The most frequently asked question of any published author is: where did you get the idea for your novel? The answer, alas, is not as easy to pin down. Very rarely do authors claim that a single eureka moment delivered unto them the idea that became the kernel of their “bestseller”. Sure, it happens, but rarely. In his wonderful Discworld series Sir Terry Pratchett once wrote that wild ideas were constantly sleeting through the cosmos looking for the right mind to fall into. The right idea in the right mind would come to life: who knows where that might lead? I have always loved this image, a metaphor which has sustained me through periods of writerly drought, times of staring blankly at my screen (or the wall) waiting for lightning to strike.
And then there’s Thomas Edison’s famous saying: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. This is closer to the truth.
Most successful novelists will tell you that the ideas that powered their work have gestated over a period of time, have ultimately arrived not in one rapturous message from the heavens but in a steady drip drip of illuminating moments. For instance, the ideas behind my bestselling novel The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra – a murder mystery set in India and featuring the eponymous Chopra in pursuit of a killer, accompanied by his unusual sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha – came over the ten years that I spent living and working in India during my twenties. I could not have written this novel without those ten years of incredible experiences, which settled into my consciousness so that when it came to creating the book memories simply unwound from my fingertips onto the printed page. And yet, in truth, I also benefited from those ‘illuminating moments’ I so readily dismissed above: seeing an elephant lumbering along the middle of road on my first day in India, awaking one morning with the first line of the novel – “On the day that he was due to retire Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovered that he had inherited an elephant” – fully formed inside my head. So I suppose the answer is this: all great novels begin life as an idea, and those ideas can arrive from a variety of sources: painstaking research, attentiveness to the world around us, and even the wild, untamed landscape of our dreams.