Saturday, July 14, 2012
Communication from Beyond
Before you get uppity and think I am an adherent of spiritualism, I am not! But since this is a meandering set of blogs about the process of writing, I thought I’d take a look at inspiration. Even for the hardened writer, never mind someone suffering from the dreaded block, there may be a brief period when he or she casts around for some catalyst or other to propel the pen across the virgin page. In earlier blogs there has been much discussion on the gathering of data for the novel but where does the author find a state of mind that might precipitate looking for a launch pad?
It is easy to make a list of possible sources of inspiration; autobiographical events, news stories, criminal cases, anecdotes, books you have loved, people you have met. Yet these represent the mechanical beginnings, explicit sources that you can link to your tale. What about prime movers that are non-explicit but somehow make it possible for you to cast around for one of the above stimuli? For example, some writers submerge themselves in music. The nuances of emotion that stem from such experiences are not literal but nevertheless causal – or at least contingent. Then again, writers have always been known to isolate themselves in landscapes, whether they be the lake poets of the British C19th or present day hideaways in Provence. There is a growing band who immerse themselves in other cultures, imbibing the mores, the sights and sounds to give their novels an exotic ambience. The need to research is these days a precondition for a large group of authors, a troubling fact for me. I spent a great deal of my professional life as an academic researcher (look elsewhere on this blog site) and have come to fiction largely because I want to exercise the imagination rather than fit stories into real, well-realised settings. Though I enjoy this house in the French Pyrenees with its stupendous setting, the people here and their customs have never entered one line of prose in my books. The mountains may have, but incidentally, not as a result of copious note taking. The mountain that frames the final book in Azimuth is more like a Japanese Fuji than Canigou, the sacred Catalan/French mountain upon which my house perches.
But, as an amusing post script to the above, a stimulation I have felt on a few occasions has been the visiting of the graves of writers. It’s certainly not a religious experience. It’s not spiritualist. Maybe it’s a bit Buddhist or Hindu if you follow the line that when we die we disaggregate into individual atoms and become part of the future aggregation of another individual. Oh, and another aside, I don’t make trips to graves as a central thrust of travelling. But If I’m there and one turns out to be nearby…! Thus, Robert Graves in Majorca, T. E. Lawrence in some country churchyard in the west country, Robert Frost in New England, Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey and, by far the greatest experience Novodevichy Cemetery in St Petersburg. Here, in a really small area in the middle of the city are truly majestic poets, writers, composers and artists. Phenomenal. If ever you want to write but can’t get the pen out of your desk drawer, try communing by the grave of one of our own, a writer now deceased. People tell me that I am the least sentimental person they have met – so what I say is not sentimental. It’s more like a private ritual in a belief system of one! This very motif is played out in Azimuth. How much of what we seek and believe ‘out there’ in the world, is really ‘in here’?