At every school talk I give the two most popular questions I get are, what sort of car do you drive, and, where you get your ideas from. Well I’m a right little Pinocchio and for the car I normally tell them the model that Top Gear has featured that week, though once I did swear black and blue that I owned a V8 Bat Car. Well, it impressed the Year 9 boys.
And when someone asks about the ideas I’m usually unkind and say, at Coles in Row Six, just beyond the air freshener. A packet of 20 ideas costs $19.95. And, surprisingly, loads of people believe me.
In reality, single, seemingly unconnected thoughts come together and they seem to sit in the back of my mind festering away until they are ready to burst out all together as the opening paragraphs of a story.
For instance, I had been listening to my sister-in-law, Elspeth, talk about when she was a girl and her older brother was teasing and tormenting her and calling her the dafty. Not long before that my dad, Jack, had been telling me stories about his family living on Rottnest Island during WWII, and thirdly, I’d seen a couple of old movies called Ryan’s Daughter with John Mills playing a disabled character called Michael and To Kill a Mockingbird, set in the Great Depression. It slowly dawned on me that I could use these separate elements together to write a fictionalised version of my dad’s war years.
I’d plunder family history for a basic plot, I’d tell it in first person like Scout in Mockingbird and I would add a character who I called Dafty for extra poignancy. Once I had invented the characters and the way they might behave, the story took on a life of its own and all I did was write it down as all the real and fictional people appeared before my eyes.
After scores of other titles I finally settled on the most obvious one I should have thought of in the beginning, Jack’s Island.