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Big Bad Me blog tour: Aislinn O'Loughlin on strange sources of inspiration

Aislinn O'Loughlin grew up in Dublin, on a diet of fairy tales and horror stories – often at the same time. After publishing several books in her teens, Aislinn worked as a storyteller and creative writing teacher before moving to Toronto, where she sometimes took her kids to daycare in a sled. Big Bad Me, Aislinn's YA debut, is an explosive werewolf and vampire comedy-thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat in terror while simultaneously trying not to fall off it from laughing too much (you can see five reasons why we love it here). Aislinn kindly visited the blog to talk about finding inspiration in weird places as part of the tour celebrating the release of Big Bad Me...

Author Aislinn O'Loughlin

Dream a little dream – then write it!

Stephanie Meyer famously wrote Twilight after a dream about a girl and a sparkly vampire in a meadow. Suzanne Collins came up with The Hunger Games while flicking between warzone footage on the news, and reality TV. Naomi Gibson’s upcoming Game Over Girl (a thriller in which a girl builds her “ideal” home inside a VR game) was inspired an art installation where the artist, Michael Landy, recreated his own house inside a museum. And the seeds of my debut YA novel, Big Bad Me, came from binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer before dozing off on the sofa and having a dream inspired by Oz (the cool-but-sweet musician who turns into a raging werewolf once a month).

In the dream, I had to leave home after discovering I’d been born a werewolf – a fact my family had hidden from me until I got too dangerous to control. It was just a flash of a scene, but the gut punch I felt preparing to leave my family for their own protection meant it stuck with me. I woke up sad - but also intrigued, with so many questions. Like Why was I the only werewolf in the family? How could I possibly not know? What was it they’d been doing that wasn’t working anymore? And what was it like for them, growing up with a werewolf?

Oz from Buffy played by Seth Green

I mulled over the possible answers for years – spinning all sorts of scenarios from that one core idea. I even mentally plotted a musical about a Dr Moreau-ish type scientist kidnapping and experimenting on local teenagers in an effort to cure his son’s lycanthropy (I can’t actually write music, so the songs were all based on tracks from Michael Jackon’s Thriller album). I never actually planned on writing any of these ideas, but they were fun to play with.

Then I moved to Canada, away from my family and friends, and the homesickness I felt was so close to the gut punch from my dream that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Until, one day, this hyperactive quippy teen wolf character popped into my head insisting this was her own story – only she had an overprotective older sibling who would never let her leave home alone.

And, that was it. I was hooked. I spent the next few months pouring myself into the story, funnelling everything I missed about my family and all the quips I needed to cheer myself up into huge, self-indulgent first draft of sheer joy. It needed tidying up after, of course. But that was OK, though. To me, half the fun of doing something creative comes from giving yourself permission to make a big old mess, knowing you’ll clean it all up later.

That’s true of finding inspiration too. You don’t need to wait for the perfect story to just pop up in your dreams. You can go inspo-hunting! It only takes two words: “What” and “if”.

Just apply them to any nearby object/person/situation, then finish the sentence however you like (the sillier the better, in my opinion). For example: What if … that apple’s not an apple, it’s a little alien spaceship? Or a portal to another dimension? Or it is an apple, but it’s poisoned?

Most of us do this naturally, especially as kids, but make it a conscious game and you’ll prime your imagination to keep asking questions – even in the most mundane settings (heads up, parents: this also makes an excellent game to play with your kids pretty much anywhere). Once you’ve found the seed of your story – your “What if…” – just keep asking questions. For example: if that apple is a portal to another dimension - where did it come from? What’s on the other side? How come you’re involved in all this anyway?

Then you just start finding answers, start building your world – and start shaping your story. Don’t fret about making it perfect. Don’t even worry too much (yet) about whether or not it could be a real book. It took me years to figure out my weird werewolf dream could be anything but a game! Just have fun, let it be messy. Or else you risk shutting yourself down before you’ve even started.

You can tidy up the chaos later, but you have to give yourself something to tidy first! So yes, inspiration can come from the weirdest of places. And, sometimes, the weirdest thing about those places is how normal they seem until you start asking the right questions. Or you can just binge another season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and fall asleep in front of the telly. Because then even if you don’t find inspiration, at least you’ve spent a night watching Buffy. It’s still a win in my book!

Thanks so much to Aislinn for taking us behind the scenes of Big Bad Me and for sharing such great advice for aspiring authors. It's so interesting to learn that a dream inspired this story, and not just any dream, one based on Buffy. Alas, my own dreams about Spike were far less productive! If you're not already dying to read Big Bad Me, see five reasons why we love it and why you need to get your claws on this book immediately! Massive thanks also to the lovely people in Little Island for inviting us on the tour celebrating the release of Big Bad Me. Make sure you visit all of the below stops to learn more about this amazing book and its spectacularly talented author.