Using locations for inspiration ~ a trip down memory lane
A year or so ago, I started work on my second novel. Those of you who have read previous blog posts of mine will know that my first novel sits, alone and forlorn, in a drawer of my rather crammed writing cabinet, the writing cabinet that is a slightly more organised version of my mind… only slightly! Novel Number Two was put on hold when the idea for Novel Number Three arrived as if by magic, and was so overwhelming that I just had to write it NOW, and have been working on it ever since.
So, my plan, on completion of Novel Number Three (which should be in the next few weeks), is to go back to Novel Number Two, and this, I decided, would necessitate a trip down memory lane as Novel Number Two is set in Wigston in Leicestershire, the area where I grew up. It is (will be) a gritty novel about childhood, tragedy and dreams. I could, perhaps, write the book without ‘reliving’ the past, just from my memories. I have a very strong, and usually reliable, visual memory and remember the minutest detail of a place. But I felt a revisit was in order. Nothing beats actually being there, seeing things for yourself as they really are ~ decrepit buildings, areas of newly mown green and peopled pavements that meld together memories whilst injecting them with a new energy.
For our current novel, my co-author and I have visited a whole host of locations
that have inspired all sorts of ideas which simply wouldn’t have come to us had we not visited these places. So it made sense for me to make this trip. Plus, I kind of wanted to go back. It had been a long time and I wanted to see my favourite park down the road from my house, the big sprawling park I walked across to get to high school, my old house where I lived from 3-18 years old, the strange round library I loved and wrote about in Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan… there were so many things I wanted to see again.
So, last week I revisited. I had my trip down memory lane, armed with notepad and camera. It was quite amazing, and possibly what amazed me most was that, although things had changed, everything was still very like the memories and pictures in my head… except smaller! Everything seems so HUGE as a child. I made my way from my house to my old primary school without any difficulty at all. I remembered who lived where and I was even able to identify which shop used to be my favourite record shop – blimey, I spent so many hours and so much money in there – and which shop used to be the army and navy store where I picked up so much of my gear during my teen punk phase.
Some things had changed… my old house had been extended to the side, the huge boat swing at the large park I used to cross on my way to high school, had gone – in fact, that whole area of park had been grassed over… my beloved pavilion that bore the scars of my etched in name had gone… my old college was reduced to a pile of bricks. Still, it was all recognisably ‘home’ and tugged at strings that I thought were no longer there. A brown dog barked along a scruffy and deserted street and stopped me in my tracks… it was like a moment from 30 years ago popping and fizzing in my mind again.
I took gazillions of pics, all of which are loaded with old memories brought back to life, and which I will use for stimulus when I embark on Novel number two again.
This building here…
and this area here…
are pivotal to Novel number two’s plot and many other memories and settings from my trip will be worked in, just as the pork pie library was worked into Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan. These places are just waiting to inspire!
Do you use locations to inspire your writing?
I too have several children’s novels languishing in my computer files. I looked at one recently and the kids don’t even have mobile phones! Aaaagh! Major rewrite if I ever considered doing it. I love your memory photos and can imagine all the ideas that would come from them but I can’t do that as I’ve lived where you’ve photographed all my life. It must have been a horrible feeling to see a pile of bricks where your school once was. I hate that sort of thing.
Oh we are such hoarders Ros aren’t we? I have put some stories ‘to bed’ in the attic, but, like you, have a whole load just waiting for me to have time to re-write. Of course, your home town is my old home town – I’d forgotten that!
My first school? Demolished.
First house? Demolished.
Secondary school? Demolished.
Previous workplaces? Demolished.
Where we held our wedding reception? You’ve guessed it, demolished.
That in itself makes for a story though, don’t you think? I am reminded of the Stephen King novel – whose name escapes me – where a bunch of people are trying to outrun annihilation and it has given me some ideas for a possible future project. I do like to immerse myself in the general area and era of my childhood as fodder for stories and I read a lot around these subjects. Maybe only to reassure myself that they were, indeed, there at one point…
Great post, Abi, and glad your trip down memory lane was fruitful.
Aw! That’s such a shame, and yes, that would be a good backdrop for a story wouldn’t it? So many ideas spin off from visiting, or revisiting, places – it’s a kaleidoscope of visual ideas. Thanks ever so for taking the time to comment and read my wee post, and good luck with your writing projects.
Ahem – jbalcks is me, Nettie. I was working on a client’s site earlier – whoops! lol
Ha ha ha! Do you know, I had a feeling that I knew the person but couldn’t work out who it was. And I replied ‘wee post’ too… hee hee! x
I agree there’s nothing like a revisit to bring back all kinds of memories and start stories churning — and isn’t it so interesting that even if things have been demolished, it’s still possible to see them in your mind’s eye as you’re looking at the scene?! As you say, the moment popping and fizzing in your mind!
Yes, that’s exactly it, Julia! I like change too, so I revelled in the changes as much as the parts that remained the same. Those changes were like adding a different colour to my picture!
Fascinating post, Abi. I expect there were some mixed emotions going back to all those places and seeing how they’d changed. I’m really intrigued about your next project now!
Thanks, Em! Yes, there were mixed emotions really. Blooming health and safety in overdrive has changed most of the parks from what they were, sadly! Ha ha! Glad you’re intrigued already! Am trying to restrain any ‘other novel’ thoughts just for a few weeks until this one’s all done and dusted though 😀
Ah, the dreaded Shiny New Idea syndrome (or in your case, shiny delayed-by-a year-idea syndrome)… I’m suffering from a bit of that myself! Good luck with the end of the current novel. x
Hee hee! Yep, that’s the one! Oh, that’s ace that you’re thinking ahead too! And thank you re current one – very excited about it x
Wonderful post, Abi! What a trip that must have been! I felt as if I was travelling along with you. I’ve never used locations for writing inspiration before, but I’m sure that it’ll happen one day. I love that you’ve incorporated those dear memories and places into your books. I hope that Novel 2 will flow as well as Novel 3. Cheers! 😀
Hi Nadine, thank you! I hadn’t used locations to inspire either until the current novel. It’s been such an eye-opening experience for me… I may be adicted 😉
I read this on my travels through Shetland this week, where I lived for most of my twenties, and really enjoyed travelling back with you through your memories and pictures as you went back to dip the well of your own past. A thoroughly enjoyable and thoughtful post – thank you Abi 🙂
Ah, well fancy that, Jenny! We must be in sync again! Glad you enjoyed the post.
I did – enormously 🙂 When we turned 40, my best friend from school and I had a day in Wimbledon, where we grew up – we went to our old schools, our old houses, the park, the High Street – it was totally brilliant. Interestingly, before we went, I dreamt a few big changes to the area which turned out to have really happened. If only we’d had blogging back then!
Oh brill! Fancy that! It must be an ‘in your forties’ thing then. I have never had the urge to go back, but lately, it’s been like an itch that needed scratching… I’m glad to have scratched it!
Location is very important to me – often it’s the first thing to come into my mind when I start something new. Great post and good luck getting those books finished. In fact, what are you doing still here? Go on, off you go; get writing!
Hee hee! Thank you, Dan! Keep cracking the whip, I need it! 🙂