Where do you get your ideas?... has to be one of the questions readers most frequently ask (so much so that it's become a joke), and one of the most difficult for writers to answer. 'Out of my head' or 'everywhere', while accurate, can seem dismissive and unsatisfactory. We're suspected of being evasive, even mean-spirited, refusing to share our secrets (which may be true – the secret being that we haven’t a clue). I want to answer, like Philip Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love, 'I don't know. It's a mystery.'
Maybe it's different for planners, but as a pantser, my stories evolve as I write. Characters, scenes and whole threads emerge that take me by surprise, and by the time I get to the end of a book (or even the middle) I've often forgotten where most of it came from – if I ever knew in the first place. Sometimes ideas literally seem to spring from nowhere.
That was certainly the case with my latest book, Frisky Business (out on June 1), about a woman who has Darth Vader's baby ... kind of. So where does an idea like that come from? I'm still not sure, but I do know that it was very much a product of the marvellous institution that is NaNoWriMo.
When I signed up for NaNo 2010 all I had was a character called Romy, who was a property developer, and the house she lived in, which was inspired by a gorgeous house I'd seen while out walking one day – a big pink house with a green gate. I had a strong sense of who Romy was, but no idea what was going to happen to her. However, in true NaNo tradition, I didn't let lack of plot stop me, so on November 1st I just started writing. Being that time of year, I suppose it's no surprise that the first scene I wrote was a Halloween party – what was a surprise was that next thing I knew, Romy was having sex in a cupboard with a guy dressed as Darth Vader. Then it was a year later and she had a baby, and no idea of the father's identity. I certainly hadn't seen that coming.
All sorts of other things fed into the story as it went along. A magazine article I read about adult children who ended up moving back in with their parents due to the recession inspired another character's story. It got me thinking – what if you'd been working abroad and leading a life that your family knew nothing about, but then found yourself forced to move home? That's what happens to Kit, Romy's first boyfriend, who has lost his Wall Street job and returned to Ireland.
Other elements came from all over: some BDSM stories I'd been reading; a Groupon deal for an adventure weekend; blog posts by Médecins Sans Frontières volunteers; property renovation TV shows ...
So, like I said – out of my head, and everywhere. But mostly it's a mystery.
GIVEAWAY! If you'd like to win a signed copy of 'Frisky Business', leave a comment below telling us who you'd like to be up close and personal with in a cupboard and who knows, you could get a nice surprise!
Clodagh is the author of 'The Disengagement Ring' and 'Girl in a Spin'. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter and she has a website that's nearly as lovely as she is where you can even read the first chapter of 'Frisky Business'!