Writing Workshop #2 – Taking Inspiration from Nature

The other week I was walking Frodo through the gardens and fields at Tyntesfield when I realised I hadn’t met or even seen another person (apart from the lady who swiped my National Trust card). It was mid-morning on a week day in early February and I seemingly had the place to myself. All I could hear was the wind stirring the bare branches of the trees, which reminded me of waves crashing on a pebble beach. The air was cold, the sun cast watery light on the dew speckled grass and, as I trudged along the paths with Frodo, I caught glimpses of the landscape in the distance; fields, villages, trees and hazy hills merging with the pale blue sky.

The peace and quiet and the inspiring landscape made me want to write. I decided it was actually too cold to sit down and write anything but the bracing walk got me thinking about my two novels and I kept playing scenes from them over and over in my head. Many times in the past I’ve taken a notebook out with me on a walk and worked on my novels sitting on a wall by the harbourside or on a grassy slope on Cabot Hill in Bristol. I find writing flows better when I haven’t got access to the internet, I’m away from the distractions of home and, most importantly of all, the surroundings are inspiring.

One of the most memorable writing workshops I’ve ever done was with author, poet and creative writing lecturer, Lucy English, when we went away to The Kingcombe Centre in Dorset as part of our MA in Creative Writing. On the second day there, after a cooked breakfast, myself, Lucy and four others headed away from Kingcombe and walked in silence along muddy tracks and across fields. After 20 minutes Lucy asked us to all find a spot where we couldn’t see anyone else and either stand or sit for 15 minutes taking in our surroundings before beginning to write. I remember leaning back against the gnarled trunk of a tree and looking out across a field towards woods. It was peaceful; Lucy and my fellow MA students were nowhere in sight and it was wonderful to do absolutely nothing for 15 minutes except soak up every detail of the landscape surrounding me.

After writing for 15 minutes we met up and each read out what we’d written – six very different pieces inspired by similar surroundings. What I wrote whilst leaning against that tree in Dorset eventually ended up (admittedly with some tweaking) in my novel, The Butterfly Storm.

I head down the muddy lane, away from the road. I don’t have to walk far before the occasional swish of a car going past the cottage disappears altogether. The footpath sign at the end of the lane points over a stile and across a ploughed field. The soil is sandy and soft and I leave deep footprints as I walk the length of the field up towards the wood at the furthest end.

I’ve longed for this, away from the heat and intensity of home. The scent of autumn hangs in the air with the freshness of damp soil and the promise of rain. The chilly fingers of dawn, dissolved to dew with the sun, cling to each blade of grass. The wood is dark and cool, the soil underfoot turns to damp leaves and with each step I add the sound of snapping twigs to the birds calling and the sigh of the wind in the trees. It’s a tranquility I’m not used to, either as a child growing up in a city or as a woman living in a country where everyone knows your business and the only quiet time is the siesta, and that’s only because everyone else is asleep too. Here, peace surrounds me; it’s everywhere, in the cool breeze, the diluted sunlight – isn’t it the very nature of the British to keep themselves to themselves? Mum doesn’t pry, doesn’t question. Not so in Greece, however laid back they are, they want to know what I’m up to, where I’m going, what I’m thinking: Alekos, Despina, Lena, aunts, uncles, grandparents, even Takis.

Through the trees the sun makes dappled patterns on the damp ground. Beneath my feet baby crab apples lie discarded like unloved toys, befriended by fawn mushrooms poking through the moss. I’m alone, unwatched, un-judged. Only my footprints give me away, imprinting the ground with my private pathway.

Are you stuck for inspiration? Got a spare hour? Why not grab a note book and pen and head outdoors – to the beach, a wood or a local park and try and find somewhere peaceful with as few people around as possible (ideally not another human in sight – birds and squirrels though are welcome) and just start writing about your surroundings. Maybe it will inspire a scene in your novel like it did with me.

I’d love to know where your favourite places are to write?

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  1. This is a really inspiring piece you’ve written Kate. I thought the extract from your novel was wonderful, so evocative and sensuous. I’m afraid I can’t say I’ve made notes for a story in open spaces like you have, but the idea sounds great. I guess the nearest I’ve come is making notes for my story last year at a holiday cottage in Wales near Tenby. It was great to have a change of scenery to do that. I tend to write at the computer – I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite place to write, but when my husband’s at work and I’m sitting writing on my laptop, I’m usually only disturbed now and then by the dog and it’s quiet enough for me to concentrate. It’s so hard, isn’t it, in our busy urban lives to take a complete break and enjoy the natural world around us and let it inspire our writing.

    • Thanks Elaine. I tend to do most of my writing these days on my laptop at home (particularly all the non-fiction articles I write) but when I start writing something completely new I do intend to go somewhere inspiring and just write for a couple of hours. I might wait until the weather’s a bit warmer though!

  2. That is a beautiful passage Kate – moments of stillness are rare for me these days (life is very noisy with my children), but this really transported me. I’m resolved to get up early and find a quiet place to sit and just be inspired sometime this week.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Many thanks Raewyn for the compliment on the passage. I was in peaceful and beautiful surroundings when I first wrote it, so I’m glad that came across. I hope you find the time to find a quiet place to write this week – there must be some beautiful places around what with you living in New Zealand. I’d love to know how you get on. :-)

  3. Beautifully done, Kate. I need to learn to take a notepad with me when I walk. I always get hit with a thousand different ideas and scenes. Then I need to try and recapture the feeling when I get home.

    • Thanks Kathi. I find going for a walk is one of the best times to come up with ideas too. All that fresh air and time to think – perfect.

  4. Pingback: A Breath of Fresh Air: Thursday’s Children | Dreaming of Other Realms

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