I can’t remember ever – even after hundreds of school visits and workshops – being asked the question: ‘Why do you do it?’ But it is a question that writers often ask themselves. Because writing is not an easy thing to do. Especially, it is not an easy thing to do well. The question people DO ask is: ‘Where do you get your ideas?’
I was once asked that when I was waiting for something routine (allergy tests) at Karatara Hospital outside Windhoek in Namibia. A young man was being helped in with a football injury. Several women in traditional Herero dress were comforting a friend. A stretcher was rushed towards Emergency. Things were happening. Things that could each have developed into a full-length novel. That’s when the Sister asked me where I get my ideas from.
They are everywhere.
The most critical piece of kit for a writer is a good memory. The ability to remember a place – any place – let’s call it ***. And the small, small things, like what a disappointment, for example, go in for school dinner and find out that it was horrible liver and onions day, or to miss a bus and be stranded with no money, or to have your heart broken; memory is paramount.
The second most important thing is a notebook. Write it down. When you discover the horrible liver, miss the train, or have your heart broken, WRITE about it. Those cryptic notes:
3.00 am. He isn’t home. Again. Will he ever be?
Now examine the all-important ***. Try inserting Istanbul. A new story instantly begins to materialize out of the dusky smoke. Try Chicago instead. It will be different. Now try somewhere you know really well – certainly the best option if you haven’t actually been to Istanbul or Chicago. The story is set free to go where you will it to go. The story is free to explore your real memories of the place you perhaps know best, the inside of your own head.
The lights of the train twinkled their goodbye as my running footsteps faded in my ears. I was too late. It was cold. Rain was coming. I felt in my pocket – hopelessly There was the useless ticket. There was no money. The last train was rapidly disappearing towards *** and I was alone. Alone.
But the question was … Why DO we do it? Because it’s fun!