The wonderful writer Karen McCombie, author of Angels Next Door and Angels in Training, tells us where she gets her ideas from- lots of tips here for budding writers!
When I visit schools to do author talks, I get asked some fantastically bizarre questions (“Do you live in a mansion?”*, “What’s your favourite flavour of crisps?”**), but some – more predictable – questions come up time and time again, like “Where do you get your ideas from?”.
The answer, of course, is a small alien called Zorb. OK, so that’s a lie (obvz), but I may just say it one of these days to see if anyone a) believes me or b) is listening.
The real answer is this; being an author means you need to act like a magpie, looking for shiny things to steal. You need a mind like a sponge, to soak up random inspiration where other people might just see a whole lot of nothing in particular.
My new series from Puffin started out – as all my books do – with me flicking through one of the many notepads I constantly noodle and doodle in. And here are a few scribbled somethings from those notepads which went on to inspire me to write ‘Angels Next Door’…
‘Milly says goodbye (sniff)’
My daughter’s best friend moved away, and there were buckets of tears all round. Though it was no biggie really… Milly had other friends in class, and her buddy wasn’t exactly moving to the moon; they were going to catch up with each other within weeks. But that one line in the notebook made me think, what if my heroine Riley is very, VERY shy? What if her best friend Tia is moving all the way to New Zealand? What if there are girls at school who start to give her a hard time now that she doesn’t have Tia to protect her? (Did I mention that authors can be cruel and heartless to their characters? Hey, and there you were, thinking we were a nice, polite lot!)
I love the fact that families come in all shapes and sizes, and that these days it’s much less of a stigma to have a step/adoptive/one parent/two mums/whatever background. So I plonked a rather peculiar foster family next door to Riley, made up of two parents and three extremely weird and possibly wonderful ‘sisters’ who might just be the guardian angels Riley’s been looking for. That, or freak her out completely. Hey, it’s one or the other…
You and a friend say the same thing at the same time. You hum a song – and suddenly it crops up on the radio. A whole tangle of coincidences unfurl in the space of a few days. When I was at school, anytime any of this oddness happened, my friends and I would yelp an excited “Spook!”. Similarly, my daughter and her buddies yelp “Jinx!”. Finding this jotted down in my notepad, I decided I’d scatter lots of hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck-standing-to-attention, spook!/jinx! moments throughout my new storyline.
Yes, it’s a slogan from a fridge magnet, but it also happens to be my life motto. The word ‘nice’ has a bad rep., but I reckon it’s a pretty important virtue, and is a quick-fix way to make a small but much-appreciated difference to the world. I’m drumming it into my daughter that being an everyday angel is pretty cool, and moments of magic aside, it’s a theme for my new books too.
So, there you go; those were the seeds of ‘Angels Next Door’. I’d tell you more, but I’m in the middle of writing the third in the trilogy, and I have a very fierce editor**** waiting impatiently for it, drumming her fingernails and growling menacingly in my direction…
You can follow Karen on twitter @KarenMcCombie
* No. It’s a small, terraced house.
** Good old Ready Salted.
*** I now have a very strange mental image of my brain as a spongey magpie.
**** She’s actually as fierce as a three-week-old kitten. Which is a good thing for an author who’s running late with their manuscript.