A fellow author(i) asks you to send him a picture of yourself with a sponge on your head.

Just in case you haven’t understood the request, he sends you a picture of a third author(ii) who is indeed balancing a large yellow sponge on their head.  And one of himself, with a sponge (cake) on his.

Do you:

  1. Immediately find the largest yellowest floor-sponge in your household, strap it to your scalp, take selfie and dispatch with the caption ‘Anything you can do I can do sillier’?
  2. Make a lame if inventive excuse and hope to maintain relations?
  3. Delete both authors from all contacts and leave the country?

Authors are often asked where they get their ideas.  The point my colleagues wanted to make was that their minds had to be like sponges.  They had to suck up ideas from all the things with which they came into contact, in order to be able to put them into that novel. And understanding this, I guess you’d gamely have gone ahead and done (a). Good people that you are.

Now, I’m afraid I did not feel I could be recorded wearing a large yellow washing aid.  So I went for (b).  I claimed that my creative process was entirely different. I was not so much  an omniverous sucker – I said – as the victim of serial lightning strikes.  If I were to balance anything on my head it would be a long metal object like a golf club. (I believe golfers are among the more frequent victims of that sort of weather.)

Of course we really need both the golfclub and the sponge. Ideas do come from anywhere and everywhere.  They come from meetings, books, conversations, radio or television, from going to new places or pursuing new hobbies. You need a lot of material to write a book, chapter after chapter, scene after scene, trying to make that world real. We suck it all up from our surroundings, transform it and spew it out into another universe.

But that first idea – the one that says “hey, there’s a story here!” – is rare, sudden and, well, electrifying. It can pop up from strangest places – two of mine have been from dreams that woke me in the middle of the night. One even came from playing a computer game.  They shake you up.  Perhaps they worry you a bit (remember The Christmas House?)  You need to explore them. Maybe you need to take control of them.  And that’s why you start working them into a story pattern.  That’s when you start bringing in all those other ideas and thoughts that you’ve sponged up along the way, to help you make the thing.

If you ever hear an author sighing for inspiration, that’s what they’re looking for – that first impulse that insists it wants to be a story.  As a rule, it’s probably not a good idea to suggest they go balancing golf clubs on their heads in thunderstorms.  If they are that desperate, here’s something you could get them to try first.


(i) de Quidt, this was you. You may have forgotten…

ii) O’Guilin, this you. You almost certainly have.