“Where do you get your ideas from?” The seven little words that every writer dreads to hear. Why?
Because it’s a really tough question to answer, at least it is if you worry about your image.
“They just come to me.” You sound smug.
“I don’t know.” You sound like an idiot.
“You have to work at them.” You sound trite.
“Ideas are everywhere.” You sound like a trite, smug idiot.
The truth is a little bit of all of the above and some more besides. You pick up ideas from multiple sources. You might see a news item or overhear a snippet of conversation. You might see an incident in the street and wonder what led up to it. You might watch people on their way to work and start thinking about who they are and where they’re going. You might – whisper it – get ideas from reading other books.
In the case of Fallen Star the initial idea came, believe it or not, from watching TV.
“Are you slumped in front of that box again?”
“Shhh... I’m researching my new book.”
I was watching a bunch of people on a reality show trying to become pop stars and it started me thinking about reversing the situation. What if you took a pop star and made him an ordinary person, an overnight failure?
That was the basis of the novel but once I started to sketch it out I realised it needed more. Stories thrive on conflict but this wasn’t the kind of book to have an arch villain. So what if Karl’s father, Gerald, had never wanted him to be a pop star? Family tension there. And what if he met someone, Lizzie, who didn’t know he was a star and didn’t really care? Love interest too, this could be going somewhere.
So far so good but it really needed more conflict. How about if Gerald and Lizzie are destined not to get on? Why might that be? A newspaper came to the rescue this time with a feature about Northern Ireland. What if she’s Irish and he was in the army and wounded in the Ulster Troubles? Better than that, what if her family was on the other side of the conflict? Suddenly you’ve not only got conflict you have a whole sub-plot going on and your story is developing lots of interesting layers.
It sounds simple when you write it down like that, but it doesn’t all come at once. It’s like doing a jigsaw with half the pieces missing. Occasionally you find a new bit but it seems to be from a completely different puzzle. Sometimes you’re tempted to use a hammer to make it fit!
The idea is to find the right pieces, and put them in order. The trick is to realise that there’s no “right” order. It’s your book and you have to make it work the way you want.
So really it doesn’t matter where you get your ideas from. It’s how you use them that counts.
About Ian Barker:
Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Ian Barker grew up in north-east England and gained a business degree from Teesside Polytechnic in the early ’80s. In the ‘real world’ he is editor of a computer magazine and has spent over twenty five years working in information technology. He currently lives in Bolton, Greater Manchester and doesn’t own a dishwasher.
Find Ian online at his website www.iandavidbarker.co.uk, blog iandavidbarker.tumblr.com, and twitter.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~And now, for the excerpt of Fallen Star (hop back to the top | hop to the giveaway):
By Ian Barker
Published by Rebel e Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-9814256-7-2 ebook
ISBN: 978-0-9869731-8-5 POD
All is ephemeral - fame and the famous as well.
Marcus Aurelius Antonius (121-180AD)
As Liam turned off the Falls Road the engine stuttered and almost cut out. Deft footwork on throttle and clutch kept it going as Liam’s heart tried to batter its way out through his ribs. That was the trouble with stolen cars; they didn’t come with a guarantee of quality. The red Avenger had seen better days, though not at any time recently. At that moment he’d have given equal odds on whether fuel starvation or a coronary would be first to bring the plan to a halt.
Up ahead an RUC Land Rover stood at a street corner and Liam muttered a fervent prayer, ‘Please God, don’t let them be doing random checks.’ He kept his eyes fixed in front of him as he drove past, hands slippery on the wheel rim. Only when the Land Rover had been reduced to a grey Dinky toy in the mirror did he risk a glance at the sports bag on the front passenger seat. He changed up into fourth gear with only a slight crunch of protest from the car. Not much further to go.
‘Try to start it as near to half-past as you can. We’ll phone a warning five minutes later. That should give them time to clear the street but not enough to find the bomb.’ The words of the brigade quartermaster, before he left the safe house echoed in Liam’s head. A man he knew only by the codename ‘Adrian’. Adrian:
patron saint of soldiers, good choice.
A young woman with a pushchair stepped out onto the crossing ahead and he braked, stretching out his left hand to prevent the bag from slipping off the seat as the car stopped. The little boy in the chair turned and looked across at Liam, prompting him to think of his own child, Lizzie, four years old and leading her mammy a real dance. She’ll break a few hearts when she’s older, right enough. Liam smiled to himself and the boy waved. For a split second he made eye contact with the mother and wondered if she knew where he was going.
Shaking his head to dispel the idea, he revved the engine hard to prevent it stalling and drove on. Lizzie deserved better than a life where you had to look over your shoulder all the time just because of which church you attended. If he ever had doubts about resorting to the bomb and the bullet Liam told himself, it was for
her. He didn’t want her growing up in a community where more than half the men under thirty had never worked due to prejudice. He hated that innocent people might get hurt, but wasn’t it worth it for the greater good? Liam knew what bombs could do. The first time he’d been present when they’d ambushed a police patrol he’d been sick. But he’d also known active service friends who’d been shot dead by the British army. It has to be right.
Once again the car hiccoughed. ‘Come on,’ Liam said under his breath, ‘not much further and you can go out in a blaze of glory.’ The parking space might have been reserved for him, exactly where he wanted it to be. The engine stalled as he turned in, the tick of the indicator becoming loud against the silence.
Switching off the ignition he put a hand to his chest and felt the hard shape of the crucifix under his shirt. It can’t be a sin, can it, if you really believe in the cause? The thought that someone might be injured – or die – still nagged at him as his mind went back to the mother on the crossing. How could he explain to Lizzie that he’d taken another child’s life? How could he live with himself? A glimpse at his watch told him the time had come. No room for doubts now. Lifting the bag, Liam made his way to the back of the car and opened the boot – the lower edge of the lid frilled with rust. He placed the sports bag inside and wiped his hands on the seat of his jeans before pulling back the bag’s long zip.
The bomb nestled at the bottom, the timer – a cheap digital alarm clock – attached to the Semtex explosive with black insulating tape. More words from the quartermaster came into Liam’s head. ‘Everything’s pre-set. All you have to do ispress this wee button to start the clock. Then you’ll have fifteen minutes.’ A rain-heavy sky meant the inside of the boot was dark and he glanced around before lifting the device to get a better view. Much less bulky than fertilizer bombs, Semtex was easy to handle. Even so, they hadn’t been using it for long. I hope you knew what you were doing when you set this, Adrian.
Button pressed as instructed, he placed the bomb back in the bag with exaggerated care. Easy. Liam smiled. I think that calls for a beer. He slammed down the boot lid a fatal fraction too hard.
Twenty-one years later.
Rocking, as dozens of hands banged on its sides, the van edged forwards through the crowd, like a boat on a gentle swell. The band lay on the floor, soaked in sweat, giggling, alive with adrenalin.
Karl looked at the others, their eyes wide in the gloom. He had an erection. The buzz of coming off stage after a major gig always gave him one. Sneaking out the back to avoid the fans, smuggled away in a rented Transit, the recipe never failed in terms of sexual excitement.
After their first big, live performance, Karl, naïve and the youngest member of the group, had asked a roadie why they couldn’t go out the front and get into a car like normal, civilised people. The man, an ageing rocker with a greasy Elvis-style quiff, laughed out loud. He spat contemptuously on the ground before replying.
‘Risk that lot? Kid, they’d have you stripped naked in seconds.’ Karl quite liked the sound of that, dozens of frenzied girl fans tearing off his clothes. ‘Then they’d rip your bollocks off for an encore.’ That wasn’t so attractive. Karl had grown quite fond of the contents of his underpants. He made an instinctive and comforting rearrangement of the furniture as the roadie walked away.
Karl never questioned the wisdom of management transport decisions again. And he always ended each performance with an erection straining at the front of his trousers. Sometimes he’d be aroused even before coming off stage, which made the girls in the front rows go even wilder. The others in the band used to give him stick about it at first; now it was simply part of the normal routine. And, with average luck, it would be put to good use later. He’d heard it said that appearing on stage was better than sex. Karl didn’t agree, though he’d discovered that one almost always led to the other.
The van broke free of the crowd and began to accelerate away. Graham, the forty-something tour manager, minder and general fixer, sat up front beside the driver, his grey-streaked ponytail hanging down over the back of the seat. He turned his head and called through the metal grille that separated the cab from the load area, ‘Okay, guys?’
‘Cool,’ said Karl.
‘Mad for it,’ replied the others in sequence.
Another part of the tour routine. The same response they always gave, which made the band howl with laughter; mainly because Graham never seemed to see the joke. He’d been some sort of failed punk performer back in the ’70s and had clung to the fringes of the music industry ever since. He liked to think he was one of the band and the boys played along, though they always laughed at him behind his back.
Free from the threat of discovery, Karl sat up and leaned his back against the wheel arch. It wasn’t especially comfortable, but it would only be a short journey. A five minute drive through sodium-lit streets brought them to their hotel. Bland. Corporate. Five-star. They used the rear entrance again, past the kitchens and the laundry bins; past the bored staff sneaking a cigarette; past the smell of cooking, heavy in the night air. Not that it mattered; there were always fans who knew. Friends of friends of chambermaids, bribers of night porters, virtuosos of the pavement stake-out: alerted by text message and prepared to wait in the rain for a glimpse of their idols, or sometimes more.
They were ushered up in a creaking service lift. As always there were five rooms at their disposal. One each for sleeping – and other horizontal activities – and one kitted out to their rider: sofas, wide-screen TV, well-stocked fridge, a bowl of Smarties with all the green ones picked out. The management referred to this as the chill-out lounge. The band called it the decompression chamber.
What Karl always needed most after a gig was water. Performing beneath the hot lights, combined with the Ecstasy tabs they dropped before, after – and sometimes during – the show, led to dehydration. First into the decompression chamber, he grabbed a two-litre bottle from the fridge and drank a long draught. Settling onto a sofa, he scooped up a handful of Smarties – he wasn’t quite sure why they insisted on no green ones; like so many of their traditions it had begun as a joke and had stuck – and watched the others go through their familiar routines.
Ritchie came next. Peeling off his sweat-stained vest as he entered the room he threw it at Karl, who deflected it with a hand and a grin. Two inches of designer underwear showed above Ritchie’s khaki combat pants, a gold stud glittered in each ear and a tattooed dragon coiled over his left shoulder. He pulled a six-pack of lager from the fridge, downed the first can in a couple of gulps, then threw himself onto a sofa, reached for the TV remote, and searched for the soft porn channel.
Meanwhile, Leon, loose-jointed, hung with gold chains and bracelets, also grabbed himself a bottle of water. He folded his glistening black frame down beside Karl. Tilting back his shaved head he drank a few mouthfuls, then reached a hand under his T-shirt and probed his navel for fluff. The amount of navel fluff Leon generated on tour had become another piece of band folklore. They’d once persuaded him to collect a week’s output in a plastic bag. The result was quite disappointing, but the legend still lingered on.
‘Man, it was hot out there tonight,’ said Leon, his streetwise ‘gangsta’ accent always slipped towards standard-issue Salford when he was alone with the band.
The final member of the quartet, Zac, kicked the door shut behind him: pallid, spiky-blond, slim, bordering on skinny, invariably twitching with nervous energy. Karl knew his routine too. He would disappear into the bathroom and re-emerge after a few minutes, moist-eyed and wiping his nose. In the early days, Karl – who before joining the band had never come closer to drugs than smoking a cigarette behind the bike sheds at school – hadn’t understood the significance of this, until one day Leon, with his deep, sonorous laugh, had explained.
‘Coke, man. And not the kind that comes in a fancy-shaped bottle neither, know what I mean?’
‘Cocaine?’ Karl had replied, open-mouthed.
‘What’d you think he was taking? Snuff? His granny’s smelling salts?’
It explained a lot about Zac’s behaviour, about Zac in general, and Karl learned fast. He’d been something of an innocent when they’d been plucked from the obscurity of a bunch of hopefuls to become The Fallen Boys. Joining the group straight out of school, even bunking off lessons to attend the auditions, he hadn’t been at all wise to the mysteries and practices of the music industry. He smiled about it now. If his mother knew half of what went with being in a band she’d drag him off by the scruff of his neck. Sex, drugs and rock and roll: Karl often felt he was living the cliché.
Ritchie found the channel he’d been searching for and his free, non-drinking, hand slipped inside his underpants and established a steady rhythm.
‘Do you have to do that now?’ said Leon.
‘Yeah, you’ll go blind,’ added Karl.
Ritchie belched then said, ‘In that case, you should have a white stick and a Labrador by now.’
‘At least I don’t have to shave my palms every morning,’ Karl replied. ‘Anyway I’ve had more girls than you on this tour.’ He knew the banter, yet even after five years, he still let it get to him in unguarded moments.
‘That’s ’cos you’re not picky. You’ll screw the fat ones and the spotty ones.’
‘Playing with it again?’ sniffed Zac, emerging from the bathroom. ‘It’s a wonder you have any juice left.’
‘Just checking everything’s in working order. You know I always get horned-up after a gig,’ said Ritchie. ‘Anyway, did you see Karl’s boner during the last number? If that security guy at the front of the stage had turned round he could have had his eye out.’ Everyone laughed, Ritchie’s hand stopped moving and he sighed. ‘Plenty more where that came from.’ He cast aside an empty lager can and stood up. ‘I’m off to my room for a shit and a shower.’
The door of the decompression chamber opened before Ritchie got to it and in marched Patrick. ‘Where you off to?’
‘That can wait a minute.’
Ritchie grunted and turned back into the room. His hand moved to his crotch and made a strategic adjustment.
Patrick’s expensive hairpiece, Rolex watch, Savile Row suit and Italian silk tie complete with a gold pin, couldn’t disguise the fact he was over fifty and several stone overweight. They did indicate he was very rich and relentlessly vulgar. The Fallen Boys may have been responsible for a large chunk of his bank balance, but his taste in bling was all his own.
‘Great performance, lads. You had them wetting their knickers right round the stadium, good job.’ He beamed. Patrick beamed a lot. His bridgework had cost more than a small car and he liked to show it off.
‘Just wish some of them hadn’t wet their knickers before they threw ’em,’ Karl said. The boys laughed and Patrick flashed the VW Polo beam once more.
Ritchie tugged at his trousers again, bending his knees like a comedy policeman.
Patrick caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. ‘Have you been wanking again? You’ll go fucking blind, you will.’
The other three sniggered at Patrick echoing their earlier conversation.
‘Now I just needed to have a touchpoint with you before tomorrow.’ Patrick launched into management mode – he collected meaningless buzzwords like a car windscreen collects insects. ‘Remember you’re off up north. Godforsaken place you monkeys come from, so we want the works, some ace stuff.’ He surveyed Karl and Leon as they sat on the sofa. This meant he had his back to Ritchie, who, with one swift motion, dipped a hand in his pants and carefully deposited some spunk on the back of Patrick’s toupee. ‘Ace stuff,’ Patrick added for effect. Then he turned and walked out, while the band collapsed into hysterical laughter as soon as the door closed behind him.
‘You’re mad.’ Leon had recovered enough to speak.
‘Any man with that bad a syrup deserves all he gets,’ said Ritchie. ‘Anyhow, you think my stuff’s ace enough for him?’
‘It’s expensive enough,’ said Zac. The line wasn’t that funny, but he was high. He clasped his hands together as his entire slender frame shook with laughter.
The rest of the night passed the way they always did on tour. They drank, talked, ate room service pizzas and watched TV. By one o’clock they’d all dispersed to their own rooms.
Karl always went to bed naked. It saved time. They’d got the journey north ahead of them tomorrow and he really needed to sleep. He was quite grateful he received only two callers.
The first couldn’t have been more than fourteen, though she insisted she was older. Karl had learned the hard way to be wary. Ritchie had been accused of making a fifteen-year-old pregnant the year before. Patrick, according to Graham, ended up paying a lot of money to stop the girl going to the press.
‘Does your mum know where you are?’ Karl asked.
‘She’s waiting downstairs,’ said the girl.
Karl shook his head; some parents had no shame. Some of the others claimed to have shagged the mothers too. Karl never had, even though being the baby-faced one he brought out the worst maternal instincts in some older women.
In the end he consented to let the girl give him oral sex. From her performance, this task was one she practised on a regular basis. Afterwards he sent her on her way.
The second visitor was a few years older, nineteen perhaps, certainly not jailbait. He’d seen her in the wings at the gig. Bribing roadies, with money or sex, was a popular means of getting close to the band. She was a bit on the plump side maybe – Karl recalled Ritchie’s words about not being picky – but she was good in bed. They enjoyed two bouts of energetic, breathless, spring-torturing sex before she slipped away and Karl fell into a deep sleep. If anyone else tapped on the door of his room that night he didn’t hear them.
An insistent ringing and a loud banging shook Karl awake. It took him a moment to realise the ringing was coming from the bedside phone and someone was thumping hard on his door. Bleary-eyed he fumbled for a bathrobe, ignored the phone, made his way across the room and put an eye to the peephole.
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--updated per publisher
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