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Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Inspiration - who knows when it will strike?

Writers get inspired by different things, from the sublime to the ridiculous. An actor, a place, the lyrics of a piece of music, a small scene witnessed; all of those have ended up being the driving force behind one or other of my stories. It’s interesting to speculate about what goes on in my, or any other, writer’s brain to transform that which we see or hear into something entirely new.

Sometimes the connection is obvious. I once was walking through a rugby club car park and saw two guys (one of the players and someone else) getting out of a car and going their own ways, with hardly a word spoken. My mind started to race, thinking about the relationship between the pair – friends, lovers, brothers? – and why there seemed to be some sort of tension between them. An argument in the car? If they were lovers, and closeted, embarrassment at being seen together? That scene, and the thousand and one possible explanations for it, stuck in my mind and eventually formed the basis of a story about the unlikely romance between a cross dressing actor and a shy rugby player.

In the case of an actor, or other handsome face, inspiring the writer, that’s simple to explain, too. “I can just see him as...a pirate captain, a wounded soldier, a poor starving artist, a insert your character idea here…” Once he (or she) starts to live in your brain they start developing their identity and – as I find – the more you write about a character, the more you discover about them and their quirks. They quickly lose contact with their original version, even if they still look physically like Jamie Bamber or Francisco Bosch or Benedict Cumberbatch in your mind’s eye.

Song lyrics; funny how they can suggest a scene, or maybe much more than that. I’ve got a work in progress (which started as a conventional romance and that’s getting weirder by the minute) which was inspired by the lyrics of the Pet Shop Boys’ song ‘Opportunities’. Actually, I find their work particularly stimulating – maybe because their songs are often already stories in miniature. One of my favourite lines, “All the way back home at midnight, you were sleeping on my shoulder,” will find its way into a story one day. “Somebody said listen, you don’t know what you’re missing, you should be kissing him,” has stirred me into producing plenty of stuff already.

What about places? When I’m visiting somewhere, particularly a location steeped in the past, I begin to imagine my characters – new or established – being there, too. What would they be wearing, where would they walk, what would they do, where would they eat and what would be on the plate? Very soon I have a scene clearly in mind and start to hear the dialogue. As someone whose work is character driven, that’s how every one of my stories has started life – two people having a conversation in a particular place. Their adventures build up and out and develop into a plot, rather than me starting with a scheme of action which I then have to shoehorn my characters into. It works for me, although I know not all writers do it that way. Whatever works for you, works for you.

Interesting how my influences are predominantly visual, with some aural aspects. I wonder if that’s because I see my stories – my overactive mind’s eye playing up again – almost like a film or TV series, playing in my head as I write. If I can’t visualise something just as it would appear on the big screen then I can’t do it justice on the page. Sometimes I can’t even write it at all.

So, what sorts of things inspire you? And have I had another senior moment and completely left out an obvious source of inspiration?

As Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice - like managing a rugby team - she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she's making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She's even been known to write about gay werewolves - albeit highly respectable ones.

She was named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name but her family still regard her writing with a fond indulgence, just as she prefers.

Charlie's Cambridge Fellows Mysteries Series, set in Edwardian England, is available through Samhain, and she has stories in the anthologies 'Encore Encore', 'Past Shadows', 'I Do' and 'I Do Two' (MLR), 'Queer Wolf' (Queered Fiction) and 'Speak Its Name' (Cheyenne).


n8an said...

I absolutely concur about the music - the most recent story I wrote in one of those rare (but awesome) bang-out-the-rough-draft-in-one-day sittings was entirely due to a DeVotchKa song. It's wonderful when that happens.

I also find history and vacations (when I can take them) to be a major source of inspiration. Going to Scotland last year was fantastic, and filled more than a few pages of my portable notebook with ideas. Similarly, I try to take tours here in Ottawa whenever I can - the Haunted Walk, or "Doors Open" - which lets you get inside normally restricted buildings - just seems to give me idea after idea.

Charlie Cochrane said...


Scotland's a highly inspirational place. there's a feeling there (awe? mystery?) you don't get elsewhere on mainland Britain. And I like the idea of those tours - I'll keep an eye out for those down my way.

Stevie Carroll said...

I tend to come up with either a main character or a setting first, then start thinking about what they're doing. Somewhere along the lines plot develops...

Charlie Cochrane said...


That's the next step for me. My stories usually start with a conversation, prompted by one of the things listed above.

booklover0226 said...

Hi, Charlie.

I just want to say how much I love and adore Jonty and Orlando. I've read the first 4 books in the series, have books 5 and 6 and will purchase book 7 this week.

When I think I can't love them any more than I do, I read the next book...and fall in love with them even more!

Thank you for writing such a wonderful series.
Tracey D

Charlie Cochrane said...


I'm so glad you enjoy the lads' adventures. They're great fun to write and it's nice to know they're fun to read.