Creative writing: The most-asked question for a writer

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21 June 2024
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Novelist Faith Hogan answers the one question about writing that everyone wants to know the answer to

Any writer who has ever attended a live event knows, the one question you are sure to be asked is – And so, where do you get your inspiration?

I know, when I started out, I would go into detail about what inspired my first book – (it was the idea of what if? In case anyone is truly interested!)

For my second it was easier, a sense of the location, for the third… well honestly for the third (between ourselves, because we’re all writers here, right?) I wrote it when we were having the kitchen remodelled.

Now, remodelled, when you say it like that sounds thoroughly harmless, civilised even, but the reality was, most of my book was written without WiFi, with four children begging to watch Netflix or play on-line games while I pounded away on the keyboard and tried to ignore the incessant kango hammering that was pulling apart my home on the floor beneath my office.

So… what inspires me?

There are two things I need to tell you honestly about this question.

The first is that each book is inspired by different things. Some are inspired by location – like my second book, Secrets We Keep – it was inspired by a beautiful old bath house situated a few miles from where I live.

My new book, The Bookshop Ladies, is inspired by beautiful bookshops all around the world, some of which I’ve visited, some I’ve read about in books like The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell and The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell. It was a book I always wanted to write. I mean, if you’re a reader – and aren’t we all first and foremost readers? – then, a story set in a bookshop sounds like heaven.

Other books, I’ve written are inspired by a voice. I know, that sounds a little woohoo, but hear me out. There are times when you overhear a conversation, sometimes it’s not even the words, it’s just the tone or the voice and you find you just have to turn around in your seat to take a look at what sort of person you’re actually listening to.

This happened to me recently. I was sitting in a coffee shop when my ear pinged in the direction of a furtive whisper. I couldn’t help myself. Indeed, I might even argue, that it’s legitimate research. But yes, reader, I leaned back on my chair, so far back that I could easily catch one side of the conversation.

It was apparent from almost the start that this man was in the middle of having an affair. I won’t go into the details, perhaps I’m saving them for a book one day, but I was gripped. If I turned around, would I find myself staring at an Adonis? Such was his banter – honestly, he was a total schmoozer – the sort young women, who believe every word, fall for and later regret.

It was obvious to me, at least, he had the personality of a lizard. Surely, he must be blessed on an aesthetic level? Alas, I didn’t turn around immediately. I leant back just a fraction too far and ended up tumbling from my seat.

The schmoozer did not come to help, but then how could he? He was seventy five years old, if he was a day, very overweight and he resembled Shrek more than Brad Pitt.

I suppose, the point is, when we tell readers inspiration is all around us, it actually is, but here’s the thing, it takes a writer's brain to turn that real life inspiration into a book.

Did I mention there were two things about this question?

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Yes?

Well, here’s the second…

Most people, when they ask it, they do so because either (a) they haven’t read your book, but they want to speak and sound important or (b) they have a huge interest in where you find your inspiration, but there’s a small caveat here – there’s a good chance they ask every writer they meet the very same question.

It’s a lazy question. It’s a question that everyone knows has been asked a million times before and if you Google most writers' names, you’ll see that somewhere along their journey they have answered it an event or in an interview.

The moral of this piece is this:

If you are a writer and you are asked – So, what is your inspiration? – don’t sweat the small stuff. Really, it’s just a question.

The Bookshop Ladies by Faith Hogan is published by Aria (£20)

 

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