From Whence Does Inspiration Spring? --- Ruth Leigh

Now there’s a question. I’m still waiting for the Number One Question Writers Get Asked (according to – well, everyone.) JK Rowling, Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella, heck, probably even Dickens himself got asked it. “Where do you get your ideas from?” 

Back in the day when I was just a freelance writer and hadn’t started writing fiction, I didn’t need to have that many ideas. I interviewed people then turned two pages of rambling notes into 600 words according to the brief I’d been given. I didn’t have to make stuff up or come up with a new and exciting take on the writing game. 

These days, I’m fortunate enough to write for two blogs and even occasionally my own. Most of the time, I’ve got a topic up my sleeve, but this month it’s been hard. My parents (combined age 187) have getting rapidly frailer and last week involved a mini stroke, a seizure and blue flashing lights. 

My husband and I run a catering company and this is our last year. I’ve juggled my burgeoning writing career and the demands of providing top quality service and food at events for over a year now and one of them had to go. 

One of our very favourite places to cook is a party house in the centre of Ipswich, the Old Neptune. A medieval merchant’s house by the waterfront, arranged around a courtyard, it’s a miracle it’s still standing. Much of Ipswich was flattened in the Second World War, and what the Luftwaffe didn’t get, the planners finished off in the Sixties and Seventies. The Neptune now nestles up against the unlovely bulk of the Salthouse Hotel next door, but at least it’s still there. 

Saturday was our last ever do at the Neptune. Eleven ladies had booked it and in the usual way, we turned up hoping against hope that they had got the train down and that there would be a parking space for us. God bless them, it was the ideal set up with loads of room. The minute we walked into the familiar kitchen; we knew it was going to be an excellent night.

The ladies have known each other for years and are a tight-knit, mutually supportive friendship group. I’ve cooked for thousands of people over the years and some really stand out. The Skinny Bitches (their words, not mine) will live long in my memory. 

We were doing Christmas dinner, so my husband got to work on the honey and Parmesan parsnips, the kale with red onion and lardons, the pigs in blankets, roast potatoes and gravy, while I laid the table and lit the candles.

There was no nonsense with the SBs. They were my kind of girls. Pretty soon, we were chatting away like old friends and I had the subject of my blog (with their permission). 

People. That’s where I get inspiration from. I’ve been fortunate to meet so many fascinating ones over the years, often through catering. Those who know me will recognise some of the stories and situations in my Isabella M Smugge novels. Some I would love to write about (Granny Silv and the gravy, the incident with the knickers, the self-planting lemon grove, the wrong kind of gin, the Austrians) but probably never will. Some are so delightful that they make it into a book with virtually no need to make anything up (all the brides and grooms of 2021, for example). 

Listening to the girls laugh, tell stories and talk over each other as the fire crackled and the Prosecco flowed got all the creative neurons in my writer’s brain firing. I’ve been sketching out a wedding in my head for Isabella Three and I suddenly realised that what was needed was a group of ladies who are lifelong friends of the bride’s mother. What fun they’re going to have in Isabella’s back garden! There will be laughter, much of it raucous. There will be over-refreshment. There will be rude jokes. I can’t wait to write it.

So, to all the girls, Kim, Fran, Sue, Judy, Maureen, Liza, Debbie, Linda, Woolfie, Kimbo, Marie and Christine (in absentia), here’s to you. Thanks for the inspiration. That wedding scene’s going to write itself.

 Images by Pixabay and author's own

Ruth is a novelist and freelance writer. She is married with three children, one husband, assorted poultry and a kitten. She is the author of “The Diary of Isabella M Smugge” and “The Trials of Isabella M Smugge”. She writes for a number of small businesses and charities, reviews books for Reading Between the Lines and blogs at Ruth has abnormally narrow sinuses and a morbid fear of raw tomatoes, but has decided not to let this get in the way of a meaningful life. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at ruthleighwrites and at her website,




Reb MacRath said…
Lovely blog. Are the Skinny Bitches the ones who wrote that incredibly sassy Vegan diet book? I loved it!
Ruth Leigh said…
Thanks so much, Reb! They should be. I'll look that out. No, these are a group of ladies from East London and Essex who have a WhatsApp group called the Skinny Bitches and who go away together every year. They are talking about writing a book though .....
Amanda Bedzrah said…
Really enjoyed reading this. And you are right, I too get my inspiration from people but in my case, Bible people.
However, I love to look at people that I can describe to bring my characters to life in my head and wet the imagination.
Thanks Amanda. People are endlessly fascinating
Joy Margetts said…
That building is amazing. It is just calling out to be the setting for a tale of medieval mischief. I tend to be more inspired by places and buildings than people! Great blog
Ruth Leigh said…
Thanks Joy! It's a remarkable place. Set around a cobbled courtyard with a fountain and a ship's figurehead, a gravestone in the kitchen acting as a step, galleried dining room and so on and so forth. Google it and have a look at the gallery. I guarantee inspiration!

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