I’ve written ninety-nine books and sold over 23 million copies and people always stare at me in bewilderment and say, “but where do you get your ideas from?”
Easy. From films. They’re my biggest inspiration – by a mile. I love going to the cinema – preferably alone, in the afternoon. Taking someone along is too much like hard work. What if they don’t like it as much as I do? What if they like it more and I start wondering what I’ve missed? I spend too much time analysing every quiet shift of their body and it stops me from losing myself in the big story which is unfolding on the screen.
I write romantic fiction, so Rom-Com would seem my obvious first choice of movie and of course I’d be lying if I denied loving The Holiday (Jack Black so sexy!) or Bridget Jones (the cameo from Bridge’s mother is heartbreakingly brilliant). When Harry Met Sally never did it for me (I mean, Billy Crystal… really?) but Notting Hill I can watch over and over because Richard Curtis is a genius. Yet much as I love the light and upbeat tone of the Rom-Com, I get ideas for my happy-ever-afters from the most unlikely places.
Foreign films are great for kick-starting the imagination. Especially if they’re dark (and they usually are). Whisky is right up there in my top five. Filmed in sombre shades, it’s a story about a middle-aged man who runs a Uruguayan sock factory. When his brother decides to pay him a visit, Jacobo sees how sad his life must appear from the outside and persuades his near-mute assistant to pose as his wife. It’s a film about desperation – and hope. It’s spare, poignant and hilarious, and it’s different. For a couple of hours you can immerse yourself in an alien environment. For a while you can really imagine what it must be like to work in a failing sock factory in the middle of Uruguay. And no holiday you take is ever going to give you that feeling!
The 2013 Czech film Honeymoon was also tantalisingly good. It opens with a marriage (obvs) and again, took me to a country I’ve never visited. It was good to have some of my preconceptions shattered and to see an insider’s view of somewhere different. At the upmarket wedding reception, all is not as it first seems (is it ever?). As a stranger enters the fold, a sense of growing menace looms and different layers are peeled away to reveal the horrible secrets beneath. My job is to present the idealised version of love and marriage, but it’s not a one-dimensional concept. Peeping at the dark underbelly of an institution reminds me to balance out my stories with elements of shade as well as sunshine.
I use film to give me ideas for new heroes. No, honestly. Watching gorgeous men on screen is a legitimate source of research! I like watching actors who capture the irresistibility of the alpha male which readers can’t get enough of. The younger Mickey Rourke just oozed sex-appeal – not only in the mercury-rising Nine And A Half Weeks but also the classic thriller Angel Heart.
Some actors are sexy without even trying – check out David Wilmot in Shadow Dancer if you want to see a man who is brooding and quietly powerful. He inspired me so much that I asked our editorial director if she thought an ex-terrorist could ever make a bone-fide hero. She said? No.
I watch a film a week, at least. I think of it as creative medicine and never lose that sense of excitement and anticipation as the lights go down. It transports you. It’s magic.
And everyone needs a spell in the cinema…
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