I haven’t done an ‘inspiration’ post for a while, so I thought I’d do one about my most recent Friday Flash, Population, One. (If you haven’t read it, do so now, for there are ‘spoilers’ ahead!) Now, my dad happened to tell me about a photo he’d seen online for a town whose population was just one, but he couldn’t remember what it was called. A Google search later and I discovered he meant Buford, in Wyoming. The photo I used for the flash is the ‘town’ itself, although I chose to change the name on the sign, as well as changing the names of the people concerned and the circumstances surrounding the town.
It was strange, the moment my dad told me about Buford, I instantly wondered what would happen to the number on the town sign when the sole inhabitant died. Who would change it? I think the seed of wonder was sown by an old anecdote I heard about the last man on earth being so tormented by loneliness that he threw himself off a building, only to hear a telephone ringing as he falls to his death. On top of that, I came across the first two lines to a short story by Frederic Brown, called ‘Knock’, which simply read “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.” This idea of ‘The Last Man’ intrigued me. The population sign came from the film, Population 436. If you get the chance to watch it, do so – don’t let the fact it stars Fred Durst put you off, he’s actually really good.)
Originally, the stranger was just going to be a regular chap who happened to drop by and wonder the same thing, and it was only when I was reading Carlos Claren’s An Illustrated History of the Horror Film and he was talking about Death Takes A Holiday from 1934, in which the Grim Reaper goes on holiday, only to find that no one can die while he’s not working (this was parodied in an episode of Family Guy when Death hurts his leg and Peter has to take over his job). Thus the idea came into my head to cast Death as the stranger – I know my version of Death is usually a black-lipped young woman with a voice like buzzing flies, but I think she likes to play dress-up from time to time, and in this instance, the man in the pinstripe suit seemed a better fit.
If you take all of these seemingly disparate elements and let them marinade for a while in the unconscious, they spring forth with an idea of their own. Once the idea of the stranger as being Death popped into my head, I wrote the story in about ten minutes – previously, I’d found it too hard to put it on paper, not knowing where to start or how to end it. I think my ultimate point is that inspiration can and does come from many different places, and a writer shouldn’t be afraid to expose themselves to film and non-fiction as well as novels when hunting for ideas.
In what way has inspiration suddenly struck you when writing?