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On Inspiration, Falling Squirrels and Loneliness

March 11, 2018

 

A few weeks ago, I was walking in the woods at Byron’s Pool, chatting away with my mum about books and publishing, when a grey, furry cannonball shot down from the tree next to me, hurtled past my head just millimetres from my face and landed with a thump on the ground. The squirrel paused, its nose twitching—looking every bit as surprised as I was—and then it ran away.

 

To me, that sums up inspiration. You’re walking along, minding your own business, when BAM—a squirrel falls (possibly jumps, you never know with squirrels) on your head. It’s how all my ideas have come to me. An image pops up out of nowhere, accompanied by a certain emotion that tugs at me and reels me in, and I just know that I have to explore that snapshot of a scene.

 

Everything unfolds from that one image. Whose eyes am I seeing through? Why are they feeling this emotion? What world are we in? The more I question, the more I discover. When I think about it, I wonder if I have actually invented these stories at all, or if I have just unearthed them. As a writer, my goal is always to reproduce that image in words, and ultimately, to replicate that first emotion in my readers. I want my readers to see and feel what I did when inspiration struck.

 

I remember my moment of inspiration for The Seer’s Curse clearly. It was a Sunday morning. I had recently finished my finals, and I was enjoying a leisurely breakfast. The radio was on in the background—BBC Radio 2, Good Morning Sunday. The guest was talking, and I wasn’t really listening, but he said something about flowers. BAM. A field of flowers and a girl who could make them grow at her touch. The feeling: loneliness from being seen as ‘different’.

 

The story grew from there, unfurling like a rose coming into bloom. I looked at the world from above, and I saw a pock on the ground—a place where nothing grew. This was where the girl lived: a village where the crops had failed ever since the girl’s birth, a village where everyone blamed the girl for their misfortunes, a village that believed this girl was cursed.

 

And if they believed this girl was cursed, what would they do about it? What would happen to this girl? What was the real reason for the failed harvests? What if she really could make things grow, but no one could see it yet? What if this girl was special? With every question, the world expanded.

 

That was the image, but what about the feeling?

Unfortunately loneliness is something that many of us know only too well. When I was at university, I was incredibly lonely. I didn’t have any friends. And in the months leading up to my finals, I wouldn’t leave my room or see another human being for a whole week at a time. In that isolation, I began to wonder if the world outside even existed. I battled constantly with the realisation that if something were to happen to me—if I were to fall and hit my head—no one would be there to help me.

Even if you haven’t been alone physically, I think we can all relate to the isolation that comes from not knowing where we belong. That sense of being different somehow, and that difference forming a barrier to true human connection. I think that defines adolescence for many people. It certainly did for me. Perhaps that’s why this story called to me.

 

In The Seer’s Curse, Piprin’s quest to save Orleigh is so important because it’s not only about the strength of friendship, but it’s about the importance of human connection and finding people who accept you for who you are—the people who make you feel that you belong. Piprin isn't just looking for his friend, he’s reminding her that the world outside still exists. As for Orleigh, she’s the one who will pick Piprin up when he falls.

Their friendship is what I needed as I sat alone in my room. It’s what we all need.

 

I wanted this story to do more than just relay the profound loneliness and desire to belong that so many of us have felt. I wanted it to reach people and be a way through which they could connect. Then the inspiration will have served a purpose. It will not have only helped me to describe a problem, but in itself it will have provided a salve.

 

So where does inspiration come from? It’s carried on the backs of squirrels. Perhaps the more important question is “Who pushes the squirrels from the tree?”, or maybe “What purpose does the inspiration serve?”. I can’t say who or what pushed that particular squirrel, but the story that it gave me brought me connection, it opened up a whole new world to me, a world that has helped me to understand my struggles in this world at a much deeper level.

 

It started with flowers and loneliness. I hope that there are still flowers, but now also connection and belonging.

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