Where do writers get their ideas from?

Found: a mummified monkey in the ceiling of a department store

This was the headline that screamed out from my computer screen back in April 2018.

It's the sort of headline that gets my writerly brain whooping with excitement and reaching for the next notebook.

It's the sort of headline that gets me thinking: what if?

  • What if it wasn't an animal but the body of a man?
  • What if someone hid him there on purpose?
  • What if it suddenly dropped out of the ceiling of a Maidstone town centre office on a busy Monday morning?
  • The monkey had been discovered in the ceiling of a department store in New York some years ago, and the owners had only recently found out how it got there in the first place, but the story fascinated me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

    A month later, I attended CrimeFest in Bristol, UK and stayed with family afterwards. In Dorset, I visited a pub that underwent extensive works some time ago and noticed that on the wall next to the bar hung a framed mummified body of a cat. The poor creature had been discovered in the wall of the pub during the renovations.

    You see, centuries ago, it was commonplace for cats to be sealed within the walls of finished buildings to ward off evil spirits (I know, horrible), only to be discovered when those same buildings were renovated or something went wrong with the plumbing years later and walls had to be broken down to solve the issue.

    Medieval script

    Reaching Maidstone a few days later, I wanted to take some photographs of Gabriels Hill to share with you but I couldn't because all the cobblestones had been ripped up and heavy plant machinery filled the street.

    The town centre was in the final throes of major redevelopment works that had taken place over the past two or three years, with many of the old buildings receiving overdue facelifts.

    On my return to Australia for the last time, the story of the mummified monkey wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept going around in my head, day after day.

    Then, when I was starting to prepare for our imminent emigration back to the south of England and publishing the sixth book in the Detective Kay Hunter series, Gone to Ground, the temperature back in the UK was starting to rise.

    And it kept going.

    Before long, I was getting daily updates from my friends in the UK and chuckling to myself about their reactions to the uncustomary warmth – the past three summers I'd spent in Brisbane were phenomenally hot; high temperatures were normal there.

    For the UK, it was anything but normal

    Angle grinder

    One of the best things about being a writer is the synchronicity by which information and events seem to drop into my lap once I have an initial idea for a story. Bridge to Burn was no different.

    I began to sketch out the first tentative chapters, and the story began to take shape but I had to make sure it was believable.

    Finally, a friend who is an ex-coroner sealed the deal for me – he told me the premise I emailed to him worked because he'd seen similar instances in his time working in British Colombia.

    Suddenly, all the pieces fell into place about how a body might have been hidden in a building and then become mummified, and the story for Bridge to Burn grew and grew until it became the completed novel that was published on 13 January 2019.

    All because of a news story about a mummified monkey that had been discovered in the ceiling of a department store in New York.

    You can read more about that here.

    4 Comments

    1. So interesting, that a concept catches you and won’t let loose until you write about it. I think similar experiences happens to others, but the writing skills aren’t available to them as they are to you. 😊

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