When I’d finished A Just and Upright Man, I wanted to start on something different—a story set in the 21st Century instead of the 1760s. I sat at my keyboard and waited to see what would come. It was this: All I’d said was, I wouldn’t mind seeing her in her knickers. I sat and stared at the screen. Where on earth had that come from? I really didn’t have a clue. People ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?” and in this case I’d have had to say, “I haven’t the faintest idea.” And I didn’t.
But somebody did because the story, which became Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper, developed—and, while it did, someone was talking to me. It took me a while to identify the someone as Billy McErlane, narrator and hero of Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper. He was so heavily invested in the story that he kept prompting me: “Tell them about the anger management”; “Don’t forget the psychologist”; “Don’t say that, because that isn’t really how it was.” By the end of the book I knew as much about Billy’s life as Billy did. I knew how he’d felt when Wendy dumped him; I felt his fear as he watched The Creep being beaten to death and his impotent fury at the lies told about him in court. But I still didn’t know where all this was coming from. Who could possibly be telling me all this?
And then I remembered that time while I was writing When the Darkness Comes—a book so complex in design that it still after four years isn’t ready to meet the public—when Barabbas walked into the Canaries hotel where a TV chat show was being filmed and Haile Selassie arrived out of nowhere in a very bad temper to tell me what I could and couldn’t do with a man he regarded as a usurper.
That was a sobering experience. One result is that, when people do say, “Where do you get your ideas from?” I don’t attempt to tell them because I know they’d think I was nuts.
Now where would they get that idea from?