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Do they ever ask you Where Do You Find Ideas?

Hereabout, it happens all the time. It is one of the Three Questions:

1. How much of yourself is there in this story?
2. How long does it take you to write a novel?
3. Where/how do you find your ideas?

And, for some reason, nobody seems to want to know how long it takes to write a play. Not that I particularly want to be asked – and in fact, it’s not as though I had a standard answer to the question, just as I don’t have it for novels. I’m just observing a slightly odd fact – but that’s hardly the point.

The point is that there seems to be this widespread misconception that finding ideas is hard. Well, actually, it isn’t hard at all. In fact, on the contrary…

Did you ever come across that old, old BBC documentary about the making of documentaries? Well, at one point, it tells the story of a troupe trying to film salmons swimming upstream. After a few unsatisfactory attempts, they decide to sit a cameraman on the bottom of the stream with his camera, and to have another film the man as he films the salmons… And this is how we have wonderful footage of this cameraman very nearly bowled over by swimming salmons: they come so thick, so unstoppably one-minded, that the poor man can hardly manoeuvre the camera, and indeed can do little more than slap salmons aside in self-defence…

Well, that’s exactly how it is with ideas: once you’ve trained yourself to see them, they not only are everywhere, but will swim up in your face in droves, iridescent and quarrelsome, howling “Me! Me! Me – write me!” And all you can do is to sit on the bottom, armed with a notebook and a pen, trying to sort things trough by dint of taking notes and giving slaps.

And this is the answer I always give to Question N. 3 – adding that family and friends have learned to roll their eyes and/or duck for cover when I make a catching gesture in the air and ask of no one in particular: “Is this a salmon which I see before me?”

After that, it is only a matter of having a notebook at hand.