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Do authors ever struggle to come up with story ideas? Well, I can’t answer for others, but this one does! Do I like admitting that? Not at all! There’s this little voice within me that says: ‘You can’t be a proper author if you struggle to come up with ideas! You’re a fraud! How will you ever answer those bright-eyed children who want a share of your wisdom at author talks, if you can’t answer the number one, basic question about where ideas come from?!’
If only I had a bottomless bag brimming with brilliant ideas I could dip into whenever I needed a new one. If only I could say confidently that ideas are all around us, growing on trees, ripe for the picking. (I’m sure I’ve heard others say that!) Perhaps I need ‘genuine author’ eyes, to see those ideas. And oh no! Perhaps I wasn’t born with them! I wonder if there’s an optometrist who could prescribe me with special ‘author’ spectacles to make up for my birth defect? Specs that would show me all those ideas visible only to genuine authors…
Or perhaps, just perhaps, this is what makes me feel a fraud — my belief that real authors find it easier than me.
Because perhaps they don’t.
The reality is, simply sitting down and exploring the idea of not having any ideas has produced several potential story ideas. (Maybe I could write a story about a kid with ‘ideas’ specs.) So, perhaps the thing to do is to sit down and write. Anything. Mull over whatever is bothering you. (In my case, my lack of ideas.)
Why am I telling you this? Because recently I’ve been asked three quite similar questions: What motivated you to write your new book, Marlow Brown: Magician in the Making? Where did the inspiration for this second book come from? And—wait for it— where do you get your story ideas from? The trifecta of ‘Are you a fraud?’ questions!
So instead of quaking fearfully in my boots waiting to be exposed, let me step right out and answer as truthfully and bravely as I can.
Question one: What motivated me to write Marlow Brown: Magician in the Making? Quite simply, my publisher expected me to. Although I didn’t necessarily know when I submitted the first Marlow Brown book to Celapene Press that it would be a series, by the time I’d signed the contract, an understanding was reached that it would be.
Question two: Where did the inspiration for the second book come from? Well, again quite simply, it came from the first. But it wasn’t exactly a straight forward process. It went as follows.
I wanted the second book to be a stand-alone story, but I also wanted it to flow on smoothly from the first. Now the first book, Marlow Brown: Scientist in the Making, ends with Marlow being granted one last chance by her parents to conduct a successful experiment. Up until this point, every experiment she and her faithful doggy assistant, Rockstar, had done, had been dogged by chaos. (Pardon the pun.) In the last few pages, however, Marlow is given a gibberellic acid tablet — gibberellic acid is a plant growth hormone, and one that I used myself in a year 12 biology experiment on dwarf beans years ago — and we leave her pondering the possibilities of how best to use it to get truly impressive results in this ‘last chance’ experiment.
One of Marlow’s ideas is to use it on Dad’s entire vegetable patch. (Dad is always complaining about his undersized turnips.) So, what better place to start the second book, than at a showground where Dad has been winning prizes for his now enormous veggies?
So there was the place.
But what would actually happen?
I didn’t know. I wished I did!
Do you remember the Play School windows that take you into real life scenes outside the studio — the round, square and arch windows? I wished I could peer through one of them and see the showground below me and just ‘watch’ the story unfold. What would Marlow get up to if let loose at a show…?
And so I imagined dragging a ladder over to the arched window (always my favourite) and climbing up to look through. But I couldn’t see anything. (Probably because I wasn’t a proper author, I told myself.) Not one to give up on a first attempt, however, I imagined dragging my ladder to the next window — the round one — and climbing up again.
I stood there at the top of the ladder just looking. It was definitely a showground below me this time. I could see the Ferris wheel in the distance, and several food stalls directly beneath me. Suddenly, Rockstar shot past chasing a cat with Marlow in hot pursuit. By the time I’d climbed through the window and dropped into the showground scene myself, they’d disappeared. It took some time before I found them again. But there they were, Rockstar now under control, at the tent of Mervin the Magical enthralled by his tricks. Phew! I’d found them.
And I’d also found my inspiration. Trying her hand at magic and illusion is exactly what a character like Marlow would want to do next.
And so, to question number three: Where do story ideas come from? Well, from playing, I suppose. And relaxing. And being willing to relax about playing, even when it’s the last thing you feel able to do when you’re stressed about having no ideas, as I often seem to be! And as I said earlier, just sitting down and writing about those stresses can be a way forwards — a way of generating ideas — because that’s exactly what I’ve done with this article. (I told you I’d be honest!)
So what about book three? For now I’m still in the playing stages. I just have to remember to be relaxed about it all and enjoy the process. Because I’m slowly learning that’s where true inspiration lies.
Article by Kesta Fleming.
Kesta Fleming is a children’s author and poet. Her latest book, Marlow Brown: Magician in the Making, is the second in the Marlow Brown series with illustrations by Marjory Gardner. It will be launched at the Melbourne Magic Festival on July 10th and all are welcome. (To book, please use this link.) The book itself is available online from the publisher, Celapene Press, as well as from the usual mix of online bookstores. Alternatively, you could ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library. For more information, contact Kesta by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are thrilled to celebrate the release of Marlow Brown #2; Magician in the Making, following its first title, Scientist in the Making, with illustrations by Marjory Gardner, published by Celapene Press.
Please follow Kesta Fleming at her website: https://kestafleming.com/
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