From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “Where do Ideas Come From?”

Research can take you there!

There are so many touchstones that I come across in my research. Small poems, articles, images or videos that connect me to my story.

In the spirit of my promise to not make my every blog post lengthy, I want to share more of these poignant and emotive links to a past that somehow I am irrevocably joined to – if not through story, some unexplained connection. Since I had few (and not close) family members directly involved in the Great War, I cannot explain my deep affinity for such an horrific event. Originally the era fitted one story but my new WIP and the novel planned after that are all turning out to be closely involved with WW1. Perhaps it was the week I spent in 2012 visiting the battlefields and surrounding war museums that connected me, not so much to the war as to the stories of the men who fought and to the people of the Somme who endured the war raging over their countryside and through their towns and villages.

Now, deep in the writing of a turning point scene, set during the Second Battle of Villers Bretonneux, the image above depicts the night battle that saved the town. Though it nearly destroyed it too, the battle and the Australian battalions’ efforts changed the face of the war.

This image is blu-tacked to my computer and takes me right there, into the mist and smoke and desperate fight lit up by shellfire. Combined with the haunting and heartbreaking music of Karl Jenkins “Benedictus” that I’ve been playing while I write the aftermath scenes, I rarely fail to tear up. #am writing #amlovingwriting

[Night attack by 13th Brigade on Villers–Bretonneux, Will Longstaff. [Oil on canvas AWM ART03028] Australian War Memorial]


Oh, what a feeling..!

Sheldon excited

That feeling when your brand new story/character/world becomes real and – OMG, it/he/she speaks to you!

Especially when you feared after finishing your previous project (of many drafts and years) that the same passion might never strike you again.

Despite reading many blogs/interviews/author biographies to the contrary – the promise of a long-held idea becomes real. Maybe even has legs!

Oh, what a feeling!



Writing Through the Ages (of my children)

When I first started writing, my kids were six, nine and eleven, and I found coming up with ideas on what kids were into doing, liked, disliked, got up to, came very easily, especially when inspired by my live-in research/demographic sample. It took a long time for me to realise that as my children grew up, the ages of my protagonists had increased too.

Gorgeous babyNow my babies are all adults and I find it interesting that I’ve written an adult novel. I think there might be a connection there. (I am, of course, still writing YA and kids’ books too. Mind you, they are novel-length of late and the output slower than shorter-length works.)

So I’m really excited that I’m going to become a grandmother shortly. I could gush here all day about the multiple, personal ways, I’m excited, but this a writing blog. With that in mind, I’ll just say how excited I am that I will get to tell lots of spontaneous, made-up stories and see the world again through the eyes of this special little person. Also I know that I won’t only go exploring through his or her experiences, because I remember the wonderful world of make-believe my own children reopened the door to – in my imagination.

Being busy writing some tough and reality-based stories over recent years, I’ve missed the world of whimsy and fantastical imagination. I’ve missed cuddling the soft, downy cheeks of newborns and giving horsey rides around the house too. I can’t promise the knees are up to any horsey rides, nor wait to welcome this new member of our family and, dare I say selfishly, lots of new story ideas too.

So a question for fellow writers: Do you find that the ages/stages of children in your world have influenced the age group or genre you write for?

The BIG Question in your Novel?

Big ProblemThe first time I was asked: “What is the big question in your novel?” I responded with a blank look.

BIG question??? Hmm! Hadn’t really thought about a BIG question. I was just writing what I hoped was a cracker of a story and following my main character’s journey through a testing and changing time for women during the era of The Great War.

“Wrong. No! You must be writing to answer a question,” insisted my uni research tutor.


Turned out, I was actually asking and exploring quite a few questions, but it took me some considerable effort to seek them out and, even more so, to articulate them and find the core question.

Being an historical novel, I thought, at first, that my questions would be very different to those that might be posed in a contemporary story. I considered them to be all about a woman’s right to happiness and did they have any rights to it, over duty, in the era of 1912 – 1920? I thought the question not relevant to young women in western society today, who often have so many choices.

Eventually I worked the major question in my novel through to:

At what point do we question the rightness and rationale of what we’ve been taught? (Or should we?)

Of course, this turned out to be a timeless question, relevant to as many women/people in the world today as much as a century ago. A right of passage and a question that – in some form – has  been explored and debated in books the world over – through every genre.

Bunyips Don'tI remember having a debate with my Writing for Children tutor, several years ago, when I wrote a glowing review on the picture book Bunyips Don’t by Sally Odgers and illustrated by Kim Gamble. My tutor maintained how could the book end with a celebration when Young Bunyip had moved to the sunny side of the swamp with new friends leaving old Bunyip alone? To her, Young Bunyip was bucking his heritage and a selfish creature for deserting Old Bunyip. I argued that Young Bunyip tried to encourage miserable Old Bunyip, living in the dank and dark, that he could dance and play (be happy) on the sunny side of the swamp and to come with him. Old Bunyip chose not to just because Bunyips Don’t dance and play and live on the sunny side. He chose to live the same old unhappy life rather than make a choice to change. In the end, my tutor was more convinced but still struggled with Young Bunyip “abandoning” his heritage and his kind’s way of life.

Doesn’t enjoyment and love for a book often come down to reader perspective?

If I hadn’t been going to uni, would I have ultimately learned as much just in the writing of my novel and formulated the same BIG question? Perhaps!

But the scope of my Master’s degree insisted I explore and articulate the social context and big question of my novel leading me to discover and thrill to what I discovered were the many layers to my story. Many intentional but some that I found had emerged organically too.

Chris pre-grad (Large)So last week, I walked the ramp to the RMIT graduation stage with a huge grin on my face and grasped my degree, very pleased and proud to be a Master of Creative Media (Creative Writing) with Distinction.

Now – onward to get my novel published. And discover the BIG question in my new manuscript/s.

Often I hear writers asked, did your idea spring from plot, character or setting? Not, what question are you asking. So I’m asking you: Do you write with a BIG question in mind?

Chris post graduation (Large)

No. 510

Or what should be titled “The best conversation starter ever”.

What began as a trip in 2008 to explore my ancestral roots, grew into a niggle that refused to be stilled. Perhaps weeks of researching my family tree and their migration from Ireland to Scotland and on to Australia placed me in just the right mood to be open to the teeming vibration of possibilities I found from the moment I began to walk through the reconstructed setting of the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine.

Writers will recognise that feeling – that stir – there’s a story here. I didn’t know what it was at the time. All I knew was – “it’s here”. And what a setting? What a history? What a backstory?

I couldn’t use my family story because, well, there wasn’t one. Okay, of course, there is a family background, a migration, of good, solid, hard-working people who flew under the radar and left little trace of themselves or their lives. Not in the newspapers, nor in diaries, or letters – nowhere it seemed of note. A lot of people ask if my novel is my family story. No, it is not. But it is their background, their journey and representative of lives lived in the early nineteen-hundreds, a time of mass migration to this country and the age of the coal industry.

I found little oral history to be told either, much as I quizzed my mother, imploring her to search perhaps missed grey areas of her memory that may turn up some trinkets of possibility. But no. My great-grandparents were battlers who got on with life, despite the loss of more than half their children at birth and in infancy, uprooting themselves twice in search of a better life for their family. They made no fuss or show of their lives and seemingly had no desire to record it. But their background, their journey to Australia, the places they lived, those details I’ve lifted and molded to my story. Some extras too, remembered from anecdotes told by my grandmother, embellished and expanded by Mum, have been woven into a work that is otherwise entirely fiction. But it is the small gems of truth that bring authenticity and texture to my story and were a great thrill for me to include beyond the more impersonal, yet invaluable greater research.

One treasure I did unearth during the research is the medallion I am wearing in the photograph at top left of this blog and reproduced below – No. 510. This is a replica of my great-grandfather John McConaghy’s miner’s token. Every time a pit worker went down the mine, he took his token off the board so that the mine management would know who was below and who to search for in the event of an accident. John’s number was 510 for all the eighteen-years he worked there. My grand-father, Ted Nash, who later married my grandmother (and John’s daughter), along with his four brothers all worked at the mine too, though most of them, including my grandfather, only briefly.

I wear the token on a strip of leather, often, and it never fails to amuse and delight me how often a stranger will ask me the meaning of the number 510, or what the medallion represents. I’ve had strangers ask on trains, in Melbourne Central, restaurants, the supermarket, even in London, who cannot keep their eyes from it, and I watch as their curiosity grows. They’re always intrigued with its background too. I’m often surprised how many people are connected in some way to the State Coal Mine in Wonthaggi or who’ve had ancestors working in coal mines somewhere in the world.

Just thought I’d share this gem and tangible link to my past and my story, which, to me, makes it all the more precious.

Writing Organically – I can do it!

I’ve just had the revelatory experience of reading back over some of my notebooks kept from the beginnings of my novel. Strange. And enlightening.

I’m amazed how much has changed. Character names, story tracks, the intention, definitely the outcome.

A little history: I started writing this novel as part of Year of the Novel 2008 at the VWC. I swapped novel ideas mid-year when the starting settings, of what became my new project, fired my imagination and lit a fuse of research passion. At first I could barely start the writing, so engrossed was I in emigrant life aboard the steamship, living in a coal-mining pit village in Scotland, and the era of the Great War. BUT…  I  wrote copious notes of story ideas and character profiles. (Interestingly, no one remotely resembles my initial physical descriptions and personality profiles. I think I wrote them out and then completely disregarded them!)

For the course, I had to come up with a 250 word synopsis (to sum up my novel idea). BUT… and, for me, a big hurdle of a but, (I may already talked about before) – I was encouraged to write it organically. Me – a plotter and planner, not a pantser. The thought was exciting, the reality – terrifying. For six weeks between our bi-monthly classes, I couldn’t write a word. I didn’t know what to write. I wrote characters, ideas, snapshots, but with no plot point to start, I couldn’t begin. Not even to write my way in.


I cheated. I wrote out 13 possible plot points and the starter’s flag dropped. I was away, and kept on going for 136,000 words. (I’ve since cut many thousand of them from the early writing, but added as many back.)

I find it fascinating over the course of writing both the novel and three notebooks, how in the early stages, the chapter or storyline ideas morphed into entirely different beasts. Yet, the early incomplete synopsis is almost identical to the basic narrative line of the story. So much surrounding it is different though. Better, for sure. Deeper, more thoughtful and character full. The story has deepened and taken on texture of the lives of the contributing cast and the effects of the Great War.

At a point, and I’ll guestimate here from memory, it was around the 60,000 word mark, when I handwrote scenes in my notebooks, some became keepers. Whereas earlier, I wrote chapters by hand, but never looked at them while I typed the actual scene. It always came out so differently anyway – as I typed.

Suddenly, I found some handwritten chapters worked on the page, the voice strong and the narrative line connected directly into the story. New writing could suddenly be typed as written direct into the manuscript. It was a flashpoint: The voice of the novel was set. Finally I knew my characters well enough to trust their decisions and let them lead me a little more. I knew how they’d react to different circumstances and events. Of course, they, and those they came in contact with, continued to surprise me totally on occasions with some contrary behaviour and choices. (Thrilling when that happens – in context.)

The thrill for me too is in realising how organic the process of writing my novel turned out – despite my thinking I couldn’t write organically. In spite of me thinking my process strictly that of a planner’s because I knew where it was going. So much altered in the writing and I can see now looking back how I had no intention of certain outcomes originally, but I knew little back then of the Great War and its fallout. My story evolved and grew into something far beyond my original scope or what I believed my scope to be. The journey totally transported me during the writing, and I’m hoping it will do the same for my future readers.

I’m edging toward the starting line again. It’s a little daunting facing the blank page, but hugely exciting to be meeting new characters and glimpsing their lives and stories. A new notebook is started and I can’t help wondering how much these characters stories, and mine, will alter when they begin to lead the journey. I can’t wait. I’m excited to be going with them. I like a couple of them already. Though I see some trouble and troublemakers on their horizon.

So plotters and pantsers all, how do your stories grow and change? Do they? Do you dare to let them?

Ideas Beget Ideas – The Creative Process

Isn’t it amazing how a little boost of possibility and creativity sends the imagination into overdrive?

A few weeks ago, I began to fret that I had no definite idea on what I was going to write next. Don’t writers have their next idea forming in their minds in the closing drafts of their novels, a little voice nagged? Where was mine?

Oh yes, I had an era I’m keen to explore. A couple of settings and a situation affecting a particular demographic I want to investigate, already suspecting a story hides there. But… Wispy thoughts – nothing tangible. Where was the brilliant, irresistible idea waiting to be written? The next bestseller!

Then, out of nowhere – the magic begins.

I started to write down some ideas for a YA manuscript I plan to redraft – post an assessment – and those ideas swam into my head so fast I could hardly keep up with my pen. Next an idea I’ve been mulling for an historical YA novel kept interrupting, demanding space and attention, so I was madly writing those ideas down too. And then a story start, from months ago, put up its hand, shouting, what about me? Sending me possibilities, what ifs and maybes.

In the midst of all this activity I gave up thinking about my long length novel idea at all, only I did decide first I wanted to bring in a link to France because that’s where it all started. And what do you suppose happened next? A young girl popped into my head, introducing herself and her parentage and, of course, then she needed a name. I never like to write down ideas about characters without giving them a name, bringing them to life.

Named, the little minx started to tell me a story and…

So it begins.

I’m excited and brimming with ideas and possibilities and no time to write the lot because uni goes back tomorrow. Still, now I’ve plans and projects and pathways, and I love, love, love the creative process.

Once you open to ideas, they fly to you like bees to honeysuckle.


Love to hear about your creative process. Do ideas come easy to you? Or do you have to lever them out with a screwdriver? How do you know, it’s the one?

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