A common question authors are asked is where they find inspiration for their books.
The answer is, in my experience, everywhere and nowhere.
Everyday life offers rich pickings, and sometimes an idea for a plot can come from an item I’ve seen on the evening news, a snippet I’ve heard on the radio, a story I’ve read in the paper – or even an interesting-looking person sitting at the table next to me in my favourite café.
Sometimes ideas come to me while I’m driving to work or out riding. Occasionally I’ll have a flash of inspiration while I’m gardening, or even cleaning my teeth!
But last autumn, when I set about writing the eighth Riverdale book, I suddenly realised I was all out of ideas.
Having already dreamt up seven different adventures for Poppy and her friends, I had scraped the bottom of my barrel of potential plots. My metaphorical cupboard of storylines was bare.
Something’ll come to me, it always does, I reassured myself. But the weeks went by and there were no bolts of inspiration, not even the tiniest germ of an idea. The harder I tried to think of a plot, the more elusive it became, and so I stopped thinking about Book Eight altogether.
Then, in November, my husband Adrian and I went to watch an author talk in London being given by two giants of the publishing world, Lee Child and Ian Rankin. It was a brilliant, funny, insightful evening and gave me a rare glimpse into the lives of two sensationally successful – and very charming – thriller writers.
Something Lee Child said about Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle caught my attention. Lee was talking about writing in a series, and how continuity occasionally presented problems for writers.
He gave an example. Holmes’s sidekick Dr Watson nursed an old bullet wound from his days in the British Army. In one book the injury was in his shoulder. In a subsequent adventure it had mysteriously moved to his leg.
It made me chuckle because I am no stranger to continuity issues. In one of the Riverdale books a horse changes sex from mare to gelding halfway through. Although I have since spotted the bloomer I have kept it in because it makes me giggle.
[BTW…Ten points if you can tell me which horse and which book!]
But that’s by the bye. The reason my ears pricked up was the throwaway reference to Sherlock Holmes, whose most famous case was arguably The Hound of the Baskervilles. And The Hound of the Baskervilles was set on Dartmoor, right on Poppy’s doorstep.
Surely Conan Doyle’s tale of a monstrous hound loose on the moor would fire my imagination if nothing else would?
Happily, dear reader, it did. And so, the story that was to become The Mystery of Riverdale Tor slowly began to take shape, developing from a shifting, nebulous suggestion of an idea to a fully-formed plot and then – just over three months later, a finished 50,000-word novel.
There are no supernatural hounds in my book, nor ancient family curses. There are no escaped convicts and no gloomy Baskerville Hall.
But there is a killer dog on the loose, and it’s up to Poppy to turn detective and find it before it strikes again.
The result is a rollicking good adventure story, complete with an evil villain, fun and friendship and – it goes without saying – plenty of ponies!
I am always pleased to finish a book, but I am super chuffed with The Mystery of Riverdale Tor. Mainly because I was beginning to worry that I had no more adventures left in me for Poppy, Scarlett and the rest of the Riverdale gang.
And I would hate to say goodbye to them all just yet.
What this book has taught me is that there will always be another adventure for Poppy to embark on, another mystery for her to solve. Like any good detective, I just need to keep my eyes peeled and my ears to the ground, and I’m pretty sure the ideas will find me.
And if you'd like to read the result, the book is available for pre-order now and out on Wednesday 20 March. I hope you enjoy it!
Here are the links:
Anyway, that's all from me for now. Speak soon and in the meantime...