Want to write a book but don’t know where to start? Here’s a list of 12 things I find useful when coming up with a new book project:

1. Follow your dreams. There’s nothing quite like letting your mind wander to help find a new plot: (Not) listening to the football results, a lecture in earthworm politics, Aunt Agatha relating the latest price of cheese – not exactly riveting stuff, so when you next face a bored meeting, imagine what would happen if all of a sudden…

2. Pulling the trigger. Some things trigger ideas – like smells: the musty stone of a Medieval church; seaweed on a beach; a fresh-lit bonfire. See the changing seasons, or the dent on the bumper; hear the seagulls in the mist, or the lorry grind up the hill. Feel the brush of warm fur against your leg, the burning frost against your skin. Taste the first strawberry of summer, or the bitter aftertaste of something not quite right with the tea. We are bombarded with sensory information all the time – use it. And then there’s the sixth sense. That I leave to your vivid imaginations.

3. Mundane tasks like chopping veg; pulling weeds; polishing metal – require little thought. I get some of my best ideas preparing family meals. The family get fed and I get an idea for a new book.

4. Earthly delights: some festivals resonate with childhood memories and make the basis for a cracking seasonal book. I have a great story up my sleeve set in winter in Scotland that was the result of preparing a Christmas cake one year.

5. My favourite things: back to those triggers again. Take a favourite or poignant keepsake – a childhood musical box, a shell picked from the edge of the sea, a pencil your best friend gave you before they went away – each could be the basis of a story.

6. Under the skin: I love portraits – old or new, paint, pencil or photograph, there is nothing quite like capturing a moment in time. If you haven’t anything suitable in the family album, newspapers and magazines, books on the Crimean war, a wander through the portrait section in a museum or gallery will furnish faces for which you can write the story. Here’s one I did with my writing group. We called him Mateo, and boy, did he get up to mischief. One tip, though – the best images are the most natural ones. Posed images of, say, a catwalk model, will look exactly like that – posed. So, unless you want to write a story about the secret life of a fashion model, stay clear of glossy fashion mags. 

7. Stuck in a rut: Can’t think of the next thing to write? If in doubt, get out. Taking a walk stirs the blood and provides a world of opportunities every step you take. Honestly, I get some of my best blog ideas taking the dog for a walk. And it’s good for me, too.

8. Rear window: Now I’m not suggesting you use a pair of binoculars to spy on your neighbours, but look out of your window now and again. See that red car parked across the road? Why is it there? Who drives it and why? And what is in the boot that the owner doesn’t want you to see? Let your imagination run riot, but do remember – it is your imagination. If you begin to believe your own stories, it’s time to visit a doctor.


9. Take a spin: They say there is no such thing as an original story, and they might be right. However, mix and match and find a new way to express old ideas. Think Cowboys and Aliens, Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, Predator V Alien – you get the picture, or at least the producers did. Your twist on things can make all things fresh and new, it all depends on you.

10. Talking pictures. And while we are on the subject of pictures, films, music, art, all provide visual and/or auditory stimulus. Listen to Prokofiev’s Firebird Suite, or visit an exhibition of Saxon artefacts. Think not what the author, composer, artist, or goldsmith wants you to see (although that might be a story in itself), but what you see – your interpretation.

11. A different world view: see things from another perspective. Imagine you are an ant (seen Ant Man?) or a giant (Gulliver had something to say about that); you are a visitor to another country, or a different time. Turn what you know on its head and start again. If you lost the ability to walk, how would that change how you look at the world, the way you see things? How do we experience the world around us and how does that affect the way we interpret the same information?

12.  The Big Why? Above all, a lively imagination asks questions. It wants to know answers. Read newspapers, listen to debates, watch a documentary (there are countless fly-on-the-wall types), and ask yourself why? I mean, why did the chicken cross the road? And then provide an answer. Therein lies your book.