A Writer’s Brain


Sometimes I struggle to come up with things to say here, and sometimes it feels like I can’t move without tripping over an inspiration. Today has been one of the latter type of days.

I occasionally get asked what inspires me, or how I get ideas. More often than not I’ll mumble something vague in the hope that the inquisitive soul will go away. This is usually not out of rudeness or shyness, but because they’ve derailed my train of thought and there’s coal and memories flying everywhere. What I don’t usually reveal is that I write and get inspired to write because I’m a horrible person.

Now before the spirited debate begins among the Ladies M, and the rousing cheers of agreement from my gamers drown you all out, I’d better quantify that. I mean that I will actively think about the sort of things that cross everyone’s mind but rarely acknowledge, and then try to work out how to describe them. I am, of course, now failing utterly to successfully do that by telling, and must therefore now show you.

These are the thought processes and writing inspirations that came to me as I walked to work this morning:

Bright sun on my face, nice change from the flat, wish I’d opened the curtains before I left to appreciate the warmth. Creak of my leather jacket, squeaky shoulders, noise of an intruder in a dark flat when you think you’re alone.

Dog walker giving me a funny look, worried I’ll try and drop-kick her terrier, or do I remind her of someone? Memorise the body language, the curve of the rounded shoulders and lowered head despite bulkiness of fleece jacket to use for a background character description, or how someone might look if describing indecisiveness.

Bonus points, the dog’s the brains of the operation, a detective with a dim-witted human to serve as mobile opposable thumbs. Unkind, unoriginal. Keep walking, plenty of time. Round the grass in the centre of the estate, anticlockwise, widdershins. Into the shadow, not clockwise in the sunlight.


Keep going, reflection in window, brief ghost image following a walker, images don’t match. Still not losing weight, walk faster. Almost to the gate, now which way’s that car going? Not running me over today, nice but driver looks incongruous – skinhead in white T-shirt driving a small clean new fiat subcompact. Suspect it’s not his choice as jaw is so clenched he looks like he’s going to burst the vein in his temple. Memorise expression, cross road, through gates, stepping past old vomit stain. Note size and placement, use as scene decoration description somewhere. Walk down to lights.

Could press button for green man and cross this cycle, but battered white van rocking back and forth across the line already. Driver fixed gaze on traffic lights, don’t fancy a broken leg today. What would that feel like and how would I manage stairs for flat. Think about logistics and watch traffic race off as lights change… For two seconds before brake lights flare when they reach back of queue for next set of lights.

Walk between trapped cars to cross road, resist playing a tune on different cars to hear difference in metal. Imagine zombie outbreak, bombing run by aliens, sudden violence and chase sequence in same space during time it takes to cross.

Continue through industrial estate, pick key clothing items on each person encountered to describe, four ways to describe the mulch of mud and decomposition against one drop kerb. Spot traffic cones outside computer chip manufacturer, realise it’s to prevent traffic blocking the regular security lorry arrival and departures. Recall what’s been observed of schedule over last few years, imagine thieves casing by not casing but just living locally for same time period before striking. How innocent of schedule knowledge to plead when police come knocking?

Carry on, swear under breath at cars that cut corner and cause me to stop suddenly. Imagine painful deaths involving unlikely scenarios such as exploding bees, parachuting elephants and a troll protecting his oriental rock garden.

Cross supermarket carpark, tut at bad or illegal parking, smile at fond memories of past food, drink and staff at coffee shop as I pass. Smile at people looking out the windows and enjoy the sudden confusions. How would I describe their experience just then?

Try to avoid cheery over-familiar supermarket trolley gatherer, fail. Remember he’ll be in to use the public computers in the evening. Practice fake professional smile and push on through. See a child running ahead of unconcerned parents. Scenarios in quick succession: child clipped by car, parents pancaked by car and child untouched. Child abducted. How would I do that, what would need to be in place if planned versus opportunistic assault? Imagine parent responses, child responses, kidnapper motivations, driver scenarios and press coverage before stopping myself from walking in front of a moving vehicle myself.

Resist urge to shout at slow-moving pensioners, overtake over footbridge over the aqueduct, walk along pavement making feet follow knight’s move pattern on paving slabs to see if pattern holds in spacing between marked off sections of paving. It does. Cross the road, pedestrian lights green as I arrive, imagine a lucky day of all lights optimal all day. Arrive at work.

Ta da!

This is why it sometimes looks like I’m just waking up when people ask me questions, or I’m interrupted in the middle of something. It can be very hard to switch back into conversation with someone you’ve just described in a scene, or murdered horribly in your head moments ago for that matter.

All these churn round as fragments to be pulled out in the moment when reaching for the next inspiration or story element. Some I write down, and others go back into the whirlwind for polishing or breaking back down.

So in answer to where I get my inspiration? It’s from everywhere and everyone; stitching together facial features and body language, clothing and purpose, humour and horror with turns of phrase and stuttered protestations like Frankenstein’s Character Generator. You’re all in here somewhere, finely shredded and diced and mixed back in so even the oldest friend won’t recognise more that the glint of an eye, an appalled pair of hands over the mouth, or the glimmer of a glow worm.

I probably need to get out more