Monday 28 May 2018

Where do you get your ideas from? by Lucy Rowland

In April, Lynne Garner wrote a blog post for Picture Book Den called ‘Having Fun Making Stuff Up’.  She spoke about attending a writing retreat with the Scattered Authors Society.  During the retreat, Lynne took part in a workshop where she was encouraged to use drawing as a way to generate ideas for picture books.

As many authors and illustrators know, one of the most popular questions we get asked is….‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ and it can be quite a tricky question to answer because the truth is ideas really are everywhere! And yet, I still find it interesting to hear what people say.  Their answers often make me realise how a method that works for one author or illustrator might not be the best approach for another.  But it also shows there is no right or wrong way to find ideas.

At the London Book Fair this year, I was excited to attend a talk from our Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child.  As part of her laureateship, Lauren wants to encourage people to ‘let children dawdle and dream’.  She wants to set up a challenge on her website for people to ‘Look Down’ and notice, as they walk around, the small, forgotten or misplaced items on the floor and to consider what the story around these objects could be.  It reminded me of another post by Lynne Garner where she challenged Picture Book Den readers to make up a story based on some of the objects she’d photographed on a walk. 

I once heard author, Tracey Corderoy, speaking at a Nosy Crow ‘Picture Book Master Class’.  For Tracey, looking through illustrators’ work and finding interesting characters can spark her to wonder ‘what could this character’s story be?’   Picture book author, Lou Carter, also told me that she often writes a story around a character.  The character is very much the starting point for her.  I found this really interesting as it’s something I rarely do.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not such a visual person?  Maybe this is also why I don’t use drawing to come up with new ideas?

I often get my ideas because I like to play with words.  My first book ‘Gecko’s Echo’ (with illustrator Natasha Rimmington) came about simply because I liked the sound of these words together.  Next year, I have a second book coming out with Ben Mantle- I can’t reveal what it is called just yet but it also has a rhyming title that very much inspired the story and, again, this came about from playing with language.   Mine and Kate Hindley’s latest book, ‘The Knight who said No’ was initially about a viking (rather than a knight) and this idea came to me when I was playing around with the words ‘The vikings are striking!’

I’ve always loved rhyme and rhythm.  Sometimes I find rhythms that I particularly enjoy and I see if I can write a story around that rhythm.  For example, I love the rhythm in ‘Bad Sir Brian Botany’ by A.A.Milne:

‘Sir Brian woke one morning and he couldn’t find his battleaxe;
He walked into the village in his second pair of boots.
He had gone a hundred paces, when the street was full of faces,
And the villagers were round him with ironical salutes.’

I mean…What a fantastic rhythm!!

I was in Australia when I re-read this poem and that evening I was looking at the fruit bats in the trees.  I then asked myself that very important question that we often ask ourselves as authors and illustrators…WHAT IF?  ‘What if there was a fruit bat who didn’t like fruit?...what would happen then?’
And I wrote around the Sir Brian rhythm as a challenge to see if I could do it.

‘Once there was a fruit bat and the fruit bat’s name was Jeremy.
Jeremy had always felt he didn’t quite belong.
No he wasn’t like the others and his sisters and his brothers
Used to look at him and giggle ‘cause he always got it wrong.
And worst of all were mealtimes. Jeremy just dreaded them.
His brothers and his sisters used to think it was a hoot!
See it isn’t very easy when your dinner makes you queasy
And Jeremy refused to try a single bite of fruit.’

I use the ‘what if’ question a lot during my school visits.  What if it really did rain cats and dogs? What if you woke up and your teachers had turned into zombies? What if children ruled the world? (Cue loud cheers from the class!)  The children are generally fairly excitable by this point but I then encourage them to come up with their own ‘what if?’ ideas and their suggestions are truly brilliant! In fact, I might have to steal some of their ideas myself!

Further investigation into where people find inspiration taught me that Abie Longstaff sometimes uses the childhood games she played with her younger sisters as ideas for stories. Juliet Clare Bell uses the artwork hanging on her walls. Penny Dolan once wrote a guest blog for Picture Book Den and put it brilliantly…’Picture books are a pleasure to write once you’ve got an idea.’  One of the places she gets inspiration is from the schools themselves when she is doing school visits. 

Ideas really do come from many different places and you might find that you have certain tendencies or preferences when hunting for your own?  So….Where do you get your ideas from? 


Martin Horton said...

Brilliant! Thank you, Lucy.Loads of top advice. Writing storys around a rhythm is a great idea. Buffaloes on the Bed just started off from one sentence.Hedgehogs in the garden, tigers in the bed, and it grew from there. I was following an exercise from the 5 minutes Writer book of 'If you have no time at all then at least write just one sentence.' So that's what I did and it grew from there. Thanks again.

Lucy Rowland said...

Oh I haven't heard of that book. Sounds good though. I must check it out!