This is such a compelling story and I found myself glued to the events and characters. I am so pleased to be part of the blog tour for this book and to host a great guest blog from Sinéad O’Hart!
Drawing Inspiration from Books
One of the perennial questions readers ask you, when you’re a writer, is ‘where do you get your inspiration from?’ It’s a question I never tire of answering, because I always think: imagine who’s listening to this reply. Imagine the stories that they’re destined to tell. Imagine that all they need in order to start telling those stories is to hear, from a fellow creator, that ideas are all around them – and that they don’t need special permission, or particular training, or fancy tools, to start finding them.
And then I give the answer I always give: Inspiration, and ideas, are everywhere.
I like to tell children who ask me this question to follow what I call my ABC: Always Be Curious. Curiosity is the thing that sparks most of my ideas – I wonder whether dogs can understand human speech (and are just pretending not to, and if so, why); I wonder why clouds are white instead of, say, purple with green dots. I wonder whether there really are planets out there in the vastness of the universe with people living on them, and I wonder whether they’re people like us, or if they’re blobs of sentient goo or if their organs are on the outside or if they’re just giant walking brains, blurping out a ‘hello’ as they go by. I’m forever wondering. It’s how I pass the time, which means I’m never bored. I was, and still am, a champion daydreamer, and I always make sure to tell children at schools that daydreaming is one of the vital tools in a writer’s kit – nobody would ever make things up unless they had the space, and time, to dream about it first. So, mostly, and at least for me, ideas come from wondering; from drinking in the world and all its splendour, in as much detail as I can, and letting it settle inside my head until it congeals into questions, and wondering, and ideas can start to form.
Another way that inspiration strikes is through reading. Or perhaps I should say: perhaps not reading, strictly, but through loving stories. Because stories, of course, don’t have to be written down in a book to be real. Stories are in the air around us all the time – they’re half-understood conversations you overhear while sitting in a café or while waiting for your grown-ups to finish talking in the supermarket, or in the funny joke your pal told you on your way to school, or the computer game you’re allowed to play for half an hour once homework’s done, or the movie you get to watch at the weekend. Stories can be found in people’s faces, in pictures, in newspaper headlines. Stories can come in handy when you’ve done something you shouldn’t, and you need to make something up to get out of it… or get ready to face the music. And speaking of music, songs are full of stories too, even the ones that don’t have words – because songs can make you feel, and that sparks your mind into imagining, and from imagining, stories grow.
One of the most fruitful places to get inspiration, for me, is in books. The very first book I ever wrote, when I was seven, was a sequel – with my own drawings – to The Little Princeby Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I loved the book so much, and the characters were so real to me, that I decided to take my pencils and paper and write my own story. It didn’t occur to me that I should make up my own characters, or my own settings; I just wanted to continue the stories of the characters that Saint-Exupéry had made, and that’s what I did. I ran out of plot after about four pages, but that didn’t matter. I had made something, and I was proud of it. This desire to make something out of the work of someone else continued into my teens, where I found myself writing stories closely based on a series of books that I loved at the time. Nowadays, it would be called ‘writing fan-fiction’, but when I was younger, I didn’t have the internet to tell me it was okay to draw inspiration from other books. So, these stories were just for me.
All the books I’ve written so far have been inspired by things I loved, or which I read about in books. Some of these things came into my life in childhood, and others slightly later, but I can trace them all back through my published work: in The Eye of the North it’s my fascination with polar regions and polar exploration, as well as my obsession with mythical monsters, particularly sea monsters; The Star-Spun Web came from my interest in the Tunguska explosion, a historical event I became hooked on when I was eight, spending hours poring over photographs of it and reading all I could about it; Skyborn came from my love of circuses, adventures in archaeologically interesting places and, again, mythicalcreatures – all of these things came from books, or movies, or stories I loved. And in The Time Tider, the inspiration came directly from a book, this time a non-fiction work called Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages by a French historian named Jacques le Goff. As I read the part which discusseshow ideas about time, and how to measure it, changed in the medieval period, I felt an idea ping into my head.
What if there was a gap between this type of time and that type of time… And what if extra time gathered in the gap, and you could go back through history and harvest it, and bring it to the present?
My book, The Time Tider, came from that moment. So, if ever anyone tells you off for daydreaming, or (horrors!) for reading, you can confidently say: Leave me alone! I’m growing a story.
And that will be one hundred per cent true.