“Everywhere and anywhere,” I say. An idea can spring from a casual remark, from an article in a newspaper, from an image glimpsed from a car, from a story a fellow passenger on a train tells me, from a snatch of overheard conversation.
I carry a notebook. More accurately, I try to carry a notebook – usually an ordinary wire-bound reporter’s notebook – all the time. However, I sometimes end up scribbling a note to myself on the back of a receipt or the corner of a newspaper because I’ve left my notebook at home. The idea for one of the plots in my latest novel, French Secrets, was planted in my mind when a friend told me about her father’s wartime experiences in France. The story captured my imagination. I didn’t need to write it down. I had no difficulty remembering it.
The second most-asked question is, do I plot it all out?
Pretty much. I usually begin with a character in a situation and in a place. I think of this as the “what if?” moment. I begin to think about this character and the people they know. I name them. They become more real to me. I hear them having conversations with each other. I think about them when I’m walking into town, when I’m playing golf, when I’m cooking or washing-up. I see them in a landscape – urban or rural – and it is always a landscape I know. And when the entire geography of the story – characters, action, place – is established in my head, I write the first sentence. And after I’ve written the first sentence, I write a structure.
Does the structure change as I’m writing?
Yes. Writing is dynamic. The structure is like scaffolding. I need it to build the story, but in the way changes can be made to the interior of a house while it's being built, I can make changes to a book while I'm writing it.