Inspiration from Art

I change my laptop’s wallpaper daily, taking images from an 8GB memory stick which holds paintings and photographs I’ve saved over the last ten years. I’ve stored photos of wildlife, famous and obscure artwork, favourite cars, motorcycles and aircraft and portraits of inspirational writers, musicians and actors. What I choose each day is sometimes done … Continue reading Inspiration from Art

Squeezing out Sparks: Inspiration & the Writer

Whenever I kick around ideas for a plot, I take key elements and mentally rub them together, to see what sparks are produced. As Bruce Springsteen sang: “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

For a story to be successful, there needs to be conflict, opposition, uncertainty, some struggle the protagonist faces that will engage the interest of the reader. The conflict can be caused by others or be internal or caused by forces of nature. Think how boring a book would be if everything went right for the hero.

My current WIP Kissing & Killing has a main storyline of mercenary killers hired to murder high-profile big game hunters. They leave the crime scene awash with blood, ten gallons of it brought with them. They ‘sign’ their work with the victim’s amputated hand dipped in blood, leaving a print on the door of the room where they died. The reason for the murders is political, not altruistic, paid for by an African province declaring independence and wanting to retain control of the wildlife on its land.

Subplots involve an arsonist setting fire to farm barns and a gold digger seeking a rich older man to marry. I intend to create sparks by thrusting the subplots into the main plot.

Inspiration for the principal storyline came from three sources:

1) Seeing protests by Extinction Rebellion, where fake blood was poured.

Extinction Rebellion protesters pour fake blood over New York’s capitalist bull

2) Photographs of big game hunters posing with trophy animals they’d shot.

(David Attenborough hits out at hunters as 12-year-old admits to trophy hunting)

3) Coming across a photo of a slave staring at his five-year-old daughter’s amputated hand and foot, removed to punish him not meeting rubber plantation production quotas.

(View at your own risk. This Image of A Slave Father Looking At His Daughter’s Severed Hand And Foot Has Haunted Generations)

What sparked your stories into life?

Photographs & Memories

A while back, I started a thread about Inspiration from Art, but, just recently, I’ve been inspired by photographs.

Online resources for photos are many and most are free to use. I’m currently reading  A Biography of Loneliness by Fay Bound Alberti. I usually look on the back flap to see who designed the cover and was surprised to find that there was no credit given other than Photo by Sweet Ice Cream on Unsplash—which is photo site.

Presumably, someone at the Oxford University Press design department found the photo and added the title and author’s name. It’s an evocative image.

Richard Power’s novel Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance was inspired by a photo taken by the renowned August Sander.

My friend Mish lives in Wyoming and is a skilful photographer, artist and maker. She buys old photographs at garage sales and repurposes them into collages, which she sells at art and craft markets.

We all take photographs in our mind, memories of happy and sad times. But our memory is rebuilt each time we access it. The plasticity of our memories fascinates me, but it can lead to autoplagiarism, as Oliver Sacks explains:

I’ve confirmed that recently by re-reading some of my old novellas and the first two Cornish Detective novels. Finding the same phrases and even whole sentences in different stories makes me feel like a cheating robot! What worries me about unintentionally cribbing from myself is that it makes my characters sound the same and that they’re all mini-mes! A couple of them even look alike, as I based their appearance on an uncle of mine.

Had I used found images, I could have avoided this trap.

Do any of you get inspired by old photographs?

Jim Croce

Does Writing Have To Be Hard To Be Any Good?

Sometimes, when I read of an author’s struggles over several years to complete their novel, I wonder what the problems were.

There’s a myth among artists of all kinds, that unless a colossal struggle occurred, then the work will be bland. For example, you never hear of a Hollywood film being made where the original script was accepted without rewrites, where the ideal cast was assembled, and they all got on, for which funding was immediately provided and the director didn’t exceed the budget…and the film went on to win awards, becoming a favourite with audiences worldwide.

In the world of books, it’s more likely that a literary novel will involve multiple rewrites, arguments with the editor and despair for the author. By comparison, genre writing is considered to be a doddle, but anyone who’s written it knows progress still involves travelling rocky roads.

Some authors succeed immediately, which isn’t always a good thing. Arundhati Roy won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction with her first novel The God Of Small Things in 1997. She disliked the adulation and fame her success brought, devoting the next twenty years to political activism, human rights and environmental causes. Her second novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was politely reviewed in 2007 while being considered a disappointment.

Writing that’s admired for being quickly drawn from the hat includes poetry and song lyrics. Samuel Coleridge’s Kubla Khan came to him in an opium-induced dream. Writing it down, he was interrupted, making him forget how it ended. David Bowie wrote All The Young Dudes in two hours, to resurrect the career of one of his favourite bands Mott The Hoople…after they’d rejected Suffragette City, which seems like ingratitude to me.

We wonder at the inspiration that came to them, as the result of a dream or overhearing a throwaway phrase, marvelling at how that verse came out practically fully-formed. Now, imagine our response to a novelist divulging that they had little difficulty penning their story, it just rolled out of them seamlessly. For a start, it would be hard to believe, and also rather annoying! :(

Some novelists have been notoriously prolific, producing many titles of dubious literary quality, but which continue to be snapped up by adoring readers who love their style. Barbara Cartland pumped out her romances like a machine gun, narrating them to her secretary who typed them up. She’s reckoned to have written about 722 titles, which sounds impressive until you look at the output of Mary Faulkner, who was in the Guinness Book of Records for a while as the world’s most prolific novelist at 904 titles. Plagiarism may have been involved. L. Ron Hubbard churned out 1,084 books, including science-fiction, adventure, westerns, mystery and religion. That’s nothing, compared to Spanish writer Corín Tellado, who published 5,000 titles, selling more than 400,000,000 books!

Plainly, they found writing easy.

Some famous authors struggled long and hard. Agatha Christie had difficulties with spelling all of her life, probably from undiagnosed dyslexia. John Irving continues to have problems reading, using a finger to follow words and aid comprehension. Margaret Atwood is currently enjoying great success with The Handmaid’s Tale and the recently published sequel The Testaments, but she only began The Handmaid’s Tale after giving up on a difficult novel. As she later said:

Failure is just another name for much of real life: much of what we set out to accomplish ends in failure, at least in our own eyes. Who set the bar so high that most of our attempts to sail gracefully over it on the viewless wings of Poesy end in an undignified scramble or a nasty fall into the mud? Who told us we had to succeed at any cost?”

I’ve yet to abandon a project, though I’ve had a novella on the go this year, which has wandered off into the wilderness and become feral. I’ve been distracted by blogging, website building and struggling with technological problems.

I’ll begin writing my sixth Cornish Detective novel tomorrow. In preparation, I’ve re-read the first five stories, to get reacquainted with my protagonist. I was reminded of how much I enjoyed writing them. There were awkward challenges, mainly fact-finding to do with forensics and police procedure, but the story flowed going where I wanted it to. I like to think of myself as more pantser than planner, but I still make note of things to include in the plot, including character names and phrases. There’s a lot of detail I don’t record before beginning a project, held in brain cells to do with forward planning. I’ve always been this way with complicated endeavours, such as rebuilding a car engine or rewiring a house, able to anticipate what I’d need to get the job done.

Thus, I don’t find writing hard. Punctuation can be a bitch, though, especially commas. I detest editing, even though I know I’m improving the manuscript, which feels invisible to me at the time. I also dislike the self-promoting and marketing I’ve been doing this year, finding it hard to take myself seriously as an author and bemused by describing my books as commercial products, which need to be proclaimed as essential reading if they’re to sell.

What part of writing do you find hard?

Is agony necessary to write a masterpiece?

Adorably Large Animals!

I previously posted about how animals can be symbolic. But, quite how these adorably large animals could be used, outside of Fantasy or Science Fiction, I’m not sure…. Monokubo: Fantasy Digital Paintings. (scroll to the second page) Good fun, though, and if you love the artist’s inspiration—Studio Ghibli, who made My Neighbour, Totoro—then, you’ll be captivated by … Continue reading Adorably Large Animals!


As I’ve commented in other posts, there is a fine line between being determined and being stubborn when it comes to carrying on with writing. Generally, people describe you as determined if you’re doing something they approve of, and stubborn if you’re persisting with a task they consider foolish. And, what of being tenacious? One thing that’s sure with … Continue reading Perseverance

Writing Tips from Successful Authors

From the Guardian, a useful article full of wise advice from well-known authors. My best writing tip by William Boyd, Jeanette Winterson, Amit Chaudhuri and more I like what Blake Morrison has to say about going with the flow, embracing change when new ideas appear about how to tackle a scene. After all, if the … Continue reading Writing Tips from Successful Authors