Ideas for books are everywhere. I’ve had ideas for books from the small ads in the back of magazines, over heard snatches of conversation, television programmes - I watch a lot of afternoon TV and I swear it’s research.
I think the most obscure source for a book was the overheard conversation of one of my choir members. He came into choir practice looking rather scruffy, he’d been climbing and I overheard him saying to one of the basses, “we didn't bother to put a tent up, we built a snow hole”. I edged a bit closer and asked him to tell me more about snow holes. We met after choir to talk about it and he said “but you couldn’t set a love scene in one of them”. I said “don’t worry about that darling, that's my job”. I get ideas from everywhere, it’s in the ether.
Once I’ve built up enough ideas and I think I’ve got a plot, I look at what type of character would be in this situation or would do this activity, such as be a picture restorer or work in an auction house etc. Once I’ve got some ideas together, my character starts to develop and I have to think about the romance aspect. All my books have a romantic thread. This is important to me, I love writing romantic novels because I think falling in love is the best thing in the world. Fortunately I don’t fall in love in real life very often… probably once… I’ve been married a long time, but I think falling in love is great, so if I can write about it, that’s nearly as good as actually doing it.
I have to think about how I can make the romance different. You can’t just have unattached girl meets unattached boy, because life isn’t like that. Most people have a past of some kind and I have to think about how I can make that angle a bit different. I might have an old flame return or someone from the characters childhood appear… I have to think about how to make it different and then I take it from there.
I have to think about how I can make the romance different. You can’t just have unattached girl meets unattached boy, because life isn’t like that
I do quite a lot of research. I remember a writer friend saying to me, “but you write contemporaries, you don”t need to do research”, but that is very far from the truth. My early books were set around my own life. Working in a cafe, living on a narrow boat, being a cleaning lady - all these things were things I’d actually done. However eventually I ran out of life and had to do research, but I love research. I never write about anything that doesn’t really interest me. So the thought of finding out more about something fascinates me.
One thing I’ve learnt is that I can make anything come into a book, whether in a short story or a novel. I think it’s one of those things that writers say to each other after having a bad writing experience “never mind, it will come in”.
One of my favourite bits of research was going on a Ray Mear’s course for outward bound living. This sent my family into hysterics, because I don’t do camping, however I had the best time and even put up my own tent.
Another piece of research I enjoyed for Summer of Love, but didn’t experience myself was internet dating. In the book, I wanted to explore what it would be like for someone like me to go back out there and look for a partner by trying internet dating. I managed to get behind the scenes of a famous internet dating site, where they were very helpful. It was very interesting finding out all about it but I didn’t try it because it wouldn't have been a good idea on any level. I wouldn’t have wanted to upset my husband and it would have been quite humiliating if no one wanted to date me. It was super fun though and I think research is the best way of tasting other people’s lives and putting them into a book.