What’s the idea?

Painted in 1914, this vivid painting is described in THE JUDAS DEER: "The rainbow deer had no reason to be afraid."I’m often asked where my ideas come from and whether they’ll ever run out. Of course my experience of Alopecia fed into THE WATERHOUSE GIRL and its forthcoming sequel, CRAZY DAISE, but both are adaptations from life. The plots are pure invention but the stories are underpinned by emotional authenticity. The seed that became THINNER THAN WATER was a news item, a couple of sentences long. Instead of playing the journalist heading off to Russia to investigate for a documentary, I allowed empathy to lead me on my own journey – through the creation of two girls who came to me, in imagination, just as whole and vivid as anyone I know. I couldn’t love them more if I were their blood mother – and I do know that’s weird!

THE JUDAS DEER began after two magical encounters, first with a joyous riot of colour in the form of a painting by Franz Marc  and then, years later, with a single white deer in Ashridge Forest: a genetic blip.

Once I found the term in the title I knew my story would be about betrayal. I would never have written SHUTDOWN if I hadn’t been the kind of teacher who believes that imagination is our most important power as human beings, in spite of systematic attempts by government to shut it down with target-driven business models masquerading as education. THE DREAMER might not have been possible if I hadn’t met the Bird Man in Why the Whales Came and Jess in The Ghost of Grania O’Malley, but I hope Michael Morpurgo, bless and revere him, would see my book as a tribute not a steal. From the spark he ignited, my characters caught fire and blazed away with their own independent identities.

I found the setting for my sword-and-arrows climax in HUE AND CRY in a wild cove visited on holiday in Wales. Don’t ask me where it is exactly but that powerful multi-sensory memory is intact, and I hope readers find themselves there on the beach as the drama matches the turbulence of the weather that day. But while writers are magpies, taking what attracts from around us, we have to breathe new life into our treasures if they’re to leave the nest and fly!

As for whether the ideas will ever run out, I suppose that a life of isolation behind a typewriter without stimulus from the outside world would dam the flow. But in my kind of character-driven writing it’s people who inspire me most, with their own personal stories. I don’t use them as they are – or I’d soon find myself permanently isolated – but they all provide insight into human psychology. And that’s the richest idea of all.



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