First love is always the strongest… by Paige Toon
Book ideas can come from anywhere, at anytime. It could be a news item or a casual comment made by a friend that plants the seed of an idea in your head, and then bam, bam, bam, pieces fall into place and Bob’s your Uncle. Sometimes it’s a film or a song or even another book that inspires by conjuring up certain emotions that you want to explore in your own way. In the case of my newest book, several ideas came together to form the basis of the story, about Bridget, a travel writer and relationship blogger who is drafted in to ghost write the sequel to a bestselling novel after the previous author dies. In the process she gets to know the husband and baby daughter the late writer left behind.
Although The Last Piece of My Heart is a completely standalone book, Bridget herself is not a new character. She was a friend of a friend to Laura in The Longest Holiday, and upgraded to friend and flatmate of Bronte in Thirteen Weddings. After the release of each of those novels, many readers wrote to me asking me to write Bridget her own book. Instead I wrote her a short story, called Take Another Little Piece, for my book club, The Hidden Paige (become a member at paigetoon.com if you’d like to – it’s free!). The short story opened with Bridget stating the following:
The problem with giving your heart away to someone is that you never fully get it back. Long after you’ve fallen out of love with them, they still own a little piece of you. That’s why first love is always the strongest: it’s the only time you ever love wholeheartedly.
After falling in love a dozen or so times, Bridget still hasn’t come close to feeling about anyone else the way that she did about her first love, Elliot, who emigrated to Australia when they were teenagers. In Sydney herself for a year, she jokes about bumping into him and melodramatically demanding that he give her the piece of her heart back so she can love fully again, and then she does bump into him and he’s everything she remembered and more.
I wrote this short story, but didn’t want to stop once I’d finished, and considered sending Bridget on a novel-length journey to get back all of the pieces of her heart from all of the men she’s ever loved.
But then another idea struck, and again, I couldn’t let it go… I was on my way to the Guildford Book Festival a couple of years ago with my friend and fellow author Ali Harris, and there were two slightly hairy occasions where other cars almost crashed into us. My already vastly overactive imagination went into overdrive. At the time I was writing The Sun in Her Eyes and approaching a particularly juicy scene that had consumed my waking thoughts for months on end. I thought, if something happens to me now and my publisher has to draft in a ghost writer to finish this story, I’ll be so cross if they don’t write it exactly the way I imagined it that I’ll come back and haunt them into getting it right!
Then I thought, that would make a fun story, writing it from the perspective of both the ghost and the writer (Ali’s husband Ben suggested Ghost Writer as a title when I laughingly shared the idea) but as I had no intentions of delving into the realms of supernatural thriller writing, I put it to one side.
Except the idea stayed with me, and eventually I decided I had to find a way to make it work for women’s fiction.
Writing a book about a writer who wants to turn her blog into a novel, while at the same time finishing someone else’s story and deciding where that plot goes was, well, a little challenging… I ended up scrapping my first twenty thousand words and starting from scratch when I realised I was getting too bogged down in all of the different threads. Far and away the most important thread is Bridget’s relationship with Charlie, the late author’s husband, and April, his baby daughter. Once I focused on that, everything else fell into place without overwhelming the main story.
I once had an idea about a female bigamist who marries two men on two different continents. Although the idea never fully took hold, it came in handy when I was trying to think of an idea for the book Bridget is drafted in to finish. Some ideas turn into books, others don’t, but they’re rarely wasted. If only there were more hours in the day to write them all up…