I generally tell people that the best inspiration is a contract and an advance. However, I haven’t always been lucky enough to get my contract renewed (it’s tough enough getting published but it’s even tougher staying published) and, once you’ve been dropped by a publisher, you have to go through the process of writing an entire book with no certainty of being able to sell it. Just like you did with your first novels. When you are in contract you are often able to run some ideas past your editor but once that safety net has gone you are on your own. And that is when you really need to come up with the ideas.
Generally, because I write romance, I come up with my heroine first. The book is going to be her story and I need to know what makes her tick, what does she do for a living, what class is she, how old is she, what’s her background…? All this is vitally important because it informs the rest of the book.
One of my favourite books was the Chalet Girl. Guess what she did to earn a crust?
Spookily, I was on a skiing holiday when I had the idea about a heroine who worked as a chalet host. She needed employment that would feed, house, clothe and pay her as she’d been thrown out of her home by her super-strict father. Once I had that in place the rest of the story almost wrote itself, especially as we were skiing in a resort where there was a bar which had live music every evening, supplied by one of the saisonniers who was a brilliantly gifted guitarist. Inspired by him, I made Millie, my heroine, into a talented musician and I knew instantly how I was going to get my happy-ever-after ending.
Another book I wrote was also inspired by a holiday. When my children were small we used to taken them to the Normandy landing beaches for holidays. The sea there (now there isn’t a war going on) is famously safe and my husband (an amateur military historian ) and I can both beach-comb for shells – and trust me, there is no conflict of interest! In the graveyard in the village where we were staying was a corner belonging to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and my husband investigated the battle that had taken place there. While he did that, I wondered what it would have been like to be liberated – not joyous and wonderful but utter terrifying as the battle raged all around, as the houses were shelled, the livestock was killed, the farms ruined and thousands were left homeless and destitute. I imagined a farm, just outside Bayeux, and the people who lived there and how their lives were changed for ever shortly after the 6th June 1944. The result was a book based on some true events.
There is always inspiration – sometimes just from asking the question ‘what if…?’ or ‘what if she does this?’ you can get the basis for a great story