Another top question, and this one is more easily answered than ‘how long does it take to write a novel?’
I get my ideas from the last idea, by which I mean one idea flowers into others. Maybe its harder to explain than I thought. My first book started with an image of a man in 18thc clothing entering a copse by moonlight, looking for someone. No one there, and while he’s still looking around, someone appears from the undergrowth behind him and cuts his throat.
That image rattled round my brain until I realised the only way to get rid of it was to start writing it down, and then ask all the questions. Who was he? Where has he come from? Who was he meeting? Why was he killed? Who finds him? How do they work out what happened? How does that feel?
To each of those questions there are many possible answers. You start finding your way through them and before long you have the beginnings of an outline.
That’s the basics. Of course, there are all the inspirations that come from things you have read, newspapers and histories of the period, things you read about in magazines, or observe on the streets, the way your friends and relatives behave, what frightens or excites you. Ideas are all over the place, they bounce around us and through us all the time. The difficult bit about writing isn’t having the ideas, it’s marshalling them and seeing what fits and what doesn’t. The ones that fit breed other ideas, other scenes that start to unfold in your mind…
Or at least that’s my story. Then again I remember Ned, having heard a version of the above, coming into the sitting room one day looking very triumphant, saying ‘Ha! I knew it!’ and waving this, which he had found among my various writing manuals. Like totally busted.