Snow swirled by the window and an empty fireplace taunted my blue fingers as I sat in the parlor of Lednice Castle, in the Czech Republic, listening to the tap, tap, tap of inspiration seeping from my soul into my brain.
My first novel was coming. Although a published travel writer, I hadn't ventured into serious novel writing before. A lucky break - meaning a boyfriend with a job on a movie set, filmed on location at Lednice Castle - led to my imagination being plunged into a ready-made atmosphere, just waiting to be peopled with quirky characters and magical adventures.
We moved on from Lednice to Prague and perhaps 20 percent of the first draft of 'The Gypsy Trail' was written there, with ever-changing backdrops of cosy, underground cafes, freezing hotel rooms and lively pubs - armed with extremely cheap, always excellent, wine and a side of fried camembert... of course.
From the beginning, Claudia, my protagonist, grabbed the story in her tiny fingers and hauled me along with her through my real-life backdrop. I sometimes felt like she was sitting by my side, whispering her tales into my ear, and I appeared quite crazy, I'm sure, as I couldn't help but speak back to her. Lucky I had the wine to blame for my imaginary friends and, as I was in a foreign country, I didn't have to worry about running into anyone I knew.
As an Australian, simply being in Europe with snow, cobblestones and ancient buildings spewing history is exotic enough. Add to the scene a black beret, long black jacket and a tattered notebook with actual WORDS in it, and I was living in a very real version of a long-held 'writerly' fantasy.
It doesn't matter where you go, and it doesn't have to be such a stereotypical 'writerly' fantasy, just as long as it's different for you, to allow you to open and expand new areas of your mind.
Unfortunately, as can happen, upon returning to sunny Australia, Claudia's voice screeched to a halt as I once again submersed in life as a choreographer in a full-time job, writing blogs for websites and hanging out at the beach. Somehow, Claudia just didn't seem to 'fit' anymore, despite regular, urgent nudges of inspiration at 3:00 in the morning.
Ahh... a downfall to my writing fantasy... but the writing journey must have peaks and valleys, as much as the fictional plot does, to maintain the interest of the writer, right?
Luckily, the nudge finally became a push at midnight, one stormy night (what is it with wild weather and inspiration?) and I could no longer ignore my cast of characters leaping from their neglected drafts. My reinstated novel-writing practice always took place at night, with candles lit and incense burning and meditation music soothing the frustration of sentence structure - again creating a fantasy, but all in my own home, in my own country.
The thing is, diving into an actual new world, is sometimes the best kickstart to writing fiction, as fantasy and reality blend together to create unlimited inspiration - and you can often get away with being as crazy as you want in the process.
Nicole Leigh West
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