Tweaking Real Life to Suit the Story

Like many tales, Out of the Frying Pan was inspired by a true story. The people coming to dinner were friends (and not at all scary), and I didn’t need to dress up and cook fancy food, but otherwise the story is pretty much as it happened. They were early, the onion kept burning and I went to borrow a spare form my neighbour (complete with an arms-and-legs-flailing fall in the garden), and the baby did what babies do. Unlike Becky in the story though, I could laugh about it on the night, and knew straight away it was a story in the making.

Hive Talking was born out of a lesser reality. We do keep bees and often go out to talk to them (sometimes literally!), but mostly, we just watch the hives, to see that the bees are active, that they’re carrying in pollen (to feed the baby bees), and nectar (to make the honey). We have three hives, housing up to 180,000 bees in mid summer, but you wouldn’t know it; they are as gentle as anything – I’ve been stung only once in seven years – and they make gorgeous honey :o) The Singapore connection came from a business trip I made many years ago. The gin slings at Raffles Hotel were the highlight of the job – and I’ve always wanted to go back! But there the reality ends: I’m not the world’s worst nag (honest), keeping domestic bees is not profitable, and I certainly don’t keep a tidy house!

Leigh Forbes

You can read Out of the Frying Pan and Hive Talking now on kindle.

This Time Four Years ago…

This time four years ago, I did something which changed my life forever; I bought a book called ‘Wannabe A Writer?’ by Jane Wenham-Jones. I read it over Christmas and started the New Year fired up with enthusiasm. 2008, I decided, would be the year I took writing seriously; I was going to get published or die trying.*

One of the many suggestions the book makes is to try writing short stories, particularly those aimed at the women’s magazine market. I seized on this idea with the zeal of the newly-converted. I’d only thought about writing novel up until that point – why not try my hand at something shorter? So I sat down and dashed off a thousand word story – I think it was about a woman who fantasised about murdering her snoring husband (bet you can’t guess where that idea came from) – then sent it with an SAE to Take A Break magazine. Job done, I thought, and sat back to await my cheque.

The story took an ignominious 27 days to wing its way back, with a standard rejection letter enclosed. Undeterred, I wrote another story (can’t remember what it was about but it was probably equally rubbish) and sent it off. Once again, it was rejected with unseemly haste. Then I wrote a 750 word story called ‘Crocodile Tears’, which I sent to My Weekly for their Coffee Break slot. Months went by and the depressing SAE was conspicuously absent. Grumpily deciding it must have got lost in the post, I started another story.

Around May, I received the letter which changed everything. My Weekly liked ‘Crocodile Tears’ and wanted to publish it. That acceptance gave me the confidence to join a new writing group called A Story A Fortnight (SAF for short) and they helped me make more sales. In November 2008, the story appeared in the magazine (I only bought fifteen copies). That first acceptance also gave me the boost I needed to write my first novel, a bitter-sweet supernatural tale for teenagers, and send it out to a literary agent. It became ‘My So-Called Afterlife’ and led to a three book series published by Piccadilly Press.

Even though writing for children quickly took over, I’ve never forgotten that short stories gave me my first taste of writing success. Now that I have a young baby to look after, the tables have turned – less time to write means short stories that I can finish quickly are starting to appeal to me again. And the other brilliant tales in ‘Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After’ have reminded me how satisfying short stories are to read. Watch out, SAF – I could be back!

* This may be a slight over-exaggeration but I was almost that determined.

Tamsyn Murray


You can read Tamsyn’s stories The Green Party and One Day at a Time in Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After now, on kindle!

A Mystery and a Joy

Inspiration is a strange thing. It can come from the simplest remark or observation. It can come from a story prompt, a song title, a picture in a magazine or a problem page. Just about anywhere, really.

Inspiration, or the idea for a story, is only the start, though. Often, things that seem as though they may make a great story turn out simply to be anecdotes or not to have the legs for a story that will sustain a reader’s interest.

I’m still trying to work up a story about the ‘baby meat ravioli’ I saw on a menu a couple of weeks ago. It was amusing at the time, maybe it’ll get dropped into a story as an anecdote a character is telling, or maybe it isn’t story material. We’ll see.

Because the inspiration or idea you get today may not make a story today, but it may do on another day, when you’ve been exposed to different influences or when your head is in a different place. Write them all down, read through them now and then. What seemed bland one day may seem perfect on another.

The two stories of mine that appear in ‘Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After’ had quite different inspirations. Fortunately I can remember what they both were – I often can’t. How they then became stories, how that first flicker developed into something worth writing down and (I hope!) worth reading is much harder to identify. Sometimes I can remember if you ask me soon enough, but as often as not very shortly after the story is written I forget completely where it came from and the story just ‘is’.

‘The List’ starts with Sarah noticing a crack in her wall. I had a crack in my wall. Why that inspired me I can’t say. Maybe I needed to vent my frustrations on paper. Maybe the writer in me saw the metaphor in cracks appearing in things that seem solid and how that can transfer to different aspects of life. Probably.

‘The Girl in the Yellow Dress’ was a prompt supplied by one of the members of our online writing group. How that became the story in the book, why the girl in the title became the particular girl in the story I’m afraid I have no recollection of at all.

Because after the inspiration it’s imagination that takes over. And how that works, how we can create tales out of nothing much at all, is what makes writing both a mystery and a joy to me.


Bernadette James

You can read The List and The Girl in the Yellow Dress in Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After now, on kindle!

The Bank of Ideas

It would be great if there was an ideas bank where you could go and withdraw inspiration when you’re running low, but for me I find the more I write the more ideas seem to pop up, and they’re everywhere.

I’m particularly inspired by ‘first line’ prompts, which is where my story The One That Got Away came from, though I tweaked it slightly afterwards.

A few months ago my daughter phoned on her way to work in a panic, with the immortal words, “It’s only half past six and I’ve killed a cat.”

I think I managed an appropriate response, but I was secretly thinking what a brilliant first line and subsequently sold the story.

Sometimes a line on the news or in a TV drama, or in a newspaper or magazine, or an overheard snippet of conversation in a cafe, will plant itself in my head, and I know there’s a story lurking that I want to write.

That was the case with Ghosts.  I read a feature in a Sunday supplement about a woman who’d returned to the house where she’d endured an unhappy childhood, and was pleased to see it was now a home filled with love and laughter and that she was able to finally lay her ghosts to rest.

Sometimes I even wake up with stories half-formed in my head, though they sometimes turn out to be ridiculous!

It must be like exercising a muscle that keeps growing stronger, and it’s got to a stage where I’m subconsciously seeing stories everywhere.

I just hope it continues.


Karen Clarke

You can read The One That Got Away and Ghosts in Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After now, on kindle!

And Then What Happened?

Most of the time inspiration comes to me when I’m doing something mindless like ironing or having a bath. I also tend to dream up scenarios for stories when I’m walking the dog on one of our nearby beaches. However, when my sister finished reading Never Too Late, one of my stories in Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After, she immediately picked up the phone and gave me a call.

“You’ve written about, Mum, haven’t you?” she laughed, knowing me very well.

I had to admit that I had. Well, my mother isn’t a widow like Sue’s mum in the story, but the surprise at the end was one that my own mother gave me. You’ll have to read the story to discover what it is though as I’m not giving away any spoilers here.

I love writing and, like other writers, am constantly wondering, what if? I also have a tendency to nag my teenagers about being organised. For example, making sure their phones are charged, so that in case of an emergency they’ll be able to contact someone. With Going Backwards I wondered what would happen if you’re driving along a lonely road with a small child and you broke down. If you couldn’t phone anyone for help, who would you least like to meet up with along the way?

Deborah Carr

You can read Never Too Late and Going Backwards in Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After now, on kindle!

The Voices in my Head Made Me Do It!

There are two ways I write short stories. The first, and this was a big part of the A Story A Fortnight group, is to write from prompts – photo and/or text. ‘Dinner in Paradise ‘ was the result of a photo prompt, an image of a man and woman sharing a meal at a table on an exotic beach. The image made me think about how people can get fixated on the stereotypical notions of romance like roses, candlelit meals, sunsets and proposals on one knee and the disappointment you can feel if real life doesn’t live up to your idealised expectations. Sometimes the most romantic moments in life are the least expected and most unusual and I wanted to capture a magical moment like that in a short story.

The second way I write short stories, and this was how I came up with my second story ‘How Deep is Your Love’, is to listen to the voices, or rather the main character’s voice, in my head. Some of my most successful short stories have been the result of a character suddenly deciding to tell me the first line. It sounds a bit weird (particularly to anyone who isn’t a writer!) but if you can hear that voice clearly and distinctively it’ll narrate the whole story to you and you just have to transcribe it! And that’s what I did. It’s a fast-paced, comic piece that plays on and exaggerates the misunderstandings and miscommunications that can happen in Internet dating world and it was a lot of fun to write.

Cally Taylor

You can read Dinner in Paradise and How Deep is Your Love in Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After now, on kindle!

We’ll meet again, Michael O’Sullivan

As Sarah wrote in the last post on this blog, inspiration comes from all over and can strike at any time. I also find it interesting that a writer can pretty much always remember what it was that inspired a particular story, and how it moved from the initial vague idea into the final, fully rounded story.

I have two stories in the anthology. The first is ‘We’ll Meet Again’ which begins with a girl buying vintage jewellery on eBay. The inspiration for this came when I was, wait for it, buying vintage jewellery on eBay. I treated myself to a 1940s diamante brooch in the shape of a flower, then spent a happy half hour browsing the rest of the vintage jewellery and clothes. In true writer-style, I began thinking ‘what if?’ What if someone became obsessed by the vintage items, and bought nothing else? What if they were compelled to do so, because they were possessed by the ghost of someone from that era?

And so I had the start of a story, and I knew it was going to be a ghost story. There are rules for ghost stories – you must treat the ghost as a character in its own right, and give it back story, a personality and motivation. Once I’d decided who my ghost was and what she wanted, I had my plot. We’ll Meet Again was the result.

Every now and then my hubby and I forget how much it rains during Irish summers, and go on a camping trip somewhere in the west. On one trip we visited a ‘country park’, actually little more than a farm with a tea shop and car park, somewhere in Kerry. The old ‘what if?’ muse struck – what if the owners got greedy? – and the story, ‘The Changing World of Michael O’Sullivan’, was born. It is set in a real, but uninhabited valley, picked off the map. I tried to capture some of the musical lilt of the Kerry accent in the dialogue.

The story ended up being a bit of a parable: in the words of Joni Mitchell in Big Yellow Taxi – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. It’s always been a favourite of mine – never published before as it’s not typical womag, but it was shortlisted in several competitions.

Kath McGurl

You can read We’ll Meet Again and The Changing World of Michael O’Sullivan in Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After now, on kindle!

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!

Muse Cruise

Helen Kara was asked where she finds her inspiration?

My inspiration for writing comes from people and the world around me. I find people’s motivations and relationships endlessly fascinating, and love to reflect that in my writing.

I am also inspired by language. The word ‘inspiration’ is interesting in itself. It originally meant a divine impulse to create, something external to the creator, often embodied as a ‘Muse’ or minor goddess who presided over art.

Some people say they need the Muse’s touch before they can start writing. My own experience of the Muse is that there’s no point waiting for her because she won’t turn up. I have learned to stimulate my own creativity by looking, and thinking, and writing odd words and sentences, until I come upon something that interests me – however small – on which I can build.

The two stories in this collection come from very different musings. I have never wanted children of my own, but have always loved being an auntie. I wondered how it might feel to have discovered that I did want children, and began to explore this in ‘Aunt Agony’. The inspiration for ‘A Day To Remember’ came from thinking about the Falklands war and how people’s experiences of that conflict might still be affecting them today.

So, for me, ‘inspiration’ is about working to create a spark which will kindle a narrative. I experience it as an internal process rather than an external force.

Once I have my spark, the next job is to find and build a character. But that’s another story.

Read Aunt Agony and A Day to Remember now, on kindle!

The Woman in White

“As they meandered through the throng of sightseers, a peculiar feeling overcame Sarah. Something made her stop and look over her shoulder to the other side of the square. She gasped, causing Brett to stop abruptly.
‘Oh my goodness,’ she cried, her hand flying to her mouth. ‘Look over there, at that woman!’”

From The Woman in White by Jill Steeples.