This is a picture of the Mud Maid, a sculpture in the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. It's here because it's one of the few times I have been directly and immediately inspired to create a story. In fact, the story created itself. It dropped into my head when I saw the sculpture and I sat down under a tree, excavated a pen and an old envelope from the depths of my handbag, and scribbled it down.
It very rarely happens like that. I remember watching the waves tumbling about in the Race off Portland Bill, and thinking, 'Cor! They do look exactly like white horses!' That experience, knitted together with the-baby-who-won't-stop-crying theme, courtesy of my firstborn child, begat Rory McRory.
A loving and crazy gift of a little soft toy goose engendered Goose Anna while we were tooling back down the M40. On the whole, however, 'inspiration' is not so direct. It's about setting up a certain state of mind, which then allows the creative process to begin. A calm, contented state like the precursor to daydreaming, but with added fizz. Music will do it - but I can't listen to it while I'm trying to work. 'Background music' is my idea of purgatory; I'm either listening to it with my whole head, or not at all. Hats off, then, to dear old San Saens for Habanera and (most especially) Introduction and Scherzo Capriccioso, which never fails the fizz/happy/calm test. Hats off to Dvorak for almost everything he wrote, Janacek for On an Overgrown Path, Sibelius for lots of things too - the first time I heard the Lemminkainen Legend it made me fizz so much it nearly fried my cortical synapses. I rushed off and read two versions of the Finnish epic, Kalevala on the trot. I was inspired! Sadly, it didn't result in a masterwork of literature but I'm still haunted by it and still hoping. Sometimes, we just have to wait.
Walking will do it too, but not just anywhere. Some people find just the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other engenders the right kind of thinking, but I don't think being surrounded by bricks and concrete does it for me. Ullswater, the Great Glen, Kimmeridge, West Dean park... there's no shortage of calm/happy/fizz-making places.
So, I know what helps the process, and so I always use that knowledge, don't I? No. I've tried telling myself that hanging around waiting for inspiration is the mark of an amateur: real writers just get on with it. There's some truth in that - give me a commission with deadline and I'm there, doing just that, getting on with it. When there's a blank slate, however, with no necessity other than the need to write something, I can fiddle-faddle about for hours, days, and accomplish nothing while I'm waiting for the 'right state of mind' to descend on me like the Holy Ghost. I sometimes wonder if an illicit substance would help. Ideas, anyone?
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