I usually start with a line of dialogue and build outwards, trying to work out who is speaking, who they’re speaking to and why, what are the circumstances of the conversation. I start in the middle and I work in both directions to find the story.
Sometimes I start with a title. If I do, I’ll start by working out what the title means, directly and indirectly, and I’ll follow it from there. Sometimes that title disappears, leaving a story behind.
Other times, I start with a character. I ask myself, what are they doing, what are they thinking, who are they, why are they there, and so on? The character will tell me the answer to these questions. It might take some time, and sometimes they remain silent, in which case I might abandon the idea.
St. Claire, from Shoreline Gold, started as someone living alone on a deserted beach far in the north. That’s all I had, so I asked him, why are you here, living alone on a headland in a tiny caravan, miles from the nearest town? What happened to make you want to live here? And the narrative began from that.
Occasionally I see a person and I think, you’ll do. I might only see them for a moment but they stick in my mind. April Speed from Grendel and Stateless was physically based on a girl I only saw once, but she stuck in my mind as a template for someone I could write about. Christopher Jame ‘Babe’ Walker from the same books was based on a guy I knew who was a career criminal. He was very young and very accomplished. He was relentless. He was dead at twenty-five.
There’s no takeaway from this. I can’t tell anyone else how to begin a story. The only thing is, write, and don’t stop writing.