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Finding Inspiration As A Mystery Writer

Ever wonder where a mystery writer like myself gets their ideas from?

Well, Kermy, you're in the minority there, as "Where do you get your ideas?" is a question I get asked on a semi regular basis - and to be fair, I might get asked it more if I actually left the house occasionally - though I can almost guarantee you won't like the answer.

Because as much as I'd love to say "it all comes from the muse" or "oh, I don't know - everywhere", the answer is a lot less floaty and creative than that, and involves a lot more research.

Oh, come on, it's not as bad as all that. Honest.

And inspiration can - and often does - come out of the blue, but a lot of times I start with something quite mundane, called "googling symptoms of poisons".

Yes, really.

Told you it was pretty mundane.

Seriously, I needed to know if there was a way to fake a common illness like 'flu for one of my stories (Delicious But Deadly, which is a prequel to the main series) and it turns out, cyanide will do the trick - and gave me a pretty cool way of the characters getting the poison in the first palce.

Fancy that! Something as worryingly common (in the 1920s, but also, not exactly impossible to lay your hands on nowadays, either) can be used in a way we wouldn't necessarily think of.

Yeah, that'll probably happen a lot as you read this post...

(Disclaimer: Please don't try faking 'flu with cyanide to pull a sickie. You really don't want to be messing about with that stuff.

If you're going to bunk off work, it's much better to lie on you back on your bed with your head lolling over the side as you call your boss.

Only sound like you're dying, folks, don't actually risk doing it.

Disclaimer pt 2: If anyone asks, I did not recommend you pull a sickie. I just told you how to sound iller than you are...)

Anyhoo, my point it, I had a vague idea for a story and wanted to see if it'd work... but I can't tell you exactly what that idea was, because

But in addition to researching to help a half-formed idea take shape, I also have a notebook full of research I hope I never need to explain to the police, because it has like a million (well, perhaps fifty) sets of details about poisons.

Where to get them, how to use them, the symptoms, how you'd die from it... you know, that sort of thing.

... Which was pretty much my long-suffering partner's response when he foolishly asked what I was up to as I was excitedly scribbling down the effects of cadmium poisoning #oops

And, as I've mentioned in previous blog posts, having a murder method (especially poisons) in place can be a brilliant way to spin a story out of thin air.

Who could get hold of that poison?

Why would they use that?

Could the symptoms be mistaken for something else?

How fast would someone die?

Where had the victim/suspects been during the kill zone?

Wait, is this the American version of Ghosts?

This sort of rather worrying way of thinking applies to pretty much every way of fictionally killing someone.

You know, where you start at one point and work outwards to see how everything else could fit into place.

Where did the knife come from?

Why did someone do that rather than, say, strangling the victim?

What physical evidence would be left from stabbing someone with that shape of knife?

And so on.

(I seriously hope I don't have to explain this blog to anyone either!)

Of course, I don't live in a vacuum, and so I don't always start with the murder method.

I've pulled storylines from true crime shows and books (the plot of Killed By Kindness, which is the third mini mystery in The Problem With Dead People, is an alternative solution to a true crime mentioned on a show called Murder, Mystery, and My Family, and I stole the idea for having a journalist involved with a murderous gang was based on a story I read in a jolly little book called The Pleasures of Murder...

Except my rogue reporter didn't end up quite as dead as his real-life counterpart.

I know, I'm practically a saint.

And, of course, the original idea for having a psychic detective came from watching a show called Psychic Detectives (hey, I never said I was imaginative), where they take psychics around scenes of unsolved crimes and see what new information they can gather from the spirits.

I took it a little more literally than that show did though, as my psychic sleuth can speak to ghosts so naturally he doesn't always realise they're dead.

So no, "oh, I feel the colour blue could be significant here, does that mean anything to you?" in my books.

But, you know, I was never going to stick exactly to the original, was I?

The news is also a rich source of inspiration. You literally couldn't make some of it up, and though I always change things (either to disguise the source material, or to make it make more sense, or just because I add another twist or two to the original idea), occasionally real events spark an idea.

Very, very occasionally, I come up with the title first. I have a back-burner idea for a story I came up with a title for whilst trying to name another book, but it involves a lot of research into a period of history I don't enjoy reading about so have, for now, abandoned any pretense of writing it.

However, I'll get to it one day, as I want to read it and, you know, someone has to write it for that to happen...

And, of course, if I'm ever feeling really stuck and none of the above are helping, I'll do my favourite thing of just hitting the books and finding an interesting way to kill someone (if I wasn't already on a watchlist, I probably am now *waves at the nice man now going through my search history, which is actually mostly looking up how to spell common words*) and work outwards from there.

By the way, it never fails to amaze me just how breakable humans are. Do you know how many ways it's possible to kill someone?! It's literally limitless, you could kill someone with a pencil if you tried hard enough and used a little applied physics plus some basic anatomical knowledge.

Oh, now I'm extra on a list. #mysterywriterproblems

But seriously, if I'm looking for a new story idea, I'll do one of the above things and just daydream about interesting and tricksy ways to kill someone for a while - then usually run the idea past a concerned friend or family member.

Who then usually starts being very very nice to me for a while, so there's really no downside to this.

All this to say, if an idea for a mystery doesn't find me, I'll go out hunting one with a big stick and beat it into submission.

Because really, there's inspiration everywhere. You just need to know how to spot it.

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