They can strike anywhere, at any time. You’re at work, or washing up. You’re at the dentist, or driving somewhere in the car. You’re lazing on the sofa in front of the TV, half-paying attention to the book lying open on your lap.
And then… BAM!
You get an idea.
If you can, you stop what you’re doing to scribble it down. If you can’t, you hug it tightly to yourself and grin when no-one’s looking, drunk on the sensation of it fizzing through your veins. Eureka moments can arrive at any time during a piece of writing: at the start, sparking the whole thing off; when you’re struggling to untangle a snarled plot thread; when you’re figuring out the exact way to decribe something, or trying to work out how to bring the whole thing to a satisfying end.
With ACID, I had several of these moments, but by far the most powerful was the one that brought the book to life in the first place.
I’d been trying to write ACID since I was fourteen (although it wasn’t called that then), after a friend and I challenged each other to come up with a story about someone who breaks out of jail. Like so many of the ‘novels’ I wrote when I was a teenager, I got only part of the way in before I lost direction and gave up. But the idea stayed with me, shadow-like, waiting.
I had another stab at it when I finished university, starting the day my course ended. I’d forced a three-year writing hiatus on myself while I was studying for my degree, knowing if I began writing, I wouldn’t want to do anything else. After so long waiting, sitting down at that computer felt right in a way painting never had, and I knew – as I had all along, really – that this was what I was meant to be doing.
But still, the prison-break story refused to be written. Still, it remained a shadow.
I abandoned it again and spent the next seven years trying other things: short stories, crime novels, picture books, poetry – and somewhere along the way, I discovered I wanted to write for teenagers. Then, not long after my first YA novel had collected its final rejection, I was sitting upstairs and wondering what to start on next when, through the open window behind me, I heard the sound of an car approaching from some distance away. All at once the ordinary village street outside my house disappeared, and instead, I saw a moor at night-time, vast and black and empty, with a single car driving across it on a long, straight road, its headlights two pinpoints of brightness in the dark. I was no longer in my house but a ramshackle cottage at the edge of that moor, standing at a window, watching the car draw closer and wishing I was in it, because I was trapped here and couldn’t leave.
Immediately, I knew this was a scene from my prison-break story. Other ideas began forming, almost too fast for me to be able to write them all down. An hour later I had two main characters, a beginning, a middle and an end. And after a few months of researching and plotting and procrastinating, the first draft of my story was finally ready to be written.
Ironically, the moor house scene was never used, as I realised my two characters, Jenna and Max, needed to be trapped in a more urban setting. But without it, ACID might still be no more than a collection of notes and dead-ended ideas.
Have you had any eureka moments recently? What were they? And what were the results?