A 50-minute episode that answers the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” With guest authors Philippa Dowding, Amelinda Berube, and Kari-Lynn Winters. Featuring an original spooky story about an insatiable animal; excerpts from All Quiet on the Western Front, The One and Only Ivan, and The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom; and creative writing exercises and prompts.


A full transcript of this episode is available at CabinTales.ca.


[0:00] Intro

[1:15] Story Introduction: Today you’ll hear a story about a boy whose stepfather told him repeatedly not to do something but the boy did it anyway. And he soon found out why he shouldn’t have.

[2:50] Darryl’s Story: “Don’t Feed the Wildlife”

Rated PG. Unless you’re terrified of chipmunks, it’s not scary.


[15:15] Commentary: Where ideas come from

Look around you and you will see stories waiting. Often writers don’t know where their ideas come from. But just as often, the source of a story is obvious. Some of the world’s most famous books had their inspiration in the author’s life.


[17:10] Excerpt from All Quiet on the Western Front

[18:30] Copy the Technique

Think of a moment in your own life where something happened that made you laugh, or made you cry, or embarrassed you, or frightened you. And write about it as if it happened to someone else.


[20:00] Finding ideas in the news

Another place that you can find story ideas is in true stories from history or from current events. Take a spark of truth and ask, “What must that have been like?”


[21:00] Excerpt from The One and Only Ivan

[22:05] Copy the technique

Pay attention to the world. Read the news.  Read history books, and natural history books. Read the footnotes. When you find something that makes you think, “Wow, I never knew that. People should know about that,” then you have found your story idea.


[23:10] Finding ideas in other stories

A third place where you can find great ideas for stories … is other stories.


[23:55] Excerpt from The Hero’s Guide to Saving your Kingdom

[25:15] Copy the technique

Read myths and fairy tales and bible stories and Shakespeare and Jane Austen and the Brontes and think: Could there be a different ending? A different perspective? 


[26:20] Author Interviews about where ideas come from

[26:45] Philippa Dowding on finding stories in dreams

[28:00] Amelinda Berube on finding ideas in “true” ghost stories

[30:40] Kari-Lynn Winters on finding ideas all around her


[32:55] Finding Ideas in your fears

[33:10] Amelinda Berube on conquering fears through fiction

[35:50] Kari-Lynn Winters on finding a story in a real spooky prank

[36:55] Philippa Dowding on writing about anxiety


[37:45] What to do with all your ideas

[37:55] Kari-Lynn Winter’s Thousand Journals

[38:40] Philippa Dowding on her several journals

[40:00] Amelinda Berube on no longer journaling

[41:00] Amelinda Berube on finding ideas in prompts


[42:00] The need to stare out windows

To take a simple idea and build it into something complex enough to become a story, you need to just let these ideas flow in your mind.


[42:40] Start with an object

Copy Chekhov when he picked up an ashtray and said, “Now I’ll write a story about an ashtray.” Start with an object.


[43:15] Story prompt

Finish the story beginning. Or pick up another object near you and write a story about that. If you’re really stuck and you want to write a scary story, sit in the dark at night in the woods, and within 5 minutes you'll have lots of scary ideas in your head.


[47:55] Monster movie line

If you are stumped for ideas for scary stories, look to reality, the world around us. Because, as a Hollywood character once said, “Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one's better or more creative.”


[48:30] Thanks and coming up on the podcast

Thanks to today's guests. Guests next Friday will be: Robin Stevenson; Wendy McLeod MacKnight; Raquel Rivera; Ishta Mercurio; and Cary Fagan. They’ll be telling you where they get their best ideas and where you can find yours.

I’m Catherine Austen. Thanks for listening.


Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use). 


Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at www.catherineausten.com.


Guest Authors:


Amelinda Bérubé is a freelance writer and the author of the YA novels The Dark Beneath the Ice (Sourcebooks Fire, 2018) and Here There Are Monsters (Sourcebooks Fire, 2019). A mother of two and a passionate gardener, she lives in Ottawa, Ontario, in a perpetual whirlwind of unfinished projects and cat hair. Find her on her website at www.metuiteme.com or on Twitter: @metuiteme.



Philippa Dowding is an award-winning children's author, a poet, musician and marketing copywriter. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in many literary journals. Her children's books have been nominated for awards in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, and her 2017 middle-grade novel, Myles and the Monster Outside, won the OLA Silver Birch Express Honour Book award. Philippa lives in Toronto with her family, where she reads, writes, plays guitar, and walks her dog every day. Find her on her website at http://pdowding.com or on her blog at http://phdowding.blogspot.com.



Dr. Kari-Lynn Winters is an award-winning children’s author, playwright, performer, and academic scholar. She is an Associate Professor at Brock University and the author of French Toast, Jeffrey and Sloth, On My Walk, Gift Days, and more than a dozen other imaginative picture books for children. Find her online at http://kariwinters.com/


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