Monday, October 17, 2016


It was great to see Peter May back on the guest slot yesterday. It was Peter who suggested that I join the happy band of Type M-ers; we go back a long way and I wonder if he remembers the night in Wigtown, the Scottish Book Town, where we found ourselves trapped in a very weird book shop by a lady who simply wouldn't let us escape to get to bed, when Peter had to get up at four the next morning for his removal from Scotland to France. It's certainly seared on my soul! And his subsequent triumphs are an inspiration to us all.

I'd actually been planning to do a post on inspiration, prompted by my recent holiday, a cruise which included a voyage down the Rhine Gorge passing the famous Lorelei rock. The name is supposed to derive from the German for 'murmuring rock' because of the sounds made by the heavy currents and a small waterfall.

It is on the most dangerous part of the river. It is both narrow and shallow here – and indeed, the day after we passed a heavy barge grounded itself on a rocky shoal just beyond it and all the other river traffic was unable to get through – a serious headache for the tour companies.

This gave rise to a tale that the ships that were wrecked here were lured to their doom by a beautiful siren, singing so enchantingly sadly about her lover's betrayal that they forgot everything except the music and perished – perhaps being unfamiliar with Odysseus's survival tip.

It's impossible to go anywhere near the Rhine without hearing Heinrich Heine's poem The Lorelei, set to the haunting tune by Frederich Silcher that we probably all remember from school music lessons – 'I know not what thought cometh o'er me, that I am so pensive today, From out of the past and old legend is haunting me with its lay.'

And he wasn't the only one to be haunted by the story. Clara Schumann, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Shostakovitch, Sylvia Plath, Stephen Foster – that's just a handful of the diverse poets and musicians who have treated it. And it has even featured in a Pokemon game! The dramatic setting of the gorge where stern fortresses defy each other from either side of the river, an ancient boundary between rival states, is calculated to appeal to any romantic soul.

The great Romantic Poets, like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley found their inspiration in the landscapes of the Lake District in England and the Highlands of Scotland. Their poetry made such an impact that viewing Nature became the sort of tourist attraction that Rhine cruises are today – though it was common when passing in a carriage through the more dramatic glens of 'Caledonia stern and wild' to pull down the blinds because it was all just too scary to contemplate! Rather misses the point, somehow.

The sea is always a great influence on me – the result of a childhood spent in a fishing village, perhaps – and landscape too has an important influence. My Marjory Fleming series is shaped by the character of the Galloway scenery; it's as much a character as some of the people.

And I'm grateful for that. When you spend so much time as a writer just tapping away at the keyboard, whatever promotes the strange tingle of a sudden inspiration is like a ray of sunshine on a dull day.


Sybil Johnson said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip. In German class in high school we had to memorize part of "Die Lorelei". All I remember now is the first line.

Aline Templeton said...

It was a trip I'd always wanted to do. The weather was disappointing but the gloomy skies only heightened the stark drama of the castles and the landscape. I couldn't sing to the Lorelei in German, I'm affraid, but I did hum the pretty tune.