Inspiration: Getting in the spirit

When the creative juices are running low, I often spend a little bit of time visiting some of the people, places and things which have inspired me to write over the years.  Obviously these are very personal to me, but they might help you think about some of your own.

Ballet ShoesI am adopted.  When I first discovered Noel Streatfeild‘s classic Ballet Shoes as a Tweener I became enthralled in the world of possibilities and creativity.  Of the three sisters I can most closely relate to Pauline, but there is also a little bit of Petrova and Posy in me.  Perhaps, if G.U.M. had brought home a fourth Fossil, she would have been called Philippa, and she would have been a writer!

This book still captivates me to this day.  Not only does it inspire me to “save the penny and walk” wherever I can, it also reminds me that our destiny is never defined by our past, and in the present the opportunities and possibilities are ours for the taking. There literally are no limits as to what I can do.

 

Deia MajorcaLucia Graves, daughter of the poet Robert Graves, and author in her own right, is a friend of the family. As a result we spent a number of summers in the delightful village of Deià, Majorca. Deià was a hotbed of creative people, and I remember being surrounded by actors, artists, dancers, writers and musicians, all of which have inspired me over the years to find my own creative voice and expression.

I get disheartened with the cult of celebrity these days, where someone becomes famous for being on a reality television show, and it’s newsworthy to report that a celebrity was seen wearing a bikini. To me it’s not about whether or not someone is famous, but rather whether or not they ooze creative energy and inspiration. When I am surrounded by such people I tend to ooze that same creative energy myself.  I shall always be thankful when it happens, and Deja is one such place.

Watford Palace TheatreAs a teenager I became a member of the youth section of Watford Palace Theatre. It was referred to as Theatreyard, and I spent many a happy Wednesday evening improvising, learning lines, and pretending to be someone else. My most memorable appearance was as Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ll always remember going into my dressing room, which had previously been occupied by Jane Lapotaire, only to find a mouldy tea bag in a dirty pot!

Michael Attenborough was the Artistic Director during this time and he was a magnet for some incredible talent.  I saw plays with Jane Lapotaire, Roger Rees, Mel SmithGriff Rhys Jones, Rik Mayall, Simon Cadell, to name but a few.  As I sat in the dress circle, eyes wide with wonder at their impeccable timing and delivery, I didn’t wish I could be them, I wished I could write for them.  I never did show the leaders of Theatreyard any of my ideas. If I had I expect they would have supported and encouraged me. A missed opportunity perhaps, but also a very good reminder not to hide what I have written but to put it out there and see what happens.

J K RowlingI couldn’t possible write a blog about inspirational people, places and things without including J.K. Rowling. This is an early picture of her when she still wrote in a coffee shop. I like it because it reminds me where she came from, a place I can certainly relate to.

What she has taught me is that it is possible to write in the midst of adversity, to never give up trying, and that the only limits are the limits of our imagination. I have absolutely no desire to write like her, despite loving her work.  Instead I want to find my own voice, and help it to sing.  I equally have no desire to write about witches and wizards, despite being entertained for hours by the Harry Potter novels. Rather, I have felt inspired by her to dream up my own kind of world that I would like to live in, and hope that maybe, one day, some of my readers would like to join me there too.

Writing: It All Begins with a Slab of Marble

I absolutely love hopping on a Twitter two or three times a day to check in with all my #amwriting colleagues from across the globe.  They really motivate me with their anecdotes, quotes and out and out enthusiasm. Occasionally I even get to help someone in return.

This has happened a few times over the last week, and a similar theme seems to be emerging that others have found useful. I thought I’d blog about it and share it with you good people in the hopes it will help you too.

The message is simple. The Venus de Milo didn’t start out looking like this:

Michaelangelos Angel

In actual fact it started out looking something like this:

Marble slab

As Michelangelo is quoted as saying, “I saw the angel in the marble, and carved him until I set him free.”  I believe that some of the best literature has been carved out a whole pile of words that have been chipped away at in order to reveal the masterpiece underneath.

Keeping this in mind, there are some important lessons to be learned from this:

  • Writer’s Block – can be a thing of the past. It’s not that you can’t find words, any more than Michelangelo was unable to source marble, it’s that you are looking too hard for the right ones.  Just verbally throw up all over the page, even if you swear at it, and I promise you, eventually the ideas and the right words will come.
  • Editing – The single most important thing about being an author isn’t even the writing itself; it’s the editing.  It may sound tedious, but it really needn’t be.  It’s running your expert fingers along the curves and crevasses of your work, chipping off the unnecessary and polishing the dull until it shines. Good editing can be the difference between the Venus de Milo and something you bought at your local garden centre.

I have found that I cannot edit directly on the screen.  I print it out each time and comb through it with a red pen (I have quite a collection). I correct typos, cut the unnecessary, re-phrase the awkward, and juggle the order so it scans. Sometimes it can take as many as five drafts for me to be happy enough with it to move on, but it really is worth it. I get an enormous sense of satisfaction when it’s done.

So, let’s all start throwing down some marble slabs, and set free a whole host of angels from within!

 

Some advice from Mrs Ridgeley

In my last two years in junior school I was fortunate enough to have an amazing teacher.  Her name was Mrs Ridgeley, and if that sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because her son, Andrew, was in the 80’s pop group Wham! with George Michael.

As exciting as it was to listen to their records in the classroom, and to see the joy and pride on Mrs Ridgeley’s face, the lasting impression this wonderful lady had on me was one of creativity and hard work.

There was never a dull moment in her lessons.  She brought imagination and enthusiasm to each task.  I learned about the political bias between different newspapers, how to draw a daffodil, who the Normans were, and some basic words of French.  But I also learned about life.

One subject I particularly treasured was “Creative Writing”. As I was going through an old chest recently I came upon my creative writing books and Mrs Ridgeley’s words leapt out of the page at me.

 

“Some very good ideas here, Susanna, but you could have made it a “top-class” story by using a little more thought, imagination, and effort.  Read my notes – it will help you improve to become a really good writer – you could be, but you’ve got to work harder at it.!”

Sadly, Mrs Ridgeley is no longer with us, but these words from beyond the grave are teaching me even to this day.  I am a natural thinker, just like the Rodin statue, and yet I hardly ever give myself enough time to just think. When I do, good things happen.  It is good to be reminded of this.

Until recently I was afraid of where my imagination would take me.  I suffered from a lot of nightmares as a child, and still have them today.  If I give my mind free reign I am scared that I will end up in a very dark place.  Yet when I do play inside my head I find beautiful things, like the map of Freodholm I have shown to you before.  Mrs Ridgeley reminds me that my imagination is my trusted friend, who will take me to amazing places I’ve never been before.

Finally there’s the issue of effort.  Part of my problem is that I am a perfectionist, and want to be brilliant at something first time round.  One thing I have learned from my knitting group is that honing a craft can take years.  It’s only when I look back at the mistakes I have made that I realise how far I have come.  Writing is a journey, not a destination, and I just need to keep plodding along.

So thank you Mrs Ridgeley, for your creative thought, imagination, and hard work. Above all else, thank you for your unending patience. I write today because of you.