If you ever want to piss off an author at a writer’s festival ask them where they get their ideas from.
I should know, I’ve done it several times.
But it’s okay, they were friends of mine.
Asking an author where they get their ideas from in tantamount to asking someone how to drive a car. It just sort of happens. Generally you just do it without ever wondering how you obtained the requisite knowledge. Every author is different. Some agonise over ideas and craft them over years. Others have notebooks filled with amazing concepts that would be impossible to write in one lifetime.
But I can tell you the exact moment the idea for my novel The Barista’s Guide to Espionage came to me – and it was all Charlie Jane Anders fault. She wrote a funny piece for io9 where she lamented the fact that we never see Evil Overlord Romance. In the article she mentions that most genres are played out, so why not create a romance between a sexy and mysterious overlord who plans to take over the world and the feisty heroine who falls in love with him. Plus lots of cool black uniforms.
Max Von Sydow sexy? Sure, why not?
In a moment of madness I thought, sure, I can do that. In a month I had 30,000 words of a book I was tentatively calling, Not Tonight Dear, I’m Destroying Tokyo. Harry, the evil overlord, had already conquered half the planet and was hell-bent on conquering the other half. Once I hit the dreaded 30k mark I realised the folly of my ways. There just wasn’t enough to maintain the story and it all crumbled in on itself.
And there I left it for a couple of years.
Then one day I was emailing a group of writer mates doing our weekly High Concept Friday. This basically involves pitching ideas – some tongue in cheek, some positively brilliant that they have gone on to be develop into published novels. It can be one line or a page of well-rounded ideas. On that day my pitch was pretty rudimentary – “a spy story from the Bond girl’s perspective”. I really liked the concept but didn’t think much more about it. It wasn’t until a few weeks later I realised I already had a large chunk of the story already down and didn’t know it.
A good half was salvaged from Tokyo (with a hell of a lot of changes). Basically Tokyo started from the bar scene, and how they met, the confrontation in Harry’s apartment (with explosions and leaping out of buildings), which are all there in Barista’s. Although originally each chapter alternated between his and her perspectives the DNA is still there in Barista’s Guide.
Once I had sorted out the new book was from the perspective of a feisty feminist Bond girl everything else fell into place. Thus The Barista’s Guide to Espionage was born. The last step was a publisher – those crazy bastards at Fahrenheit Press decided to take a risk and unleash Eva Destruction on the world.
So, where does a writer get their ideas from? I’ll hand you over to some guy called Stephen King:
‘Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.’
Amen to that Mr King, amen to that.