Author's Inspiration: Myths, Legends, Books and Coffee Pots
Inspiration for an author comes in many shapes and colours. It’s unique to each one of us, I’m sure. For me it’s more of a subconscious process. I don’t choose what to write; rather, it hits me when least expected, usually during sleep.
In the case of my trilogy, The Natural Son, the concept came to me in a dream. It woke me up at 4am and took three solid hours to write the first germ of the idea. The key characters and the basic plot were all there hovering in snippets at the edge of my subconscious, and I felt this compulsion to grasp it all before it eluded me. At the time, I wasn't even thinking of writing fiction. In fact, I was researching a book on American politics (I was living in the United States at the time), and my mind was geared in facts and logic mode, as it was well accustomed to doing during a long career in the news media. So, really, I have no idea where it sprung from. But where the muse is concerned, nothing is to be discounted. You pick up a thread and follow it wherever it leads you.
All I saw in that dream was a little peasant boy stalking this fine-looking aristocrat, whom he secretly hero-worshipped. How can I describe it – it seems so little to go on – but, in reality, the concept was all there at the back of my mind waiting to be fleshed out. At that point it was mainly about characters. I could see their faces and their attitude but pretty much naught else. I knew it was going to be a historical, but I didn't know which era in history would best suit my story. That came later, much later.
Naturally, there’s method and rhyme to this work of the subconscious. I’m an avid reader of historical fiction. I devour every bit of period drama I can lay my hands on. I’m in love with history of any period, but the Georgian era has always held a particular fascination for me, especially the later years of the Regency. And having spent decades analysing high profile figures in the news, I had a natural aptitude for grasping what makes people tick. I think it’s this, above all else, that eventually drew me to fiction after years of writing politics. My inspiration was hence an amalgam of all these seemingly unrelated aspects come together in my dreams to take substance in story form.
[Image 1: Ethan Tidridge, one of the key characters of The Natural Son Trilogy]
When it came down to choosing a period in history, the Regency era seemed like a natural choice. My fascination with the era might have been influenced to some extent by a few of my favourite authors, particularly Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, as well as period drama of the epoch. But it goes deeper than that, even. It's the history of the aristocracy that I find so gripping – their way of life, their magnificent country seats, their social mores, the fox-hunt, the streamlined carriages and horses. I find it all romantic in the extreme. That old chivalry attracts me in a nostalgic way, even if I do find some of their traditions abhorrent. The Regency period was like a swan song for the British aristocracy. Sadly, that was when their greatness made its last bow to the world and to history. Their decline had begun decades earlier, of course, but following the Regency period, it deteriorated rapidly. As an author you want to capture the essence of that old world and hope to preserve it in all its glory for posterity.
[Image 2: The Fox Hunt]
As inspiration goes, it only needs an image, a painting, or some historical anecdote to strike a chord. In my case, my greatest source took substance when I embarked on my research. I was enthralled by the great English stately homes. In fiction it’s usually the characters who are in the driver’s seat, while the backdrop is often mere window-dressing. In historical fiction, however, the setting plays a larger role. The world of the aristocracy is a world of wonder all its own. Inspiring wouldn’t begin to define it. To my mind, these English estates are miniature museums with infinite possibilities. They are alive in their aesthetic beauty and in the complex history of their former residents. Hence, in many ways they also drive the story.
[Image 3: Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire]
Within that glorious setting, there’s a wealth of social and psychological issues to explore. The main theme of my trilogy is about social pride and prejudice; how people tend to admire and respect wealth and power and assume, incorrectly, that a person of status commands a higher regard. I drew fine distinctions between the upper and lower orders to illustrate the absurdity of this notion, though, naturally, it was a given at the time. My story examines in some depth the demarcation between the social orders and their ways of life. Behind the two sides of the green-baize door, the contrast is stark and emphatic of the wide divide between the classes. While one side thrives in an excess of splendour and leisure, a mere few feet away in the same building is another world of want and harsh servitude, with neither side having any real comprehension of the other. This has always seemed remarkable to me, considering that the two actually lived under one roof, and was hence fodder for the imagination.
Then there’s a subtler message about marital relations and family dynamics, and how one impinges upon the other even when one is unaware of it; the way children’s characters are formed by the parents and how that upbringing reflects on their adult characters. It’s about values; what should and should not matter in all kinds of relationships and at any social level. More significantly, it’s about personal growth; how one approaches life’s challenges, whether one embraces the lessons life offers, or whether one takes to denial to avoid change.
This theme transcends time too, so what was good two centuries ago is still valid today. Characters are always diverse but the same personality types are to be found in all generations. I have found that historical fiction is an excellent medium to explore uncomfortable aspects of the human condition.
[Image 4: The green baize door]
Still, without the multi-faceted prism of a historical setting, that shapes the characters we capture in that moment in time, it would be just another human story. In historical fiction, it’s these wondrous estates, depicting two opposing worlds, that lend that special interest. These great monuments of history were indubitably the playgrounds of the mighty aristocracy, and eventually, their downfall. Basically, because it was impossible to maintain that grandeur while continuing to live heavily encumbered by all manner of debts.
And what a pity that is! As with all things in life, nothing lasts forever. For every beginning there is an end. This, too, is a lesson. Glory is ephemeral even in history. And it’s that quality that inspires an author to keep the traditions alive even when they’ve evanesced.
[Image 5: Stourhead, Wiltshire]
See Simone's guest blog at author Mary Anne Yarde's blogspot Myths, Legends, Books and Coffee Pots! by clicking this link: Author's Inspiration by Simone Z. Endrich: Myths, Legends, Books and Coffee Pots