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Inspiration On the Hoof

The best walks, like the best writing, happen when I end up in places I never really expected to be places I didn’t even know were there. That’s exactly what happened this past Saturday. With plans to spend the afternoon in the British Museum, I tagged along with Raymond to Regent’s Park, where he does martial arts training every Saturday until early afternoon. We planned to grab a sandwich then catch the Sicily exhibit before it ended. I figured I might as well get some walking in, and Regent’s Park in July is a great place for a walk.

 

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I sometimes forget how amazing London parks can be for long walks, addicted to the countryside as I am, but that means that when I go back to London, when I just follow my nose and let my feet take me there, I find myself totally enthralled.

There were babies everywhere, and mums showing them off. I got some really up close and personal shots of a lovely mallard family:

 

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And a crèche of coots.

 

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I couldn’t really tell family groups, and coots and moorhens, like humans, have asynchronous hatchings, so the chicks vary in size.

 

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And of course there were plenty of human fledglings there as well. One delightful little girl, who looked to be maybe three or four, was prancing around the rose garden with her mum and dad sniffing roses as she went and actually commenting on the different scents or lack thereof. I didn’t take a piccie of her. Thought her parents might not appreciate that.

 

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Besides the fledglings, there were also some gorgeous grown-ups there as well. I only got shots of the feathered kind though. Didn’t want to be stalky. 🙂

 

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There were lovely little hide- holes and romantic waterfalls and lots of places to be inspired, as I let my feet take me deeper into the park

 

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As often is the case, I ended up thinking about nothing at all really, just inhabiting the space and moving through it at an observer’s pace. I’ve long believed that you never really get to know the soul of a place unless you explore it with your soles. For every little place I did explore, there were at least a dozen I had to pass up. Next time! … and the time after that …

 

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After awhile, I found that the hard exploring had left me in need of caffeine, so I got coffee with an extra shot (to keep me going) and thought I’d find a quiet place on the grass to sit and read. Didn’t happen. My coffee and I discovered the Regent’s Canal and the Jubilee Greenway! The canal is 13.8 kilometres long and is connected to the Grand Union Canal on one end and the River Thames on the other. I’m already envisioning more fabulous walks in my future.

 

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Apparently every summer when the weather heats up, there’s a bloom of green water plants. Couldn’t help but wonder if that’s why they called it the Greenway. But it did lend a very different ambience to the canal.

 

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BTW, that house there opposite the Tui, that’s my dream London writer’s retreat. Also I think it just might be the inspiration for a place Magda Gardener might have in London. The woman has cottages and flats everywhere, you know.

 

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I discovered the Regents Canal is an art gallery of sorts, with Dr. Manhattan looking rather thoughtful while enjoying a soft drink.

 

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I headed toward Camden Locks reminding myself that my time was limited. But promising myself I’d be back.

 

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Sadly I was a bit late for the market. Next time! The place was fascinating, but a bit to crowded for this introvert — especially when she’s trying to walk, so I turned back toward the park.

 

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Along the way I found this reminder that at one time the canal was for more than just fun, and it certainly was no fun for the horses!

 

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The best part of the canal on the Camden side of the park is there’s a wonderful mix of urban decay and pure romance. What more could a novelist ask of a good walk?

 

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I reached the point where the canal turns under a bridge and leads back past the zoo. The Chinese restaurant was tempting, if for nothing else its fabulous location!

 

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The canal meanders past the aviary of the zoo and while this isn’t my best photo, imagine my delight when I was greeted by a tree full of ibises … er ibi???

 

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Sadly I didn’t get as many photos on the zoo side of the canal because I was trying to cover as much distance as I could before it was time to meet Raymond. As much as I enjoyed the Sicily exhibit at the British Museum — and I do highly recommend it, from an inspirational point of view, at least for me, the walk was the best bit of my day. It was only a little niggle of a walk that demands more – lots more, but it left me feeling refreshed and open to the Muse and her big stick. Sometimes walking a story actually becomes just walking to open myself to what’s beyond the blinders I often wear as a writer focused on my work. Whether I’m walking the story or whether I’m walking to be renewed, from an author’s point of view, from a human point of view, a good walk never disappoints.

 

A View From Above: Lakeland Keeps on Inspiring

I was reminded again how important that view of the overall picture can be when a good friend sent me a link to a breath-taking photo of the Lake District taken from the International Space Station, and I was deeply moved by such a view of a place I love, of a place that inspired and figured strongly, into each of the three Lakeland Heatwave novels, Demon Interrupted and the Medusa Consortium, almost as if it were another character in its own right.

 

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The photo was tweeted by Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield from on board the International Space Station, orbiting roughly 200 miles above the earth, moving at over 17,000 miles per hour.

How could such a ‘snapshot’ of one of my very favourite places not get me thinking about writers and the way we view our stories. I’ve always been an advocate of what I like to call snapshot writing. Snapshot writing is giving the reader snippets of detail, of experience, of a fleshed-out moment so full, so rich that the reader can feel it, taste it, revel in it. A snapshot can say so much about an event, often way more than words can. So for me one of the most powerful tools in my writing tool box is to create a snapshot with words, to write a moment so vividly that readers are instantly transported to the place and time. Commander Hadfield’s amazing snapshot from space has done just that for me.

Imagine my delight when I realised that I could not only see the whole of the Lakeland Witches stories and the Medusa Consortium stories in that snapshot, but I could see all the snapshots, all the intricately woven stories of my own adventures on the fells, of my own explorations and uncoverings of Lakeland one footstep at a time.

castlerigg_Stone_Circle1How could I not wonder what Alfred Wainwrightwould have thought if he could see his beloved Lakeland in such a view from above? His incredibly detailed drawings and descriptions of the Lakeland Fells are among the most accurate, most lovely, most poetic ever recorded. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in the Twa Dogs Inn in Keswick, the night before climbing a fell I’d never walked before, drinking Cumberland Ale while reading through Wainwright’s notes and studying the maps and drawings from his Pictorial Guides of the Lakeland Fells. The beauty in the minute detail of his work is now reflected in a stunning overview from space. How could anyone not be moved by that?

More than just the love of Lakeland, which I could go on and on about, and frequently do, is the sense of place such a snapshot from space gives. (I’ve added links with lots of pictures to show you the up-close-and personal of what you can see from a distance from the ISS photo. Enjoy!) I can look at that shot and see Ullswater and Derwent Water. I can see snow-capped Helvellyn and Skafell Pike, the highest peak in England. I can see the Borrowdale Valley, the Newlands HorseshoeHonister Pass – all the places my characters in the Lakeland trilogy frequent – all the places I’ve frequented, and I couldn’t not share it. So if you look closely at the picture, the highest snow-covered point in the lower Landscapesright — that’s Helvellyn. Its iconic Striding Edge put me to the test in one of the most adrenaline-laced, exquisite walks I’ve ever done in the Lake District.

And if you look to the left and slightly lower, at the last snow-covered range in the picture, that high point is Scafell Pike, the highest point in England and another walk I’m proud to say I’ve had the pleasure of doing.

But now, if you look in between those two ranges and slightly north, settled, almost centred, in between the two is a dark spot, roughly oval in shape with jagged edges. That’s Derwent Water with Keswick on the northeast shore invisible to the naked eye from so far above. To the south of the lake, where the fells begin again, is the Borrowdale Valley. And slightly to the left, you can just make out the irregular U-shape of the Newland’s Horseshoe, all of the above frequented by my characters in the Lakeland trilogy, frequented by me. The Newland’s Horseshoe is the place where both Marie Warren and I first ‘got lost’ in the mist. The Borrowdale Valley and the Newlands Horseshoe are the places that inspired the trilogy, the places where heather clings to steep cliffs, where deserted slate quarries make for slippery descents, where the views are breath-taking and where it can all disappear into the mist in a heartbeat.

I’m so glad it was clear the day Commander Hadfield took this picture. I can’t stop looking at it. I love the fact that I’m somehow connected to that place and all the stories it evokes – not just mine, but everyone else’s – all those poets and walkers and writers and photographers and artists – past, present and yet to come — who have found Lakeland as powerful and as moving as I have. I’m connected to all of them, and by that connection, to all of those who read the writings and look at the works of art inspired by that tiny, rugged piece of land that’s just as exquisite when seen from 200 miles above as it is when explored slowly, painstakingly, one footstep at a time.

Surely there is no other place in this whole world quite like Lakeland … no other so exquisitely lovely, no other so charming, no other that calls so insistently across a gulf of distance. All who truly love Lakeland are exiles when they are away from it.

Alfred Wainwright

 

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Romancing the Chaos

Dreams imageIMG_0347There are few things a writer can do that will kick-start a story, then pull the reader in and keep them gripped right up to the very end quite as effectively as creating a little chaos. A calm and happy life in the real world might be just the ticket, but in story, there’s one word for it – BORING! A story is all about upsetting the apple cart, breaking the eggs, turning the bull loose in the china cupboard and — heart racing, palms sweating – seeing what happens, while we’re safely ensconced on the other side of the keyboard/Kindle/book. Is there anything quite as yummy as that adrenaline rush at someone else’s expense!

One of the best tools for dropping the character smack-dab into the middle of the chaos – and the reader vicariously – is sex. And the more inconvenient, the more inappropriate, the more confusing, the more SO not what the character was expecting, the more delicious the chaos will be. And let’s not forget just how much chaos NO sex can add to a story. Taking sex off the table has been a key ingredient for causing chaos in story ever since Lysistrata. A little unrequited lust can upset way more than the apple cart. Sex and withholding sex to get that chemistry overload between characters are both perfect recipes for chaos.

The thing about those great big human brains of ours is that they like to make us think we can control all the variables. The thing about the biological housing for those big brains is that it doesn’t always want to be controlled. There’s a reason why the junk is often referred to as the second brain. Oooh! I get goose bumps just thinking about what happens when the big brain gets a hankering and the biological soup starts overheating and sex happens … or doesn’t.

If we look at Western history from the point of view of religion and its effects on culture, there are few things the religious powers that be have made more of an effort to control than sex. And in story, in myth, there are few things that have caused more chaos than a little rough and tumble in the wrong place at the wrong time. Troy lost a war and was destroyed over it, King Author’s realm fell because of it, David had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed because of it.

The resulting chaos that sex unleashes in a story can be nothing more than to create self-doubt in a cock-sure character, which is always a delight to see. Or the resulting chaos can be world-destroying, and anything in between. Sex can cause the kind of chaos that will make the reader laugh, or the kind of chaos that will make the reader say, ‘if only they hadn’t done that.’ However, the one thing sex should never do in a story is leave things the way they were before it happened. Can it be used for bonding? Of course! But the tighter the bond, the more chaos can be caused if that bond is tested or broken.

And because the unconscious part our big brains doesn’t give a damn if our sexual thoughts and fantasies are ‘socially acceptable,’ nor is it discriminating about who we might have those thoughts and fantasies about, the resulting internal chaos can be almost as delicious as the external – maybe even more so. That lovely mix of guilt and desire and self-loathing and arousal and denial and shear over-heated lust. OMG! It’s a total writer’s paradise there for the taking.waterhouse_apollo_and_daphne

I’m sure I’m like most writers in that I analyse what I read for pleasure in terms of what worked and what didn’t, what I would have done if I’d written it, and what I’ve learned from the author’s writing skills that can be used to make my own writing better. I have to say one of the biggies for me is how well the author uses chaos to move the story forward at a good pace; and especially how effectively sex is used to create chaos. I’m sure I pay a lot more attention to how sex is used in a story (or not) because I write erotica, but it’s the resulting chaos that fascinates me and keeps me reading in almost any kind of novel. The world is not a static place, and especially the world of story should not be static. Happy endings are called happy endings because they happen at the end. They follow the chaos and happen when the story is finished. There is no more story, or at least none the reader wants to follow. It’s the chaos that pulls us in and keeps us turning the pages, and when that chaos is directly tied to sex, hold on to your hat!

 

Tunnel Vision & Straight Down the Rabbit Hole Again!

Scribe computer keyboardMG_0777There’s been another serious case of tunnel vision at Grace Manor these days. With three new manuscripts finished and ready to sub or being subbed and another one about to be written during the month of April for Camp NaNoWriMo, it’s not likely to end any time soon.

 

‘Did you take out the recyclables?’ my husband asks.

 

‘They’re in the refrigerator,’ I reply.

 

He’s used to the drill by now. It happens several times a year and with major shifts in my writing landscape taking place, it’s happening even more than usual.

 

‘Are you hungry?’ He asks.

 

‘I’ll have some next week,’ I reply, from my position in front of the monitor all hunched over and bleary-eyed, tap, tap, taping at the keyboard.

 

I pour plain hot water from the mocha maker because I forgot to put in the coffee. Never mind. I slap a teabag in the cup of hot water and go back to the WIP.

 

Spiders have taken residence in a number of nooks and crannies. They know the odds of dusting happening in the near future are slim, and the safety of their homes is pretty much guaranteed. Can’t tell you how delighted I was to hear that J. K. Rowling’s great productivity came from “living in squalor” and not cleaning house. I feel vindicated in my neurotic sense of focus!

 

My presence on social media has dwindled to the occasional sharing and liking of other people’s stuff. My list of unanswered emails is growing longer every day and I haven’t done a newsletter in months.

 

Tunnel Vision. Yep, my old friend. When the Muse is in residence poking me with her big stick, it’s like I’ve temporarily left the planet, and for all practical purposes, I have. She jabs me in the ribs; I write. That is all. I’m sucked mercilessly NaNoWriMocrest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76into another dimension, the dimension of the story. The thing about the dimension of the story is that it’s a whole lot easier for me to go there than it is for me to come back. These days the Muse grudgingly allows for gym breaks and walks because she knows they get the results she wants. Beyond that, it’s a crap shoot.

 

I’m in the world of the novel now, and whenever I go there, it’s hard to say when I’ll get back home again. Early on I learned that one novel seldom comes by itself. It usually brings friends who aren’t patient to wait until the house gets clean or the garbage gets taken out. Add to that the fact that the novels have a good bit of love, sex, intrigue, and people I’d like to be, and I’m very likely to linger as long as possible. In fact, I bet if you could go someplace similar right now, you would, wouldn’t you?

 

Come on, be honest! Everyone who’s ever read a good book gets the chance to follow the writer down the rabbit hole of Tunnel Vision. We all go there willingly and happily while the spiders take up residence and the recycling accumulates. We’re disappointed when it’s not quite the world we’d hoped for. We’re equally disappointed when it’s more than we could have imagined. When that happens, we don’t want to leave. We want to stay with those characters we’ve grown so fond of and take up residence in that place that now feels like home. We’ve grown used to the excitement, the adventure, the sex, the love, the intrigue, and we’ve especially grown used to the opportunity to, for a little while, be someone else.

 

The land of Tunnel Vision is also the land of multiple personalities. In my novel, I get to be ALL of the characters. They all whisper in my ear and tell me their sordid secrets and their darkest fantasies. Then I, like an evil gossip columnist, Coffee potsplash their inner workings all over the written page for the world to see. Bwa ha ha ha ha! I get to do that because I’m the most powerful person in their world. In fact, in their world, I’m god. K D giveth and K D taketh away!

 

So, I’ve come back from the world of Tunnel Vision just long enough to cook an egg, grab an apple, write a blog post
and ignore the spiders. Consider this a postcard from the world of Medusa’s Consortium. It’s my way of saying ‘having a great time, wish you were here.’ If you’ve enjoyed In The Flesh, the serial, through the months, then I hope you have visions in your head of exactly the world I’m talking about. I promise a detailed account to come … maybe in a newsletter … but then again maybe not. In the meantime, you’ll just have to settle for a blog post and a little tease now and again and enjoy my filthy weekend serial The Psychology of Dreams 101 until I get back.

 

Some Days I Just Need to Write Something

Dreams imageIMG_0347Some days I just need to write something, but I don’t know what. I want to write something, but everything in my brain is a jumble, a bit like picking raisins out of a scone. I’m looking for the tasty bits, the sweet bits, the bits that will take me by surprise and get my pulse thumping with thinking outside the box and letting the imagination run wild. Some days those things I want to write, those things I really need to write only show up in my mind when I’m walking or when I’m just going to sleep or when up to my elbows in dirty dishes, and I think I’ll write them right down in just a moment, just as soon as I can settle in front of the computer, and then they’re gone.

Those are the days I need to write something, but it’s not story, it’s not ideas for stories. Some days it’s just the detritus that builds up like a log jam in my head and needs to get out there on the page to release the pressure, to let the ideas flow again, move again, be at ease again, to just let me rest a bit. I used to keep a journal, but I seldom take time for a good long navel gaze anymore. I let my characters do the navel gazing for me. They can do it once removed and I can make them squirm instead of me. But some days they’re just not having it. Some days they’re taking time off and I have to sort it all myself. Rude of them! Inconsiderate of them, but there you go. It’s not in their job description, I guess.

The truth is that it is in my job description. It’s more than just in my job description. I think it might actually be in my DNA – in fact it quite possibly might be in most writers’ DNA – that desperate need to write something, to write anything to write EVERYTHING! We writers define our world and everything in it in words, sentences, paragraphs, collections of images that are only real to us, only live for us when
we’ve written them down, mulled over them, analyzed them, compared them with other written images and defined their meaning in our world of words and story. For us, it’s as though things only actually Writing pen and birds 1_xl_20156020become real once we’ve written them down. At least that’s how it is for me. The fact that I can write my
own reality into fiction makes it all even better, gives the life I live more dimension, more depth, more
color, with every character a facet of some experience, some connection, some thing that’s found its way into my psyche. In essence, I get to live over and over and over again, to experience my own life and those of everyone around me not only for real, but vicariously re-imagined, redefined and recreated multiple times in story as well.

I suppose that’s it in a nutshell, what I needed to write today — only that I needed to write something, only that I wanted the opportunity to share it with you, and now that I’ve written it, toyed with it, seen what it feels like, what it looks like on the page, I feel better.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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