When David arrived at his mother's house in Harrogate, he hesitated before getting out of the van. After a moment, he picked up the plastic box containing his mother's ashes. It felt disrespectful to simply leave the box in the van — and besides, what if someone stole the vehicle?
Yet it didn't feel entirely right to take the ashes inside. The whole point of today's visit was to clear out the flat, so it seemed odd to start by bringing something in.
Well, no help for it. David strode up the path, past the paved front yard where no flowers grew. His mother lived — had lived — in the ground floor flat. He fumbled the keys into the lock. As soon as he opened the door and smelled the familiar scent of bleach and air-freshener, a rush of emotion welled up within him.
Way back in 2002, I had the inkling of an idea for a story about a child whose pet dog is a hologram. Instead of a real dog, it's a cartoon dog that can't ever touch anything.
I don't remember what inspired the notion. A Freudian analysis might suggest that I'd long harboured a grudge over the fact that I never had a pet as a boy, and I wanted to vent my resentment by writing a story about a boy who is similarly deprived of the joys of canine companionship.
In reality, the likely genesis is much more straightforward. I've always been a fan of cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, and I probably just thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be fun if you could buy classic cartoon characters as holograms, and enjoy their wacky antics in your own home?"
I'm sure it would be fun — but in itself, that's not a story. I tried to come up with a plot, and failed. After a little while, I moved the original note from my 'Ideas' file to my 'Old Ideas' file, where it languished alongside many other similarly abandoned fragments.
In 2012, I was feeling short of inspiration, having temporarily run out of new ideas. So I decided to look back at my 'Old Ideas' file, and see if I could find anything worth digging out. I came across the notion of the cartoon pet, which I'd long since forgotten about.
In a situation like this, the passage of time has two advantages. Firstly, you can look at the idea with fresh eyes, which might help you come up with a fresh perspective that you didn't originally think of. Secondly, you should be a better and more experienced writer, and thus find it easier to figure out how to develop a story from the basic premise.
After a little thought, I decided that a fruitful angle to explore would be the question of why exactly the child had a hologram pet rather than a real one. Decisions about pets are usually taken by parents rather than children. Why would a boy's family get him a hologram dog, when he would probably prefer a real one?
As soon as I realised the answer to this question, the whole story fell into place.