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The write way is to start by listening

"WHERE do you get your ideas for your books?" I'm often asked. As I'm a bit of a joker, I sometimes pretend that I've signed up to a mail-order company that sends me a box of ideas every month, and that I've a stack of them under the bed. The scary thing is that I am sometimes taken seriously!

I have mulled over the question because it's a guaranteed to be asked during a radio interview, and it gets me every time. I wish there was a short, simple answer but there's not. I'll try and explain:

I am a good listener. People who listen usually have lots of friends. Listeners are infinitely preferable to people who interrupt or shout over you. If you listen, people will think you are great company. If you are on a date and encourage the man to talk as much as possible the chances are that he will enjoy your company. If you talk non-stop about yourself, your job, your family, your ex, your assets, The X Factor, etc he will, most likely, find you annoying.

The problem with most people is that they are not good listeners. When somebody is telling them a story, they get side-tracked or bored. They look over that person's shoulder to see if anybody more interesting has come into the room, or they interrupt because they think they have something more fascinating or funnier to say.

Being a good listener requires patience. If somebody is speaking very slowly, you might find yourself wishing they had a fast forward button so that you could hurry them along. Likewise, if somebody is rabbiting on at breakneck speed, you want to press their 'pause' button.


If you are a writer, you don't find people boring, or wish they would stop talking about themselves, because they are giving you material. You cannot be a writer without having a huge appreciation for other people's lives. Writers rarely wish to be the star of the show. They observe. Writers absorb their surroundings. They are like sponges.

Of course, you never tell people that you find their stories incredible and that you are mentally storing them for future reference. God, no. They would immediately stop talking to you. They would become self-conscious, or freak out.

Often the same people who talk non-stop and describe every detail of their lives, express the wish to write a book. But I know they never will. They will never shut up long enough to sit down alone in a room and write 100,000 words. They are too busy talking about the book they would write if they had the time.

Talkers talk. And writers listen.