“So, where do your ideas come from?” by Cara Hunter

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Cara Hunter

Cara Hunter

“Where do your ideas some from?” At events, this is the question I get asked more than any other, and I suspect other writers find the same. And I’m not surprised, because it’s exactly the same question I’d ask a writer myself. Though it won’t surprise you to learn that it doesn’t have an easy answer.

Getting a good idea is always a process, not a single moment. Even if an idea suddenly comes pops into your head, you can usually trace its origins back a lot further (at least that’s how it works with me).

I like to think of the ideas process as being a bit like a magpie’s nest. Writers are always great readers, and great collectors – ‘snappers-up of unconsidered trifles’. I think we do this instinctively, picking up scraps here and there and filing them away, either in our brains or (even better) in our Moleskines. It might be something you read in the news – something that gets you asking the question ‘why? And ‘how on earth did that happen?’ Or someone you see in the street who catches your eye and starts you wondering about their back-story, and what it would be like to live in their skin. Or somewhere you visit for the first time that’s so atmospheric you come out in goose-bumps. Or even – and this has happened to me – something you’ve dreamt, which always feels like your silent and subconscious mind giving you a nudge.

If you’re really really lucky a moment like that will prompt an idea straightaway. But in my experience, more often than not you just file it and forget it. At least consciously.  But over time all those different snippets sit there in the back of your brain and something magical can start to happen. Half an idea can turn into a fully-fledged plot. Or two or three apparently disparate ideas can ‘stick’ to each other and the combination that emerges is something genuinely new.

This is particularly important in crime. True and authentic ‘originality’ is as elusive as hen’s teeth. As Lord Byron memorably said, “As to originality, all pretensions are ludicrous, – ‘there is nothing new under the sun’.” And that was 1813 (*sigh*). And if it’s true for books in general it’s even more so in crime fiction, which is such a crowded genre, both on the page and on screen, and where absolutely every possible scenario seems to have been done before, ten times over.  But what I think of as the ‘clustering’ of ingredients from different sources can be a recipe for a finished product that feels more original to readers than any of the sources it sprang from.

And even if the idea isn’t 100% ‘new’ in terms of the plot or the mise-en-scène, it can be new in terms of the approach.  And that’s broadly what happened with In The Dark. The central idea was a combination of an old news story, a setting, and a new twist.

The old news story was the appalling case of Josef Fritzl, who was discovered, in 2008, to have imprisoned his daughter Elizabeth in an elaborately constructed basement beneath his home in Austria. She was 18 when he incarcerated her, and he went on to father seven children – one who died as a baby, three who remained in the cellar with Elizabeth, and three who were brought up by Fritzl and his wife, who claimed they ‘found’ them on the doorstep. And yet no-one suspected anything, not even the social workers who regularly visited the house.

As for the setting, that was much ‘closer to home’. I live in a lovely and leafy part of North Oxford, an almost perfectly preserved Victorian suburb. Near where we live there are roads with huge three- and four-story houses, some of them beautifully restored by families who’ve bought them in the last few years, others much more run-down, which probably haven’t changed hands in decades. And as my husband memorably commented, on a walk one day, “There could be a girl in the basement in one of those huge old places and no-one would even know….” And the rest, as they say, is history….

And no – I’m not going to tell you the twist!

(c) Cara Hunter

About In the Dark:

From the author of the massive bestseller Close to Home, comes the second pulse-pounding DI Fawley crime thriller.

A woman and child are found locked in a basement room, barely alive.

No one knows who they are – the woman can’t speak, and there are no missing persons reports that match their profile. The elderly man who owns the house claims he has never seen them before.

The inhabitants of the quiet Oxford street are in shock. How could this happen right under their noses? But DI Adam Fawley knows that nothing is impossible.

And that no one is as innocent as they seem . . .


‘A classy, agile, fresh, unpredictable and utterly compelling gift of a book: hats off!’ NICCI FRENCH

‘Cara Hunter is the new queen of the cliffhanger: fans of Close To Home are not going to be disappointed’ JOHN MARRS

‘A real gripper of a read’ PETER JAMES

Order your copy online here.

About the author

I’m lucky enough to live in the city I write about. Oxford will be familiar to crime fans across the whole world because of the fabulous Morse novels and TV, but my version of the town is a long way from the beautiful ivy-clad colleges. A much edgier place where the crimes are darker and closer to home.
I’ve always been a voracious reader and viewer of crime – I’ve learned so much from the outstanding writing that we now see on crime TV like Line of Duty or Broadchurch, and I’ve tried to recreate the experience of watching series like that for my readers. I love true crime TV as well – my husband used to tease me about it but now just nods sagely and says ‘research’ !
What else about me? I have pet cats who do their best to distract me whenever I get close to a keyboard (if you have cats, you’ll know), I love travelling, spending time with friends, and I have never knowingly turned down a glass of champagne….

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