As I am dilly-dallying about starting work on my third novel, I am casting around for inspiration, waiting for a couple of ideas to collide in a way that sparks my interest – enough to keep me going for at least a year.
Looking back, I can see more clearly what the first two novels were inspired by – some of them more conscious than others.
A Savage Art was inspired in part by the novel and film In The Cut. Actually the first trigger was seeing Michael Parkinson interview Meg Ryan about her role in Jane Campion’s adaptation of the erotic thriller. His sheer rudeness to her, asking her what her father would think, was jawdropping. So I went to read the book, and watch the film.
It also co-incided with some real-life thoughts I was having about predators, and how they cover their tracks, and that sparked the initial story idea.
Other reading also contributed… I’d long had an interest in fairy tales, and I devoured a few books by Maria Tatar – notably Secrets Beyond the Door, about Bluebeard, and The Hard Facts of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I re-read some Angela Carter too – her fairy tale re-workings and then The Sadeian Woman. I knew I was on the right track when I found a passage in the latter which described a scene I had already written.
My main character, Kate Savage, was originally a solicitor. She didn’t really come alive until she was transformed into a textile artist, and looking back this video was another tangential link in the chain – the fairy tale evoked by the lyrics, and the gorgeous fabrics and costumes… and it gave me an idea for my first chapter too.
The inspiration for the second novel came from equally unexpected and diverse sources.
On the way back from a family funeral, we stayed in the Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle for a few days and explored the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones, including the fabulous Devil’s Chair. I’d wanted to visit these places since I was a child, hooked on Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine adventure stories.
On that same trip, we visited Crickley Hill, where I was a volunteer on an archaeological dig in the long, hot summer of 1976.
Once home, I re-read a few of the Lone Pine stories, and realised that they, as well as the Alan Garner novels, were part of what inspired my interest in archaeology.
At the same time I was obsessed with a non-fiction book about Wilful Blindness, by Margaret Heffernan.
When these strands of thinking collided I had the basis of novel 2, but it didn’t really come alive until this Kate Bush track sneaked in to the final draft –
Novel 3 is still a total mystery, but looking at my current obsessions might help, perhaps.
I’ve been reading – re-reading – some of my favourite novels.
Donna Tartt’ s The Secret History. John Fowles’ The Magus. Dorothy Dunnett, The Game of Kings. Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion.
(I always regress to Georgette Heyer when I’m unwell – desperate old snob that she was, she knew how to tell a good story, and she knew how to subvert tired old tropes and make them fun again).
On the non-fiction front, I’ve been reading about the Satanic Child Abuse moral panic, and all kinds of things about recovered memory, false memories and trauma. Some of that was for the memoir, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it may also find its way into novel 3.
I’m intrigued by modern paganism and its links with some strands of far right politics. The image below appears to be a Basque lauburu – although it’s impossible to guess how that might have made its way to Ilkley Moor. Of course there are similar symbols in Celtic culture too.
The similarity to the swastika is striking, and especially the way the original Indian spiritual meaning was appropriated by the Nazis as a symbol of the Aryan race.
There’s something about that hijacking and transformation of meaning which fascinates me, so maybe that will find its way into the next story too.
I’m also rewatching Russian Doll, which had a huge impact on me earlier this year So much so that a concept from it unconsciously found its way into the memoir.
Not all of these sources will make it through to the final novel, and even the ones which do may be transformed beyond all recognition. That’s how it’s worked before, at any rate.
Oh, and there’s one final thing. A single word which keeps reverberating, and which is totally fascinating me.
For now, it’s all just jumbled up in notes in my journal (and now here!) and tumbling around in my mind.
What I need next is a character…and I do have the beginnings of an idea of who she might be…and why redemption matters to her.
Even with hindsight, it’s difficult to see just how all those different strands became (in my mind at least) central to my first two novels. It’s no surprise that I currently have absolutely no idea where I’m going now…