Stranger into fiction?

I promised I’d be chirpier about this whole writing lark when I returned after the holidays, so here goes. Actually it’s not too difficult to spot rays of hope when the white garden is bouncing sunbeams through my window. It’s just started snowing again, out of an utterly blue sky. Weird.

Last year sucked out all my confidence and by December I was beating myself up about lack of progress and false starts on novel three. Then suddenly, just when I was completely blocked, a new idea tumbled, a snowflake landing in my lap. Now I’m not sure what to do; if I’m going to use it I need to hurry.

In the run up to Christmas I went to a party on my own. Jess was at an office dinner and Zach with his mother. Normally the idea of standing in a screeching West End bar, exchanging plans for the festive season with strangers, is my idea of yawndom. But my friend is off to Australia for an extended stay, so it was a farewell party and I decided to do the right thing.

After exchanging pleasantries with the one or two I did know, my friend took me to meet a woman she said I'd like, and that was when the conversation went beyond, and-where-are-you-going-to-spend-Christmas?

Perhaps it was the Champagne or perhaps because my friend had introduced me as a psychologist, but she started to tell me stuff. How her boyfriend, who she had been with for about a year suddenly left her. That was more than six months ago. How he’d got involved in some quasi-political or educational group, attending their courses more and more frequently. How upset she had been that this organisation swayed him. How she was just starting to get over the guy. She questioned the psychology of someone who could just do that – just up and leave her and leave London at no notice. I was intrigued: there was a story in there and it was mine, mine, mine.

The details are a bit sketchy. I was on my third glass by the time she left and had several more before I started taxi hunting. But I didn't stop thinking about it all through Christmas; I wanted to know more.

We’ve discussed this sort of thing on Strictly Writing before: how far is it okay to plunder life for ideas? Other people’s lives? I could email my friend and get her number, but it might be rude to follow this up. For her, it might be one of those conversations you have in a bar and then regret. I wish I’d declared my interest as a writer and have been thinking about putting that right. And, before you start, Sam, I’ve already told the "squinty-eyed one" all about this. My girlfriend occasionally looks at Strictly.

I don’t want to let this story melt away.


Susie Nott-Bower said...

Don't let it melt away, Rod! Go for it! Not that you have to speak more to this woman - indeed, my feeling is that you have exactly what you need: the germ of an idea. If you got too involved in HER story, it might stop being yours. A seed has been planted - let it germinate and take root, and meanwhile you can be researching crank organisations, reading books about people who got caught up in stuff like, for instance, The Moonies or Scientology, and see where it takes you. How exciting is this?
Best of luck with it,

Administrator said...

LOL, Rod!

I think we all get inspiration from real life - whether that's just a character's mannerisms or a whole plot-line. The annoying thing i find, is that life often is stranger than fiction, and if i wrote half the stuff i've heard of/read about, an editor would simply say 'that's not realistic'.

Pity you can't meet this woman again. Having said that, more details might have killed your interest, there might actually be something terribly mundane behind this story. Whereas if it is left to your imagination, well... The utterly blue sky is the limit...

Old Kitty said...


It's such a great feeling to be able to stumble upon something in real life that could then inspire a writer to create something out of it. Art imitating life, that kind of thing. Good luck with the idea and the inspiration.

Take care

Fionnuala said...

WRITE the story Rod! Now! I can't see any 'ownership' issues with an idea that's stemmed from real life? Nor do I see any reason for more detail? Let your imagination take the germ of an idea wherever it may take you.
We all get our inspiration from so many places - pictures, lyrics, newspapers, real life people, snippets of conversation. Go for it. AND I want to read it. Fx

Caroline Green said...

I think you should go for it too. She may hunt you down when the book is on the Costa First Book Award shortlist though and everyone is saying, 'Hey, didn't that happen to..?'

Brian Keaney said...

I think it's okay to plunder other people's lives because what happens is that in the writing the material invariably gets transformed so that the person from whose life you are borrowing wouldn't even recognise it if they read it. But don't use real names or real professions.

Gillian McDade said...

Really enjoyed reading this blog, Rod. Do go for it!

Kath McGurl said...

Go for it with what you have, adding a large dash of imagination and What-If... By the time you've finished it might (and should) bear no resemblance to the story you first heard. Real life is there to inspire our stories, not inform them!