Mine tend to come mostly from newspapers. I’m not exaggerating when I say I can usually identify a whole bunch of plots every day in a single morning newspaper. It’s for that reason I maintain an extensive file of cuttings.
The idea for The Madam came from a news story in one of the tabloids. It was about a woman who had been the victim of a major miscarriage of justice. She spent many years in prison after being falsely convicted of murder.
Reading the story immediately gave birth to the germ of an idea. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the woman and how she felt having finally been released. Could she forgive those responsible for her incarceration? Or would she want to make them pay?
Twenty-four hours later, having thought it through, I’d mapped out a rough outline for The Madam. I’d also created in my mind the character of Lizzie Wells, a prostitute who is jailed for a crime she didn’t commit. After she gets out she seeks revenge against those who framed her.
The same thing happened with my next book, The Alibi, which is due to be published in January next year by Avon/Harper Collins.
This time I spotted a story in one of the Sunday newspapers about a man who was arrested by police in connection with a serious crime, but was then released shortly after because he was able to produce a water-tight alibi.
My initial reaction was that the word ‘alibi’ would work well in a book’s title. And as I rolled it around in my head I started to wonder how often offenders provide police with false alibis. And how often the police discover they’re not genuine.
It wasn’t long before I’d developed a storyline into which I’d inserted three main characters – a female crime reporter, a crooked detective and a big time gangster. Seven months later the finished book was delivered to my editor at Avon.
For me newspapers are by far the richest source of ideas and inspiration. They reflect what’s going on around us and contain much more detail than can be found in television and radio news coverage.
Over the two days I was writing this blog feature I spotted a number of stories that had the potential to be turned into full-length novels.
- A father killed himself and his six-year-old daughter because he thought his wife was going to leave him.
- A wealthy couple held their maid hostage for several days after a sum of money went missing from their home.
- The parents of a man who joined Islamic State were charged with terrorism offences for sending him money.
- The true scale of people smuggling across the channel into the UK was revealed.
This last story about the smugglers has actually given me an idea for a plot and I’ve already started to work it up.
Of course it might come to nothing, but the more I learn about what the criminal gangs are up to the more appealing it’s becoming.
What’s more the issue is attracting an enormous amount of coverage. This means that a lot of information is being made available to me and every other reader – information I’d normally have to spend time researching.
So not only did the papers give me the idea – they’re now churning out facts and figures on a daily basis. Such as how the gangs operate, how much they’re paid to smuggle people into the country, what the border police are doing to stop them, what happens to the illegal immigrants when they arrive here.
Some writers have made it known that they rarely read newspapers. Others are on record as saying that they get their ideas from surfing the internet, or from television programmes, or by just observing what goes on around them.
But for me there’s no substitute for trawling through the daily rags. I accept it’s partly due to the fact that I used to be a journalist and reported for a couple of the national newspapers.
But it’s mostly down to the fact that the papers provide a window to a world filled with stories that are bizarre, upsetting, scary, absorbing, amazing and sometimes refreshingly uplifting.