Where do you get your ideas? – Jenny Oliver

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By Jenny Oliver

This is one of those questions that looms on the horizon of a writing chat – my mind spinning in overdrive to think of an answer better than, I have no idea. Many authors that I read about have copious ideas sitting lined up in their heads waiting patiently until it’s their turn. Others raid the tabloids. Some wake up in the night to scribble an entire plot in biro on the duvet cover. ♥

I’ve realised, as I come to plot my new novel, that my ideas come in the same way as my plots take shape. They start big and brash and melodramatic and then as I write and re-write, plot and re-plot, they hone down into something smaller and subtler. All my big, grand setting ideas slowly turn into places I popped into once on a holiday as a kid or are built from the ground upwards based on the smell of the garden one rainy summer afternoon or the light coming through a hotel curtain on a sunny but freezing winter break.

The initial characters with their huge, personality defining issues and conflicts morph instead into someone I read about in a magazine as I’m revising the book who has a lovely life but slips up every now and again during their interview by revealing a little sigh of loneliness or dissatisfaction.

More often my ideas come from necessity. When after the first draft is written and the revision letter is in my inbox and I’m working out how best to demolish this giant skyscraper then root around in the rubble for what to save, I find myself in need of more. More of the little bricks to help with the rebuild and mortar to plug the gaps. At the time it’s mindboggling. Afterwards, it’s a joy! Because it’s the little bits, the shifts, the alterations to characters that you now know really well and will soon know even better, that makes the plot really come together. This is where the conversation I heard on the bus the day before suddenly becomes useful and the article in the weekend paper is a godsend.

Behind every book I’ve written are also a number of sullen, teenage-esque chats with my mum where I moan about why something isn’t working and she dares to suggest that perhaps it’s because it isn’t how it would happen in real life. And there’s more than one friend’s dilemma re-envisaged among the pages.

So where do I get my ideas? To start with I find anything I can – I hunt the dark recesses of my brain for memories of holidays and relationships, I watch loads of films and TV shows, I go to exhibitions with the excuse that I’m filling my creative well!, I panic and create some characters with big, blowsy conflicts. Then, when there are words on the page, I knock it all down and start to find the little ideas. The snippets, the worries, the incidentals. These come from everywhere and everything around me… From something as banal as a chat with my sister about a NutriBullet to a shrugged suggestion from my mum to just call the guy Bruno and rewrite him, to a forgotten photograph of a breakfast in an Italian B&B with a lemon and orange grove in the garden. That was all for The Sunshine and Biscotti Club. For my next book I’m just at the big, melodramatic ideas stage! There’s a long journey ahead, and a lot of eavesdropping on the bus still to come…


Jenny Oliver wrote her first book on holiday when she was ten years old. Illustrated with cut-out supermodels from her sister’s Vogue, it was an epic, sweeping love story not so loosely based on Dynasty. Since then Jenny has gone on to get an English degree and a job in publishing that’s taught her what it takes to write a novel. Jenny’s love of all things vintage, Sunday morning car boot sales, macaroons and Christmas have inspired her novels The Parisian Christmas Bake Off, The Vintage Summer Wedding and The Little Christmas Kitchen. She has also written a bestselling ebook series of novellas, all set around the idyllic Cherry Pie Island.

jennyoliverbooks.com

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