Last week Michael J Malone dropped by to talk about the incident which inspired his latest McBain novel, A Taste for Malice, and it was a fascinating insight into how a single moment, quite a small and unspectacular one, the kind of thing which happens a thousand times a day, seeded itself in his mind and sparked off a train of thought which turned into a compelling crime novel.
And yet, for some reason asking writers where they get their ideas from is seen as terribly clichéd, the last resort of lazy journalists, as if it isn't at the very core of their work.
I want to know why authors gravitate to certain subjects, I want to see where that spark comes from and why they feel compelled to pursue it to the bitter and blood soaked end. Especially with established authors who keep turning out excellent, original work or those rare writers who produce the kind of high concept books which make you smack your forehead and say 'why didn't I think of that?'
In fairness I completely understand the drive to guard your work during the process - I'm ridiculously superstitious and would never discuss a book while I'm writing it, but once it's done why not let people know about the weird conversation you overheard or the terrifying situation you found yourself at the edge of, with your writer brain already conjuring scenarios?
There's that issue of protecting sources too. Pretentious as that might sound. And it's something I've been thinking about a lot as the interviews and blog posts have started to stack up ahead of me. How much do I want to reveal? How far do I need to protect the people I've spoken to during research?
Writers don't draw a line in the sand like journalists, there is no 'on the record' or off distinction. We hear things we know we probably shouldn't use, but when the moment arrives, and the storyline demands an action based in fact, suddenly authenticity seems more important than discretion.
The inspiration for Long Way Home partly came from a discussion I heard about a gangmaster and his business practices, and frankly I've got no problem with bringing such disgusting exploitation to light, but the discussions which followed it, as I delved deeper into the world, talking to landlords and tenants and people at the more respectable end of the agency spectrum...those people I wouldn't feel comfortable exposing.
But the truth of the matter is that's where the spark for Book Two came from - popping up unexpectedly in a conversation about something else entirely. The crime involved already interested me but I wouldn't have understood the complexities of it without some insider information and ultimately the book wouldn't have rung true.
It's really important to me that these books are authentic. I want them to reflect the fact that sixty years on from my family landing in England life hasn't got much better for immigrants, indeed in some ways it has actually got worse, with the mainstreaming of ultra rightwing ideology and the relaxation of employment laws. So while the ideas behind individual books come from various sources the original inspiration for this series is my seething sense of injustice.
Is that a good thing to be inspired by? Honestly, I don't know. It's probably not very healthy but the anger keeps me at the keyboard and the research process keeps throwing up new and terrible things to write about, which is actually quite reassuring as I think about taking the series forward.
And to the writers out there I want to say, be generous to your readers, let us see the mechanics behind the magic. We're fascinated by what you do, we want to learn from you if we can, so come on, where do you get your ideas from?