.