Ancient Inspiration

Before I get to the main point of this post, I would like to take a moment to mention Windows 10. My laptop upgraded itself the other day. It’s all very well, I suppose – I have nothing to complain about. Unless, that is, you wish to count that I had only just got my head around Windows 8, and now I’m sure it will take me another century to work this one out too. One notable thing I must mention about Windows 10 is its sound. What pretty, delicate little noises it makes, no? Not like the earlier versions of Windows, like 95 and 98, which went DYOINK!! when you clicked on something sometimes. Remember that? And it usually gave you a heart attack, that strident noise. Goodness.

But this upgrade has caused me some grief in one respect: my phone input. I refuse to believe I am the only person who struggles connecting their mobile to their computer. With Windows 8, I had it sussed, all was well and life was splendid. Windows 10? I can’t. I don’t understand. It’s linked me to OneDrive and I cannot cope with such technological complexities. I am not good with technology, in case you hadn’t already gathered this, and, if I can’t cope with technology now, I dread to think what I’ll be like in ten, twenty, thirty years time. It took me about nine thousand years to get the photos from my phone to this WordPress post, with plentiful clawing at the face and near throwing-phone-and-or-laptop-out-of-window moments. But finally! Success.

Yet, one thing I found incredibly curious was how I rediscovered photos on my laptop which I KNOW I deleted aaaages ago. How on earth did Windows 10 bring them back…? Does Microsoft store all deleted stuff in some far-off, technological cavern to snoop on all your doings, or so they may haunt you with things you once believed to be gone for good? Hmm. Though, disconcerting as this thought may be, I did find it amusing trawling through old, once-deleted photos – namely the five hundred or so accidental photos I accidentally took with my temperamental laptop camera (I may be exaggerating just a smidge). Seriously though, how do you accidentally take so many photos? The stupid camera app thing on Windows 8 always got in my way, opening up in the middle of my work, and while my head was down or my eyes were elsewhere I heard a sly click; when I looked up, I saw my face looking back at me. Here are two examples:

WIN_20140214_095846 WIN_20140411_203740

I mean, there I was, minding my own business, TRYING to work, and my stupid camera takes a snap. I swear my laptop has a mind of its own. This is also quite a disconcerting thought. Sometimes, when I open up MS Word, the cursor does a mad jig across the page, or, when I’ve opened a large document (such as my manuscript), it scrolls endlessly down through the pages. Maybe it’s possessed. This is the only logical explanation, obviously. Although, I am pleased to say that accidental photos are a thing of the past, and it has been a long while since MS Word has had a funky jig. Mellowed with age, that’s what it is.

***

So, enough of Windows. In this post I thought I would write about writer inspiration (for myself, at any rate).

I am fortunate to live on the edge of Exmoor National Park, a beautiful landscape in the southwest of England. As a nature-lover, I can’t ask for much more. There are many beautiful walks and sights to see on Exmoor, all of which are no farther than a thirty minute drive away from me. The other day I visited a place called Tarr Steps. A slightly deceptive name on the face of it, for there are no steps at Tarr Steps – unless, that is, you associate the ‘steps’ with the physical stepping one does there. Tarr Steps is actually a Grade I listed (a very old protected structure of historical and architectural interest, for those not from England) clapper bridge, which is an ancient form of bridge usually built from stone found in UK moors and uplands across fords and rivers.

IMAG0228_1

There is some mystery surrounding Tarr Steps, since no one is quite sure how old the bridge actually is: it is believed to be a medieval construction, but that can range from anywhere between 500 – 1485 AD. The word clapper derives from the Old English wordcleaca’, which means “stepping-stones”, while the word tarr derives from the Celtic word ‘tochar’, which means “causeway”.

Causeway

noun

A raised road or track across low or wet ground

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The name “Tarr Steps” doesn’t seem so strange for this bridge now, does it? The causeway stepping-stones. But it is no wonder there is so much head-scratching about the age of Tarr Steps, since clapper bridges are constructions first recorded in the Middle Ages, yet its name, tarr, is of Celtic origin. It does annoy me when everyone associates the Celts to purely be the ancient folk of Ireland and Scotland, because, actually, the whole of Britain was once Celtic – the Celts were who dwelt on these lands in BC. There were three main groups of Celts across the northwest of Europe: the Gauls (France, Belgium, western Germany and northern Italy); the Gaels (Ireland and Scotland – Scotland was once called the Picts, I believe, but they merged with the Gaels); and the Britons (ENGLAND and Wales). So. There we go. It is only because invasions pushed the Celts up the country to Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and also down to Cornwall. Due to the hundreds of invasions Britain suffered over the centuries – from the Vikings, Romans, Angles, Saxons and Jutes – this country is a total, total mishmash of ancient cultures and languages, and the invaders ended up merging with the native Celts and their culture, though the Celts were mostly to be found in the corners of the country, which is why the country of England ended up differing and evolving more and more from the Celts they once were. It is, therefore, only fair to say that England has Celtic blood. Always has, always will.

Moving on from that history lesson (sorry about that, I’m a bit of a history geek), I often believe that we folk of Britain have a slight advantage over most other countries of the world when it comes to writing inspiration – certainly fantasy writing, at any rate. Why do I say this? Well, of course, there are fantastic fantasy writers from all across the globe – and certainly from America/Canada, which are very young countries compared to the UK and Europe – but dare I say their fantastical inspiration comes from the parts of history their countries never got the chance to live, to experience? The knights, the castles, the cavalry and the kings; the rituals, the legends, the magic and the myth. Whether we appreciate it or not, we Britons are immersed and surrounded by such rich, deep history, and indeed, it is so second nature for us to see an ancient building, to hear an ancient story, that many of us do not stop to think about it. We absorb this history. It is a part of our blood.

J.R.R. Tolkien changed the face of fantasy forever. Lord of the Rings. He was British.

J.K. Rowling captured the hearts of the world. Harry Potter. She is British.

C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia. British.

Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland. British.

J.M. Barrie. Peter Pan. British.

Beatrix Potter. The Tales of Peter Rabbit. British.

Terry Pratchett. Discworld. British.

Roald Dahl. (Too many to list). British.

T.H. White. The Sword in the Stone. British.

Needless to say, the United Kingdom has a pretty hefty list of influential fantasy writers. As children, our historical school trips consist of adventures to castles and ruins, and we are never more than a stone’s throw away from some historical sight or structure. I grew up by castle ruins. I used to go there and hang out with my friends, sat amongst the cathedral ruins in the outer bailey, or walked the dog up there frequently. When I was a kid, I vividly remember going to a castle on a school trip (Warwick, I believe – an AMAZING castle. Go there. Instantly) and we had to dress according to the times at court, so we girls were royal ladies with hennin (those weird hats) or with medieval hairstyles, and the boys were jesters or knights or other royal court people.

Stuff like this

How I wish I had a photo of my old class, but alas. You can imagine how thrilled we were as children to dress up as medieval dames and knights, parading around the castle and its ground to see jousting knight re-enactments and dances and music. What a marvellous country this is.

Needless to say, every time I visit/see an ancient place in this country, my mind swells with imagination, and ideas and thoughts zoom about. It is a joy. There is such wonder in inspiration from history. Of course, some places come to life for you, as demonstrated in the video, and so your mind does not have such an opportunity to thrive; however, even with that you can daydream about a maiden’s story, or a knight’s adventure. Let your imagination flourish!

Tarr Steps was busy with people on the day I visited – families making the most of the elusive sun – but the bridge itself is nothing but that: a bridge. What imagination can come from an ancient stone bridge? So much!

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Ancient places are so special. What stories do these ancient stones have to tell? What sights have they seen throughout the ages, and who have they greeted? I was but one more footprint to add to its immense history, already gone and forgotten. In centuries to come, will another stand upon these stones and wonder who walked there before them? Maybe they will stand in the exact same place I did.

***

Wander through an ancient place and listen to the tales the stone tells you. Your mind will hear! Let the grass or trees or river whisper to your imagination, and you may find the greatest story yet to be told.

May your mind be free and your heart peaceful.

-JKM

Down By the River

A little while ago, I wrote a post called Research. It was as though I inspired myself with that post, as a few days afterwards I felt a compelling urge to leave my home and trace the footsteps of my past. I walked down by the river of my childhood, walking a path I had taken so many times before; yet, although I know it better than anything, I could not tell you the last time I went there. It seems so long ago…

I used to walk down by the river with my father every single Sunday, and we used to take the dog. It is now I think of a moment in chapter 11 of Times of Old: the character Elizabeth is spending her time doing something with her father – something they always used to do in the past…

‘It made her wonder why, and how, they stopped doing it.’

Indeed I wonder why my father and I stopped walking for a moment, but then I remember, and I feel my soul sigh poignantly. Our dog was old, and sadly he passed away. And, not long after that, my parents separated. My father and I no longer had the chance to have our weekly walks. And so that phase of my life washed away, and I watched the time we spent together drift slowly from me.

When I went for my walk down by the river the other day, I took my current dog. Besides that, I was alone. But as I walked by the river, gazing at the nature which seemed so unchanged, yet strangely new, the water whispered to me.

***

Down by the river that whispers memories to me, with every sound a sigh for days long gone by. 

The past beckons me down the passage of trees, and I can hear our footsteps echo through the leaves.

Take me to the river and tell me of the times

when we would stand together and hear the river chime.

The cold water sighs but eases the heartache of the hollowness created when a memory awakes.

I hear the water whisper, saying, “It’s okay,

for no amount of time can take the love you shared away.”

There is a bridge that represents my heart, bridging the gap which keeps two halves apart.

And, though it hurts, I know it will never be the end,

for I can always wonder on: what waits around the river-bend?

And though our time will soon be done in this place we know,

wherever my dear memories lie is where I’ll call home.

With a smile I’ll recall all the time we spent there,

down by the river with our little Polar Bear

Down by the river that whispers memories to me, with every sound a sigh for days long gone by. But I will always smile as I say goodbye to the bygone times of home where the river chimes.

alanjenny&polarromanrdsummer

Research

Last year, I went to Dartmoor National Park in Devon for research.

The other day, I travelled up to Exmoor National Park in Somerset/Devon for research. And while I was walking barefoot along the beach, a realisation suddenly hit me:

I am so blessed to be able to walk through such beautiful countryside, enjoying nature and all its magnificence, yet at the same time am able to do research for my story. If you ask me, there is nothing greater.

My story, Ilimoskus, is a deep fantasy tale. The Ilimoskus are a race of beings, and they are bound with nature – they are nature, since they are the elements – and so being amongst nature is surely the best research I can do!

I walked along this beach while in Exmoor:

When I go walking through the countryside (or along the coast, as the case may be here), I very often take my shoes/socks off and walk barefoot. Why do I do this? Well, there are two reasons:

1) I really enjoy walking around outside barefoot.

Not only in the countryside, but also in towns! I grew up and live in a rural city, and not far from my house is a walk by a river, though to get there you have to walk through tarmac streets. I remember when I was about 10-12ish, I went for a walk by this river, but I walked back home barefoot. In hindsight, I probably looked quite odd walking through the streets like that! But, the point is, even though I may not like cities and concrete, I still like walking upon man-made surfaces barefoot. When you wear shoes, you cannot feel what you walk upon; when you are barefoot, you can feel every stone jab into your soles, every blade of grass brush against your skin, the different temperatures and textures of the surfaces! It is as though you connect with the Earth itself with this contact and sensation, and it attunes you to the world all around.

2) It is, to me, the best research I could ever do for the Ilimoskus story.

“Is it?” you may be wondering. Yes, it is. As I said above, the Ilimoskus are bound with nature. They are nature. If you read the story, you will see how they are in harmony with the world around them, and how they connect with it with profound peace and love. This links with my first reason. However, there is a far simpler point. Since the Ilimoskus are so entwined with nature, they do not wear shoes. They are barefoot. So, because they walk around barefoot, whenever I do, I feel the world as they would. And, because I feel the world as they would, I can then share it with you all via the Ilimoskus story (:

I never really considered things like this as research until my mother pointed it out that my going to Dartmoor for the story was, in actual fact, research. I guess I never considered it as research because I love it so much, but that just shows how blessed I am to be able to do this. Walking around barefoot is so, so simple, but it is the most glorious experience for me. Nothing will ever match it. Nothing can ever better the enchantment of simplicity.

When I was in Exmoor, I also realised something else: it is actually impossible for me to be amongst nature and not think of the Ilimoskus in some way: when my bare feet touched the sand, I thought of the Flamikus’ love for heat; when the wind caught my long skirt, I thought of the Aeriikus and their freedom; when I gazed out at the sea, I thought of the Agwikus and how they live within it; and when I heard the sound of stones tumbling after I had disturbed them, I thought of the Humiit-kus and their solid strength.

I took some photos both when in Dartmoor last year, and in Exmoor the other day. If you would like to seem them, click here.

I would like to say thank you to all who support me, and encourage me to continue taking the very daunting and difficult route that is writing. With all my heart, thank you.