Finding inspiration – following in the footsteps of J.K. Rowling and Ian Rankin

Recently I found myself in the beautiful Scottish city of Edinburgh for the first time. Whilst there I took the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of two of my favourite authors, Ian Rankin, creator of the John Rebus detective series, now in its twentieth iteration, and the inimitable J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels.

The Rebus series has long been a favourite of mine. I have marvelled at the way Rankin has created a character that, on the face of it, we shouldn’t be drawn to – Rebus is a dishevelled drunk with an oft dubious approach to police work. And yet Rankin wins us over. He imbues Rebus with a wonderful sense of moral unstoppability, whiskey and all. Edinburgh is John Rebus’s city and Rankin has not only brought the place to life, but chronicled its evolution over the past two decades. I decided to pay homage to the series by walking the ‘Rebus route’, checking out such iconic locations as Fleshmarket Close, and slogging my way up to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a high hill just yards from the modernistic new Scottish parliament building and the old Holyrood Palace. From Arthur’s Seat I had an incredible view of the city, and I could imagine Rankin sitting up here on a bright and breezy day penning the next tale in the series.

The following day I found my way to The Elephant House café where J.K. Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter novel. Nowadays the café has become a pilgrimage site – I saw people from all over the world there to take pictures and partake of a coffee in the ‘birthplace of Harry Potter’. I ordered a fresh orange juice, and a smoked salmon and scrambled eggs breakfast, then took my seat on a comfortable sofa with my notepad and began to write. I could not have asked for a more perfectly inspiring venue – given that my crime series, featuring the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency, has a baby elephant as the sidekick to Mumbai police inspector Ashwin Chopra. The wonderful response to the first book in the series, The Unexpected Inheritance of Chopra, has made me realise that a lot of people really love elephants! And there are over 600 elephants in The Elephant House – my little Ganesha would have been quite at home, I feel! Beneath the eyes of J.K. Rowling, I spent two wonderful hours writing and people-watching. By the end of that time I’d written out a rough outline of another novel in the series. That’s the power of inspiration for you!

 

Homespun wisdom for the aspiring writer

For a debut author getting published in today’s fast-changing and challenging publishing environment is harder than the proverbial camel (or camel 2indeed baby elephant) squeezing through the eye of a needle. For me it has taken almost a quarter of a century. The best advice I can give any young writer is to write, write and then, when you’re absolutely sick of it, write some more. The globally bestselling literary author John Irving reveals that a defining moment for him came when another novelist pointed out that ‘anything else you do is going to be vaguely unsatisfying.’ Thus the first thing any writer needs to do is make the mental adjustment from saying I’d like to be a writer to saying I am a writer. The real question you should ask is ‘am I good enough?’. In other words:  is my writing of a sufficient standard to put together a well written novel in the genre I want to write in? To answer this you need to be brutally honest with yourselves. Most of us are not.. I wrote my first novel aged 17. I thought it would be a runaway bestseller … it wasn’t. I wrote for 23 years before an agent accepted me. I had a great career in the real world in the meantime, which made it difficult to find time to write but I kept at it, never wavering from my end goal of getting published. I estimate I wrote well over a million words during that period – and completed half-a-dozen novels, garnering more rejection letters than I care to mention. Looking back at my early work I can see how I have become a vastly better writer in terms of the actual quality of the writing but also in terms of pace, plot and characterisation. Unless you are one of the lucky ones who hit instant success your road as a writer will be similar. Never give up.