Jane Shemilt: How to Find Inspiration

Jane Shemilt: How to Find Inspiration

Inspiration comes from the Latin, Inspirare: to breathe into, a word that connects my medical past with my writing present. I drew on this past for my debut Daughter and my second novel, The Drowning Lesson. It is currently breathing life into my third.

When the time comes for a new story the creative process kicks in. I brainstorm my initial ideas on paper, making mind maps that will become the plot, the character and the themes. When I have a beginning, a middle and maybe an end, I pencil a chapter list. This will certainly change but it lends a structure for the narrative to hold on to at the start.

Meanwhile, I look at landscape. I watch television to see what holds me, the menace and pathos in the original series of ‘The Killing’ for example, Mark Rylance’s performance in ‘Wolf Hall’, the clever pacing of ‘The Night Manager’. I walk, go to exhibitions and plays but mostly I read; currently All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes for the second time. I look at people; really look so I can describe all the colours in the skin of one face. I accompany my husband to his operating theatre. I make notes about the way our dog runs or how a plant looks close up. I travelled to Africa again for The Drowning Lesson to see what it smelt like when I got off the plane, what the roofs in the villages were made of and exactly what charms the medicine man used.

Writing is tough. To motivate myself I go into the same book lined room in my house every day; my workroom where I have the job of writing to do, much as I went to the surgery to do the job of G.P. I write all day, nine to five. A word target can be motivating, aiming for a thousand, with editing in the evening. My husband helps thrash out plot problems. My writing group meets monthly – all friends from the M.A. in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University five years ago – which is helpful too.

It was hugely motivating to meet other nominees at the Edgar Award ceremony in New York last month, seeing how writing is at the centre of their lives too. And I know my editor has my back as she waits for the first draft, the one that began with that first invisible breath.

You can find out more about the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller 2016 competition here.