Inspiration For The Imagination

 One of the frequent questions children ask writers is where they get their ideas from. Ideas can come from childhood experiences. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was inspired by Roald Dahl going to school close to Cadbury’s and regularly being given new chocolate bars to test. At this time, chocolate makers often tried to steal trade secrets by sending spies into rival factories pretending to be employees, giving Dahl fuel for his story.  Doctor Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) said his desire to create rhymes came from his mother, who would send him to sleep by chanting them to him and Horrid Henry was inspired by its author, Francesca Simon, growing up the eldest of four, desperately wanting to be an only child.

Places often spark creativity too. As a child, Cressida Cowell, author of the How to Train a Dragon series, used to go on holiday with her family to an uninhabited island. At night, her father told tales of Vikings and legends of dragons who were supposed to live in the island’s caves. She says, ‘It seemed perfectly possible that dragons might live in this wild, stormy place.’

Ideas for books are often found close to home. In Allan and Janet Ahlberg’s picture book Peepo their daughter Jessica became the inspiration behind Janet’s illustration of the baby and the story reflected Allan’s childhood. Eoin Colfer said Artemis Fowl was inspired by a picture of his brother dressed up in his Sunday best, and took on more and more of the characteristics of his own son. J.M Barrie got the idea for Peter Pan’s lost boys from Sylvia Llewellyn Davies’ children. They had recently lost their father and J.M Barrie would make up fantasies about a place called Neverland for them. As a young girl, Beatrix Potter had numerous small animals as pets and would draw them endlessly. She would go on to write and illustrate Peter Rabbit and many other well-loved stories. The Mr Men books came to life because Roger Hargreaves’ son asked him what a tickle looked like.

Objects can give authors ideas for stories too. The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon was inspired by the Lewis Chess pieces in the British Museum. The church where Lewis Carroll’s father was a rector for twenty-five years has a stone carving of a cat’s face, which when viewed from below has a huge grin. People guess that this was his inspiration for the Cheshire Cat in Alice and Wonderland.

Writers say their work is influenced by other people. For Jeremy Strong it is Spike Milligan. Some books are based on Greek mythology, such as the Percy Jackson series or are influenced by the myths of the Northern Europeans, including The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. A seed for a book can grow from a conversation. Michael Morpurgo wrote War Horse after an elderly war veteran told him of the horse with whom he served during the Great War. Clearly, inspiration can be found in all sorts of places.

The idea for my book, St Viper’s School for Super Villains, came from my son. My husband and I worked out that whenever he came home from school with a new devious trick, he’d been playing with the older kids. ‘They’re teaching us to be villains,’ he said with a wicked grin. I’ve always loved baddies in stories: Cruella De Vil, Captain Hook, Dick Dastardly in Wacky Races. Villains are never dull and always have the best lines. I picked up a pen and started writing the story.

Kim Donovan

Electrik Inc

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