It’s a prickly chestnut of a question: where do your ideas come from? Most writers dread it because there is no simple answer.
I was born and brought up in rural Sussex, three miles from the nearest shop. Childhood holidays – which lasted for weeks as my dad was a teacher – were spent in a secluded spot in the heart of Exmoor. Sitting round the campfire at night, the haunting cries of owls floating in from the blackness beyond the flames, he would read me the ghost stories of MR James. The short walk to the safety of my tent was always taken at a sprint.
Books that interested me growing up? Plenty of mysteries – especially the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators series. I also loved Roahl Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and read plenty of Pan Horror Stories, too.
Later, it was novels that gave insights into unusual minds: the twisted desires of Frederick in John Fowles’, The Collector; the tormented thoughts of Scobie in Graham Greene’s, Heart of the Matter; the violent urges of Francie in Patrick McCabe’s, Butcher Boy all had a major influence.
After school and university came a series of abysmal jobs punctuated by travelling. Quite a lot of travelling, actually. Then, just after my 30th birthday, the idea for my first novel came to me. I was broken down on the hard shoulder of a motorway in the early hours of the morning, waiting for a rescue vehicle to arrive. It’s about the driver of a van who roams the roads in the dead of night, looking for stranded motorists to murder…
Ideas for subsequent novels have occurred at all sorts of odd moments: glimpsing a derelict church from the window of a moving train; browsing a newspaper report about a walker who claimed he’d been attacked by a panther; half-reading a doctor’s surgery article on how some tinnitus sufferers don’t hear whistles or buzzes – they’re tormented by birdsong; listening to a radio program about a flotilla of yellow ducks that fell from a cargo ship and floated slowly across the Atlantic.
One thing I can safely say: I never know when an idea is going to pop up. But – thankfully – they keep surfacing in my head.