Over the next month or so our writing collective will be opening up the discussion on sources of inspiration for our writing. It’s common for us writers to be asked where we derive our ideas, but I don’t find the question easy to answer because I tend to accumulate inspiration from all over, like a magpie hoards shiny objects.
Some of my earlier contemporary stories drew on my life experiences. The untimely death of a college friend, the adjustment to moving away from my hometown and career struggles have all inspired stories of which I’m very much a part. One piece of writing, developed during a stressful time in my life, makes me cringe a little as it was so autobiographical that it wasn’t really a story at all, but a way of helping me work through a difficult time. I was too close to the situation at the time to realise that, even so the writing of it helped me to process and accept what was happening to me, but I do wish I hadn’t shared it quite so freely!
My debut novel The Lido Girls was first inspired by my own love of swimming and a nostalgic interest in British seaside resorts in the early twentieth century. But it was a visit to the Osterberg Union Archive that really ignited the story; the archive of this prestigious women’s physical education college keeps a handwritten spreadsheet that indicates what schools or sports teams their students progressed to after graduating, but as soon as the women got married their records stopped. I discovered that because of high unemployment after the war the government introduced a marriage bar, so careers came to an end upon marriage. Although some women resurfaced to work part time, teaching keep fit classes, in the main their careers were marked as deceased, it was over. This fuelled my interest in the social history of women of the time, and I began to read, and my reading took me in many directions, some just interesting but others inspiring and helped me to layer my characters with an understanding of their lives and the challenges women faced in the early twentieth century. Books, particularly stories or biographies written in the interwar years, are invaluable to my research. It’s a cliché, but from the comfort of our sofas we really can travel anywhere and to any time period and walk in the shoes of others.
My second book (due for publication in August 2018) was inspired partly from the research for The Lido Girls, but also from a course I did in horticulture, I really enjoyed the practical sessions, out in the field, digging and planting, the camaraderie with the other students and the friendships made. I could just imagine how liberating that would have felt for women experiencing all of these things for the very first time during World War 1, especially after a life of corsets, afternoon teas and strict social conventions.
A pair of satin evening gloves that belonged to my great aunt became the germ of inspiration for my new project, which will hopefully become my third historical fiction novel. I was intrigued by the gloves when they were uncovered from the attic because my great aunt was the most unlikely person to own evening gloves, but then I learnt that she’d started out as a shop girl for Harrods and then became a buyer for their accessories department. From this detail, I’ve been inspired to develop a protagonist, a secondary main character, a setting, a time period for the story. It’s amazing how quickly these things can grow.
Where do you get your writing inspiration? Do you have to look for ideas, or do they find you?