There are a few questions writers get asked all the time, but one is particularly popular:
"Where do you get your ideas from?"
My answer is this: "I steal them."
It's a glib answer but not entirely inaccurate. Ideas are found everywhere, from what's around you, to who you meet, and what you've soaked up throughout your life. If readers pick up my Darkmouth books and know what to look out for they will find references to Ghostbusters or Hot Fuzz, chunks of the Irish language, entire streets from my home town, mythical creatures inspired by cultures all around the world, and countless else I've picked up along the way.
When writers get together, conversation around the internet tends to focus on how to avoid it stifling creativity. However, stories don't always require a writing room that doubles as an isolation tank, free from the distractions of the world.
It took a while for me to admit it, but I'd be quite lost without such distraction offered by the world outside or life online. Those daily chance encounters and random diversions often offer a route out of trouble when a story hits a dead end.
The irony is that as a parent I have spent a great amount of time worrying about how much I want my own kids to be distracted, and how much the vast breadth of easily-accessible, bitesize content online could discourage children from sitting down and reading a story.
However, we need not worry. New figures actually show that 2016 will be the biggest in the children's printed book market for the third year running. Kids love stories, regardless of whether they're improvised tales made up on the spot by the teller, printed in a book or presented on a digital device. Yes, they love their screens - but so did those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s. We were just limited by the channels available.
What's more, access to Wi-Fi and the internet offers even more routes through which they can experience storytelling, as well as being a source of inspiration to kick-start their own stories - offering an entire world of stimulus.
I use the web to find inspiration for all aspects of my stories: from exotic creatures and strange weapons, to Viking names, streetscapes and buildings. So, when I meet young writers looking for inspiration I tell them to find an interesting picture and write a story based on what they see and feel might be happening, or to open an online map and find the curiosities in there. Zoom in, wander through the streets and buildings. It's amazing how much exploration can be done without even leaving the books and vital digital resources of their library.
The BT and Barclays Wi-Fi in our community programme is a fantastic scheme, which provides free Wi-Fi and hands-on digital support to 100 libraries and community sites around England. As part of this programme, I've joined up with them to launch a creative writing competition for budding young authors. I've written the first chapter of a brand new story, and aspiring writers are being challenged to write the following chapters, incorporating elements from their local history and surroundings.
It encourages young people to make use of the free Wi-Fi in their community centres and libraries to fuel their creativity. The competition is taking place in 12 sites across England and a winning chapter and author will be selected from each one. All of the winning entries will go into the final online story for everyone to read, making us all co-authors of the new book.
As a writer, the idea appeals to me because I know from experience how the internet offers rich opportunities for creativity. If entrants are stuck for an idea, then they can find inspiration in an image, a map, old stories and legends. After that the only limit is their imagination.
I'm excited to read what the young writers come up with, and hope they will create a shared story inspired by their own world: their town, their streets, their history and their lives.
They can steal from all around them, but the story will always be theirs.
More information about the competition and where to enter is available here.
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