We’ve all had it. That “aha!” moment when an idea hits you in the face, dazzling you with white light. And you write it down and you stuff it in a mental compartment and you think, “Now that would make a good story.” And how many of us just leave it there, throbbing away in its locked box, a story waiting to be told?
I’ve had lots of moments of inspiration and it is wonderful. The thrill of it, the excitement, the possibilities. But I also know only too well the truth of what Thomas Edison said, “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” Labouring for that story, mixing your creative juice with the initial idea and striving to complete it, that’s the real test of whether you have what it takes to bring inspiration to life.
This was certainly the case with my latest book, Lifeline for Lee. In January 2016 I was on Fish Hoek Beach, enjoying a day out with my family. School was about to begin and my husband and I thought we’d go for one last trip to the beach (Fish Hoek is perfect for kids because of the proximity of three of their favourite things – the sea, a great play area and ICE-CREAM!)
While we were sitting gazing at the surf, I happened to notice a lifeguard. She was tall, blonde-haired, bronzed and beautiful. And I don’t know why, but just looking at her in her red bathing costume perched at the top of her watch tower, I thought, That would make a great story. A teenage girl who’s a life guard. I gathered up the courage to go and talk to her (her name was Jennifer) and discovered that she went to Fish Hoek High. Aha! I thought. More ideas were swirling around inside me, like atoms stimulated under pressure. I thought of all the friends my fictional lifeguard had – surfers, lifeguards, besties at school – and suddenly the story began to take shape in my mind, although it was still fragile, still somewhat nebulous.
I’m a great planner (I get it from my mom, I guess), so when my husband and I went away for our anniversary in April that year, I began to plot and scheme. What would the lifeguard’s name be? I decided on Lee, a strong, short name. Also it worked well with my title, Lifeline for Lee. What would the story arc look like? What would be the inciting event that turned Lee’s life upside down?
And so it began – the story started to sprout arms and legs. And just when I thought I’d thrown enough at Lee to sink her – a boy who drowns on her watch, her life falling apart, her studies suffering – my husband suggested a climax which staggered me, a culmination of all the anguish Lee’s experiencing. It seemed cruel to make your protagonist go through so much and yet, at the same time, it seemed fitting.
So I accepted his suggestion and worked out my character sketches and chapter briefs. Then I interviewed Jennifer, visited the township Masiphumelele, Fish Hoek High School and some other local hang-outs like Cape To Cuba (pictured left) and sat down to begin the long, arduous marathon of writing every day until the story was done. Even though it was a slog, I loved every minute of it. I loved immersing myself in Lee’s story. There is an incredible adrenaline rush you get from doing the thing you enjoy the most. As the character of Eric Liddell said in Chariots of Fire, “When I run, I feel the pleasure of God.” It’s the same with me and writing.
So now the cover has been designed, the formatting done and book has been published. You’d think that was the end of it, right? Oh no. There’s still the job of marketing it, connecting the book with the right audience who will pass on the word to others. I’m toying with the idea of a hard copy too, for those who prefer to turn physical pages rather than Kindle ones. People have already started to ask about the sequel.
So, if I’m honest with myself, I’d say the process of delivering books never really ends. It’s like housework – you finish doing the laundry, but then you still need to hang it up. What I do know, though, is how exhilirating it is seeing the fruit of your labour as a finished product – and remembering that little spark of inspiration that started it all.