6th April 2012

Heptonstall – a place to be inspired

Some of you may know that I have been gadding about a bit in order to write my current novel WIP.  What I haven’t mentioned, I don’t think, is that this is a collaborative novel, which makes this whole project doubly exciting.  The need to be out and about and scene setting, something that is very important to this novel, led me and my co-author to re-visit a place I’d visited twice before – Heptonstall in West Yorkshire.

Church ruins, Heptonstall

There are two possible reasons someone might visit Heptonstall.  One is that it is one of the only villages to have two churches – one is a sprawling and magnificent remains, like some prehistoric thing rising from the earth, the other is the newer church, built after the old one was damaged and housed virtually next door, in a shared cemetery.  The other reason to visit, is that the poet, Sylvia Plath, is buried here.

Both of these make Heptonstall an attractive setting, and one that ties in with one of the themes of the book.  It is a stunning village, set at the top of a hill and overlooking the neighbouring Hebden Bridge.  I’d forgotten most of it from previous visits, and had even forgotten where Sylvia’s grave was.  It took an eternity for us to find it – actually situated in an adjoining newer cemetery – and I was completely stunned when we did.  It wasn’t at all as I had remembered it, and when I got home and looked through old photos, I realised why.  In 1998, my photo showed an untended grave – soil and a bit of grass.  What we saw now, by contrast, was incredible.

Pens at Sylvia's grave

Plants – primulas and daffodils had been planted, there was a metal container full of rocks and a purple hyacinth flower, a small female symbol on a stone plaque and a gorgeous fairy, arms folded and looking rather enchanting.  But, what really moved me more than any of these, was the huge glass jar of pens leaning up against the headstone, pens that visitors, fellow writers possibly, had left her.  I desperately wished I had brought one in advance… the only pen I had was a present from my mum and dad, and, somehow, it didn’t feel right leaving it.  Luckily, my co-author magiced up a yellow highlighter… as you do, so we left her that – I hope she approved… always a good editing colour, yellow!

The inscription on her headstone: ‘Even amidst fierce flames, the golden lotus can be

Gorgeous fairy at Sylvia's grave

planted’, is a moving one.  The other thing which I found really lovely, was that there were pebbles laid on her headstone, and under these were two handwritten notes.  I have only ever seen this once before and this is in the Jewish Quarter cemetery in Prague, where notes are weighted down with pebbles on headstones.  Luckily, I had a tiny notepad with me, so was able to write her a note, which I left under one of the pebbles.

The relevance of all this… well, I have probably said this somewhere before, but… I wouldn’t be writing now if it wasn’t for Sylvia Plath.  Her poems ignited something in my teenage mind and made me see the potential that words had.  Actually realising that potential is something that is only truly happening to me right now, with this WIP, which made the visit even more pertinent.  I just hope that we can do her  justice.

Do you have a particular place or setting that has inspired your writing?

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About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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12 Responses to 6th April 2012

  1. Emma Pass says:

    Wow, I LOVE the jar of pens. I’m glad that the grave is now tended properly, and how wonderful to ‘visit’ the writer who made *you* a writer.

    I don’t tend to be inspired by specific places – in fact, I find it hard to write about places I know really well, as I feel as if they’re too ‘me’ and not my characters’… if that makes sense! But I do like to use real places as a basis for imagined ones, as it definitely helps to have a map of your story’s locations in your head.

  2. Thanks Em! It is lovely to see isn’t it? I hope I get a jar of pens when I’m 6 feet under – I don’t think a writer could wish for more! That’s really interesting about your perception of place and how you use, or don’t use, it in your writing. I think it very much depends what you are writing, and with your dystopian YA I can see how you would use place in a completely different way… now there’s a possible blog post for you Emma!!! x

    • Emma Pass says:

      I’d love a jar of pens too! Much longer-lasting (and more interesting!) than flowers. 🙂 And yes, I think the fact that I’m writing about a future world definitely influences how I use place. That would make a great blog topic! *runs away to plan it*

  3. Yes, the pens were a medley of bics and more interesting ones. Next time I’ll buy a special one for her! HA HA! Happy blog planning ;o)

  4. Martin Day says:

    Abi, Your blog is a lovely little piece this week – I am amazed at how prolific you are at quality blogging. I don’t know how you have time for it and the real business of your WIPs too.

    As for me, the one place I have found inspirational is the place I grew up. The bungalow in Cuckoo Vale and the (what seemed then) vast wilderness that was MOD heath and woodland that was beyond. The poignancy to me is to do with childhood and childhood lost. I’ve referenced it occasionally, but most specifically in my song ‘Must be Seen’ (http://www.shallowdeep.com/song_must_be_seen.htm).

    I have another inspiration who, like you, I visited only recently. Mine is still alive though. Across the nearly level playing-field of Twitter I replied to a Rickie Lee Jones tweet that had caught my eye (@RickieLeeJones). The brief exchange that followed resulted in her reading my blog and liking it! She is right up there in my top five songwriters so I will confess to being disproportionally excited; whereas, those around me just said, “Who?”. We are surrounded by ignorance aren’t we? But then, I must own up to a “Who?” to Silvia Plath, myself!

    • Ah! Thanks Martin, that’s one of the nicest things anyone’s said about my blog posts – very kind of you. The thing about me and writing is, I have to do it, so it’s kind of not a case of making time – it will happen in some form or another every day because it has to… if that makes sense. Love the sound of your childhood setting, Cuckoo Vale, the name itself is magical. Your Rickie Lee Jones (and yes, I know who she is!) story is fab too. I had a tweet from Markus Zusak once – I still get disproportianately excited about it!!!

  5. Great piece and it sounds like a fascinating book! Love your pics in this post!!

    I am inspired (for my current WIP) by nearby coastal places, although all the places in my current WIP — with the exception of a hospital and a home improvement store — are completely of my own imagination. I really like to create a complete world in my mind… that way I can manipulate it in whatever way I want. But the ocean inspires. My next WIP that takes place on a farm, will no doubt require a trip to nearby Vermont to visit a farm! Can’t wait!

  6. Thanks Julia – glad you like the pics. Your settings for current and future WIP both sound lovely. Like you say, nice to use real places, but lovely to build them in our heads to – one of the wonderful things about writing is that we can merge the two and, I hope, it becomes seamless. Good luck with the WIPs!

  7. What a lovely post! Thank you for including the pictures. The thing I found the most shocking was the very short span of Plath’s life. So sad.

    I actually posted on my blog this week of three places I’m currently writing about. One is the ruins of Tulum in Mexico. They are set on a cliff above an incredible beach. I love it there!

    • Hi Becky, thanks ever so. Glad you liked the post and pics. Yes, she took her own life sadly – so young. But she left a legacy of wonderful words and I think will inspire for years to come. I shall definitely head off to your blog post – that sounds fascinating! Thanks again Becky x

  8. crytzerfry says:

    What a completely magical visit, Abi! I absolutely love that you were so inspired and able to visit the tombstone of the woman who set you on the writing path. It doesn’t get any better than that, does it? And the pens and notes are simply magical. I hope the visit keeps you rejuvenated as you work through your WIP; it sounds fascinating. I love the ruins; so mysterious.

    • Hi Melissa! It really was wonderful. The pens and notes were amazing and a wonderful and apt tribute to her. Yes, more visits scene setting planned – definitely keeps the momentum and energy going!

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