I think one of the questions you get asked the most as a writer is; where do you get your ideas from? I always feel a little bit sad when I get asked this, because in my mind I kind of expect everyone to have a head full of ideas and this question reminds me that is not always the case. And then I feel a little bit sorry for the person asking because I don’t know what it feels like not to have millions of ideas and characters running around inside my head.
But where do ideas come from? It really is a good question if you think about it. Our minds are amazing! Pick up any book in your house or think about a recent read that had a real impact on you…it can boggle your brain to wonder how the author came up with it! Here are some of the ways writers get new ideas…
Out of nowhere… Sometimes ideas just come out of nowhere. You can’t trace them back to anything you saw, or heard or felt, or anything that inspired you. They just jump into your brain and they are there, taking up space. With me this is usually because the character invades my mind, sets up camp and then starts chatting. Before long they’ve suggested a back story and a possible plot.
Musical inspiration... Writers will sometimes find an idea growing after listening to music. It could be that the song reminds them of a certain time and place and brings back memories that inspire a storyline. Or it could be the lyrics of the song itself that entice the writer to create a story. While driving, I once heard a song on the radio that instantly transported me back to a certain time in my life and by the time I reached my destination I had a short story in my head. I later evolved it into a novel which is in the first draft stage.
TV/Film/book inspiration… Sometimes the young writers I work with worry that their story ideas are too similar to TV shows or films or books they’ve enjoyed. They’ve fallen in love with something and naturally want to emulate it in their own writing because it’s fun to do so. But they feel self-conscious, like they have stolen an idea or copied a character. I always tell them there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and that a lot of ideas are inspired by things we have enjoyed culturally. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series was originally inspired by me watching The Lost Boys at aged 12! My series has zero vampires in it but the scene when the mother realises her new boyfriend is the head vampire, got me thinking about real life monsters that hide among us, and the story grew from there. Writers ‘magpie’ ideas, taking little bits from here and there to create something new and this is totally fine.
Real life people/places/events… Often writers will feel inspired to write about real life people, places or events. This could be in terms of historical or political fiction, or it could be someone they have known or come across sparks off an idea in their head. Writers people watch a lot and they tend to soak up whatever is around them, so the chances are real life people and events do sneak into their writing, sometimes without them even realising it.
Anxieties and fears… I think this happens to me a lot! Quite a few of my personal fears and anxieties have evolved into novels. I think this is my way of working through what upsets and worries me. I never realise it until later though! For example, another reason The Boy With The Thorn In His Side story came about was my fear at 12 years old that my recently divorced parents would meet new partners I would hate. The Mess Of Me grew out of my own body image issues. This Is Nowhere is essentially about a non-religious character trying to find meaning in life, which is something I was thinking about a lot at the time. The Tree Of Rebels and my current work-in-progress confront my fears around climate change and the destruction of wildlife. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature contains characters who sort of represent an internal fight I have with myself – one is open-minded, open-hearted and wants to see the best in people and view the future with hope, while the other hates people so much she basically becomes agoraphobic. I don’t think writers always realise it at the time, but I do think our personal fears weave their way into our work.
Long walks… Or long showers! Either way, I find doing something relaxing that you don’t really need to think about for a long time, really allows the ideas to flow. I always get good ideas for stories or plotlines when I am walking my dogs alone. Any time I have had a block or got stuck, it has become unravelled on a walk. Ideas for endings have popped into my head out of nowhere while walking. Dialogue often starts to flow too, so I’ll write it down into my phone or record myself saying it so I don’t forget. If you are ever out of ideas, I would strongly recommend a long walk on your own!
So, that covers some of the places ideas come from and some of the things that spark off stories, but I am sure there must be more. What about you? Where do your ideas come from? Feel free to comment and share!
Dreaming of Another World is a new feature on my blog, inspired by a piece I wrote during lockdown. I wondered whether other writers and bloggers felt like me during this strange time – that another world was possible and could just be glimpsed thanks to the stillness the pandemic enforced on us. I’ve had a great response to my request and each week I will be welcoming a guest to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences on how lockdown affected their vision for the future. Did it change their views about anything? Did it change anything in their life? Did it make them long for a different kind of life or society? This week Toby Martin shares a story he wrote during lockdown. It expresses the frustrations and fears he experienced when trying to keep an appropriate distance from other people during his daily exercise. (This does include swearing in case that offends you.)
Walking Alone – by Toby Martin
At the last count, there were nearly 8 billion.
Somehow that didn’t seem right. Could it really be possible that after millennia of wars, famines, droughts, democides and genocides, hostile weather, predation, disease, murder and even self-inflicted death, there were still this many? Why did humans have to be so resilient anyway?
Dani found a growl in her throat emerging automatically at the sight of a woman with two loud kids in tow, their screeches and guffaws dirtying the still air. She was in half a mind to confront the woman and tell her exactly how much she had got wrong. Hadn’t she heard of protection, contraception, or even abortion? Where exactly did she get off, producing two more of these obnoxious specimens when the planet was already heaving under the weight of the overinflated ego of a bipedal ape that had gotten too technologically savvy for its own good?
And even if she insisted on ruining the rest of her life by producing time and money consuming crotch goblins, with a masochistic instinct Dani could never understand, why did they have to choose this exact path to be walking on? Dani had chosen this path, and she was almost certain she had been there first. In really ruined the serene image created before – a tiny strip of walkable gravel lined by trees and swaying grasses, tucked away from the hideous noises of humanity, all of that muffled and replaced with the twitter of birds or the occasional whine of an insect. That particular image had been fine as it was before, and Dani really felt that the narrowness of the path spoke volumes about how people should be on it at any given time. But no, apparently dragging your shrieking genetic splurges along it regardless of who else might be there as a giant fuck you to anyone who preferred the quiet life was a perfectly decent use of one’s time. Especially if the path was so narrow that should people be coming in opposite directions, collisions were inevitable. Realising this, Dani began to resent the person who had made the path. Fuck that thoughtless idiot.
Faced with the prospect of other people coming within her personal space, Dani considered her options. As it had been earlier with the blond loser in the hoodie, cheerfully chatting into his phone and not caring that his presence was so interfering, Dani felt she’d have to drastically change direction. The loser from earlier seemed not to have cared that Dani had had to leap across the road and risk being run over by a car, which raised the question of which cunt had thought it was a good idea to be driving in such a way that disturbed the peace, to say nothing of the amount of pollution they were causing. Still, the way out had at least been obvious to her, if risky. Now, however? Vegetation lined the entirety of her peripheral vision. She was funnelled in, doomed to be within the range and space of the disgusting entity that was OTHER PEOPLE. Damn it. The tranquil-looking path had lured her in like the proverbial gingerbread house – and a path with intent was not a welcome idea, because that would mean it was sentient, and then Dani would have to hate it too. As far as she was concerned, her only options were limited to diving into the surrounding plant matter, risking scratches and stings until the loathsome ones had passed, or else hoping that the life-threatening car from earlier would suddenly crash into the vicinity and put this smug, noisy family permanently out of her misery. Such serendipity was unlikely, as Dani knew too well, though she liked to entertain the image for just a couple of seconds before having to face the inevitable.
With minimum grace, Dani launched herself into what appeared to be a minute gap in the surrounding bushes, which, whilst certainly not ideal, did at least count as a gap. At least for this absolutely vital purpose. Now she just had to hope that these organisms would not seek her to bother her further.
“Thank you!” the mother said briefly as she passed. Dani simply scowled behind her back. Sure, it was better for her sacrifices to be acknowledged, but she wouldn’t have to make them if people did the sensible thing and kept out of her way. Surely this town was big enough for people to keep a distance? And if not, then they should all do what would have been advisable many hundred generations back and just stopped reproducing. Was it too much to ask that a voluntary, long overdue euthanasia for the human race be put into practice before any more damage was done? It would be the more palatable option for most, compared to the inevitable rush for humanity to cause its own violent destruction, though Dani considered the latter option to be the more cathartic. At the same time, the former would give Dani more peace in the years to come, when there’d be a beautiful absence of the usual screaming kids, who insisted on getting in your way in the most farcical ways. Though that wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem of the clueless adults, or the teens on bikes. Well, shit.
Dani was about to continue her angry stroll along the now clear path, when she noticed something in her peripheral vision that she hadn’t noticed before. This was understandable – diving into bushes wasn’t her usual way of doing things. The rows of vegetation didn’t seem quite as solid as before, and, twisting around, she noticed that, beneath a low hanging branch, winded a smaller path, covered in earth and looking free of human influences. Hm.
Dani looked closer. The path led onto a field that she had known beforehand ran parallel to this particular path. She had deliberately avoided it because of the sight of all the fucking people there. However, this narrow view of the field showed this particular end of it to be mercifully free of people and leading to a wooded area she had barely spared any thought to before. The wood was bordered by extremely tall pine trees and looked to be completely unoccupied. How come she hadn’t noticed it before? She supposed raging at her species on a constant basis left little thought space for ways to get away from it all. But now, for once in her sorry life, she had struck lucky. Provided nobody else got there in the meantime…
It was the worth of a couple of seconds for Dani to firmly establish her trajectory along this new path and, chancing a revolted grimace at the bastard humans gathered a merciful distance away, briskly made her way past the trees and into the woods.
It was the worth of a couple of seconds for Dani to firmly establish her trajectory along this new path and, chancing a revolted grimace at the bastard humans gathered a merciful distance away, briskly made her way past the trees and into the woods.
Though the sound of the barely sapient sapiens wasn’t entirely muffled by the lines of trees now surrounding her, Dani felt that the ambience had shifted enough. No longer did she have those stupid fuckers in her lines of vision, just the trees, silently swaying or gently rustling, and masses of ferns growing without restriction, without dictat from consumers and horticulturalists. This was the vision of a post-human world. It was just a shame she wouldn’t be there to see it.
Taking a few slow steps along a makeshift path, away from the human noise, Dani began fantasizing about people finally taking notice of how much she avoided human contact, and, became moved by sympathy to put the voluntary human extinction into action. OK, so – it wouldn’t happen. Humans loved fucking and breeding like rabbits way too much to realise how much better it would be to stop. They couldn’t see beyond their next fuck, drink or consumption of natural resources. Their cares lay beyond the important things in life. Mindless breeders, the lot of them. Dani audibly sighed and briefly span around to get a panoramic view of her surroundings. Such a limited look gave the impression of the good life, but alas…
Another twirl showed her a dog and, sadly, its walker in her peripheral vision. Fuck. She couldn’t escape even in a temporary wilderness. She guessed it was time to change trajectory again.
Fortunately, this open woodland allowed for a much greater number of escape routes. The one she selected, over a low-growing holly tree, likely required much for agility than the wrinkly fogey and tiny terrier were capable of, and it led her further away from the breeders beyond the trees. It was ideal!
After the dog and its walker had passed, Dani realised that the particular area she had found herself in was not as ideal as it first appeared. The trees and ferns grew much closer together here, restricting her room for exercise whilst fantasizing about the end of her pathetic species. She began to step back in the direction of the more open area when something else caught her eye. This time, it was mercifully not a human being. It may have been the herald of one, however, long ago.
She crouched down and took a closer look at the small, mysterious shape nestled under a much shorter pine than the ones that towered around her. Shrouded in the permanent shade and covered in pale pine needles, it was very easy to miss. It took a real sophisticate and not a sheep, Dani reflected, a wide, involuntary smile making its way onto her face, to notice such a thing. The shape, as far as she could ascertain, was of a small rucksack, looking to be of a faded indigo colour. How long had it been there? Would it be safe to touch? Dani dismissed this concern and reached out for it, brushing some of the pine needles off. It certainly felt like a rucksack, with the rough, sturdy texture that might have been polyester, although…she ran her hand up and down it, occasionally coming into contact with the odd zip…it was slightly softer than a brand new one would have been.
Dani felt for the straps and yanked it into a clearer view. Though not heavy, it had some degree of weight resistance, and rattled slightly as she set it on a partially emerging tree root. It still contained what it had been abandoned with. What was it and why? This was a pertinent question for those with the intellectual capacity to consider it, not those clueless reprobates. Dani suddenly felt the made urge to yank the bag open and plunder its secrets. But she had to examine every inch of this bag, to find everything that might be within it. It had several separate sections, after all. She would build up.
The smaller pockets and pouches yielded nothing, so that only left the main body of the bag taking up the majority of its weight. A delicious shiver ran up Dani’s spine as she slowly unzipped the rucksack, half-closing her eyes to savour the sound that heralded her discovery.
She peered into the bag once it was fully open.
The abandoned rucksack was full of a pile of cassette tapes, each one its own plastic case. Blank? No – they were labelled with hand-written letters of the alphabet. Some of the cases were cracked, and, as she discovered when she lifted one out to examine it, they opened very easily, indicating a rather repeated use. All the spools of tape were also still intact.
So, it came to this – unbroken cassette tapes, with all almost certainly containing recordings, had been abandoned in the middle of the woods. Who had made the recordings, what was in them, and why had they wanted them hidden?
Dani wasn’t sure if she felt a rush of kinship for someone who had hidden something they had made from prying breeder eyes, or whether she should be wary that these tapes should yield criminal acts of such disgusting depravity that to declare kinship with such a person would be tantamount to being the worst.
Well, there was only one way to find out.
Following Dani’s not-so-blissful but interesting walk came the inevitable not-so-blissful and not that interesting either confrontation with her mother, who insisted that she should have let her know before she had set off because she wanted her to post a letter on her way and had had to do it herself. Dani gave her an insidious glower at her words, biting back the retort that she should stop leeching off of her to get her pathetic tasks done and that Dani wanted no part in her attempt to support the increased interaction of the human species or contribute to deforestation by use of her paper consumption and maybe she should take a long hard look at herself and realise how futile everything she did really was. She bit back that retort for a good four seconds before breaking. It felt rather pressing a matter. In response, her mother got defensive and proclaimed that Dani was closer to a leech than her given that she was still living under her roof and being financially supported by her, and maybe she could do more to support her? Well, at this, Dani, her face burning an awesome shade of crimson, hollered back that she’d rather be a leech than a human and that her mother had done a terrible, immoral thing by bringing her into the world in the first place and that she was simply reaping what she had sown. She added a ‘fuck the normies’ and ‘hail Satan’ in there for good measure.
Dani’s mother went off in a frantic distress, muttering about where she might have gone wrong. Dani managed to resist the urge to fire back that birth was the answer (both her birth and Dani’s), but declined, given that now the path to being alone in her room was clear.
She sprinted up the stairs, slid into her room and shut the door behind her. With a sweep of her arm, she cleared her desk of the trashy clutter than inhabited it, with the exception of the small goldfish bowl, containing her best friend, Jeremiah, happily swimming about, oblivious to how fucking awful everyone else was. Jeremiah was always content to have his bowl perched in the corner, so he could be a companion to Dani as she worked on various misanthropic projects without getting in the way.
Amidst a dusty pile of retro stuff under her bed that came in and out of fashion cyclically was a small cassette player with a pale stain on it. Dani had no idea what the stain was, had no desire to investigate, and in any case knew it was of no concern given that it still worked perfectly, about the only thing in the pile that did. Dani set the player on her desk, plugged it in and wiped the film of dust that had gathered atop it off in a flourish. The dust particles still dancing in the air, she selected the tape labelled ‘A’, slipped it in and pressed play.
It occurred to her just after she did this that it might have been advisable to rewind first, just to ensure she didn’t miss anything, but it soon became evident that that had already been taken care of for her. There was a crackle and an exhale on the speakers, and she leaned in closer.
“Hello.” The voice was male, sounded relatively young (though definitely post-puberty) and had a very nasal quality. It continued,
“This is a first of a series of recordings I’ve made where I really want to share…well, everything.”
Everything? Dani’s ears pricked up at these words. Was this recording something she was never supposed to stumble across? That made it even better. What horrific crime did he have to confess to? She held her breath as the recording continued,
“For starters, there are times where I wonder whether some dinosaurs would have been suitable pets.”
Dani frowned slightly. This was a disappointment. Confessing one’s idle thoughts were far from exciting, as she had often remarked to her mother when not raving about how humanity needed to go extinct. Still, this could easily give her an insight into what this person was like. From the pile of abandoned former desk clutter, she extracted a pencil and paper and began to note what this mysterious nasally stranger was saying about dinosaurs.
“I mean, some of the more famous ones would obviously been quite dangerous,” he continued, “Or else have very tricky upkeep. Take Argentinosaurus – the largest land animal that ever existed. Pretty awesome to show to your neighbours, but how are you supposed to house or feed an animal that may have weighed 100 tonnes? You’d have to go for a much smaller one, but that might look a lot less cool. You’d have to strike the right balance between cool to look at and easy to keep, and so…”
And so he went on. Dani began to find it a little tricky to keep up with his line of thought, her jottings becoming rougher and less distinct and wondering how the hell this shameless nerd had managed to talk for so long about an abstract hypothetical. After all, if there were no humans, keeping pets wouldn’t even be a thing! Though she did wonder whether humans vanishing suddenly or simply never having existed would have been the better option for enslaved animals at that point, distracting her so that she almost missed the nasally stranger wrapping up his stream of consciousness by concluding that Struthiosaurus (whatever that was) would make the ideal dinosaur pet, and moving on to another topic, which began,
“I have a little confession to take about when I was younger…”
Dani corrected her slouch so suddenly she jolted the desk and risked upsetting Jeremiah’s bowl. Onto the juicier topics, surely?
“It was back when I was maybe about seven or eight. There was a little wood less than five minutes from where I lived. And at this age, my parents were starting to get a little more relaxed about letting me go there alone, provided I went in the middle of the day, didn’t talk to strangers and promised I’d be back at the exact time they had specified.”
Dani gripped her pencil tighter. An anecdote of being an unsupervised child? Something scandalous was sure to come of this. She licked her lips in anticipation. Did it involve talking to stranger? Even going off with one and his parents never finding out? Maybe he found a whole stash of porn in the woods?
“There was a point in the usual walk in the woods where the canopy ahead was thickest,” the stranger said, his voice taking on a slower pace, squeezing any suspense out of the story he could manage, “and it always interested me, because to me it seemed like it was inevitably the wildest, most untouched part of the whole area. But there was a gate there.”
Dani scrawled, ‘A MOTHERFUCKING GATE???’ onto the paper, taking up the rest of the space and necessitating turning the page over. Now she had to know what was the on the other side of this gate.
“Now, obviously, in such a small wooded area, it’s not exactly wild and exotic. But to my child’s mind it was, and this gate always stuck out to me. A construct of old wood with flecks of green paint. Obviously, the paintwork had just faded with time, but I thought it was a deliberate pattern at the time, to signify something way more mysterious and other-worldly.”
“And what was it…?” Dani actually found herself muttering out loud.
“I was never brave enough to venture through the gate-”
‘FUCKING TEASE.’ Dani scribbled before leaning back and sighing with all the exaggeration she could muster. The voice of the stranger continued,
“Doubtless, on the other side was something hopelessly mundane, probably someone’s garden. But honestly, the possibilities I made up in my head were much more exciting. What if it was a portal to a world of dinosaurs? To a secret world of magic, sorcery, and villainy only I could find? The embarrassing thing is, I spent a lot of time near that gate as a child, completely on my own, wondering out loud what might be on the other side of the gate, and loudly battling the imaginary foes that came out of it.”
‘How sad,’ Dani jotted, sniffing in a supercilious way. What kind of sad person would spend that much time alone?
All the same, as soon as the stranger began to give more details on the kind of encounters he imagined getting from the mysterious gate, which included everything from ancient aliens to ridiculously tall witches, Dani found there was just a little more intrigue than before. Though it was disappointing that no cryptic crimes or mysterious pasts were being unveiled, this insight into a mind that refused to conform to the acceptable imaginations of the sheep that flocked everywhere she trod was a welcome, inviting break. A little lighthouse in a dark sea of depravity.
This delightfully bizarre imagination continued for a while, long enough that Dani had found herself more invested than she expected and was surprised when the tape suddenly stopped with a loud clunk. She frowned. It was possible that all these tapes – ten in total – displayed a continuous train of thought rather than separate accounts. If so, anything the stranger confessed would likely be buried deep within the winding thought stream, not set aside for any tape specifically. She couldn’t be 100% sure of that, but also had no way of finding out, other than to listen to all of them. One by one.
This realisation in her mind turned into a commitment, and for the next two and a bit days, she barely left her desk, listening and taking intense notes on everything intriguing the stranger said. It irritated her to no end when she had to get up to eat, sleep, use the toilet or help her mum out with something stupid and futile and listen to the whines that she was starting to smell and needed a shower. This proved beyond reasonable doubt, Dani decided, that it was infinitely preferable to spend time in the mind of another outsider than brave the horrifically boring and boringly horrific exploits of the common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd.
It was a good way into the second side of the ‘J’ tape, whilst the stranger was rambling about the kind of food combinations he’d enjoyed as a child, that Dani realised that, if there was some higher purpose for him making these recordings, with this being the last tape, it must be coming up any moment now. With ten whole cassettes dedicated to things like embarrassing childhood attempts at writing, the scariest advert he ever saw, habits he had picked up while shopping, a dream diary he had kept at thirteen that had coincided with puberty and much more, she concluded that such occasionally delightful non-conformist confessions must be culminating in some seriously important zenith. As such, she almost had a heart attack when the stranger began to say,
“OK, so, as this is the last tape, I think I should probably wrap all this up and get to the point about why I even did this.”
Almost involuntarily, Dani emitted a noise that sounded some degree of excited, but possibly also pained to ignorant eavesdroppers.
“I have no idea who will find these recordings,” the tape went on, “but given how much I’ve shared about myself, I feel we’re sort of friends now.”
‘This is a stretch’, Dani found herself writing, but continued listening.
“So…a while back, I heard that a childhood friend of mine was being investigated for…well, the bottom line is, they weren’t who I thought they were. And that severely shifted my perspective not just on the time we’d spent together, but also on basically everything. All of us. As a species.”
‘He had childhood friends?’ Dani queried to her paper but finished this observation quickly. Her excitement had peaked as soon as he had mentioned the human species. This had to be the point where their ideas converged! He was going to condemn the rest of humanity as trash and prove this whole long exploit worth it. Maybe he’d even share some ideas of how to persuade everyone to stop reproducing. Heart hammering and pencil poised, she turned up the volume and listened intently.
“I think, when we grow up and learn more about the intense harshness of some parts of the world, part of us feels betrayed. You know, we had this image of an ideal world where we could be anything we wanted, but actually, no, we have to go into a field that makes money or else we’ll never get a job or a house or a livelihood. Oh, and loads of people are homeless or elsewhere dying of war, disease, famine, oppression, ignored by many people in charge and we’re also completely screwing the natural world over. Suddenly, we feel a bit shafted, and fall into a resentment of almost everyone. Even those you trusted might not be as pure as you thought and it makes you wonder, is anything really worth it in the end? Are we, the dominant species, worth it?”
‘NOOOOOOOOOO!’ Dani triumphantly declared on paper.
“I would say – yes, absolutely.”
“I mean, think about it this way – all this introspection, this species-wide self-deprecating. No other species on the planet does it, not even mosquitoes, who kill more of us every year than we do of each other. We can probably safely conclude that no species has ever done it, because they’ve never had the self-awareness we do. And whilst it can come with some depressing side effects, being self-aware is not a problem, it’s an opportunity. We have a wider scope of the problems we face than any other animal does, giving us both the desire and means to sort them. And sure, we mess up a lot, and we all choose to remember that, rather than the huge amounts of progress we’ve made – for example, I guarantee that nobody listening to this will be living in fear of smallpox, giving us the tiny window of possibility that this may eventually be true for all disease everywhere. Imagine a world like that.
“Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with all the other random stuff I’ve been talking about on all of these tapes. Well, not much, except that it gives you a little insight into me, hopefully to generate a bit of empathy, because sometimes that kind of perspective is all we need to realise we care enough about another individual that we are, even just slightly, invested in their continued happiness. Also, it shows the ridiculous capacity for imagination we have, again, unique among the animals, as vast as our potential. I hope that’s the case anyway – and I hope that whoever found these tapes, whatever you might be thinking of the world right now, I hope you at least bear what I said in mind. Thanks so much for listening to my weird little rambles, clearly a connection’s already been made!”
And the tape clunked to a stop.
Dani let the pencil fall from her fingers onto the desk, ignoring it as it rolled off onto the floor. The last words of the stranger reeled in her mind, echoing strangely as thoughts exploded in her head more intently than she had felt in a while. She had been left with a rather…unexpected message. She glanced down at her paper. Then she snorted and screwed it up.
No, he was completely wrong.
I mean, of course he was wrong. Dani knew better. Humans were depraved. All of them. Even her, probably. Humanity had never done anything good, it was obvious, when you looked at all the bad. God, this fucker was an idiot. And she had thought he had valuable insights? Ha! Clearly only she knew the truth.
Standing up and beginning to pace in frustration, she realised she’d almost definitely have to send him a reply. Write or even record an impassioned rebuttal, taken from a list of horrible human things she had been working on since the age of nine, then leave it in the rucksack when she returned to its former place. Then she’d see what his stupid mind made of that! Maybe he’d be persuaded to stop the breeding of everyone he knew!
Her relish at this was rather heavily distracted however, when she span back around to face her desk and noticed that she had forgotten to feed Jeremiah in the last two and a bit days.
Thank you so much Toby, for writing and sharing this lockdown themed story with us. If you would like to find out more about Toby, his bio and link to his blog are below! I still have spaces for the guest post slot – so if you have a piece in mind, do get in touch! Anything fictional or personal on the theme Dreaming of Another World will be considered.
I’ve been writing since I was ridiculously young, although I’m happy to say I think I’ve improved a lot since those initial makeshift books in felt-tip pen and terrible spelling. I’m constantly looking to push the boundaries of what I write, and whilst my current preferred avenue is contemporary fiction, I’m looking to expand into some speculative fiction as well, should time allow.I was accepted into Bournemouth University in 2015 and have more recently started a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing & Publishing. Outside of writing, you can usually find me either with a performing arts group, with a humanist group, or doing way too deep analysis of any creative work I feel you might like. You can find out more about me here; https://tobythewastrel.wordpress.com/
Welcome to another Indie Author of The Month post! At the end of every month I will be interviewing and generally drawing attention to a fellow indie author I have come across on the internet. For April, I welcome Mick Williams to the blog. Mick is an author I have had the pleasure of knowing online for a few years now. I’ve read a few of his books and he has also read a few of mine. Mick is a very versatile author who writes in multiple genres. He really does have something for everyone! His books are fast-paced and full of adventure. Read on for more.
1. Tell us about your latest release. What is it about and who is it aimed at?
My latest book is called Hope’s Game, a story about a man named Charlie who has lost everything and is offered the chance to earn £10,000 by taking part in research for a new Artificial Intelligence project. Of course, he has no choice but to take part and goes on a life-changing, sometimes harrowing journey. If I had to categorise it, I’d say it’s a little like the Black Mirror TV show… it seems like it should be sci-fi, but it really isn’t, it has all kinds of things in it. Based on that, it’s aimed at pretty much anyone, although I wouldn’t want younger readers to see it, Charlie goes through some tough times!
2. Tell us about your publishing journey so far.
I’ve been writing forever, and it wasn’t until I attended a conference in America that I plucked up the courage to go for it! My first book, A Reason to Grieve, was self-published and, if I’m to be honest, was written as a dare since I’m a fan of action and it’s more of a romantic comedy! Something must have worked, though – it’s still my best reviewed book and people still mention the characters to me and demand a sequel! After that, I finally wrote an action/adventure book called A Guy Walks into a Bar. When it was completed, I printed out two copies (old style, at home!) and handed them to two people who had offered me a ton of advice. One of them was the wonderful author, Tony Acree. Little did I know, he also ran a publishing company. We met for lunch, where I expected some nice food, company and advice, and I walked away with a contract! I now have four books published through Hydra Publications.
3. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
At junior school. I’ve always written. English Language was my favourite subject at school and it followed me home every day. I made my own comics, short story books, magazines – you name it, I tried it. I can’t begin to explain the feeling I had when I opened the box that contained my first ‘proper’ book, and it still gives me chills after a further five!
4. What is your typical writing day like?
Ha! I would LOVE to be able to say that I have a typical writing day. Unless I’m on holiday, no two seem the same. I work a full-time job, so I have to MAKE time to write, otherwise it doesn’t happen. As I write this, we’re (hopefully) in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. Out of all the horrific negatives that come with it, the first positive I considered was that I might be stuck at home with the entire day to write but, no, my company has me working a full week from home! So, I set the alarm for as early as I dare and write before I get ready for work. It can get frustrating, since my brain never shuts off and I usually get my best ideas when I can’t do much but jot them down.
5. What is your writing process? (how do you plot a book, come up with characters, find motivation etc)
The honest answer is that I don’t really have a process! In terms of plot, I think I’ve tried something different for every book I’ve written. I do TRY to put together an outline (Reason to Grieve, Exodus and Hope’s Game were done on an Excel spreadsheet, Whatever it Takes and A Guy Walks into a Bar were a bunch of handwritten notes, and Callie’s Eyes was a pile of research and a ‘wing it’ approach!). I’m currently playing with the corkboard feature in a program called Scrivener for the sequel to Exodus, which is cool since I can swap, shift and change things as I go and see the whole picture, but I’m also ‘winging it’ on another story, AND writing random scenes for the sequel to A Reason to Grieve!!
Characters are everywhere! Some are people I know, or see when I’m out and about. I sometimes ‘cast’ my characters as if they were in a film, then I can play their scenes in my head and have an idea of who they are and how they’d react to different situations. A couple of the characters in Reason to Grieve were based on characters from a show called ‘Coupling’, and the lead character in Whatever it Takes is based on a customer who came into the store I worked in when I lived in Kentucky. He loved to hunt and was a perfect Cory Keller!
Since I normally know my characters before I start writing, a lot of the time their actions are dictated by what that their personalities would actually do. I have an idea of where I need them to go, but I let their actions take them there… it seems much more natural to let them take over than have me try to force them. If they sometimes surprise you when you read them, you should have them in your head when you write them!!
I remember an author friend saying ‘vomit your first draft onto the page and then sift through the chunks’… I struggle to do that. I normally write a chapter, then go over it and nit-pick it to death. It slows me down but, by the time I’m ready for the next chapter, I’m fully immersed in that world and those characters. It also helps with continuity. Once I’ve completed the first draft (in my fashion), I’ll go through it again and flesh it out with description and emotion. Then, I’ll go again and check it for grammar, punctuation and the dreaded typo. Typos ALWAYS slip through, so then I’ll send it to trusted readers who’ll send back their thoughts. I’ll go through it yet again and either make necessary changes, or decide that what I’d written originally is still the best way to say what I want to say. After that, it’s about as good as it can get at the time, and it’s time to let go and send your story into the world.
6. What has been the most positive thing about your publishing journey so far?
Two things. Mainly, the people. I’ve met some amazing people on this journey. Writers are, for the most part, incredibly supportive of one another. More so, I think, than in most other professions. I have a ridiculous amount of writer friends who are always there for support, encouragement and, as importantly, honest criticism. I’d be lost without them. I’ve also gained some really cool readers who stay in touch to see what I’m up to and, again, offer support and encouragement.
Then, there’s the writing itself. Some days it’s easy, others it seems impossible, but it’s always there. Being able to sit and tell stories is something we’ve done since time began – I get to do it whenever I can. The feeling of opening a new completed book, of seeing a review on Amazon, of writing a particularly satisfying scene… they’re all incredible feelings and something that never gets old. To be able to transport someone from this world into another, even if only for a short time, is fantastic. We read books so that we can check out different worlds without moving. What a gift to be able to supply that world!
7. What has been the most negative thing about your publishing journey so far?
That’s easy – marketing! I love to write but each time I release a book, with the exception of my loyal readers, few people see it and it vanishes into the ether with the tens of thousands of other books that were released at the same time. I love the writing process, but really struggle with advertising and pushing things about me and the fact that I have a new book out (just so you know – I HAVE A NEW BOOK OUT… the link is here somewhere!). I’ve signed up for so many courses and programs, and have so many books on the subject but, when I release a new book, I’m so eager to get stuck in to the next one that I neglect to let folks know about it.
8. What can we expect from you next?
Scarily, three things!! I’m working on a sequel to the award winning Exodus, an adventure/thriller series about a group of army veterans called The Old Farts Club – think of an ‘up-to-date A-Team’! I also started to write a first-person story about a guy who works in retail and gets tired of the abuse the public throws at him – so he embraces his dark side to deal with it. That one came to me after binge watching ‘You’ on Netflix! And, after so many requests, I dipped back into the world of my first book, A Reason to Grieve, to carry on the story of Tom, Emma and their friends; a complete contrast since it’s a romantic comedy. I have enough words between the three of them for a complete book, but my publisher has suggested that I concentrate on one at a time, so Sarge and the rest of The Old Farts are currently engaged on an adventure and have flown from Kentucky to deepest Scotland to save a friend’s life
9. Who is your favourite character and why? That’s a tough question!
Doris, from A Reason to Grieve, is the only character that I’ve shed tears over, so that must mean something. I truly love her spirit and her blunt way of giving advice to the younger characters. If i can be like Doris when I’m approaching seventy (but without the blue rinse!), I’ll be a happy man.
I do also love Paul Howard from A Guy Walks Into a Bar – he’s just an average man who finds himself in an extraordinary adventure. He’s resourceful and witty…and he gets to hang out with the other cool characters.
Then there’s blind Callie from Callie’s Eyes, and Hope from Hope’s Game…did I mention this was a tough question?
10. Where do you get your ideas from?
Everywhere! News and magazine articles, people watching, overhearing things people say (not eavesdropping, mind, overhearing; apparently, there’s a difference!) and, in the case of Callie’s Eyes, a dream. Most of the story, including Callie’s name, happened in a dream and it was one of those fortunate times when I woke with it still at the front of my mind. I jotted it all down on a Post-It note and picked it up in the morning. Hope’s Game is based on a screenplay from a very good and talented friend of mine, Craig Ostrouchow. Whatever It Takes came out of a conversation with a hunter in Kentucky. A Reason to Grieve came from an old workmate who’d browse the obituaries every morning before work to see if he found anyone from his old school in there. A Guy Walks Into a Bar came from people watching – in a hotel bar, and Exodus came from a holiday in Jamaica when we visited Bob Marley’s compound and got to drive through the Jamaican townships and countryside. So, like I said…everywhere!
11. Tell us three fun facts about you
Haha – what was I saying about pushing ‘me’?? Erm… okay –
1. I LOVE music. Alongside reading, writing and family, music is everything. Genesis are my favourite band, and Jude Cole is my favourite artist. If it wasn’t for Jude Cole, I would not have met my wife (if you’d like the full story, join my FB page ‘mick williams author’ and message me and I’ll tell you, it’s a long story!). Truth be known, there isn’t much music I don’t like, I go from punk and pop to rock and reggae and everything in between! MP3s and streaming mean that music is everywhere now. The only thing I miss is the album format. Now that we can stream everything, music seems to be piecemeal where, before, a good album was constructed to flow and have peaks and troughs. Just like books.
2. I have two very cool cats name Thud and Crash. Thud adopted me when we lived in Kentucky. My American brother and my adopted second wife have a house that overlooks a golf course. One cold winter, after a Mexican meal and one or two (or five or ten) drinks, we were hanging around in the kitchen when my wife heard a noise outside. I went out to check it out and was eventually ‘ankle-bumped’ by a dirty, freezing-cold kitten. The end of his tail was broken, and his ears were riddled with mites. At the time, I wasn’t really a ‘cat person’, but our option was to either take him home or put him back into the cold. When we found that he’d been dumped, we had no choice but to adopt him, and now he’s my writing companion (he’s actually on my author pic on A Guy Walks into a Bar!). I call him the OC (Original Cat) since we also adopted another furry fella from the animal shelter to keep Thud company. This ginger tabby is the most lovable animal I’ve ever met and has a habit of nuzzling against you and then falling over to let you fuss him. We had to call him Crash. I should really put their pictures on my FB page and website!!
3. I’m not an army brat, but I’ve lived (I think) in thirteen different places, on either side of the Atlantic, and I’m getting ready to move again once restrictions are lifted! I think this time, once we find somewhere, that’s it! I’m ready to sit still now!!
12. What is the best advice you could give to aspiring writers?
Write what makes you happy. I read a lot about ‘writing to market’, but a) markets seem to shift constantly and b) that seems too much like work! I love to write, and I write what’s in my head, not what I think people might like to read. I’ve been fortunate to find people that like to read what’s in my head which, I suppose, makes them as crazy as me! It won’t ever fund my retirement, but it’ll make my retirement a lot more fun.
Read. A lot. Reading is writer homework. See how the books you enjoy actually work. Why did that scene make you smile? Why is your heart pumping a little faster after finishing that chapter? Good writers don’t hide how they make their magic, it’s right there on the page. Love or loathe him, but no one creates worlds better than Stephen King. How? Description and character. By the end of a SK book, you’ve lived in that town and you know those folks. They’re as real as you and I… that’s why it bothers you so much when he does nasty things to them! Learn from the best.
And, remember that rules are made for bending. While there are definite do’s and don’ts, no one will write your story the way you will. I remember reading somewhere that sentences should vary in length (which I agree with 100%), but that they shouldn’t be overly long. I’ve just finished the latest number one bestseller by Lee Child. There’s a sentence in there that runs at over ONE HUNDRED words (his previous best was 81 – I counted!). This breaks every rule under the sun, but it worked. And Reacher still had time to get the job done
And, finally – just enjoy it. If no one else reads a word of what you’ve written – you have. And I’ll bet it felt great.
Thank you so much to Mick for doing this interview! If you would like to find out more about Mick and his books (and I highly recommend that you do) you can follow him here;
I was once a fat kid obsessed with writing. Back then, real life was just about tolerable if I had my imaginary one to escape to. For I had discovered a magical and powerful thing. Writing could do anything. Writing could take me anywhere. And I was in control. I could have whatever fun I wanted; invent new friends adventures, create whole worlds if I wanted to. If I look back now I can see that need for control was a big factor. A shy fat kid in the middle of a dysfunctional family does not have much control, if any. A shy fat kid at school has even less. But in writing? The shy fat kid can do whatever the hell she wants, because she owns this! It’s liberating, I can tell you. And for many, many years after that, writing was my addiction and my obsession.
I’d endure school and then run home after, up to my room to write. I’d carry notebooks everywhere so that given the chance I could vanish into another world and write. I’d write past my bedtime and first thing in the morning.
Writing was all I ever wanted to do and anything else was just an annoyance and a distraction. Including exercise. I hated PE as a kid. I was chubby and awkward and shy and despised having people watch me fail at something. At least with other subjects at school you can thrive or fail in private, but PE is kind of cruel because your failures are obvious for all to see.
Chubby kids who like reading and writing and being alone shun exercise for obvious reasons and in return what happens? Yep, they get chubbier. Which makes them even less likely to exercise in front of anyone and even more likely to hide in their room with a notebook and pen for as long as they can get away with. What you have is a vicious circle that as a child, you have no idea how to break out from.
And self-loathing builds and builds. I’m not sure what finally made me embrace exercise. With no money, I was limited for choice, so running seemed the best option. I’d always hated running! Though to be honest, it was more the thought of anyone seeing me that was the problem. The estate I grew up on had a horseshoe sized ‘green’ enveloping one side of it. I could access this from the back gate and run around the backs of the houses in a loop. I think I set myself a goal of three times a week but when I started to notice the results, I soon upped that to daily. And I developed a habit, much like my writing one, that benefited my mental health as well as my physical.
They say that to form a habit you must do something every day for 30 days. What started as a habit with running soon became an obsession that I started to view the same way I viewed writing. I had to do it. If I didn’t do it, I didn’t feel good. It would ruin my day. I felt like bad things would happen. I’d lost a lot of weight, between that and some very silly eating habits at the time that haunted me into adulthood, and I really, really, really did not want to risk ever putting that weight back on. I’d been fat and life had been hell. I never ever wanted to be that girl again.
I sometimes wonder where I would have ended up had I not become a mother at the age of 24. I think my obsession with running and my growing fear of food would have got worse. I think I would have carried on writing and possibly would have got published a lot sooner than I did. I don’t think I would ever have let either of my obsessions go.
But motherhood changed everything and rightly so. I was now amazed at my body and in awe of what it had done. When one little girl became two, I had my hands full at a young age, and I also knew that I shouldered a huge responsibility here. I did not want my problems with food and weight and body image rubbing off on them. Writing fell by the wayside. Hard to believe that now, but it really did. I was far too exhausted, overwhelmed and obsessed with my new life as a mother. I was in love and there just wasn’t the time or the energy.
Over the next decade, I had a third child and I sporadically forced myself to run and write. I tried and failed and tried and failed to develop those habits again. I told myself I did not have the time or the energy for either. I told myself I was wary of getting obsessed with them both again, because that wouldn’t be good for my children. And this all went well for a while. I was too busy to consider anything else.
Writing came back to me, or I came back to writing, I’m never sure which way around it was, in the summer of 2011. My then youngest child was due to start school that September and at the time there was no plan to have any more. I suddenly felt horribly afraid and set adrift. I didn’t want him to go to school as not only was I losing my last baby, I was losing the identity I had spent the last decade carving out. Chantelle, the mother.
I hadn’t forgotten about the old me…I just didn’t think she was relevant anymore. I still remember the moment my writing whooshed back into my head, and it was kind of blunt, terrible and painful. I was reading a book and the young character in it reminded me of a character I had created and believed in when I was just 12. I’d written and rewritten his story many times over the years…could I do it again? Could I write again? Was I a writer? As a child and teen that was all I had identified as, but it had been gone so long, did I have any right to try to reclaim it?
I started writing again after finishing the book that had reminded me of my long lost character. I was so embarrassed at first, I wrote in a notepad and hid it if anyone walked in the room. I didn’t dare tell anyone what I was up to because I was suffering badly from imposter syndrome! And I wrote every day, without fail and that built the habit back up and the habit soon became an obsession again. It devoured me. I started writing every evening without fail and any other spare moment I had. I started this crazy, up and down writing and publishing journey and the arrival of a fourth child did nothing to slow me down and I have not looked back. I could never, ever stop writing now. I still can’t believe I let it go for so long…
“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
— Franz Kafka
But what about running? Could I claim that obsession back too and was it healthy or sensible to even try? Over the last year or so I’ve noticed major fluctuations in my mood which I am now blaming on the perimenopause. If you’ve not heard of the perimenopause, don’t worry, neither had I, and I will be blogging about this another day. In short simple terms, its the period of time before the actual menopause and women start suffering from a variety of symptoms that for a while, they probably won’t attribute to anything other than life stress.
I don’t want to go into it too much in this post but the way I had been feeling for no real reason, was very, very similar to how I felt as a teenager. That intensity of mood and emotion that can shift at the slightest thing. Intrusive thoughts about how rubbish I am, cruel thoughts about how pointless my life is. Lovely stuff like that. Incredible anger. Deep sadness. And most of all? Just wanting to be alone. The worrying thing was the effect on my mental health, particularly before I did some research and found out about the perimenopause. I was feeling horrible, to put it mildly. I was crying a lot for no reason. I was focusing on body image more than I had done in a very long time, and given my past issues, this was not a good thing.
One night I was sat writing and crying when I suddenly felt the most powerful urge to move. To get up and run. It was like my mind telling me to get the hell out of there and move. It seemed stupid and my other mind tried to talk me out of it. I was too tired, it was nearly dark and so on. But I ignored that one and I did it.
Now, what normally happens with me and running since I became a mother almost 17 years ago, is I can keep it up for a bit and aim for 3 times a week, not be too hard on myself etc, but that’s not enough to build a habit. Inevitably I miss a few, and that turns into missing a few weeks and the weeks turn into months, just like what used to happen with writing.
This time? I have decided to run every single day without excuses. I do have the time. It’s 20 minutes usually. I have managed to stick at this for over a week now and the difference in my mood is astounding. I have not felt down, sad or angry once this week. I have felt more energetic, more motivated, more rational than I have in a long time. I feel proud of myself too. And we’re not very good at that are we? But I am proud of myself. It feels good. It feels right.
We all know that exercise is good for our mental health, and most of us know that writing is also good for it. Very good, I’d argue. If I can manage to hold onto both of these habits (yet try to stop them becoming obsessions) then I will be very happy indeed and heading in the right direction. I just might be able to get through this perimenopause thing unscathed and have the energy and mind power to deal with the actual menopause!