Huw Thomas is a novelist, traveler, cyclist, gardener, and now, guest blogger. You can read more about him at his Amazon author page. You can also download a PDF of his story Coming to Life, about an author’s characters coming to life, at the bottom of the page at this link.
As writers we’re always on the search for inspiration. It’s vital. Without it our books can be great exercises in our craft but lack the special spark that transforms mere technical ability into something that might just be called art.
I’m not talking about the flashes of brilliance that (hopefully) illuminate our writing on a day-to-day basis. What I mean is the kind of inspiration that comes completely unsolicited: bolts of lightning that scorch an idea into our brains, eureka moments when some tangled web suddenly becomes clear, the quiet recognition of a totally new concept.
Either way, inspiration is our lifeblood. The problem, though, is that we never know quite when – or how – it’s going to strike.
I’ve written a number of novels but, when I cast my mind back to how each one started its life, there are no common factors and I find it curious how different the genesis is for each one.
My ‘breakthrough’ novel – the one that won a national prize and got me a publishing contract – owes its existence to a road sign. Back in about 2001, my wife and I were driving through Scotland. We were somewhere north of Perth and Carolyn was at the wheel when I suddenly spotted a turning to a place called Findo Gask.
It was just a glimpse but it was enough. I was instantly struck by the power of that name. To me, it had to be the name of a person. It sounded Dickensian.
Some days later, sitting on a clifftop in Orkney, I wrote my very first notes for a story. I’d been thinking about Findo Gask, wondering what kind of a person he would be. He sounded unusual, a bit of an outsider. Maybe a thief?
My first idea was for a play called The Trial Of Findo Gask. In this, Findo would be in court, being tried, with evidence for the prosecution and defence, explaining his reasons for the crimes he’d committed. Not having any real experience of the stage, I soon backed away from this idea and went back to the novel form but that was how The Tale Of Findo Gask came into existence.
My other novels have all come from equally random moments of inspiration. The parallel worlds crime thriller Thin Ice grew from a strange dream in which my wife no longer knew me – but I knew her. My most recent novel, the murder mystery The Vault began from a single sentence about black-clad intruders breaking into a guarded tower.
There have been other equally random moments in my writing too. My second novel (unpublished) is a tale about exploitation and injustice that was inspired after reading a magazine article about the, mostly very unhappy, fate of child film stars. My forthcoming novel, Pagan’s Sphinx, came about after watching a documentary casting doubt on conventional ideas about the origins of the Great Sphinx at Giza.
I know that as a writer it’s very important that we get on and just write. Prevarication is the bane of my life. We need to write in order to hone and practice our skills – the ones we need when we turn our inspiration into stories that live and breathe.
But inspiration: that’s so much more unpredictable. If we knew where and when it was coming then we could just relax a bit more. On the other hand, that would make life – and our stories – much less interesting.