Saturday, November 12, 2011

Where Inspiration Comes From

Our Sunday guest blogger today is the wonderfully talented Elizabeth Duncan. Elizabeth's first work of fiction, The Cold Light of Mourning, won the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Award and was nominated for both an Agatha Award (USA) and Arthur Ellis Award (Canada). The third novel in the series, A Killer's Christmas in Wales, was published in October 2011.  If you have yet to discover her books, I can confirm that you are in for a real treat. They are an absolute delight. 

Elizabeth, a very warm welcome to Type M! 

Just about any author will tell you that the question she gets asked the most is, “Where do you get your ideas?” But a better question is, “Where do you get your inspiration?” Where does inspiration come from? And what is it, anyway? 

I’ve seen it described as “being in a state of flow” -- and that’s certainly a great state for a writer to be in. Inspiration may have something to do with passion or purpose but I think it’s to do with prompting or pushing. What prompted us to write? What prompts us to write the kinds of books we do? And once the writing is underway, what pushes us to keep going despite all the obstacles and challenges that the writing process throws at us? What inspires us to take our work to the next level?

In my writing life, inspiration comes in unexpected ways, from different directions, sometimes when I least expect it and sometimes, if I’m very lucky, at the very moment when I really need it.

I learned early on in my writing career that walking my dog Dolly is inspirational. We ramble for about fifty minutes most days at Colonel Samuel Smith Park, a beautiful nature conservancy located on the shore of Lake Ontario in Toronto’s west end. Winding trails lead along the water’s edge, past swans and sailboats, rocky outcrops, tall grasses, banks of wild flowers and nesting birds. As Dolly explores, I have time to focus on my writing and think about what has to happen next to move the story forward. Sometimes I solve plot problems; other times a neat twist just pops into my head. Something about being outside, away from all the distractions of home, combined with the gentle rhythm of walking is so conducive to thinking that by the time I return home, with a tired, happy dog, I’m re-charged and eager to get to my laptop so the next thousand words can spill out.

Another source of inspiration for me is good writing. I try to spend most of my reading time with writers who write better than I because they have something to teach me. Canadian crime writer Giles Blunt is one of my favourite authors. His imaginative use of plain language to tell gripping, suspenseful stories is masterful. His prose is clean and uncomplicated, yet detailed and subtle. While I’m reading his work I’m learning more about the writing craft. How to set the main plot to one side so a sub plot can take centre stage. How to create a sympathetic character so the reader will care what happens to him. Reading great writing inspires me to be more imaginative, to be more descriptive and to try to take my writing to the next level It’s inspiring to think we can always do better.

And finally, since my books are set in North Wales I draw inspiration from my visits there. Just listening to the way people talk – the words they use and how they say them, seeing what’s available in the shops, reading the newspapers, having a friendly chat over a nice cup of tea with the local police constable, enjoying a cup of morning coffee with a friend … inspiration is all around me. If I could live and write there full time, surrounded by those magnificent, ancient hills, I know my books would be improved in ways that I can’t even begin to imagine. And the very idea that this might one day be possible, inspires me to keep writing.

Elizabeth lives in Toronto with her dog, Dolly, and spends several weeks each year in North Wales where her books are set. 


Hannah Dennison said...

I find my inspiration comes when I least expect it to i.e. in the shower, driving in the car to work ... ironing. It seems to come when it isn't "forced." Great post!

Donis Casey said...

The shower is a miraculous place for inspiration. I think it's the power of water. I've had fabulous inspiration while swimming, too.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Elizabeth, I needed this reminder that over-busyness is the enemy of creativity. And that includes the internet and computers.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hello, Elizabeth,

First, as a reader as well as a writer, it's lovely to learn about other authors who are writing quality mystery fiction. Like you, I get many ideas walking, but often this is done on a treadmill.

Jacqueline Seewald

Elizabeth Duncan said...

Thanks, Hannah for the invitation and for your kind words. Donis -- I wonder if there's a link among the W words ... walking .. water --> wonderful!
Charlotte -- I struggle with the internet and email more than ever when I'm writing. There's actually a program that disables it for a period of time and I am seriously thinking I need to sign up.
Hi Jacqueline. I hope you'll have a chance to check out my work and I'm pleased to learn about yours. I think the great thing about exercise is that it does give us (much needed) thinking time.
Thank you all for your great comments.