Where do get your ideas?

1valchloesmall Anne here. The question above is probably the most common question an author gets asked. And when an author first gets published, people who don't know her — and sometimes people who do — assume that if the events and characters from her books don't come from history books, they must come from her life.

I can't speak for other authors, but for me, this is far from the truth. Not one character I've ever written has ever existed outside my imagination. And my life hasn't been nearly as exciting or adventurous as that lived by most of my heroines. And, alas, the heroes that walk my pages are not hanging around my house. Even the occasional dog that appears in a book wasn't one of my dogs. Really, I often just dream up scenes and stories and I have no idea where that comes from — I only know it's not from history books and it's not from my life. 

What I do often take from life, however, are the small details that "furnish" the book, the things, for instance that evoke a scene and a mood. The scent of herbs drying or bread baking, of new cut grass, or of damp dog. The fragrance of a wood fire, the crackle and hiss of burning wood, the settling of coals and the dancing of shadows on the walls when the only light is firelight.  

I think I'm lucky in that I have very vivid memories from childhood, many of which can be used in historical novels. I've lived in places where there was no electricity, where an open fire was the only heating. Some of my relatives were farmers, and my parents went through a back-to-nature phase where we tried to live self-sufficiently and kept hens and vegetable gardens and a cow and a goat. 

In THE ACCIDENTAL WEDDING, my new book (out tomorrow — yay! And isn't that the most beeyoutiful cover!) Ahem, back to the blog…
I'll explain where some of the details I used in the book —my new book (out tomorrow!) —come from. This, in a nutshell is the set up:
 An injured man, a desperate woman… 
She saves his life. He fakes amnesia…

But of course it's never so simple as that. Maddy, my heroine is well born, but poverty stricken  She does what she can to make ends meet. She keeps bees. I grew up with hives in the back yard and the fresh, sharp, clean scent of beeswax at harvesting time. Like my father, Maddy grows vegetables and worries about protecting her seedlings from frosts and storms — and her chickens from foxes. She does hat makeovers, which I remember  my grandmother doing, remaking her church hats to give them a new lease of life. Details furnished from my life.

The cottage Maddy lives in is based on one that the 18th century explorer Captain James Cook lived in as a boy with his parents and many siblings. It was dismantled many years ago and reassembled in a public garden in Melbourne. It's amazingly tiny — seriously poky and claustrophobic to those of us used to modern houses and apartments. No wonder he was comfortable in a ship. Here it is:
Maddy has young half-bothers and sisters to care for.  The youngest is a little girl obsessed with fairy tales — don't we all know kids who live out their stories? Little Lucy knows exactly how to deal with a handsome, unconscious hero.

 “He’s a prince,” Lucy insisted. “And he needs a princess to kiss him and then he’ll wake up.”
“That’s Sleeping Beauty, silly,” Susan told her.
“Same thing,” Lucy declared stoutly.
“No, because Sleeping Beauty is a girl and he’s a man.”Henry joined in. “And a man can’t be a beauty.”
“Why not?”
“Because he can’t,” Henry said. “Only ladies can be beautiful.”
Maddy smiled to herself. She disagreed. This man was wholly male, and beautiful.

Sometimes the inspiration for a scene will begin with a picture, a photo or collection of photos. I've spoken before about how I use collages to help me form the world of the book. Here's the collage for THE ACCIDENTAL WEDDING. Nashcollage2

Sometimes it's a song. I was listening one day to a song, "When You Taught Me How to Dance" by UK singer songwriter Katie Melua. Instantly a scene came to mind. Maddy is a girl who's never been to a party, never danced in public, and doesn't know how to waltz. So my hero, Nash, offers to teach her. They make a time, but Maddy arrives late… and finds the hero with her four year old half-sister.The song is here:

Here's a little bit of the scene:
 She watched Nash Renfrew now, tall and elegant and as handsome a man as she’d ever dreamed of. He bowed gracefully to his very diminutive partner.
Lucy made a deep, wobbly curtsy, then bounced up in triumph. She gripped his hands and carefully climbed onto his feet, standing with one small foot on each large boot. Maddy swallowed.
“Ready?” Nash asked the little girl.
Lucy nodded. Tibby played the opening bars and off they danced, tall man and tiny girl standing on his feet, her little hands clinging to his in an excited death grip.
They circled, first in a very slow clump-clump-clump, clump-clump-clump, then faster and faster as Lucy became used to the rhythm and the movement. Soon they were stepping to the music, then twirling around the room.
Maddy’s eyes misted up. Lucy was so proud, so thrilled. Once, Nash swept her up in an arc through the air and she squealed with delight, then he settled her deftly back on his boots and they continued as before.
Lucy caught sight of her and shrieked gleefully, “Maddy, Maddy, look at me, I’m dancing!” 
Maddy laughed and clapped and nodded, halfway to tears.

(If you want to read more about THE ACCIDENTAL WEDDING, out tomorrow! With a gorrgeous cover 😉 click here)

So my ideas come from everywhere, I pick them up like fluff, and I furnish the stories with details not just from research books, but from life and pictures and music and imagination and from memories.
It's raining outside, and that and writing this blog has made me think of a camping trip in my childhood, where it rained and rained, and the smell of the wet canvas and the sound of the heavy, flapping tent and the wind whistling through the guy ropes, as I lay in the dark wondering if the tent would fall down… Who knows, it just might furnish a scene in the current book I'm writing…

What's a memory you have from your childhood? I'm giving away a copy of my new book THE ACCIDENTAL WEDDING to someone who leaves a comment.