As many of you will know, my third novel, What She Lost ,was published in March, and I finished editing the fourth, If I Should Fall, over the summer. It was a great feeling to finish the copy-edits for If I Should Fall just before we went away for a week’s holiday in the Peak District. It was a low-key holiday, partly because I was plagued by sciatica, but I did lots of reading, and although the weather wasn’t great, it was warm enough to sit outside with my pre-lunch glass of wine (lunchtime drinking is The Law when you’re on holiday.)
But as soon as we got home, my thoughts turned to novel number five. I’d had a few vague ideas sloshing around in the back of my mind, so I started to think them through in the hope of getting together a rough outline. But alas, not one of those ideas looks like it’ll work, either because there’s not enough substance or because the idea is so complex that the plot has more holes than a fisherman’s net.
So I did some more thinking, looked through my old notebooks, and came up with a couple more ideas, only to discover that these were dead-ends, too. So then the panic sets in: I’m not writing! I can’t write – I’ll never write another novel! I’ll never have another decent idea…’
Thing is, I am (more or less) a full-time writer. I do a little teaching here and there, but I don’t have a proper, regular salary, and so I rely on the small income from teaching and writing to pay the bills. Also, I’m not a book-a year- author. I wish I was! Some authors write two or even three books a year, and I am in complete awe of them. But it takes me a year to write a decent draft, so we’re looking at between 18 months and two years before the thing is finished. See why I’m getting a bit twitchy?
My agent advised me to chill out a bit. Read the papers, she said, go to the library, watch TV. I did that for a while, but still nothing was happening. Then I began to suspect that the very act of ‘trying’ to find inspiration was preventing me from doing so. The panic that I hadn’t started anything new was taking me over, and whole days were passing without me achieving anything at all. I needed something to break the pattern that had developed: look at notebooks, think through the ideas, see that they won’t work, panic, start again…
I decided on a one-night-only trip to the seaside.
Now, me and Himself love the sea. We start to crave the sight, sound, and smell of it when we’ve not seen it for a while (we live in Sheffield, which is a long way from the coast.). We got the train to Scarborough, had a lovely read on the train, then went straight for lunch – fish & chips, of course – and then to our room in a B&B, overlooking the sea, from where we could both see and hear the crashing of the waves on the shore.
Then we wandered down to the beach to watch the tide coming in. The sound was incredible – a constant roar as huge waves hit the seawall and then crashed down onto the promenade with a splat.
There was some pretty hard-core ‘wave action’ going on, and it was glorious!
I stood there for ages, just watching the waves, taking great lungfuls of briney air, listening to that incredible roar, and marveling at the sheer force and power of the sea.
After a while, we went back across the road to the B&B, then sat in the bay window, still watching the waves, until it grew dark and was time to go in search of dinner.
The following morning, we took an hour-long walk along the coastline before heading back home. For most of the time that we were in Scarborough, my mind was quiet, my brain focused almost entirely on taking in my surroundings.
The odd thing is that an idea has now started to hum in the back of my head. It isn’t really even a proper ‘idea’ yet, more of a feeling. But I have a sense of the characters and of the underlying tension between them, and of an overall atmosphere. For the first time since I started trying to come up with a new idea, I find myself feeling quite powerfully drawn to this one. Maybe it’ll be a go-er, or maybe it’ll fizzle out and die like the others have, but I’m hopeful. And I’m fairly sure that it was taking some time out and directing my brain towards something completely different – the power and beauty of the sea – that allowed this idea to begin to grow. So basically, that’s my top tip for those writers among you who are struggling to come up with a new idea: Take a day off and go to the seaside!
That’s about it for this time, but do keep an eye on my Facebook page because in the run up to Christmas, I’ll be giving away signed copies of all three of my novels! Facebook post to follow in the next day or two.
See you soon! x