Saturday, April 28, 2012

Inspiring ideas, amazing chance encounters

People often ask ‘where do your ideas come from, what makes you want to write this particular story?’ And it is interesting to remember that there really is a moment when the story was sparked off by a chance encounter, conversation, newspaper article or even a holiday visit to some intriguing place full of atmosphere that begs to be the setting for a historical tale.  Sometimes the original inspiration reincarnates as something quite different.

St George's cabinet

Many of the books I’ve written had a definite moment like this. The Crimson Bed was inspired when I came across a beautiful cabinet with William Morris designs painted on it which led to a Pre-Raphaelite setting about Victorian artists and their lives and loves.  The cabinet eventually turned into an Elizabethan bed, but the PreRaphaelite theme stuck.

Old Islington
One of my as yet unpublished stories, Gisla’s Hill, was originally set in the London area called Camden Town when I first began the story in the 1960’s. Later I moved the story setting to Islington, a more historically fascinating part of London. 'Gisla’s Hill' is the ancient Celtic name for Islington and this later became a village, progressing to an elegant Georgian suburb as Londoners began to build further and further out of the city during the rapidly expanding Industrial Age. This change of setting was due to the fact that a dilapidated Georgian house sparked me off and became a major feature in the story.

Start Point Lighthouse, Devon UK

In the case of my latest novel, Middle Watch, the beginning came one day over a cup of coffee with a local friend who often regaled me with fascinating and highly dramatic tales of her life. As a child, she contracted the dread disease of the Fifties and Sixties - polio - and still had problems with her leg but had overcome the disability to a great extent.  Now she was able to walk, drive, had even been surfing. This lady had already related how she had been fostered as a very young baby by a naval friend of her father’s, when his suicide left her an orphan, her mother having already died in childbirth. On this coffee occasion, she mentioned that eventually, her foster father left the Navy and they went to live in a lighthouse in the South of England for a while. This, together with other descriptions of her peculiar childhood – which was anything but a happy one – led to my starting Middle Watch.

Stormy sea with Lighthouse
Karl Edward Ferdinand Blechen

The character of Bridie O’Neill, my young heroine, is nothing like that of my friend except, perhaps in a determination to overcome all odds, face up to what life throws at her. They are both strong ladies in this respect. I also know that this friend has an especial love and regard for the sea. So yes, in this respect, she is also Bridie. But, apart from this, the character and the subsequent story evolved out of my own unconscious mind and my own love of the sea, the coasts, the lighthouses and the wonderful men who once manned them often risking their own lives to help rescue shipwrecked sailiors. To quote Bella Bathurst, (author of The Lighthouse Stevensons) sadly the job of the lighthousekeepers was ‘the first profession ever to be made wholly redundant'

 The only story which began so long ago that it's ulitmate inspiration is lost in the mists of time is The Long Shadow.  This just evolved from my own peculiar psyche and the sense of alienation that arises in those of us who are from mixed cultures, in my case half Greek, half English.  So I turned myself into Andrew Cassimatis-Clarke and wrote from a male point of view.  Perhaps this inner cultural split is the reason that all my stories seem to have a woman or a man caught between two loves in their lives!  Or maybe it's something deeper than that, who knows? I've come to the conclusion over the years that we are all split personalities and trying to 'marry' them is a lifetime occupation.

Favourite Quotes

  • My home is my retreat and resting place from the wars: I try to keep this corner as a haven against the tempest outside, as I do another corner of my soul. Michelle de Montaigne
  • Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony: Mahatma Gandhi
  • Friends are people you can be quiet with. Anon.