I love this saying – it’s so true. A builder friend of mine said it the other day when we were talking about problem solving. He’d been chatting to someone who was trying to make their home completely off-grid and in conversation, he mentioned something that completely resolved an issue about heating water, without intending to. Two heads are better than one, even if the other person doesn’t really have the background to help, or isn’t there for that purpose. It’s the process of talking things through aloud, expecting to be challenged, being able to think outside the box, that’s really important.
It’s spot-on when it comes to novel writing too. I have an antisocial internal monologue that happens quite often: sometimes I don’t hear people speak because I’m talking silently to myself about my novel. There are questions constantly rattling around, such as, how can my character arrive at this place? How can s/he/they avoid/ create/ resolve such-and-such a situation? Why would this be interesting for the reader? It’s no fun for the person talking to me if I don’t answer, and not very fair.
I go on long walks by myself and the same questions buzz around, and I think of solutions. Or I wake up at night – this happens a lot – and I talk scenes through with my characters. Sometimes I work backwards: this is going to happen several chapters later, so how do I get there from here? It’s fascinating, fun, but not very sociable.
This is where the sheep’s head comes in. I don’t need cut and dried answers – I want to arrive at the conclusion myself. So, I talk to someone who has nothing invested in writing, no interest in being a writer, and no idea of how the story is unfolding. Then I ask a simple question – how might someone find a…? How might someone resolve this problem? Why might someone not want to…? It can be a really random thing – how could a kitchen maid find herself a horse in the 1300s? Mostly, I can answer my own questions but the really exciting bit is when someone says something I hadn’t thought of. It isn’t always the answer I wanted, it isn’t even the answer I need, but it’s the start of the magical pathway, and if I follow that line of thinking for a while, I’ll come to exactly the right conclusion.
Other people help me to think outside the box. They have other experiences, ideas, views, and by engaging with them, I’m able to access something I wouldn’t have done by myself. Teamwork. It’s invaluable and so important.
Then there’s the nugget of information or the bright idea I wouldn’t have had without the other person talking to me. In The Lady of the Loch, a sweep makes an exciting find in a chimney. I’d never have thought of that one by myself. But my chimney sweep was doing the flues in my house one day and I said, ‘Do you ever find weird things up chimneys?’ He was off and away with a great story – ‘would you believe it – one day a mate of mine actually found a…’ and there it was! My idea, straight into the book.
It’s the same with sayings and phrases. A friend of mine refers to throwing clothes onto the bedroom floor as the floordrobe. That went into a novel. Another time I heard someone say, ‘Why would you want to go all the way to French France when you can stay in England?’ I adapted that for Barney’s speech in The Golden Oldies’ Book Club. Everywhere, there’s an opportunity for a novel and by talking to someone, I find new inspiration and ideas all the time. And then there was the wonderful person who said to me, ‘Why don’t you set so-and-so new book in Cornwall?’ Genius. There’s a whole new series in there that I can’t wait to tell you about.
Of course, it’s then down to the writer to write it, to fix it inside a story where it works and that’s the magic and the fun of it all. Like may writers, I’ve been heard to say in response to someone’s conversation,’ Really? That’s going in a novel.’ I even have a t-shirt with the slogan, Be careful – you could find your way into my books. And it’s true. Where else does information and inspiration come from if it’s not from everywhere.
I ought to say thanks atthis point to all those people who are my constant sheeps’ heads? I don’t mean the phrase rudely – nothing could be father from the truth. You are all beautiful people and so important. It’s so good to talk to people, to listen to their ideas and to be blown away by what they say. Out of conversation comes a bright idea, a solution or a new direction. It’s priceless.
So, thanks – please keep the inspiration coming. As long as we can keep talking, I’ll be able to write books. And you’ve no idea how special that is! x