Real Life Inspiration: Thursday’s Children

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A weekly blog hop
where writers come together to
talk about whatever inspires them.

Writers can be terrible magpies – collecting colourful annecdotes, mannerisms or settings from all aspects of life and weaving them like wool and tinfoil into something new and colourful. However this habit is hard to explain to your non-writing friends or family members who wonder if your main character is basically yourself (albiet a butt-kicking, much more glamorous version) – or even worse – based on them.

The truth is of course, my life and the people in it often inspire my characters – but they certainly aren’t me, and nor are they thinly-veiled portraits of people I know.

This week I’ve been revisiting an old story that just would not leave me alone, a story that just so happens was inspired out of real life – but is not real life.

Let me tell you the real story first: (I shared part of this in yesterday’s post: Alternate Endings).

Ghostly House
This ghostly image is the only photo I could find of the outside of the house…

When we first moved to Wellington, we lived in this old house clinging to the side of a very steep hill. The way up was via what could only be described as a goat track. It was not in great shape, the inside hadn’t been redecorated since Adam was a boy and it had carpet that looked like a tatty red/orange tortoiseshell cat had given its hide to cover the floor. (Can I only say hubby found it while I was still in Auckland and sold me on it by saying it had ocean views…).

The first week we moved into that house I became pregnant with our son, and quickly became bedridden with hyperemisis (think non-stop vomiting and nausea). So my introduction to Wellington, where I didn’t know a soul apart from hubby, was spent alone for long stretches of time in that house.

Now while I was ill our landlord would turn up unannounced during the day to fix things. He was nice enough (heaven knew that house needed some fixing), but he did have an issue with an architect who owned much of the surrounding property. So while I lay on the couch feeling like I was dying (more often than not being sick while he chattered on), he told me all about his long history with the architect. In the interests of tact (and because I’m a lawyer – to make sure I’m not crossing into defamatory territory) let’s just say there wasn’t much love lost between them.

At one point I recall him telling me about the architect dumping gravel on the section above his, and it falling down into the bush above the house.

All this fed into my writerly imagination and the what if’s began. What if two strong personalities (lets call them the Landlord and the Architect… original I know) started clashing over a property. One was determined to get his hands on it – and the other equally determined to hold onto it – to the point of dragging it into the grave with him if it meant thwarting the other. Who might get caught in the crossfire?

View From Lounge
View from the lounge.

The unfortunate character I came up with was somewhat inspired by a feeling I’ve felt when we’ve moved city (or country). If you’ve lived somewhere for a while you tend to bump into people you know on the street, you recognise places or service people. But when you’re new to town, every face is a stranger, and I’ve often felt people tend to look right through you.

This feeling was amplified during this move, because I didn’t get the chance to make new friends before I started being violently ill. Also, because the house was up the goat track I couldn’t navigate the path when hubby wasn’t home – so the house in all it’s marmalade cat glory became the one place I felt grounded – safe. So although Claire definitely isn’t me – she is that type of invisible girl, who finds her security in the one place she can call her own.

The other main character is Damien, the architect’s son. Now funnily enough the real life architect’s son did live next door to us – although in the six months we lived there I never met him. So apart from the fact he was his father’s son, he wasn’t a huge influence in the creation of Damien. He wasn’t an artist, nor was he disfigured like the character in the story and the quiet little love story between Claire and Damien was totally fictitious (and unexpected).

So despite there being lots of real life influences (for those of you who read yesterday’s WIPpet – you can just make out the cabbage tree to the right of the picture – it’s the tree with the bare trunk and a round pom-pom-like head of spikey leaves) – it is actually real-life spun into a fanciful imagining. Albiet one that transports me back to a time in my life that marked many new beginnings.

It seems trite to ask if real-life inspires you, because the Thursday’s Children blog hop is full of real-life inspirations – but I’d love to know if real-life and writing have ever come too close for comfort?

If you want to join in the Thursday’s Children blog hop fun, I’ve found them to be a warm and welcoming bunch. You just need to blog about what inspires you to write and add your link to this linky. Thanks so much to Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez for hosting!

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26 thoughts on “Real Life Inspiration: Thursday’s Children

  1. Yes. All of this. My novel ‘A Song In Winter’ was inspired by my brother-in-law’s wedding–winter, snow, and the bride’s younger sister sang. These few little things coalesced into a full-fledged story. I don’t know if it’s too close for comfort, but they are divorced now, so if they ever read it…

    1. Ack in the process of moving that comment I managed to delete it… ah technopobia strikes again… What I wanted to say was I love seeing how an impression can give birth to a full-blown story – and that I’m glad something good came out of that day too. (Always terrified someone will recognise something and I’ll have to try and explain it isn’t personal…).

  2. Certainly. Sing to the Wind is set in a fictionalized version of the high school where I teach. One side character is directly influenced by a student. One scene is directly influenced by a story I heard in class. How can we help but draw from things we hear and experience?

    And New Zealand? Fabulous!

  3. Terrific post Raewyn, thanks for joining us. I love the idea of writers being magpies, it’s so true. There have been many times in my writing when fact overlaps with fiction, but I won’t say which! My friends from high school can figure it out, though, especially with my YA…I have at least changed the names of the guilty πŸ˜‰

  4. That’s fascinating Raewyn. I’ve written a story – or rather started to write one – that was semi autobiographical. It is very personal to me but I intend to go back to it at some stage and hopefully finish it. I found it quite cathartic when I was writing it, to do with my illness that I’d been through without going in to details. But although it’s personal, I would like to share it with the world one day. Watch this space…

    1. It’s funny I think some stories that are born out of emotionally challenging times are really cathartic, but I find they do often need time to sit until we’ve been able to process the emotion before they can fly. All the best with telling your story when it’s ready.

  5. The magpies line is brilliant – and so true. We just wander around collecting treasures as we go. πŸ™‚ I’ve definitely used little snippets of real life inspiration. It’s almost impossible not too – there are too many nifty things in my basket to leave them lying there. πŸ™‚

    1. I’m glad you relate too. Before I got involved in the writing community I really thought I was the only person who looked at the world that way. It’s so good to make contact with other people who get it. Thanks for stopping by Christine.

  6. I guess when you write fantasy, real-life experiences filter through your writing, but only with little details… That’s how it is for me, at least. Great post again, Raewyn, I’m looking forward to reading your short story πŸ™‚

    1. For me real life takes on a whole new form when I’m writing fantasy.

      One of my writing buddies was looking over my WIP (she’s helping me with chapter edits) on a day when I was ready to burn the whole thing. (I heard a great phrase the other day that was a keeper – the state of being stuck-in-suck sand – that was the place I was at). She said that she could see so much of my life in the story. My hopes, attitudes about the past, choices and the potential for redemption.

      So I don’t deal with real life dragons, but I approach the ideological ones with much the same attitude. – Thanks for beta reading too – (don’t forget my inbox is always open for any of yours too).

  7. I’m in a weird middle-ground when it comes to real-life inspirations. On the one hand, my current work is high-concept sci-fi/fantasy, so characters and situations are all exaggerated and archetype-y.

    BUT… I also find that the inner longing of the characters β€” for belonging, self-confidence, love, justice β€” are those that we can all deeply connect with, no matter what world we live in.

    So for me, it’s those real-life emotions and unfulfilled dreams that I use to fuel my work.

    Thanks for sharing!

    PS: I LOVE that house and that view πŸ™‚

    1. John funnily enough this story is way off genre and typical for me – I write epic fantasy typically and find real life inspiration is exaggerated (the part I love the best about writing – push it past where it naturally might go). But I agree about the character motivations – even my magical characters have inner turmoil and thought processes drawn out of my own experience.

  8. A lot of my inspiration comes from places. The setting of my novel, The Butterfly Storm, was inspired by where my parents-in-law live in Greece (you can see Mt Olympus from their garden) and my grandparent’s old farmhouse near the coast in Norfolk (east England).

    I loved finding out the story behind your A Place of Safety story. I’d have put up with that marmalade cat carpet for a house in NZ with those sea views, *sigh* if only…

    1. We only visited Greece once – but it was inspiring! (Even more so because we were staying with friends who were locals). When is The Butterfly Storm being published….?

  9. I find myself drawing from real life a lot. It can be as simple as a mannerism added to a character.
    Your story looks intriguing. I had to back and check out more from yesterday’s post.

  10. Why is a cabbage tree called a cabbage tree? And no, that isn’t the start of a lame joke. I really want to know! It doesn’t look like a cabbage.

    If I started blogging about what inspires me, I’d never stop and all my stories would fall by the wayside. The short version is that almost everything I encounter seems to inspire me in some way or another.

  11. It really doesn’t look like a cabbage at all. But you can eat the young leaf hearts (apparently – I’ve never tried). I’ve heard the NZ settlers ate them instead of cabbage. Still a strange name.

    I’m with you about the inspiration. Which is why I had no qualms joining this blog hop – there’s always something to blog about. You could consider joining us?

  12. Ah! That makes some sense, like Jerusalem artichoke over here. If you ever find out what they are like to eat, let me know. I am curious about such things. πŸ™‚

    Hmm, maybe. I will think about it.

    1. I’m not even sure how one would go about it – I have a baby one in the garden, but I’d hate to kill it… (may have to research) – and the other weird thing is the white cabbage butterflies (do you have those?) eat cabbage trees too – or at least it must be their caterpillars…

      No pressure at all about the blog hop either. πŸ™‚

      1. I looked them up, and no, I’ve never seen one in my state. Supposedly there are some places in the U.S. where they’ve been accidentally introduced. A tree that may taste like cabbage… I am fascinated!

        Oh, I don’t feel pressured. πŸ™‚ I’m just trying to decide if I can start another thing and keep up with it.

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