Where does your inspiration come from? How many times does a writer at a literary festival or book signing get asked this question? What surprises me is when I learn that everyone else doesn't have 101 ideas floating around to make into a story or a poem. I think it was author Mark Haddon who said that, as he got more experienced, he didn't have less ideas, he just got better at netting those that would lead somewhere.
I was sitting on the beach one warm Friday evening, there were groups of students playing football or quaffing from cans of lager (which they went on to leave littering the sand!) presumably post-exams. Then there was this trio which caught my eye. An older man with two teenage girls, both pasty, one waif-like, the other slightly more buxom, they both wore shorts and bikini tops, though this was the North Sea coast not the Med, neither were smart or seemed terribly confident. What was their relationship with each other? With the man who bought them a football so they could emulate the students in a rather ungainly way? These questions led me to a story which is unsavoury to say the least. It has the provisional title of What Makes Girl Killers or Crushed Buttercups (I found out later, rather pleasingly, that buttercups symbolise immaturity and betrayal).
Two of my favourites among the fictional pieces which I have written also started with observing people interacting and wondering, who? What? Why? What if? My novel Breathing Cell, came out of seeing an older woman with a man and two teenagers on holiday in the South of France. I wrote a whole tale about what happened on that holiday, which never made it into the novel but formed the backdrop to it. My short story, Adrift, came from spying an older woman with a boy of maybe 8 or 9 years old (obviously English tourists) on a vaporetto in Venice. At once she became the youngster's grandmother bracingly dragging him round Venice to "help him adjust" to his parents' divorce. And this led onto other characters who found themselves adrift in this beautiful and sinking city whose paths keep crossing, like the labyrinth of tiny streets which befuddle all but the natives.
When I told my husband the outline of the story I had made up about the three on the beach, he just raised his gaze to the sky and said, indulgently, I was letting my imagination run away with me as I always did. So is that what makes a writer? We don't know when to put the brakes on?