Alison Hawes shared her top tips for finding the spark at a recent club evening for West Sussex Writers. She is a prolific writer of children’s books having over 250 publications to her name. Her work is now all unsolicited commissions for a selection of educational publishers such as Oxford University Press and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. Having been a Primary School teacher Alison has a good understanding of what children, ranging in age from 4 to 14, want and like to read about. So with all these demands on her creativity Alison needs to constantly generate a steady flow of ideas for storylines, characters and fact-based topics.
Sometimes the sparks don’t come easily so Alison always keeps a bank of ideas for the lean times. She has several notebooks to jot down thoughts: for the car, home and handbag, so there’s no danger of that light-bulb moment slipping away. Her secret weapon (preserving marital harmony) is a ‘light-up’ pen, to scribble down ideas in the middle of the nights. All notes are then transferred to lever arch files for the respective age group. Alison believes that an “unused idea isn’t a rejected idea – it just hasn’t landed on the right desk at the right time”.
Alison took us through her ten places to look for ideas and inspiration. She had excellent examples – amazingly 2-3 of her own books – to demonstrate each tip and show what the original idea finally evolved into.
- Other people’s writing
- Personal experiences: try writing down all the places you’ve ever lived, all jobs, people you’ve met etc (good and bad!)
- Newspapers/articles/web etc: if you can’t use the story then use the emotion it generates
- Museums/Galleries/Exhibitions: be curious, get out and talk to people, try to keep your mind forever open to new ideas
- TV programmes (even the adverts)
- Films/Computer games
- Old stories/legends/myths/fairytales: all can be re-told, or moved to a modern setting
- Family and friends: listen to their experiences
- Your audience: think about what people like or don’t like and use it in your writing
- Ask a friend: bounce off ideas or seek out experts to help you with key facts. Often people/experts can’t wait to tell you things, particularly if you tempt them with lunch and a chat.
- Write briefly about 3 personal experiences (that you haven't yet written about)
- Complete the following sentences about yourself:
Not many people know this but I know a lot about ...
This helps you to remember that you may be an expert without realising it.
It was Alison’s goal that we would all go home with the seeds of ideas already germinating and would soon start sparking even more. I certainly left the meeting with many thoughts buzzing in my head… and yes I remembered to jot them down in my notebook!