My ten year old daughter is in an inventors' club at school. She spends most of her spare time jotting down ideas for inventions, and the rest of it trying to actually make them. She says she's quite good at coming up with inventions but what she finds hard is thinking of problems people might have that need solving (by means of a new invention). So she is always asking us to tell her the problems we face in our lives, so she can think of an invention to help us.
Yesterday I gave her a few of my own problems to work on. I was trying to think of things that might conceivably be solved by something a 10 year old could invent and successfully make. That turned out to be a big mistake, because when I stopped patronising her and told her a real live problem - one that I was convinced would be impossible to solve - her face lit up immediately and she said: "I can invent something for that!"
The problem I gave her was the difficulty of coming up with ideas for stories.
Her invention, which seemed to pop fully conceived into her mind, was an "Inspiration Machine".
She seemed to have a pretty good idea of how she was going to solve this and straightaway rushed off to get the materials she needed, without even sketching a blueprint.
The first thing required was a long cardboard tube, the kind you find inside rolls of wrapping paper. We'd taken all our cardboard to the recycling centre so we didn't have any old ones hanging around. No problem. Only the day before, her mum had bought a new roll of birthday paper, which now - with Dad's controversial consent - no longer has an inner tube.
The next thing was to cut some paper into 12cm wide strips, make some mysterious marks on the cardboard tube, and then ponder the question, "How am I going to do this?" This last part, the pondering, took the longest time.
It was at that point that my help was enlisted, but I have to say that my role was purely as a technician. The concept and design for the Inspiration Machine came totally from my daughter. We discussed how it was to work and what needed to happen. She had very precise requirements and I suggested a few ways they could be achieved.
It then came to creating a prototype. My daughter got busy with the important part - programming the machine with inspiration, while I produced the mundane mechanical elements necessary.
It didn't take long to put it together and put it to the test. To our amazement it worked!
I mean it really did work, and in ways which neither of us had imagined possible. It has certainly helped me, because today I was inspired to write 1,000 words, a target I haven't hit since I began work on this new novel.
In the next blog post I will describe how The Inspiration Machine works and I may even provide a photo.