What inspires a writer to write a book? It’s a severe undertaking and one that can sap you both physically and emotionally. Nurturing a story from its tentative beginnings to its fully-formed and well-rounded ending is a great and heavy burden. But all it takes is a flash of inspiration to start it all off – the great spark of our own personal Big Bang.
The story of J.K. Rowling’s fated train ride from Manchester to London is common knowledge to most people, even those who aren’t fans of the Harry Potter franchise. She claims that Harry “fell into her head” during the journey and the first tendrils of a story had instantly taken root. She has later cited works such as Macbeth and The Iliad as inspiration, along with writers such as Jane Austen, Kenneth Grahame, and C. S. Lewis. This is just an example, and a clear indication of the theory that every piece of creation is in some way derivative – even if it’s nowhere close to actual plagiarism.
So, what inspires me and where does inspiration come from? Well, I’m lucky enough to live in the beautiful city of Exeter in Devon, England, which is where J.K. Rowling actually attended University. There is a road in Exeter, in fact, that is said to have laid the foundation for what would eventually become Diagon Alley. The city itself is a beautiful place, and the outlying countryside even more so. I think that where you live has a massive influence on your artistic direction no matter what form of media you’re expressing yourself through. I personally enjoy things that speak about a city’s past – an old building, a cobbled street or pictures of how it looked decades ago. Either way, places speak volumes and I’m lucky enough to live in one of the more beautiful cities of the world.
Just some of the sights of Exeter, which is where I live.
As I have stated in a previous post, my current novel, Haunt, is mostly taken from a combination of my fascination with ghosts and my adoration of a good murder mystery. It would be impossible to deny that modern horror films have not inspired me – in fact, as an avid film fan I’m often inspired by film more than any other medium. I would highlight Gore Verbinski’s American remake of The Ring as inspiration, as well as Robert Zemeckis’ What Lies Beneath – both of them are films that have affected the atmosphere and tone of Haunt. I am learning from the mistakes of modern horror films as well, trying to avoid the things that I don’t find scary and dodging plot elements that might stretch the boundaries of suspended disbelief. If you can pick up on both the successes and the failures of stories you admire, you can begin to navigate a course through a plot that will be both familiar and also unique at the same time, much like I am attempting to do at the moment.
I find the imagery of The Ring haunting and terrifying.
Another source of great inspiration to me is David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. It’s the sense of a small town’s off-kilter derangement that initially drew me in and the subtlety and quietude of the setting that kept me riveted throughout. The characters, for all their intricacies, are as well crafted as those that Stephen King writes (an attribute that I think is a particular strong point of his). It is an enviable act of creation, to have something original that stands out amongst the crowd, but it’s something that I believe can be achieved by any creative person with enough ambition and integrity. Another inspiration for me is a video game (which, in turn, was inspired by Twin Peaks and Stephen King) called Alan Wake. With this game it was the sense of impending doom, like a spectre sneaking up on an unsuspecting victim, that drew me in. Suspense and atmosphere are far more important tools when it comes to scaring somebody than the ability to say “BOO!”
Alan Wake doles out the scares.
There is something terrifying about nature, isn’t there? It’s the sense of the unknown and the fact that, if left unchecked, it can reclaim abandoned buildings and absorb decomposing carcasses. We were all born from nature and, in the end, we all return to it. Maybe that’s why it seems so eerie and otherworldly to me, even in the bright light of day. Even so, when darkness falls upon it a whole new world opens up – like the wall between our world and the next thins to the point of frail translucency. Taking a walk in the woods or exploring the bleak plains of the moors or picnicking on the banks of a clear-water river always brings me solitude and clarity, which is a key state of mind for my creative process.
Nature has a magic all its own, both spooky and beautiful.
Then, of course, there are ghosts. I will write under the assumption that you believe in them as much as I do, because I’m not here to try and prove their legitimacy or try and convince you to my way of thinking. I have been under the conviction from my youth that ghosts exist, and although my belief in that has been occasionally shaken over the years it has never vanished entirely. I joined a spirit circle a few years ago and ended up seeing some things that I could never explain – I learned things there that I never even imagined and my belief in ghosts was all the more solidified. It’s all, thankfully, making it’s way into Haunt in one incarnation or another. Experience is a crucial element to writing anything.
Ghosts are the basis behind my novel, Haunt.
I think that’s enough for this evening. I was going to talk about my favourite books and authors, but I think that will need a post of its own because it’s obviously the most important source of inspiration a writer can hope to have. Needless to say there are many things that inspire me and the things I’ve detailed here today are only the tip of the iceberg. In my next post I want to express my thoughts and feelings on character creation, but for tonight I will just leave you with this delightful picture: