One of the questions I am often asked is where my ideas come from. This is a tricky question to answer because, most of the time, I genuinely don't have a clue. According to F Scott FitzGerald: 'You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.' This makes sense to me, because the process of writing a book does not begin with words on a screen, or a page. It starts with an idea for a story. The idea may not be fully formed. It may be no more than the germ of an idea, what Lee Child calls his 'five second elevator pitch'. You find yourself sharing a lift with a publisher. You have five seconds to pitch your book before the lift stops, the publisher leaves, and the opportunity is lost.
The idea is the catalyst, but where these ideas come from is usually a mystery. I say usually, because once in a while I know exactly where one of my ideas originated. The first book I ever wrote was inspired by a man who walked past me in my local park. There was nothing strange about him. It was an unremarkable incident. For no reason, I began to speculate about what he was doing, walking through the park in the rain... (In case you're wondering, I was taking a short cut through the park to visit a friend. And yes, he probably wondered whether I was up to no good, walking in the park, in the rain.) Writing the story, I had no idea it would be published as Cut Short, the first in my Geraldine Steel series.
The idea for Journey to Death also occurred to me in very specific circumstances. Hearing a first hand account of a political coup in the Seychelles in the 1970s, I wondered about the impact of such political upheaval on the everyday lives of ordinary people. This time, my speculation led to the story of a love affair between two people from different cultures, who were torn apart by circumstances. Of course that idea in itself is hardly original. From Virgil's Dido and Aeneas written around 25 BC, through Romeo and Juliet with its many spin offs, to modern versions of the story like Miss Saigon and Captain Corelli's Mandalin, the instances are plentiful. The fact that the setting and details of my story were different to any I had seen before wasn't important, as I wasn't writing the story with a view to seeing it published. I wrote it simply because the story interested me, and the civilian heroine in her exotic setting were a change from the British police procedurals I write.
For a fiction writer, weaving a real historical incident into my narrative posed an interesting challenge, adding another area of interest for me as I wrote the story. In some ways, having the factual background was helpful, as it gave me material to work with. At the same time, I had become engrossed in the lives of my fictitious characters. Some of the historical information was dull, or irrelevant to their story, so there were constantly choices to be made about what to include. And of course, once begun, the story could not be left unfinished. So I wrote the book. Before returning to my police procedurals, I put the Seychelles story away in my virtual hidden drawer where writers put the manuscripts they never submit. And there it would have stayed, were it not for an unforeseen development.
Another question I am often asked is how I found my publishers. The first time round, I sent the manuscript for Cut Short to a couple of publishers who specialise in crime fiction, and was fortunate enough to find a home for what developed into a long running series. Recently, the editor who initially read the manuscript for my debut novel set up a literary agency of her own. When she asked if she could represent me I was thrilled, and agreed to give her anything other than my already published series. So I took the Seychelles manuscript out of my virtual hidden drawer, brushed the virtual dust off it, and sent it to her. My agent liked what I had written. All it needed now was a title. We called it Journey to Death.
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (9 Feb. 2016) Pbk £8.99