Search, practice, discover, gather!

The starting point for this exercise was to generate ideas from my own life: the people around me, the places I am connected to, the social or philosophical issues I am passionate about or inspired by, my dreams, imagination and visions.

Curious to see where this would lead, I began by making a quick-fire list of ideas straight off the top of my head and noting them down in my notebook. It’s difficult not to self-censor yourself when doing something like this, so I decided to write down whatever came to mind, however mundane or unusual the ideas seemed. The result was a mix of ideas from ‘my family life’ (no surprise there) to ‘the colour blue at 40,000 feet’ (where did that come from?). Other ideas included homelessness in Dublin, the Northern Ireland peace process, my interest in fairy tales and Greek drama, and a quote by Andrei Tarkovsky that could lead anywhere.

The exercise required me to find two ideas and develop them into no more than 250 words. Again, I tried not to self-censor my choice and go with my gut response to the list of ideas. So, after glancing through all the options on the page, I decided to play it safe with ‘my family life’ and go off the wall with ‘the colour blue at 40,000 feet’ (yikes!).


‘My family life’

My family has expanded greatly since moving to Ireland ten years ago. I now have an Irish mum, sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces, who we see at various times throughout the year. My wife and I are both self-employed and work from home in our newly-converted attic space at the top of the house, lined with poetry books and journals. One of the benefits of working from home is that during the summer months we can have lunch together in our garden. We share our house with a very sweet border collie, who takes us for walks two or three times a day and entertains us with his squeaky toys, often in the middle of business calls.


‘The colour blue at 40,000 feet’

If, when I die, I was invited to take one image of my time on earth with me into the next life, I would choose the sky. Seven and a half miles up. Where, from here, the troposphere extends out towards the edge of space, and, confined inside this small pressurised cabin with two hundred fellow humans, I imagine my hand reaching out beyond the perspex window, touching the fringes of the colour blue. The pale blue, through which we travel west across the Atlantic, hanging by a thread on aerodynamic laws; and the dark blue, beyond which other worlds like ours exist, governed by laws we know nothing about.


I found this a very helpful exercise in developing ideas. As a strategy, starting out from my own life is clearly an effective way of searching for and discovering new ideas. In this initial exercise alone, I jotted down eleven possible ideas, two of which I went on to develop above. As I was writing up these two ideas, I became aware of the emergence of several potential characters and locations.

My new mantra? ‘Search, practice, discover, gather!’