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Long before Alan Garner was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, he wrote novels which informed the imaginations of a generation of British children. And after The Owl Service and the Weirdstone of Brisingamen were published, Garner wrote other books. While he wrote, he collected ideas – notes, clippings from newspapers, images. He kept many of them in a box which he stored in his shed. One such clipping contained a story about the British convict, William Buckley. A few years later, he glanced at the clipping and began to think about the voice of this long forgotten Cheshire man. More years passed. A decade or so later, he began to make some notes. Another decade passed, during which he wrote other books. Then, as he tells it, one afternoon he was in his shed looking for something else, and out tumbled these notes on William Buckley. Then, the novel took hold. The voice of this man, William Buckley, formed from the strange rituals of Cheshire villages, began to sound. Thirty years after that first clipping, Garner’s novel, Strandloper, was published to international acclaim.

Sometimes an idea arrives, fully formed, bursting with energy, ready to be written.
And sometimes an idea takes a while to come to the light.

Some ideas need to prove and rest and prove again, like bread. They lie in wait, until we are ready to write them.

Fury was like that, for me. I knew that I would write that particular story decades before I actually did write it. Every few years, I pulled out the journals I’d brought with me on board the Ocean Thief, and I attempted to find a shape for the story. It took decades before it – or I – was ready.

Or perhaps, the idea was quietly calling, and it took time for me to hear it.

Sometimes an idea doesn’t just lie in wait, but asks you to dig at it, revisit it, find its form.

In 1970, Margaret Atwood published The Journals of Susanna Moodie, a poetry collection inspired by the writings of the English-Canadian settler who first reported the case of Grace Marks, a servant found guilty of murder. Four years later, Atwood dramatized the story of Marks in The Servant Girl. Even then, she didn’t feel done with Grace’s story. It nagged at her. What if she’d misunderstood? What if she’d got it wrong in her telling? Every so often, she returned to the story, researching, wondering. After twenty years, she changed her mind about Grace Marks, and so she came once more to the story, to create the novel Alias Grace.

All of which is to say simply this: if you have some ideas you’ve buried, forgive yourself. If you have ideas that have been slow to rise, forgive yourself. Forgive, and look again.

Is there anything hiding in plain sight, waiting for you to return to it?

Is there a story whose time has come?

I wonder if you could take some time today to revisit and harvest some of your own creative DNA by looking at your own ideas.

Some examples of what I mean by ideas: a woman is stuck alone on a space station; something inspired by Bram Stoker; a couple meeting on a train; story about a woman recovering from the loss of her family; world in which only the physically beautiful can rule; something about that man I saw in the square, the way he talked to his imaginary dog… Those ideas – that little magic spark – might come from a situation, a character, a setting.

It might be a fleeting thought, a ‘what would it be like to be that young doctor on the plane asked to step up and help that dying man?’ – or it might be born of a long obsession.

Spend some time calling up at least three ideas you had more than a year ago that you haven’t yet written – as many as you can think of.

Write down up to three ideas that you’ve had within the last year that you haven’t explored yet.

Write down the titles of up to three books, plays or movies that made you think, I wish I’d had that idea.

Do you see any themes or connections between these ideas?


Do you notice any patterns in how you find your ideas? Or in the territory that attracts you?

When you look again, with the light of curiosity and compassion, at some of those abandoned ideas, does anything new spark?

Coax your ideas to the light. Wait for them. Because they are there, somewhere, waiting for you.


Today’s prompt:

They left on a Thursday…