How do you come up with your ideas?

Where did that come from? (image source:

Where did that come from? (image source:

I’ve been asked lots of questions since my book Second Chance was published last week, but there is one theme that consistently comes up.

How did you think this up? Where did the idea come from? How do you come up with your ideas?

The simple answer is a lot of different places, but seeing as this vague answer is, unsurprisingly, not what people are looking for, I thought I’d take you through some of my thinking process behind Second Chance. There are no plot spoilers in the following piece.

Write what you are interested in

It’s an old adage in writing, write what you know. This doesn’t mean literally write only about the things you know, otherwise there would be no science-fiction, no fantasy, very little horror; detective stories would be filled with police procedure and murderers would be quickly captured because they were related or known to the victims and there would be a massive new genre of (non) Romance. Writers have to make things up. This is what we do. However, it is important that we are interested in the subject or theme behind what we are writing. I’ve always been interested in politics but have become concerned at how our democratic process is becoming less about deciding the type of world we want to live in, turning instead into a type of beauty contest; where career politicians, many of whom have little to no experience of life outside of politics, form policies based on what will get them elected, as opposed to what is necessarily the right thing to do.* ┬áMy biggest concern is whether we have politicians with the will to deal with the difficult issues at the detriment to their personal popularity. With the recent global recession there has been a distinct move away from policies designed to combat climate change, with many questioning the cost of these policies and a small but growing group questioning climate change as a phenomenon full stop. As a writer I wanted to see what the possible consequences of this trend continuing could be.

Write about what annoys you

I love science fiction and one of my favourite authors is Peter F Hamilton. His books are incredibly popular, regularly topping bestseller lists and has a wonderful style that is both easy to read despite dealing with stories huge in scale with many different strands. However, at one point in reading one of his stories I felt very frustrated, because a character that had died was brought back to life based on recorded memories.** I didn’t have a problem with the principle, or whether is was possible. What annoyed me was that the character was treated as the same person when they were not. They were a copy. And while from the outside they would appear the same, inside they were not the original person. Now this is a minor quibble within the confines of a fantastic book from a great writer, but it got me thinking as to how would it be possible to live forever where the body was cloned but the personality inside was a continuation of the original person. This was where the idea for Re-Life was born.

Write about what you believe

There is a reason why most science-fiction is either set way in the future, or at an indeterminate point some time in the near-ish future. This is because the future, and especially timescales, are very hard to predict. I’m a great believer that while technology can change at an extremely rapid pace, our behaviours do not change so quickly. For example, people have been drinking beer and wine for thousands of years. I believe that they will still be drinking beer and wine in another thousand years. How that product is delivered and the material the drinking receptacle is made from may change (though glass is another enduring material), but this aspect wouldn’t change. That is why many aspects of my envisioned future world seem familiar, even mundane. On the other hand, as our understanding of brain chemistry continues to grow, a side effect of that understanding is the emergence of a whole host of designer recreational drugs designed to mimic specific brain functions (usually related to the pleasure centres), so I felt it plausible that this is one area that would be very different in the near future. This was how I came up with dreamshaper.

It was only once I’d identified what I wanted to write about that I was able to start developing the characters allowing the basic storyline to come into being. I’m aware that other writers are different, needing to start with an intriguing character and then putting them into a situation to see how they react. In On Writing, Stephen King explains that most of his ideas come from ‘what if’ scenarios. There is no wrong or right answer, but this is how the process worked for me with Second Chance.

*Although, who decides what is the ‘right thing to do’ is another theme in its own right.

** I am not giving anything away here.