Where Do Ideas Come From? By Paul Gamble
If there’s one thing that everyone engaged in the writing world wants to achieve it’s originality. We want to be the first to say something and are terrified of being calledderivative. We flee from clichés like a high school cheerleader running from a darkly menacing monster.
And yet, if I am honest I can’t help but feel that’s a bit of a shame. Because it’s only writers that seem to suffer from this fear. I have never attended a circus where a trapeze artist somersaulting above the head of the crowd was met with a groan and a sarcastic voice saying, “Not somersaults again.” Equally, when Frank Sinatra smiled at the crowd before launching into one final verse of “My Way”, no-one ever bellowed at him-“Please not that old chestnut again, don’t you know anything by One Direction?”
I’ve been lucky enough to be asked a lot of questions at book signings and readings – ‘How long did it take to write?’, ‘will there be a sequel?’, ‘who is your favourite author?’. I’ve even been asked ‘Do you know where the ladies toilets are?*’. Although I suspect that question wasn’t technically a journalistic one – as the questioner left almost immediately after I started answering by saying, “Well in many ways it isn’t as simple as giving you directions to the toilet, first of all I’d have to tell you about what my influences were…”
But the hardest question of all, is ‘how do you come up with an original idea?’Because sadly there isn’t an easy answer. It isn’t as if there’s a shop somewhere that you can go to and buy original ideas. (And even if there were I wouldn’t tell other people where it was or they’d all be doing this…)
My guilty secret is that many of my ‘original’ ideas are distilled from the original ideas of others. Because for me, true originality isn’t always about inventing something new and novel. A lot of the time it’s actually about taking an old idea, then twisting it, stretching it and squashing it, until you have something much more interesting.
Take Unicorns. We’re always told they’re peace loving, rainbow burping creatures of wonder and beauty. But how could that possibly be true? They have enormously long, razor sharp horns protruding from the centre of their foreheads. I wouldn’t imagine they’re just using them to tickle each other. Look around the rest of nature and examine other animals with dangerous horns – bulls, goats, rams – none of them are renowned for their pleasant or docile natures.
And what about pirates? They’re always pictured below decks swinging in hammocks. But is that really a sensible storage solution? I don’t want to give away any secrets, but let’s be honest when you’re dealing with a group of people who have hooks for hands, wouldn’t it be just as easy to hang them from a clothes rail?
But where do I get these explanations from? Well I think it all started when I was younger. Books were magical to me, in many ways they still are. But I’ve never been what you might call a discerning reader. There’s something wonderful about words whether they’re written on an e-reader, a first edition or even on the back of a cereal pack.
And this meant that I picked up any text there was to hand, reading my way through stories of knights and wizards, alongside fairy tales and Agatha Christie mysteries. Somewhere along the line there was cross fertilisation and I found myself wondering what would happen if these wildly differing worlds collided. What would happen if we didn’t just accept that dragons, pirates and witches existed? What if someone actually had to explain the motivations and back stories of all fictional and fairy tale characters?
Hastings leaned over the ghastly, incinerated corpse and flinched. The air was thick with the smell of singed flesh and burnt gingerbread. “It looks like nothing more than a run of the mill baking accident, Poirot.”
The little Belgian pinched the tips of his moustache. “Peutêtre…but then again, perhaps that is exactly what Monsieur Hansel and Mademoiselle Gretel wanted us to think…”
So you might have read about pirates, dinosaurs and unicorns before – but – if you look at them from the slightly skewed angle, you can end up in some very strange places indeed. To go back to the musical analogy, I didn’t invent unicorns, but hopefully you’ll like my cover version of them.
So that’s where I got my book from. Looking at other genres including the accepted facts about mythical creatures,and then wondering if there were rather more sinister explanations behind them. Because I don’t know about you, but I just don’t buy that the dinosaurs were all wiped out by one asteroid. I mean – they’d have had to all be standing very close together….
*Just in case you’re wondering where the ladies toilets are, just go straight down to the end of the corridor, turn right and it’s the second door on your left. It’s right opposite the shop that sells original ideas (RATS! I wasn’t meant to tell you where that was, was I?).
(c) Paul Gamble
About The Ministry of SUITs (Strange, Unusual and Impossible Things)
The Ministry of SUITs is a debut novel for boys and girls aged 10+from Paul Gamble. A novel full of adventure, hilarity, heroism and …pirates, The Ministry of SUITs tells the story of a secret Ministry hidden away in the far reaches of the Ulster Museum in Belfast. It deals with all the strange, unusual and impossible things in the world, the things we don’t want to have to think about or deal with as perfectly-normal-thank-you-very-much people: ancient monsters, wild animals, pirates, aliens and much more. Some people are born to work in the Ministry, and 12-year-old Jack is one of those people. Endlessly curious, perhaps to a level that might be called nosy, Jack finds himself and his frenemy Trudy as the Ministry’s newest recruits. And their first mission? To find out where all the school oddbods are disappearing to…
The Ministry of SUITs is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!
Paul Gamble was born and brought up in Belfast. He currently works in the Department of Communities, working closely with arts and cultural institutions throughout Northern Ireland. Over the years Paul has written and worked on a number of local and national television and radio shows. He has also worked with a range of stand up comedians. Some of the most recent shows he has worked on have included BBC NI’s ‘The Blame Game’ and ‘Eureka! – the Big Bang query’ for RTE. This is his first novel.