Where do your ideas for your crime novels come from?

I know I've covered this here before but because it's the question that people ask me most often I thought there would be no harm in covering it again, albeit in a different way and with more information. People are genuinely fascinated to learn where writers get their ideas from and many people tell me they'd never be able to come up with an idea for a book let alone enough ideas for a series of novels.  But ideas really are the easy part of writing - once you have trained your mind to openly look for them, or spot them when they miraculously occur - it is turning the ideas into a novel of 80,000-100,000 words that is the tricky bit.

Ideas for novels come from a variety of sources: overheard conversations, stories relayed by others, personal experience, locations and the news, which pops up in my Google Reader: for example a Windsurfing Festival on Hayling Island could serve as a potential investigation for an Inspector Andy Horton marine mystery crime novel. Or the first steam passenger train returning to Hayling Island since 1963 could lead to Murder on the Hayling Seaside Express

There was an unexploded bomb trawled up by fishermen in the Solent, which sparked an idea or two, and an article in the Isle of Wight County Press asking for witnesses to come forward in a suspected arson case involving toilet rolls, a young man walking on stilts, a woman with pink hair and a group dressed as Goths made the mind boggle. I kid you not.

Then there was the time when I was in London and a cab driver told me of a fare he’d just picked up from a hotel and dropped only fifty yards further down the road to a house. The man was of a swarthy complexion carrying a suitcase, Murder And The Suitcase Man.

And the surf’s up with twenty foot waves at Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight in January, and suddenly you’ve got a body rolling in with the waves.

As to my novels, well the idea for In Cold Daylight came from an overheard conversation in the fire station where my husband was a fire-fighter. The fire fighters were talking about the high number of men from one watch who had all contracted cancer. No one knew why and no one had investigated the cause. I picked that up and turned it into a thriller.

In For The Kill was sparked by a visit to the Isle of Wight and seeing the signs for the prisons. Suddenly I imagined a man standing outside the gates and I wondered who he was?  What crime had he committed? Was he innocent or guilty?  What would he do next? Already the plot was forming.

And my marine mystery crime novels featuring my detective, Inspector Horton, are all originally inspired by locations around the coast of Portsmouth, Hayling Island and the Solent: the marina in The Suffocating Sea; Southsea beach in Tide of Death; Kendals Wharf in Dead Man's Wharf; the mulberry in Langstone Harbour in Deadly Waters, and  St Helens  Duver on the Isle of Wight in Blood on the Sand.  The ancient remains of Portchester Castle is the inspiration behind the Inspector Horton novel I am currently writing. 

Every idea is written down and kept in an A4 folder, alphabetically indexed for that day when I start a new novel. So far so good but how do you turn these ideas into a novel?

I usually start by taking the idea and putting it in a spider gram and then asking myself a series of questions around it, for example: what could happen when the steam train comes to Hayling? Could there be a body found on it? If so whose? How did it get there? Or was someone pushed under the steam train and no one saw it happen? How did the bomb get into the Solent? How old was it? What type is it? Is there a story behind it? Or perhaps there's a story around the fishermen finding it? And we all know what we can make of the swarthy man with the suitcase.

It's only by continually asking open questions such as who, what, where, when, how and why can I begin to flesh out the characters, the theme, the plot and sub plots. Sometimes I run down blind alleys, sometimes one idea or question sparks another. It's all ifs, buts and maybes until some months later and much hard graft I have something that resembles a crime novel.


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