Necessity is the mother of inspiration...
Yeah, I know I’ve misquoted, but, for me, this version is more accurate. Inspiration or invention, most would argue there’s not a lot of difference. I’d argue there is. If you’re building hoovers or cars, then you’re going to go for invention every time; if you’re a writer, then it’s inspiration you’re after. What we’re coming to here – in a roundabout way – is the one question sure to strike fear into the heart of any writer, the question that will make them squirm, the question they probably get asked more than any other. Yes we’re talking the big one...
What would you give to be as rich as JK Rowling?
Actually, that’s not the question at all. As you well know, the QUESTION THAT SHALL NOT BE SPOKEN is...
Where do you get your ideas from?
The answer to this can be summed up in one word, the very same word that started this article, in fact: necessity. Unfortunately, if you’re doing any sort of author talk and give a one word answer, people tend to feel cheated. I don’t know why. My favourite author answer came from Stephen King. When asked how he wrote a book, he replied: “one word at a time”. Absolutely priceless. As a writer, I can relate. However, I can also appreciate how the interviewer might have felt short-changed.
It’s true, though. Ninety-nine percent of my ideas come from necessity. The Judas is a prime example of this. If it wasn’t for necessity that book wouldn’t exist. To understand what I mean, I’d like you to travel back in time with me to January 11, 2005. Steve Brookstein (winner of the first X Factor... remember him?) was at number 1 in the singles chart; Green Day topped the album chart; and I was waiting nervously to hear if HarperCollins was going to buy The Mentor. I can remember that day like it was yesterday, every heart-attack inducing, nail-biting second of it. By the time the phone finally went, the men in white coats were forming an orderly queue. My agent hit me with the good news first: HarperCollins had offered me a contract. I could sense a “but”... there’s always a “but”. ‘But,’ she added, ‘they want a sequel.’
You see, The Mentor was written as a standalone novel. By the time the closing credits roll, I’d killed or maimed most of the cast. A bit of a problem, perhaps?
Okay, let’s stop right there. What you’ve got to understand is that by this point I’d spent five years trying to get published. I’d had rejection after rejection, knockback after knockback, and now one of the big boys was waving a contract under my nose. There were two options. I could uhm and ah and tell them, well, it’s a standalone and I don’t think that’d work. Alternatively, I could bite their hands off, take the money, and worry about what I’d do for an encore later.
Bit of a no-brainer really.
So, there I was, an author with a two book contract. One book was already in the bag, but the other... well, the words ‘Bobby’, ‘Ewing’ and ‘shower’ spring to mind. In the end, I didn’t have to perform any miracle resurrections. Thank God. Once the shock of getting a contract had worn off and I’d stopped hyperventilating, I realised I didn’t have one sequel, I had two.
Some writers like to plot things out to the Nth degree. I don’t. I prefer to start with a “what if” and work from there. In The Judas I asked myself: “What if there was an assassin going around killing off MI6 agents?”. Obviously the big question this leads to is: why? (and if you want the answer to that one, you’re just going to have to read the book). The downside to the “what if” approach is that it can be risky. One of my earlier unpublished novels revolved around the theft of £100,000,000. Reaching the 150,000 word mark, I still didn’t have a clue how my hero got hold of the money. This wasn’t a minor problem, this was a full-on NASA-style MAJOR MALFUNCTION. I’d invested six months of blood, sweat and tears in this project and it was all about to go tits up. The red alert lights were flashing, the sirens were wailing, and a metallic voice was howling that I was about to lose my book. But I kept the faith, and a solution presented itself. You see, once again necessity saved the day.
Once I’d got my “what if” for The Judas established, ideas started coming... and kept a-coming. The book sees the return of MI6 agent Paul Aston, and opens with the brutal murder of a retired MI6 head of station. Shortly afterwards, an MI6 director dies suddenly. It looks like a heart attack, but it isn’t. While investigating the deaths, Aston uncovers a conspiracy that dates back to the dying days of the USSR. Growing up, I loved Tom Clancy’s Cold War thrillers – I couldn’t get enough of them. With The Judas I wanted to capture that wonderful atmosphere of paranoia and deception the best Cold War thrillers possessed. At the same time, I wanted to create a novel that was both modern and cutting-edge.
The Judas was, without a doubt, the easiest book I’ve ever written. One idea seemed to lead to the next, and the next; the plot unfurled organically, as though it were a living, breathing entity. On the other hand, The Watcher (book three in the Paul Aston series), was probably the most difficult. Yes, the ideas came easily enough, however, the actual writing was just plain hard work. I don’t know why. Just one of those things, I suppose. When I’m in first draft mode I aim to be at my desk by nine, and I stay chained to my computer until I’ve done at least 1,500 words. On a good day I might hit 2,000 words, on a very good day 2,500. With The Watcher there were days where I bailed out the second I hit 1,500 words, even if I was in mid-sentence.
So, what’s next for Paul Aston? At this moment in time, I don’t have a clue. One thing I do know, however, is that when I sit down to write the next installment, I have every faith that inspiration will strike when I need it to. It has to. Like I said at the start: necessity is the mother of inspiration.