Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Liz Fenwick: Finding ideas...

We are delighted to welcome Liz Fenwick to the blog today. Liz writes about unlocking ideas for our novels - something we all need  help with at times.

One question that writers are frequently asked is where do their ideas come from? The creation of stories is a mystery to many - even writers but is never a mystery to any child I have ever met. Those wonderful days creating magical worlds in the woods or playground. It's as if once you learn to drive a car a switch in the brain is flicked and the magic is gone. That switch seems to remain 'on' for writers. However, even their ideas can sometimes become exhausted and too stretched to let their own 'magic' imagination work.

As writers, we observe the world, notice and store things that interest us, or simply catch our attention. Most of the time we don’t even realise we are doing it. That overheard conversation of the woman snapping into the phone; ‘That’s a decision for your wife to make’ leads the brain onto many scenarios.

1.     Is she the mistress?
2.     Is she the PA?
3.     Is she the daughter talking to wife number two or three…

Why not play with that to encourage your writer’s brain to work…ask why, ask what if? Take a snippet of overheard conversation…my mother never wore knickers…write for ten or twenty minutes and allow yourself to be surprised.

With each of my books it took one idea to unlock all the other saved gems I had collected. For my latest novel, The Returning Tide, it was my mother-in-law’s experience during WW2. That became the key event around which I built the story. My mother-in-law, June, had been a telegraphist working with Morse Code transmissions to and from boats. She never spoke about it in any detail until one night over dinner we were discussing Exercise Tiger, aka the Slapton Sands incident. There had been something in the paper that morning. June suddenly said; ‘I was working that night with the Americans. It was awful. The men on the boats went from using code to plain language. I heard them die.’ I shivered then and I still do now. I pressed June for more details and she said she would write them down, but never did. She was still under the Official Secrets Act.

So when brainstorming with my editor for book five that moment returned and it pulled out my fascination with sisters - that love and hate that binds them. Putting the two together, The Returning Tide was born.

If stuck for an idea think of things that have intrigued you. The young lovers in the park with matching tattoos, that article you read, the news item that stayed with you… they can all be the starting point. Frequently while researching something else I discover the ‘seed’ for my next book. With A Cornish Stranger, it was finding the old Cornish saying, ‘Save a stranger from the sea, he’ll turn your enemy.’ It was like lightning had struck. I knew the location - the cabin at the mouth of Frenchman’s Creek, and I knew it would be about a grandmother and granddaughter. Until the saying arrived I had no idea that I wanted to write a story set there about a reclusive artist.

Taking time away from actual writing to fill the ‘well of creativity’ with listening, reading, looking and researching means that ideas will always be waiting for the writer who is open and always asking what if. That and remaining an adult child who still likes to create magic worlds. Children know that stories are everywhere, even under the bed. Where will you look for your next story?

About Liz
Writer, ex-pat expert, wife, mother of three, and dreamer turned doer....
Award winning author of The Cornish House, A Cornish Affair, A Cornish Stranger, Under A Cornish Sky, A Cornish Christmas Carol (a novella) and The Returning Tide. After nine international moves, I'm a bit of a global nomad. It's no wonder my heart remains in Cornwall.


Thank you, Liz. We all love your books and hope you never run out of ideas.

If you are an established author who would like to write for the RNA please please contact us on


Natalie Kleinman said...

Thank you, Liz. I really enjoyed reading your post. I'm sure it will resonate with all writers who do. So many triggers tucked away just waiting to be, well, triggered.

Unknown said...

Thanks Natalie!!

Unknown said...

Loved this post! I often wonder if I'll have enough ideas to write another book, but as you said, once the story gets going, the ideas start flowing... It's so exciting when the characters drive the plot, especially when I'm halfway through a story and they surprise me with a secret or two! Have a fabulous weekend! Xx

Unknown said...

So pleased you enjoyed it lxx

Rhoda Baxter said...

Great post. It's so true. Everything gets squirreled away in the subconscious and then one small thing with turn the key and pull it all together.
Good point about refilling the well too. Oooh look. Netflix.

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