It’s a question every writer has been asked, more than once, in their career. And I never know what the asker expects to hear – that there is some kind of Inspiration department store, perhaps, a fantastical John Lewis that is ‘Never Knowingly Unimaginative’ – but my answer is always boringly unhelpful: from everywhere.
I tell them that I always carry a notebook and pen so that I can jot down the snippets of conversation, snatches of description and fragmented thoughts I might one day recycle. Sometimes I’ll snap a photo of a setting, to make sure the details are there when I need them. And I keep an assortment of pets, handy when you’re writing a book about – I dunno – a rabbit who becomes the star of Saturday night TV. Or a dog who tries to taste-test next door’s cat…
For the inspiration behind my current book, Completely Cassidy: Accidental Genius, you’d need to go back several years to when my daughter was in her early teens. She went through a phase of being obsessed with finding her big talent – something she excelled at above all other things. So we did a sort of Talent Audit, where we listed all the things she was good at. These included hoola hooping (on our last visit to Disneyworld, she trounced all comers in a Magic Kingdom Hoola Hoop contest), arguing (probably more of an innate teen ability) and an alarmingly aggressive aptitude for Wii Mariokart. Then I remembered the time I’d been summoned into school for a meeting with the Head of Year Seven, to discuss her CAT results. ‘She’s scored off the charts,’ he said, beaming at me. ‘We think she’s the brightest student we’ve ever had…’
Predictably, my daughter didn’t count academic ability as much of a talent, especially when compared to my capacity to lick my own elbow. But we eventually settled on a more holistic approach: individually, her talents might be less obvious but combined, they made her that most enviable of things: an all-rounder. In time, she accepted this was a good thing (mollified by the proviso that at any moment a hidden talent might leap out on her). What the audit also did was plant an idea in my mind for a character, a girl on the edge of growing up who longed to find something special about herself. Because it seemed to me that if my daughter felt that way, others would too. And so Completely Cassidy: Accidental Genius was born – starring hilarious, cringe-along Cassidy, trying to stand out among her chaotic family, searching for her THING.
In among the laughs, I hope there’s something very sweet and endearing about Cassidy – an everygirl aspect of her that readers will identify with. We all like to think we’re special but the over-riding message of Completely Cassidy is that it’s the sum of our parts, rather than one single ability, that make us amazing. Which, in these times of Insta-fame and Celeb-worship, feels like a pretty important message to get across.
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