‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ It’s the most asked question of authors, the one that strikes fear into our hearts because, really, we have no fucking idea where our ideas come from. The late great Iain Banks used to answer the question by saying there was a website, www.ideasforauthors.com, which generated them for you. And by Christ, that would be an absolutely awesome idea, in fact, I might set up that website myself, something that just randomly generated ideas from newspapers and other sources, gave you prompts and sent you off to write your meisterwerk.
The truth is that ideas come from absolutely everywhere all the time and, just as importantly, they can linger in the back of your brain for years, even decades, before finally bubbling to the surface.
That’s certainly been the case for me with several of my books, and it was absolutely the case with my new novel Fault Lines. Something like ten years ago I found myself in the Culture House in Reykjavik at an exhibition about Surtsey, a volcanic island off the south coast of Iceland that was spewed into existence in the 1960s. I was mesmerized by the idea, and I knew I would write about it at some point.
Fast forward a few years and I was commissioned by the Edinburgh Book Festival to write a short story on the theme of Elsewhere. And so Surtsey, the central character of Fault Lines, was born. In that story she’s a feisty young woman whose volcanologist mother is dying. She ends up travelling to the island of Surtsey and killing someone. I was in love with her, and I knew I had to write about her some more.
Fast forward a few more years and the time was finally right to tell Surtsey’s full story. So I embarked upon Fault Lines, which added an off-kilter speculative element, the book is set in an alternate Scotland which is a major earthquake and volcano zone, and there’s a new volcanic island sitting in the Firth of Forth.
This is clearly the weirdest book I’ve ever written, what with all the earthquakes and geology and lava eruptions and so on, but it’s also in some ways my most conventional. It’s my ninth novel, but the first to open with the discovery of a dead body, a trope I’ve always shied away from in the past. And in one respect it is a classic whodunit, another element that I’ve stayed away from in previous books. Often in the past I’ve written crime novels that don’t have a mystery to solve, preferring to look at the effects of crime on the victims and criminals themselves, and the repercussions that flow out from those split-second incidents.
So that’s Fault Lines – conventional but also weird, hopefully panoramic but also personal, a mystery and also a psychological thriller. However people want to categorise it, I just hope that readers give it a chance.
Fault Lines is published by Orenda