Featured Author Friday: Chris Simms
Outside the White Lines – the ideas behind the story
In last week’s post, I described how one question makes authors quake in their shoes: where do your ideas come from?
Most writers – myself included – can’t give a nice, succinct, response. Ideas are like thistledown; they drift into view without warning. If you snatch at them, they elude your grip. You can be absent-mindedly chewing cereal, wandering to the shops, drifting off to sleep. I’ve kept a notebook by my bed for years. Once, to my horror, the idea for a particularly twisted short story came to me as someone I knew was being lowered into their grave.
Sometimes it’s not a fully-formed idea, but a fragment that snags in my mind. But I immediately know if that fragment has the potential, one day, to become a novel. All I need do is step back and allow it time to mature. (Or fester, given my plots.)
Outside the White Lines was my debut novel. The idea for it came to me on a dark and stormy night. No, really, it did. I was broken-down on the hard-shoulder of the M40 in the early hours of the morning. Sitting in my car, I spotted a flashing light far off in my rear-view mirror. Here’s the AA, I thought. But the vehicle that pulled up behind me had two men in and no AA markings. Suddenly, I felt very nervous. There was no other traffic about. And they were just sitting there, staring. To my relief, it turned out they were motorway maintenance workers, looking for debris from an earlier crash. But there’d been dramatic potential in the situation; my raised pulse was proof of that.
A few days later, I realised the situation could become a novel if I paired it with an idea for a short story that had been rattling about inside my head for years.
The short story concerned a reclusive loner who crawls along the central reservation after dark, collecting debris thrown from cars. Then, one night, he witnesses a murder. This murder is committed by a van driver. A shaven-headed bloke with a flashing light on his vehicle’s roof. Someone, the recluse realises, who must roam the motorways at night seeking out stranded car drivers who’re waiting for help.
Outside the White Lines was finished less than a year later.