This week, please welcome accomplished writer, blogger and Alliance of Independent Authors member, Debbie Young.

t:   @DebbieYoungBN

Like Jacci, I have the classic author's habit of spotting moments in real life that spark story ideas. As with Frankenstein’s monster, these sparks go on ignite new life with an energy of their own, and subtly different from their real-life origins.

I’ve always had the instincts of a newshound, nurtured by my earlier career in journalism (another parallel with Jacci), but when I’m writing fiction, I’m obviously no longer bound by a duty to be truthful! (Ever the optimist, I like to think most journalists are essentially truthful!)

Snippets of conversation are a gold-mine for writers. Once, visiting a stately home, I observed a middle-aged lady walking down a long corridor at the end of which hung a floor-to-ceiling mirror. She suddenly stopped in her tracks. “Oh my goodness, I thought for a moment that was my aunt coming towards me.” It wasn’t her aunt at all, but her own reflection. Until that moment, she hadn’t realised how similar they were – or how much she had aged. That single sentence resulted in my story set at the winter solstice, Lighting Up Time, in which a young woman’s grief for her late aunt is resolved by an unexpected encounter with a mirror.

Sometimes not just soundbites but whole events fuel story ideas, such as when I had my first child. The night after she was born, I didn’t sleep a wink, but lay gazing at my baby overwhelmed by the realisation that I was suddenly responsible for her well-being. Fast forward 10 years, to Out of the Mouths of Babes, a whimsical story in my flash fiction collection Quick Change about a newborn baby that gives its awestruck mother a comforting pep talk. When my father read the story years later, he commented “I see you changed the names to protect the innocent, then?”

The next story in that collection was not so consciously autobiographical. In “Going to Grandma’s”, three children squabble in the back of the car on a long journey, the youngest child squashed in the middle of the seat. The older siblings accidentally knock their heads together, concussing themselves without their parents noticing. On reading this tale, my big brother said to me “Is that wish fulfilment?” I’m the youngest of three...

Wish-fulfilment wasn’t my conscious intention in that story, but it is in others. In “Christmas Time”, featured in my new Christmas short story collection, Stocking Fillers, a busy mum receives an alarm clock that enables her to make the rest of the world stand still while she catches up with her chores. I so need one of those!

Similarly, I'd quite like the magic formula in The Alchemy of Chocolate (in Quick Change) that enables a woman to turn her excess body fat into gold. And the final story in Stocking Fillers, I allow an old lady to enjoy a contented last Christmas that is quite different from that of the elderly friend who inspired the character. My lovely next-door-neighbour Hester (90) and her husband James (96) were so ill during that miserable December in 1999 that they had to call me on Boxing Day to go in to plump up their pillows, as they were too weak to do so themselves.

On a more cheerful note, it’s not only carefully observed events that suggest stories. Misheard discussions can also be enjoyable prompts. A couple of Christmases ago, with half an ear tuned to the radio, I thought I was listening to a cookery feature, and was alarmed to hear that turkey doesn’t have its own missile defence system. It was actually a news report about conflict in the Middle East and the vulnerability of the Turkish nation. On realising my error, I devised the short story The Owl and The Turkey: The Real Reason That We Eat Turkey at Christmas, a fairy-tale style shaggy-dog story in which the news report becomes the punchline. It is not, of course, the real reason - I made it all up! My hare-brained moment (to add a fourth animal to the mix) was shared with a wider audience when “The Owl and The Turkey” was picked to feature as the “treat” behind the door of the Mumsnet online advent calendar.

Advent calendars – now there’s an idea with more story potential... See, I just can't stop myself! Maybe next year...

Thank you, Jacci, for hosting me on your lovely blog today, and I wish you and all your readers a very happy Christmas, whether real or imagined! 

Buying links on Amazon UK for the stories mentioned above:

Quick Change

Stocking Fillers

The Owl and The Turkey

Lighting Up Time