Sometimes it’s annoying. Story ideas that elude you during the day materialise effortlessly in the middle of the night. And I’ve lost count of the books and films I’ve lost the plot of because what I’m really thinking about are tomorrow’s interviews.
But there is a plus side. Never really switching off means you’re always switched on to a potential news story, and over the years I’ve found them in some unlikely places.
Dog owners will already know this, but one of the easiest ways of striking up a conversation with a total stranger is getting out with your hound.
I have to give my black Lab credit for nabbing some great stories; like the girl I bumped into who had just launched a website that listed dog-friendly pubs and hotels in the UK; a perfect addition to my lifestyle piece on holidaying with your pet.
Or the man I sat next to in the waiting room at the vets who ran training classes for delinquent dogs – in fact they were really aimed at the owners – but with a spate of media stories on dog attacks, he made a valuable contribution to a career piece on becoming an animal psychologist.
I’ve found stories while I’ve been visiting the dentist, queuing at the supermarket, and even at the accountants, but some of the real gems have been unearthed on the train.
You’d be surprised how much of someone’s life story you can absorb in the two hours that it takes me to travel by train from home to London.
It’s a trip I make on a regular basis, and every time, having struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to me (some hold out for longer than others but they always give in the end) I’ve never failed to get a really interesting story.
Like the retired matron who reminisced about the days when hospitals were run properly, and, adding pointedly, there was no such thing as MRSA. Brilliant material for a healthcare piece I was writing.
Or the IT consultant who lived in the Lake District and loved it, but only got to enjoy it at the weekends because work kept him in London from Monday to Friday. On this day, however, he was making his final ‘commute’ because he was giving up his job to open a B&B with his wife; yep, he was the quintessential ‘escaping the rat race’ case study.
Then there was the chap who’d lost his job and used his free time to invent a gadget for tracking down lost mobile phones. He was on his way to London to close a deal with a distributor. That one made the business pages of a Sunday national.
So next time you’re out walking your dog, waiting in a queue, or sitting on a train and the person next to you insists on talking to you, don’t fret; I’m only after a story, and you never know where it could end up.