Wednesday, March 26, 2008


One of the questions asked frequently of writers is ‘where do you get your ideas?’. It’s a question writers ponder too. This week our columnist Annie West seeks help from other authors with the million dollar question – where do you find inspiration?

No, this wasn’t an excuse to include the inspiring Hugh in a Towel. I wouldn’t stoop to something so obvious. Would I?

I began thinking about the strange and wonderful ways in which we get story ideas, how we collect snippets of information and weave them into something unique. I’ve been inspired by titles, places and no doubt many things I’m unaware of. Occasionally I look at my stories and see where inspiration came from, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. For instance, in the first scene of For the Sheikh’s Pleasure, Arik, my dashing sheikh, is confined by a plaster cast and wheelchair after an oil rig accident. He’s bored and spends the dawn with binoculars watching the beautiful stranger on his private beach. Yes, I freely admit to having seen Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ several times, where the wheelchair-bound hero solves a crime while watching neighbouring apartments through binoculars and the lens of his camera.

I began to wonder where other writers found inspiration. For instance, my good friend, historical author Anna Campbell, insists she gets her best ideas in the bath, but admits the idea for her next release Tempt the Devil, came from watching ‘An Affair to Remember’ too many times to count.

Here’s what some other authors have to say on the subject:

Bronwyn Jameson says “Sometimes it's a spark that inspires a storyline, or a relationship within the book, and sometimes it's a scene idea. One thing I've noticed is that the end result rarely matches the original thought by the time you've twisted and adapted it to fit the new characters and situation...but that's beside the point. The point IS that the inspiration triggered something which resulted in another interpretation. One example: the first Desire I ever read was Private Reasons by Justine Davis. I loved that book for a whole lot of reasons; one was the complex relationship between the hero (an uptight accountant) and his teenage daughter and the free-spirited heroine. That inspired me to write Seb (my slightly uptight accountant) and his teenage daughter Torie in Beyond Control (Harlequin Desire), AND to pair them both with a slightly bohemian heroine who tested his strictures of control and his way of looking at life and love.”

Ally Blake says “The idea for Falling for the Rebel Heir (March 08 M&B Romance), came after watching 'Cocoon' on telly with my hubby....much is set in a beautiful elegant indoor pool that looks like something out of a Grace Kelly movie. My hubby, the guy who usually is only allowed to name the pets in my books his ideas are so terrible, suggested a great way to start a book would be for the hero to find the heroine swimming in his pool. Colour me surprised, I loved the idea! The pool in my head had the same beautiful, eerie, magical quality and I think that rubbed off on the whole story.”

Michelle Douglas says “I set my stories in the season I'm writing - I can use my experience of the weather, see what plants are in bloom etc. ... With His Christmas Angel (M&B Romance) I didn't set out to write a Christmas book, I just started writing it in December. The hero and heroine and their conflict were firmly fixed in my mind when all of a sudden it occurred to me that Christmas and New Year - a time for families and new beginnings - was the perfect frame for telling Cassie and Sol's story ... It definitely added depth and resonance.

The latest story rattling around in my head is a direct result of my mother demanding to know when I was going to dedicate a book to her? (LOL) My reply was that I'd have to think of a story with a mother's day theme....BUT, thinking about Mother's Day got me thinking about Father's Day (of course!) - and suddenly I have two characters and a situation full blown in my head and that's the story I want to tell next.”

Harlequin Presents/Modern author Helen Bianchin is inspired by images. “Sometimes I can build a male hero from a picture in a glossy magazine ... it's the facial features, particularly the eyes, I think. Some men can portray intense sensuality with just a look. It's a brooding sexy quality that promises much. In an early book set partly in Port Douglas in the far north, I envisaged the final scene before the book was even written ... the heroine had escaped to a beachside bach, she's walking along the sandy foreshore lost in thought the hero could possibly love her the way she loves him, when she feels that prickle of awareness, glances up to see a male figure in the distance moving steadily towards her. She pauses, waiting, hoping ... recognizing the hero as he draws close, and it becomes the moment. I knew whatever transpired in the writing of the book, that scene was how the book would end.

Occasionally it's been the photo spread of a lovely home. In one particular instance, it was a shot of a magnificent foyer featuring an incredible crystal chandelier, and a double staircase leading to the upper floor ... it struck a chord, this was the house the hero in my book owned. I just had to find my hero, my heroine, the theme, plot, story ... but that was okay, I had the house! ... a character in a movie will inspire me, practically anything will inspire me! There's only one qualifying element ... whatever it is, it has to strike a chord and provide a kernel of an idea. From there, I build, layer, define the emotions.”

Modern Heat author Kelly Hunter, on the other hand, says she isn’t picture-focussed: “Collaging doesn't work so well for me. A trip to the movies works better - the muse will often notice an aspect of character that I can use in the story I'm writing. I do find music inspiring when it comes to writing, though. I usually select a theme song for each book. The song invariably captures the overall tone of the book - be it passionate, bittersweet, or something I can't quite name but can feel when I hear the music. Play the song when I sit down to write and all of a sudden I'm back in the zone.”

Harlequin Historical author Annie Burrows says she’s always made up stories in her head. “Some of my best ideas recently have come to me when I've been working at really boring jobs (like reception work). Also, when stuck in traffic jams, sandwiched in between huge lorries. I guess I just send my mind somewhere more interesting instead!”

Harlequin Medical author Fiona Lowe uses whatever is around her. “I have used real medical situations, unusual things and tweak them to suit. eg upcoming book has little girl whose trachea is ruptured by a rooster. It happened and I clipped it out of the paper and used it about 1.5 years later. One episode of ‘Australian Story’ (television documentary) generated the idea for The Surgeon's Chosen Wife. Obviously my hero was nothing like the guy on ‘Australian Story’ but the seed was there.

Oh and I remember scrumming around in the dark during a play last year and writing down a line from the play, 'a secret wears you down' and The Doctor Claims his Bride is based around that line.”

Nicola Marsh finds inspiration from articles in magazines. “My first book, The Tycoon's Dating Deal (Harlequin Romance), came from an article I saw on speed dating in a glossy magazine between patients when I was working full time as a physiotherapist. After I read the article, I thought 'what a great theme for a book!' The rest is history!

Another Harlequin Romance, Princess Australia, came after reading an article on Melbourne hotel concierges in the Herald Sun travel section. I like to put a twist on themes so cast my heroine as a stand-in concierge for a week, where she meets a prince going incognito!”

Abby Green says: “When I was on holiday in Greece a few years ago, we were on an island that had a military base. One night myself and friends went out and some extremely handsome pilots turned up in the bar. One of them, the most handsome one, took a fancy to my friend who is very Irish looking, very pretty - black hair, pale skin, blue eyes - and that gave me the kernel of the idea for 'Chosen as the Frenchman's Bride' (Harlequin Presents/Modern) when Xavier, the hero is a debonair pilot who sees and seduces Jane. So while the story took place in France, and the hero was French, not Greek, that's where the story originated!
I think I get most of my ideas for stories from small impressions, something in a film or a picture in a magazine. It can be the smallest thing, literally the way two lovers in a film might look at one another and that'll spark a chain of thoughts/ideas.

For Bought for the Frenchman's Pleasure which is out now, my idea came from another story...which ultimately didn't go anywhere. Sorcha, the heroine was a secondary character from that book and I had this idea: what if she was a top model - but a top model who was as down to earth as you could get - someone who hated all the trappings and limelight. But, she'd been involved with a bad incident in her past, which made it impossible for people to see her as she really was. And I loved the idea of a very alpha male coming along and assuming that he had her all summed up, only to find out that he was wrong. Now if you were to ask me where I got the idea for the original story that gave birth to Sorcha in the first place...I have no idea! Being open to new ideas and searching for inspiration is one of the nicest things about writing.”

Isn’t it fun hearing how authors have been inspired to write their books? What inspires you? If you’re a writer, do you know what sparks the creative process for you? Do you recall something specific triggering a story or a scene? And if you don’t write, what things inspire and motivate you?

Annie’s thrilled to have 2 stories out now. The Greek Tycoon’s Unexpected Wife is available from Amazon UK. It was inspired by a range of things – stories from friends who lived in South America close to guerrillas and fabulous emeralds, a lovely Greek Island and a frog wearing a crown. (Yes, it sounds bizarre but it’s true. You can read about that on the book page of Annie’s website).

A 2nd story, The Billionaire’s Bought Mistress is available now in an anthology edition Mills and Boon Presents... The edition includes novels by Annie Burrows and Margaret McDonagh, with an introduction by Penny Jordan. Inspiration for that story came from a mental image of a girl alone in an alpine churchyard, grieving and oblivious to everyone until a man with a face like a fallen angel steps out of the shadows and into her life. The anthology is available in the UK only (you can buy it from Mills and Boon or Amazon UK). You can read an excerpt or enter a related contest to win free books at Annie's website.


  1. Annie, what a great post! I loved reading about how other author's get their ideas. Thanks a lot!

  2. ACK....ignore that stray apostrophe!!! and don't tell DH LOL.
    Fiona, blushing and who really should check what she has typed first....

  3. Thanks, Fiona. I'm glad you enjoyed the blog. I found it fascinating, hearing how and where other writers get their ideas.

    Thanks so much for contributing! I'm still chuckling about that rooster...

    Actually, when I started working on the blog I remembered you saying how your trip to Vietnam inspired one of your books. Some places do have an effect, don't they?


  4. Ooh, I love hearing how other writers find inspiration. And I love how the source of inspiration can change not only from author to author, but from book to book.

    Have decided to drag out all my favourite old (and not so old) movies to pinpoint what it is I love about them - looks like there could be some serious inspiration there.

    Thanks, Annie!

  5. Annie, what an amazing post. And so much food for thought - and not just how that towel stays up or WHY that towel stays up, whaaah! Actually one of the things that's interesting is that from another conversation, Kelly and I have both worked out that we're auditory rather than visual writers. So pictures don't necessarily work for us, although I'm as happy to find inspiration in a nice face as the next person. But she and I both agree that a piece of music can be so evocative and set you on a whole new train of thought. Another interesting comment was Bronwyn's about how you start with the inspiration but by the time you've twisted and turned it, probably only you recognise the original impulse. That certainly happened with Tempt the Devil. I can still see the Affair to Remember parallels but I doubt most other people would.

  6. Michelle,

    What a great project - digging out favourite movies to find what it is you like about them. That could be a long term task. Perhaps I'd better come and assist!

    It's interesting, some local writing friends and I often seem to end up talking movies - romances, old B&Ws, movies for kids - all sorts of stories that have something special for us, just as so many great books do. I've never consciously gone to movies seeking inspiration but I'm convinced they're a great way of 'filling the creative well'.

    Thanks for contributin!


  7. Anna, trust you to focus instantly on Hugh and his towel and how it stays up! (G). Willpower? Great muscle control? Elastic? Superglue?

    Glad you found the piece interesting. I did too. It's fascinating, as you say, that some people are more auditory than others. I agree totally on music being evocative. There are piece that stick in my mind after years, which make me recall instantly a place/mood/time/emotion. Music can be inspiring for me too, but I know now that I'm more likely to visualise a place or a scene or even a person's expression when I'm starting a book.

    The other thing that triggers creativity for me is sometimes a scent - not necessarily a bought perfume, but a particular smell. It will remind me of something or hint at somewhere I've never been or a new situation. I wonder if any other writers find that?


  8. Hi Annie,

    What a fascinating post. I love hearing how other authors get ideas. Especially when mine seem to pop into my head so arbritrarily, I can't seem to pinpoint where they come from. But usually it's a scene for me, a starting off point that then requires characters and conflicts, etc.

    For my second Modern Extra The Mile High Club (aka The Millionaire's Blackmail Bargain) I got the idea when I was on a double-decker bus going past The Ritz hotel in Piccadilly. I had my two sons with me (who were arguing as always so not exactly conducive to romance you might think). But then this idea popped into my head of a terrified young woman hiding out in the bathtub of a guest (who of course was tall, dark, handsome and mad as hell!). Then all I had to do was figure out what she was doing there, what he was doing there and what happened next.


  9. Hi Annie, thanks for an amazing column, love hearing everyone else's thoughts/comments. It's so interesting.
    x Abby

  10. Ah, Heidi, someone else who gets a picture in her head. It does seem arbitrary, doesn't it? That scene of yours sounds fantastic! I'll look forward to reading it and finding out what happens next.

    I did something similar with my Greek Tycoon's Unexpected Wife - imagined one scene - handsome, powerful, megawealthy hero celebrating his engagement at his luxurious Mediterranean villa, then added his long lost wife to the scene and tried to figure out what would happen next. That was fun!


  11. Hi Abby, and thanks for sharing the information about some of your stories. I had such fun looking for a pic of a pilot to match it.


  12. I'm sure Annie that the picture of Hugh was not the reason you did this post... *clears throat* really, I do believe you. But a great post. It's always interesting to see where people get their ideas from. I'm not sure about me - sometimes it's something I see or hear that happens, other times inspired by books, movies and tv (i tend to be visual) and even music. I'm also one of those people who listen to DVD commentaries as I love to see why/how peopled did certain things or perceived them. Now there's something to market - author commentries! LOL...

  13. Hi Eleni, I'm glad you understand Hugh wasn't the reason for my post - he's just a bonus! Many wouldn't believe me.

    Another visual person - I wonder if we're in the majority with writers? On the other hand, I do hear my characters loud and clear in my head, as I think a lot of writers do, so there's an auditory aspect too.

    To be honest, most of the time I have no idea where I get my ideas from. But it's fun to look back and see similarities between what I've written in a scene and a conversation I had or heard, or a place I've been, or a movie etc.

    Hm, author commentaries? I wonder. Must admit I love hearing how people came to produce what they did. Glad to hear there's someone else who watches the DVD commentaries (if the movie is good!).


  14. Annie, loved this post!!! I've even written down some ideas of where to pay closer attention for inspiration!

    I'm with Kelly on the music thing, in fact I'm talking about soundtracks to books next mopnth on the PHS. And I'm the same as Michelle using the season around me when I write, which usually means that when it arrives in North America or the UK it's out of whack. But then again it will take readers away from their real life right ;)?

    Thanks Annie!

  15. Ally, I'll look out for your blog.

    Interesting that you do as Michelle does and write about the current season. I often find myself doing the opposite - imaging a cold day in the alps during an Aussie summer, or writing about sunny warm days when it's wet and cool here. Maybe it's my way of escaping!


  16. Actually Annie, now that you mention it - I think I 'hear' the characters too. Probably why I like those commentaries.