Suzie Tullett explores the art of people watching.
Being a novelist, I’m often asked where I get my inspiration. The truth is, inspiration is all around us. It can be found in newspapers and magazine articles, in history and culture, in a photograph, a painting or a place. For me, however, inspiration often comes from the people around me.
Of course, I’m not talking about family and friends; I’d never wittingly incorporate anyone I know into any of my books. When I say people, I’m referring to the groups and individuals I observe when I’m sat in a busy café, waiting for a train, or wandering around a shopping centre. As a writer, I always start with character, so People Watching is a great way to spark my imagination.
People Watching is something we all do to some extent. Going about our business we might spot a police officer chatting to a driver at the side of the road. Instinctively, we wonder if the driver has been pulled over for speeding. Or we question if the driver is lost and has simply stopped to ask the officer for directions. Writers like me, however, hone in on the finer detail.
Whatever the situation, we look at the clothes people wear. Clothing can suggest a lot about a person; it can hint at their profession, their degree of wealth, how interested they are in fashion or whether they’re part of a sub-culture. A person’s demeanour can suggest an individual’s mood, how confident they may or may not be, if they’re waiting for someone or simply enjoying a bit of me time.
And if we’re observing a group, we don’t just look at body language; we look at how the people within that group interact with one and other. For example, is anyone holding back in the conversation and who amongst them likes being the centre of attention. People’s mannerisms can be fascinating. We often talk with our hands or mess with our hair without realising – interesting visuals to note when it comes to characterisation.
Sometimes we might hear a snippet of conversation and, even if this is out of context, it’s great for getting the creative juices flowing. Accents and tones of voice add an extra layer to our observations. Although, much like in Chinese whispers, while the orator might mean one thing, because we’re only getting a part of what’s being said, we undoubtedly turn this into a different exchange.
Naturally, we’re not gawping when we’re People Watching. We’re simultaneously jotting things down and building imaginary scenarios around what we see and, on occasion, hear. We’re guessing peoples’ ages, their relationships, and reasons for being in that particular café. We’re asking why they’re on the same train platform as us. Where have they been? Where are they going? And when will they be back?
In addressing all these questions, our focus shifts from the people around us to the people we’ve conjured up in our notebooks – our characters.
We give them names, jobs, families, birthdays and favourite colours. We start to think about inciting incidents; the one thing that happens to turn our characters’ lives upside down. Plots for a storyline begin to form in our heads and we gradually put together synopses and chapter breakdowns.
We sit at the computer, typing for hour after hour and day after day. And we re-write, re-write, edit and re-edit until we finally reach ‘The End’.
When it comes to inspiration, I think it’s fascinating the way a story can unfold. After all, who’d have thought an outfit, a few gestures, and the odd out of context statement, could lead to a whole new novel?
Promises – easy to make, hard to keep.
Having long made a promise to her husband, young widow Annabel has no intentions of breaking it. What she does plan to do, though, is have a baby. Not the easiest of tasks for a woman with a deceased other half, and having explored all her options, her only choice is to take the unconventional route. Setting out to find her own donor, Annabel meets Dan. Single, fun-loving and definitely not looking for commitment, this unruly blonde, blue-eyed man seems perfect for the job.
Dan wants nothing more than to find his dream woman. But with a mother intent on sabotaging his every relationship, he can’t help but think he’s destined to remain single. Of course, he knows his mother doesn’t really want him all for herself, why else would she keep insisting he meet Maeve? Why else would she insist Dan promise to find himself a wife before she meets her maker?
Forced to negotiate matters of love, life and death, Annabel and Dan seem the answer to each other’s prayers. But will they really be able to keep the promises they made? And is having a baby really the solution?
Suzie Tullett is an author of contemporary humorous fiction and romantic comedy. As well as The Trouble with Words, her novels include Going Underground and Little White Lies and Butterflies, which was short-listed for The Guardian’s 2013 Not the Booker Prize. She has a Masters Degree in Television & Radio Scriptwriting and worked as a scriptwriter before becoming a full-time novelist. And when she’s not tapping away on the computer creating her own literary masterpiece, she usually has her head in someone else’s.