Like many authors I get asked questions such as, ‘Where do you get your ideas from,’ or ‘what inspired your book?’ Every writer has their own genre and their personal journey from idea to completion. Some writers plot and plan every detail, others like me, let their work grow organically. I thought I’d share the road I took with my characters who became ‘friends’ in The Cruelty of Lambs. One reader told me that he felt he might bump into them on a next trip into Brum! Scary thought.
They say write about what you know so I often wonder how that applies to science fiction writers! In my case, I had a story I wanted to tell for a long time but I wasn’t sure how. A few years ago I’d knocked up a few chapters, discarded them, had another look then dismissed the idea of writing a book as ridiculous. It was something other people did. It didn’t stop me hanging around the book shops running my hand over those exciting covers and thinking… I can do this.
I have to come up with two things before I can start writing 80,000 words. The title and the ending and possibly a quote that ties the elements of the book together. If I said too much about how the meaning of the title, The Cruelty of Lambs, came about I would give away some of the story. There’s a plus and minus to my title. In the minds of potential readers, it triggers memories of the Silence of The Lambs. In a way that’s good. On the minus side, if you put it into google, all kinds of links to sheep farming and butchery pop up!
I then decided on the backdrop to the story line. It’s a lovely excuse to pop over to Barbados because you’ve decided to set your book there although I have heard of authors writing fabulous backgrounds without setting foot in the place. The setting for my book is …. Birmingham, UK. No please don’t groan. I spent thirty years in the beautiful Bournville area, a stone’s throw from Cadbury land and had access to some of the best theatre, music, museums and galleries outside of London. The city has so many parks and green spaces that sometimes it’s hard to imagine what industrial Birmingham would have been like. Anyway, I’m not here to sell you a tourist guide.
I set the book in this location because I knew it really well and had watched it develop and grow from 1981. The city was good to me, my family and companies like Cadbury gave me my first break as a freelance in 1990. What a wonderful client.
The theme was my next consideration. As a training professional for 30 years specialising in interpersonal communications and conflict resolution, I had a lot of material to draw on. Conflict in the workplace, at home, on the school run, in the shops. It’s everywhere and the behaviour of people beggars belief sometimes. Sadly this is escalating now. Novels are about some conflict and its resolution. Readers flick the pages wanting to know if she leaves him, or does the boss get stabbed or does the woman who blocks the road with her 4x4 fall in love with the single dad at the school gate… you know the sort of stuff.
Having been through some pretty awful stuff with my first husband, triggered by severe external pressures, I decided to focus on the effects on a family when a job is lost and false accusations are made about the man. People react in so many different ways to stress. Women need to talk and resolve things, men often withdraw to figure stuff out but both need the support from each other they don’t always get. When the world attacks, we turn inward and attack each other.
The story is loosely based on my own experience but written from a different viewpoint. If I say too much more, it will spoil your enjoyment of the book.
So, title, ending, location, theme decided, what came next? I scribbled down a few notes about Una Carrington and her husband Dr. Iain Millar and I let my imagination and experience do the rest. Already you might be asking the question, why do they have different family names? No big deal. I’ve always kept my own family name but again you have to read the book. Other characters were drawn from the rich diversity of the Birmingham population. Reviewers have mentioned their favourite.
Although this book is dark and gritty as it tackles a subject people treat like a lingering bad smell, - it won’t go away - there is humour, a lighter side to offset the despair and I hope you will chuckle in parts.
In my next blog, I’ll talk about the mechanics of how I wrote the book and my approach to writing novels in general.
Thanks to the enlightened Urbane Publications for giving me a chance at the age of 60 to bring my work to you. Enjoy.