Now There’s an Idea

Sarah Dunnakey talks about where her ideas come from

Digging on the allotment, queuing at the checkout, in the middle of the night or during a meeting at work – all times that inspiration has been known to strike. Whole scenes of dialogue or just a line of description, a plot twist or a “What if…?”

Like most writers I have notebooks, piles of them, and I usually have one handy, but if not I resort to scribbling on receipts or envelopes. Or the back of my hand.

But how many of these ideas ever get turned into stories?  Not to mention all the ideas that don’t even make it onto paper because there just wasn’t any around (or the meeting went on too long, or I went back to sleep, or I washed my hand).

Are there more ideas than stories?  In my case, so far, yes.  I have two folders, one on the computer and one made of cardboard, both labelled ‘Ideas’ and both full of scraps of story. They’re all there waiting for their moment.

And it does work.  Some of my favourite stories have come from jottings filed away and forgotten about for a while.  One of my stories in this collection ‘Monkey Business’ began as a line saved in my Ideas folder. I was working as a TV researcher on a magazine show at the time and my producer was fond of requesting a dozen impossible things before coffee.  He never actually asked for a monkey, but I do remember once having to try to find a tame owl in central London and a café that would let us stage a custard pie fight.

My second story ‘Communication Breakdown evolved differently, as the result of listening in on a bizarre conversation in which neither person seemed to have a clue what the other person was talking about. We’ve all been there, but it got me thinking, “What if…?”

Sometimes, when I sit down to write, I think I can hear my ideas in their folders muttering, “it’s my turn”, “pick me, pick me!”. And sometimes it’s their lucky day, especially if the screen or paper is being stubbornly blank.  At other times they have to wait, because hey, I’ve just had this new idea, its about a ghost and a train station and a pair of high heeled shoes…

Read Monkey Business and Communication Breakdown now, on kindle!


  1. Sarah, I not only want your ideas, I want your old job! What a fantastic way to get ideas. A friend of mine, who looks rather prim and proper, worked in theatre, and when they were staging the Rocky Horror Show, she had a great story about going into a chemists and asking for hundreds of condoms … and there was a big queue of people listening to her every word. Now there’s another idea!

  2. Kath says:

    Oh I know that Pick Me, Pick Me moment! Shush, you say, I need to go back to sleep. I’ll write you in the morning.

  3. Tamsyn says:

    I’m not as well organised as you! I have a very full notebook full of story snippets and lines of dialogue – I love flicking through it to see what grabs my fancy :)

    Agree with Sally that your job sounds ace!

  4. Hi Sarah, I know exactly what you mean. I have folders full of cuttings from newspapers and magazines and obituaries of men who fought in WW2. Also have 8 years worth of notebooks, all shapes and sizes crammed with random thoughts! Hopefully one of these days I’ll get time to look at them properly and use the info for a book. Interesting post and you’ve reminded me that I need to add that task to my to-do list when start on Book 2 soon. Thanks! Regards, Anita