Lian Tanner


Writing stories is one of my all-time favourite things to do. I particularly enjoy getting my characters into trouble and out of it again, and writing exciting action scenes.
But I also love the bits that come before the writing, especially the moments of inspiration that leap out at me from unexpected places.

This is how I find those moments.

My scrapbook
When I’m thinking about a story – especially a story as huge and complicated as a novel – I start by picking up ideas from all over the place, and putting them in a scrapbook.

At this stage, I don’t know what I’m looking for. I wander through books and streets and old magazines, along bush tracks and wharves, through convict ruins and memories. I collect faces and animals and buildings, and anything else that catches my eye.

Some of those things end up in the novel, some don’t. Some go in just as they are. Others change, so that no one but me would recognise where they came from.

My neighbour Bob

Here are some things from my Museum of Thieves scrapbook:

This is my neighbour, Bob. If you’ve read Museum of Thieves, you can probably guess which character he inspired.

And here’s a quote from the composer Paul Grabowsky.
‘I think protection and the gathering of wisdom are part of the same coin. You can’t protect people by maintaining their ignorance. You’re endangering them.’

Below is a picture of the basement of the Guell Palace in Barcelona, designed by Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi. When I saw this picture, a shiver ran down my spine.

photographer: Ramon Manent / Diputació de Barcelona

‘All great old museums are places where time stretches, floats, accumulates dust …’
This is a quote from a newspaper article about the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, Russia, one of the biggest and oldest museums in the world. When I read this, I knew that my story was going to be set in a museum.

Here’s a place where I spent a lot of wandering time when I was researching The Keepers trilogy.

Making a mess
Inspiration and creativity are not tidy things; they’re wild and messy and playful. When I’m thinking up ideas, I need to be messy and playful too.

So, as well as the scrapbook, I use big sheets of butcher’s paper (newsprint), and huge felt pens. I scribble lines and circles all over the place, and question marks. I write down ideas as quickly as I can, so as not to think too much. This is a good way of coming up with answers to questions, or getting myself out of a corner if I’m stuck.

Here’s one of the sheets of paper from when I was plotting City of Lies, the second book in The Keepers trilogy.

Asking questions
I ask a lot of questions when I’m thinking about a book. Some of them turn out to be useful, some I never find out the answer to, and some don’t make any sense at all when I look back at them.

Here are a few of the questions that I asked when I was working on Museum of Thieves:

Are there lots of keepers, or is there only one?

Does she find something in her shoe? (This doesn’t make any sense to me now! I have no idea what I was thinking about.)

What if something breaks out of the museum into the city?

Is there a hunt? Who is hunting who/what?

Why are the keepers keeping all these wild things? To protect the city? Or to protect the wild things?

How do the keepers communicate with each other? Bats that nest in the rafters? (This is a really nice idea that I didn’t end up using. Maybe it’ll go in another book.)

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that daydreaming is a waste of time. To be a writer, or an artist of any sort, you have to be a good daydreamer. Sometimes the best way to get ideas is just to sit and look out the window, or walk on the beach and let your mind wander.

And remember, you’re not wasting time. You’re working!