In the BBC News Review 2013 A Year in Books they had a segment of interviews with writers talking about how stories had come to them.
Neil Gaimon (The Ocean at the End of the Lane): his wife was away and he missed her. He wanted to write a short story for her to tell her what he was like when he was seven. It was about the different ways that children travel: adults stick to paths, kids look for escape routes. He started writing, and didn’t stop.
Patrick Ness (The Crane Wife) Fairy tales and folk tales start with acts of cruelty eg abandonment, seclusion. This starts with an act of kindness, saving a bird. The choice to do good has always interested him. He was also inspired by the book sculptures of Sue Blackwell: the leap of imagination.
Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam). Anyone who writes is imagining a future reader, even if it’s only them. If you have no belief in the possibility of the future reader, you’re not going to do that. ‘The minute you set pencil to washroom wall, you are imagining a future reader.’
Michael Frayn (Skios). ‘I’d like to think I learned from success or failure, but it’s not like that. Every time you write, the problems are new, there are no lessons you can apply to the past because they apply to what you did before. People pay money to learn how to write a novel but the problem is not a novel, it’s this particular novel, and it’s always different from anything else.’
Jhumpa Lahiri (The Lowland) Writing is a way to stop time. It is finite, there is a beginning, middle and end. It’s an artificial construct. It’s a way to isolate time and experience, look at something carefully.