Where do ideas come from?
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My middle-grade verse novel Y is a crooked letter will be published next year and I’ll start working on the structural edit in a couple of months. I thought I would explain where some of my ideas for this book came from.
It’s a story for 9-12 year-olds, set in Melbourne, about a girl called Freya (aged 12) who is passionate about basketball and fearful about lifts. The book opens with a scene of Freya and her mum moving house, from their home in Eltham to an apartment in Abbotsford. Freya can see the neon sign of the Skipping Girl from the apartment’s balcony.
Basketball – for quite a few years, my three kids played a lot of basketball. This meant that my life involved driving them to training, supervising training sometimes and watching their games. Because the thud thud thud of the basketball became the soundtrack to those years, it naturally wove itself into my story. I’d never played basketball and I never intended to write about basketball but I thought that Freya needed to have a sport so I gave her basketball. Then it turned out that not only did she play basketball but she loved it. It was her favourite thing in the world! So although I intentionally included basketball in my book, I had no idea it would feature so prominently.
Skipping Girl – one of my school friends, Kathryn, had told me years ago that when she was a little girl, she loved driving past the Skipping Girl sign at night a few times a years when her parents would drive home from a city excursion. She loved seeing the Skipping Girl lit up at night – it was something to look out for, something special. Another friend had a small son who would climb on to their wheelie bin, hold on to the fence, crane his neck and just make out the Skipping Girl in the night sky. Again, she was special. When I was thinking about Freya moving house, and how she had left behind a part of her family, all of her friends, her basketball team, I thought she might need something that represented stability and certainty to her. I can’t even remember how the Skipping Girl sign came to me but once I thought of it, I knew she would be important in my book.
So that’s how two of my ideas for Y is a crooked letter came about! I’m writing my third book now, and it still feels the same, like I’m a magnet attracted to everything I need for my book, even if I don’t know exactly what I need.
We need a lot of dreaming time to allow ideas to rise up to the surface. If we’re constantly on screens, constantly being passively entertained by screens, constantly filling our heads with other people’s words and ideas, then there’s no room for our own ideas to fill our heads. I try to be as mindful as I can – I walk every day and I make sure I only spend half my walk listening to a podcast so the other half is for dreaming. Sometimes I drive in silence when I’m alone in the car, no music, no radio, no podcasts, no calling a friend. Ideas come in the gaps of our days – when we’re in the shower, walking, washing dishes, on the tram.
I hope you are filled with ideas in your week ahead!