predictable enough question. It’s also one that’s easily answered.
Ideas are all around us, we just have to look and listen and then let our imaginations take over. The book I am trying
(unsuccessfully) to get published at the present is called “The Girl I Left Behind Me”. The title came first. It’s the last line of the chorus to a traditional song and was used in the sound track of three John Ford westerns about the US Cavalry, titled Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande. For some reason the tune popped into my head one day and I couldn’t shift it. But then it occurred to me that it would make a great title for a book. I quickly Googled it to make sure no one else had had the same idea (they appear not to have) and then put it into my list of book ideas and let it ferment for a few weeks.
It’s the fermentation that is important here. I had a title but no idea what to do with it, so I let my unconscious mind work on it. I also looked up the origins of the song and found that it was traditional, probably 17th or 18th century British or
Irish and had been popular with both sides during the American Civil War. Its rhythm makes it very suitable as a marching song which is why it has come down to us through a military route.
Letting that information ferment alongside the title eventually gave me the idea of writing a story set in modern times about two young men who are born just a few streets apart but who go off to war to fight on opposite sides and who leave their girls behind them. The story is as much about the two women as it is about the men. I won’t give any more away as the book has still to be published, but I’m sure you can see that once I had the basics mapped out then writing the story became something that was achievable. Not only that, but one of the characters I created for the book then went on to feature in the sequel. Of course the first book has to be published before there can be a sequel, but that’s another story.
I have a list of about a dozen more ideas for books that may, or may not, eventually see the light of day and they have come to me by a number of routes.
They say that everyone has a book inside of them. American author Jodi Picoult added the rider “the problem is winkling it out” while British writer Christopher Hitchens is credited with adding “and that’s where it should stay”.But it is true. Everyone has a story that can be told, even if they aren’t able to tell it themselves. The problem Hitchens alludes to
is making the story interesting enough to make people want to read it, which is the author’s job.
For the author the only task in relation to coming up with new book ideas is to keep their eyes and ears open and the story ideas will come. At the moment I’m helping a fellow aspiring author by providing feedback on a book she is writing. I can’t give away the subject as that would be a breach of confidence, but the idea for it is straight off the front pages
of the daily newspapers. She was so touched by what she was reading that the idea of not writing a story about
it was probably more bizarre than the idea of writing it.
Does that mean that anyone can write a book?
Technically yes. If you can write your name you can write a book. However, there is no doubt that some people have an aptitude for it and some don’t. Thanks to the capability to self-publish books that’s available through the digital
revolution there are many books that I’ve read in recent years that really shouldn’t have been written, at least not by the people that wrote them. They are living proof of Christopher Hitchen’s corollary. But that doesn’t mean that someone with more aptitude couldn’t write a very good book using the same plot and characters.
By the way, don’t put too much trust in some of the reviews that are posted on Amazon with regard to some of the Kindle books that are on sale (and the same applies to other e-publishing sites). If the book hasn’t been published on paper then it is probably self-published and along with self-publishing goes self-promotion, or loyal friends and family who haven’t
read the book and never will read the book but are willing to post a good review to help the author to make sales.
This was brought home to me in stark relief a few weeks ago when I purchased a Kindle book that had over a hundred four and five star reviews. It was, without doubt, one of the worst written books I’ve ever read. At least now it has a one
star review from me.
You can see the same syndrome on programmes like X Factor when some poor deluded soul with the singing talents of a rusty chain saw has just murdered a beautiful song and their family is looking on saying how talented she really is and the judges don’t know what they’re talking about (which may be true but that’s another issue). Am I similarly deluded? I'm probably not the best jusdge of that. Read my books and then make your own mund up.
Of course those comments regarding Kindle reviews don’t apply to any of my books that are available on Kindle. All of my reviews are, I’m certain, written by people with the critical skills of the writers of the Times Literary Supplement. They must be as they are generally favourable. By the way, if you have read one of my books and enjoyed it but haven’t posted a review then it would be doing me a favour if you could post a review on Amazon. Reviews help to sell books, but please be honest.
Do all idea become books? Most certainly not. The length of books vary, but generally fall between 80,000 and 120,000 words. I have taken some ideas and barely made it to 10,000 words before I’ve run out of steam. That tells me that the story just hasn’t got any legs and there’s no point in wasting any more time with it. Of course I don’t delete it. I may have
some sudden inspiration that will take it off in a completely new direction, but for the time being it goes into the file marked “not quite as good an idea as I thought”.
As for suggesting your own book ideas to authors, please don’t. It’s not that they aren’t good ideas, it’s that there are legal
Most big name authors will tell you that at some time they have received letters or e-mails claiming that the dea for a book was stolen because they (the letter writer) once said or wrote down some of the words that are used in the book. The writer of the letter or e-mail then goes on to try to claim money for suggesting the idea or even worse, for plagiarism.
Terry Pratchett’s agent told me that he received an e-mail threatening legal action from someone who had once suggested, in another e-mail, that Terry Pratchett set one of his books in Australia. The threatening e-mail arrived shortly after the publication of The Last Continent in 2008, where Pratchett sets the story in the country of Fourecks on his
imaginary Discworld. Fourecks bore a passing resemblance to the country we call Australia. That was enough for the loony who wrote the e-mail. And that’s why authors would prefer it if you didn’t suggest ideas for books. It’s nothing
So I took my idea that I had pitched to Terry Pratchett’s agent and wrote the book myself. It’s called The Inconvenience Store and is available (here comes the plug) on Amazon.
How did I come up with the idea? Easy. I had just been to a convenience store to buy something that they didn’t have on their shelves. When I asked the manager why they didn’t sell it (it was a common enough item) he told me that people often asked for that item, but they didn’t stock it because there was no demand for it. The manager was a totally irony free zone. My response to the manager about his store being more inconvenient than convenient gave me the title for my book and the rest, as they say, is history.