I’m just back from New York and still dazzled by the vibrancy and brightness of the city – the vast electronic hoardings that pulse with colour in Times Square, the vivid yellowness of the taxis and…this!

It’s an American garbage truck and even in the murky light of early evening you can see that it is decked out with the Statue of Liberty and the Stars & Stripes and the lettering is in red and gold – in fact, the whole thing is done up like a Christmas tree and very lovely it looked.

In creative writing terms, this got me thinking.The truck caught my eye because it should have been ugly and functional, but it wasn’t – it was actually rather joyous. It was a lesson in the unexpected. As a writer, you need to see things with a fresh eye, so that you can re-invent them for your reader. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke talks about finding beauty where it wouldn’t normally be apparent and this is a key part of your job as an author. Think of the loveliness in a plain face lit with emotion, or the softening effect of sunset on an industrial wasteland.

My garbage truck was, in its way, a thing of beauty, weird and wonderful enough to make me stop and take a photograph. If you want to arrest your readers’ attention like this, seek out the surprising; follow Rilke’s advice and look for beauty where you wouldn’t expect to find it.