On Wednesday, I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Don't worry, this blog is not about the film, I just like the poster. I went alone, because no-one wanted to come with me (not being Hobbit fans) and I quite like going to the cinema on my own. I went to see the film at Warwick University. I arrived with time to spare so I went into the bookshop. A bookshop is a good place to while away some time (if you can find one). When I was in there, a book caught my eye. It was not directly related to the book I'm writing at the moment, so I hesitated about whether to buy it. It was a hardback. expensive, I could get it cheaper online, no doubt, but I wanted it - I was still early, I could read it in the coffee shop, I reasoned, so I bought it.
I didn't have to read much before I began to see that this book was relevant, very relevant to what I was writing. By the end of the film, I knew it wasn't just relevant, it had given me a great, perhaps transforming idea. I was excited, I made notes on the bus home. I couldn't wait to get back to my desk, do some planning, see how my new idea would fit in. It did, good ideas always do, more than that, it took me to other places. Maybe a great idea then? Too soon to say but it has given me a huge injection of energy, made me want to write.
I began thinking: how often does this happen? How often do chance encounters transform ideas, or put them into your head in the first place? Such times are magical, exciting, some of the finest moments in writing, but they are also rather terrifying because they are so unpredictable. If I hadn't gone to see the film, if I'd been on time, or late, hadn't gone into the bookshop, I wouldn't have seen the book, wouldn't have bought it, I would have continued working knowing that there was something missing from my plot, but not knowing exactly what.
When I thought about it, this has happened at some point in nearly every book I've written. Sometimes, it is right at the beginning: it is the germinating idea. Sometimes, it happens later and leads to a transformation but it is always impossible to see coming. You go to see a performance of a play (this performance, not another), walk down a street (this street, no other), visit a house, a gallery, a museum, read a newspaper, have a chance conversation (with this person, on this day) and suddenly the idea is there.
There's no way to predict it, or make it happen - it's serendipity. There's a lesson here, I think. Writing isn't all about word counts and putting time in at the desk. Sometimes, it's more important go out, look about, be open to what's around you and be prepared for the unexpected.
Does this happen to other people? I'd love to know...