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The Source: A Look At Inspiration

How many times have you wondered where an idea came from? Beyond asking yourself that initial question, have you ever actually traced it back to the source?

Book by ellemossI’m guessing that in the vast majority of cases the answer to the first question is ‘Yes, often’ and the second, ‘actually, almost never.’

But if I asked you what you first read you’d probably tell me pretty quickly. Even more so if I asked you what was the fantasy book that got you hooked? We all remember that one, it’s the fantasy equivalent of where were you when Princess Diana died?

How about if I asked you which book made you want to write.

For some that is also going to be easy but for others it will have been a gradual realisation that maybe they could make a world just as amazing as the ones they’ve been reading about.

I have often talked about how I was inspired by the work of Alan Garner, to the extent that I read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath over and over. I even used to lose myself in my own imagination, the same part of my psyche that allowed me to believe that fairies really did live in the fairy garden I’d created, the one where bullies couldn’t reach me and it didn’t matter that my dad wasn’t around. I was Susan and I had my own adventure to follow with all the threats, all the new relationships and a magical world deep within the Cheshire landscape. I’ve still never been but I could list the place names at the drop of a hat. One day, I’ll hop on a train.

See, there I go again, lost in the story and forgetting what I was talking about.

Now, what if I could make my readers do the same. Just imagine if I could convey the emotions of my characters with tight beautifully written prose, words that relate the folds of a cold but well loved landscape, phrases that evoke magic with every breath the reader gasps.

So that is what started me off, sure. That’s kind of obvious. But what keeps me going?

The Stone Book Quartet (cover)Well, if I’m honest, pretty much the same thing. I still desire the knowledge that I transported someone to another world, a different life. I dream of lifting someone from the day to day and taking them to a magical place, the difference now is that I’ve had more practice. Some even say that I’m getting good at it.

A few weeks ago I realised that there was an Alan Garner book I had not read. It’s not fantasy, it’s more of a history in fact. It is called The Stone Book Quartet. I read the first chapter and I was moved to tears by the descriptions of the rock and the relationship between a father and his much loved daughter. His words evoked an emotional response in me and it got me thinking.

If this was the source of my original inspiration, that is special enough, but what if I can find the source of the emotional response it generated. As much as I love Garner’s work he can only reach the reachable. Somewhere in me is the source of that response. All I need to do is find it and tap it.

A good friend of mine recently presented a workshop about fear in writing. Sadly, on the day he had an unexpected emotional response and froze, in front of his audience. It was a very public situation, which he got past but in the months since then he has been analysing that reaction. He’s a horror writer so what better than to break down those moments, understand them and use them to feed his writing.

I’m passionate about character based tales, quite clearly the result of my formative years spent reading Alan Garner’s books. I could spend years breaking them down sentence by sentence to see how those stories tick but that would only serve to destroy the magic for me.

What would be much more powerful is this:

I will be inspired by his work, the source of my inspiration.

I will find the root of my own emotions, the source of my responses.

I will practice and hone the skill of writing, the source of my storytelling.

Liaohe River Delta MarshlandConsider the river. No river has a single source. Study a map and you will find that every large river has a lattice of tributaries, each with a completely separate source, often hundreds of miles apart. Each of those rivers feeds into the next, working their way towards the sea, each making the next stronger.

And so it is with your writing. You can aspire to emulate aspects of the source of your inspiration but that would leave you flat. Capture that and combine it with your own experiences, your own emotions and your individual talent and your work will be just as amazing as the Victoria Falls. Heck, who knows, maybe one day one of your readers will write about how you inspired them and just as the water flows into the sea, evaporates into the air and falls from the sky again you will have played your part in the cycle. So where was the source after all?

(By the way, the fairies did live in the fairy garden, obviously, this was just an illustration. No fairies were hurt in the production of this article…)

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