Once, when I was young, probably about ten, I met an elderly man courtesy of my father and grandfather.  He lived a couple of streets away from my granddad in Portsmouth and we had walked round to see him in the summer sunshine. The three of them spoke in hushed tones punctuated with nods toward a model ship in a glass cabinet. I remember the cabinet being dusty - the house too, dusty, decorated in the style prevalent of the 1950’s, which in the early 1970’s seemed to my eye very old-fashioned.   All I wanted to do was go outside and play. He was polite, this elderly gent, but not interesting to a ten year old girl.  He had large watery eyes and a head of white hair, as if snow had fallen on him and he hadn’t shaken it off.  I remember his house felt uncomfortably hot.  I was keen to leave as soon as my father and grandfather had finished their chat with him but as is ever the case with children when they’re having to do something they don’t want to, the time dragged. 
Eventually however, we did leave the man and headed back to granny and granddad’s house, my father and grandfather quite solemn after their visit.  I was allowed to the park, and raced there as fast as my feet could carry me to whizz around on the wooden roundabout until I felt sick.
Wind forward a few decades and this evening I have been watching television interviews with the men who fought and survived the First World War, presumably recorded in the 1960’s and 70’s. Their eloquence is breathtaking; all those grainy film images we have seen so often were being brought to life - suddenly the films were no longer black and white silent films of men drenched in mud and blood, but a narration of what it really, truly, was like to have been there.  And for some, even if they didn’t say much, the look in their eyes said it all.
It was as I listened to their stories, I began to realise how the power of a true story, a genuine experience, woven into a fiction novel can make that novel so potent it takes your breath away when you read it.  As writers, we’re not all going to be lucky enough to find ‘the’ true-life story that becomes an obsession that just has to be written, but as we know inspiration comes out of the blue and unannounced.  We just have to be open to it arriving.

And the elderly gent I met all those years ago as a child but failed to appreciate?  He had been a cabin boy on the Titantic.