The Crime Readers' Association

CWA Author Douglas SkeltonWhere do you get your ideas? By Douglas Skelton

21st August 2015

Where do you get your ideas?

Writers will tell you that question is one they are most often asked, but it is still a valid query. How does a bunch of perfectly normal, well-adjusted – well, in the main – and genuinely nice people come up with plotlines filled with blood and death and horror? The answer, for me, is simple –I haven’t a clue. They just come to me. Yes, I have reported and investigated crime so that has given me a wealth of background material. But the actual plotlines? Well, that’s the magic, I suppose.

My first novel, Blood City, was based on a tale that verges on urban legend in Glasgow. They say that back in the early 80s, a group of top gangsters formed a coalition to bring heroin in bulk into the city. There had been drugs prior to that, of course, but they were nothing compared to the snowstorm of powder from then on. I don’t know if it’s true, but I thought it would make a great basis for the first in the series. Everything else sprang from that.
Having had the initial notion, a writer then has to set about actually getting it down because they say that writing is 5 per cent inspiration and 95 per cent application. You can’t lounge around in a smoking jacket waiting for the muse to descend. You have to roll your sleeves up and get to it.

Most writers I know could procrastinate at Olympic level. You’d think the last thing we want to do is actually do what we’re here for. For me, each book is like a wild animal, a beast snarling at me – daring me to finish it.
Eve as I write this I can hear an unfinished book on my computer laughing at me, mocking me, goading me. “You think you’re so tough,” it’s saying, “but you’re scared of me. Look at you, you can wrestle wild haggis to the ground but you can’t take me on.”

But once we do enter the beast’s lair, how do we take it on? Some writers meticulously plan their books. Before they begin to write they know exactly what each chapter will contain, where it will lead, how the book will end.
Some do very lengthy outlines. Some scribble them on whiteboards or post-it notes.

Me? I eventually get in there with a chair and a whip and an insouciant smile and hope for the best. I have the original idea. I have a few set-pieces I want to incorporate. If I’m lucky I may even have an ending. Apart from that I simply let my fingers do the walking. Sometimes I’m surprised where they take me. I’ve developed a tiny reputation for bumping characters off, I call it the Games of Thrones approach to crime writing. I’ll let you into a wee secret – don’t tell anyone – but sometimes even I’m surprised I’ve killed someone off. I hadn’t planned it. I didn’t expect it, but there they are, lying there, dead. Maybe I’m not that well-adjusted after all…

DOUGLAS SKELTON began crime writing with true crime but moved into fiction with ‘Blood City’ in 2013. Set in his home town of Glasgow, the series deals with hard man with a heart Davie McCall and the changes in the city’s underworld from 1980 to the new millennium. The third in the quartet, ‘Devil’s Knock’ was published in June.


Twitter: @DouglasSkelton1


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