One of the questions I was asked during a school visit yesterday was “where do I get my inspiration from?” The answer is anywhere and everywhere.
Inspiration can come from something I’m reading; a song lyric; snatches of overheard conversation on a train; a facial expression; scenery. Sometimes I’ll witness human interaction from afar – perhaps I’m stuck in traffic watching people on the footpath or at a restaurant waiting to eat – and I’ll find myself making up the dialogue or back stories to go with what I observe.
Once I’ve seen a situation or person or place that sends adrenaline surging into my imagination, the next step might be to tweak things a little. Asking myself “what might happen if…” can be where an idea takes flight and becomes a story.
If you read the teachers’ notes for Game as Ned, you’ll see how the plot took shape. In a nutshell, I wanted to write about a boy who didn’t speak. Having decided that, I asked two questions. Why doesn’t he speak? And, if he doesn’t speak, how might he stand up for himself? The answers gave me the basic structure for my story.
I recently attended a country football match where the longer I watched, the more the sights and sounds started to meld into a story: the smoke from a log burning in front of the coach’s box, the horn-honking spectators watching in their misty-windowed cars, the tweeting referees’ whistles on the adjacent netball courts, the retro haircuts and the all-permeating cold were cumulatively evocative. Then there was the veteran player prowling the boundary line like an old bull, stamping at the muddy ground and clearly itching to get a run.
By the time my mates and I had finished observing him, we’d written his entire back story. We decided he was a former club champion who’d been playing 30 years with the one team and was now too old and slow and frustrated with his fading vigour. I reckon he’d been married and divorced from the local hairdresser and only stuck around because he couldn’t split from the team. He was devastated when the coach went to put him on – and the quarter time siren sounded that precise moment. He started the second quarter on the bench again, regularly looking up at the coach, practically begging for a sniff of the Sherrin.
Eventually the coach gave the signal and ‘Bull’ roared on to the ground. The coach bellowed only one instruction: “Just don’t do anything stupid!”
Watching. Listening. Questioning. That’s where stories begin.