The Stories Behind The Stories In ‘Paperchase…’

Pluto (is relevant, honest)

Pluto (is relevant, honest)

Now come on, you didn’t truly expect me to never mention my recently-launched e-book of short stories ever again, did you?

As they say on Miranda, ‘bear with’ – it’s only for a bit longer.

5 of the stories in the collection were placed in competitions and the other 7 were first published in Woman’s Weekly (a little while ago, though. You’re only allowed to re-publish stories yourself 18 months after they first appear in the magazine. That’s a WW rule, anyway – other magazines may differ).

If you want to write for WW yourself – or you’re just interested in where ideas for short stories come from – then you might find this useful:

1. Chatterboxes

I used to work in an office with a girl – let’s call her Denise – who happily chattered away about her family all day and unwittingly gave me several lines of dialogue, a couple of great characters and some plot ideas for stories. The nervy mother in ‘The Worst That Could Happen’ is based on Denise’s own mother, the title and subsequent dialogue in ‘Love You A Hundred’ comes directly from something her little boy once said and the classic line ‘I come to work for a rest!’ uttered by a character in ‘Accidents Will Happen’, well that’s a direct quote from Denise. Bless her.

So, if you have chatty colleagues that you feel like punching, DON’T! Tune in! They might be a great source of inspiration. Just make sure, if you use anything you overhear them saying, that you change names (at least!) and preferably a lot more, so that no-one can be identified or offended!

2. Newspapers & Notices

I got the idea for the first story in the collection, ‘Knitting for Zambia’, from a notice pinned up in my local library, asking people to ‘Knit for Zambia. Any colour except white.’ White, the notice explained, ‘is the colour of mourning in Zambia’. Then I asked myself ‘what if?’ ‘What If someone knitted something in white…? And the story took off from there.

The story ‘Heroes, Just for One Day’ originated from a small item in a newspaper. A man had been denied access to a bus, by its driver, because he was two minutes early (he had one of those off-peak passes). He was so incensed, that he told the driver he’d race him to the next stop and then he’d have to let him on board….

The inspiration for ‘The Curse of The Sheep Baby’ also came from a newspaper article. And, interestingly, the new Chinese Year this February is the year of the sheep (or goat) again. (Which just shows how long ago it was, that I got that idea!). According to the article I read, in some parts of China, pregnant women wanted to be induced, so that they didn’t have a ‘sheep baby’. They’re supposed to be unlucky.

I always scour notice boards – in village halls, shop windows, supermarkets, anywhere. I’ve had more than one idea from a notice board. And newspapers (dare I say it, the tabloids, rather than the broadsheets) are often great for story ideas but you need to look out for small, human interest stories rather than the big stories, that lots of people will write about.

3. The Radio

I love Paul O’Grady on Radio 2 on a Sunday afternoon. Listening to his programme during a drive home one weekend, gave me the idea for ‘A Certain Someone’. A listener had written in about his wife, who had once, when they were young and still courting, rescued him from a tree, by carrying a ladder half a mile across a field. That’s just a gift for a writer, isn’t it?

I’ve started listening to Radio 4 in my car, since the beginning of the year. As much as I love singing along to Radio 2 (and I still won’t be giving up Paul O’Grady), I’ve decided that it is a bit of a waste of all those hours that I spend driving. (Remember, I live in the MON – Middle of Nowhere). So, now I’m tuning into Woman’s Hour and The Archers and learning all kinds of interesting stuff, some of which may well find its way into a story or two…

4. Mnemonics

It’s hard to say that word, isn’t it? You know what I mean though: ‘Richard of York Gave Battle In Vain’, is the mnemonic that helps you remember the colours of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow and all that jazz); you can remember the fate of the 8 wives of Henry VIII if you recite this little ditty, ‘ divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’ (of course, you then have to remember their names, but I can’t find a mnemonic for that).

There are lots more here.

Anyway, I can’t remember exactly why or how, but I used the mnemonic for the order of the planets in the solar system: ‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles’* as the inspiration for a story in the collection, which is about a step-family and a slightly-neurotic mother who has declared her intention to go on a one-way trip to Mars (my mum used to say she was going to jump out of the window. She laughs when I mention that now and says she was ‘only joking!’… hmmm).

*If you’re looking for Pluto, remember poor old Pluto got demoted in 2006.

My e-book short story collection,’Paperchase and Other Stories‘ is for sale on Amazon, at just £1.99.

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14 Responses to The Stories Behind The Stories In ‘Paperchase…’

  1. Tracy Fells says:

    I love hearing the inspiration behind stories. Thanks for this, Helen. I also listen to R4 in the car and stories/interviews on Woman’s Hour have triggered several short stories for me.

    • Tracy, that’s interesting. I don’t know why I haven’t been listening to Radio 4 before now but you sometimes just get into a habit, don’t you and you don’t even think of doing something different!

  2. juliathorley says:

    How generous of you to share your secrets. I have a list of malapropisms I’ve overheard, and one day they’re going to make some fabulous stories (she says, modestly).

  3. traceyglasspool says:

    Really interesting inspirations Helen. And now I’m popping over to Amazon to buy your book!

  4. lauraclipson says:

    I love how you found those ideas, clearly I need to start paying more attention to things around me! Just bought your book, I love short stories 🙂

  5. Laura, thank you! It’s great to hear someone say ‘I love short stories’. We don’t hear that enough!

  6. Keith Havers says:

    There’s inspiration for stories everywhere isn’t there, Helen? I base quite a few of mine for Yours and PF on time with my grandson. I also like listening to phone conversations on the bus to get ideas. (You can’t help but overhear).
    I like the mnemonic about camels sitting down which helps to remember geological periods Triassic, Jurrasic, Cretaceous etc.

  7. Helen – always interesting to hear how stories come about.
    My children learned this at school to remember who were the six wives of Henry VIII: Katy, Annie, Janie, Annie, Katy, Katy!

  8. jadwriter says:

    Interesting what inspires people to write stories. Recently I have been watching a couple of programmes (Amazing Spaces and Glorious Gardens from Above) and they have given me ideas for a few stories. Two I’ve written and the others I am going to write.

  9. Wendy Clarke says:

    I think that most of my stories has started with something that someone has said… my friends say they see ”that look in my eyes sometimes when they are speaking!

  10. Hah, that’s funny, Wendy.. and.. er, well, a bit scary…

  11. philippabowe says:

    ‘On ya Helen’ (as my Australian uncle would say) for sharing your sources of inspiration – as generous as ever. I’m never quite sure where my inspiration comes from, it seems to just surge up from the depths, so is dependent on time-out from all the mind-filling parts of daily life. I also love sitting in an airport and watching and making notes….

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