Monday, November 30, 2009

Highlanded here

This is where it all began, except that it didn't really. This picture was taken at a secret location in New Zealand's South Island. P.S. It's a secret because it's also the setting for my novel in progress. Shhh!

I recently had a second story/poem up at Ink, Sweat & Tears (remember The Fish Wife?) and for any of you who didn't see it, you can read it by clicking on the moth below. As I mentioned in this post, I am going to tell you what inspired this piece, which I called "Your Favourite Colour".

Insects photographed in Dunedin airport.

These pied, pseudo-eyed lovelies were pinned onto five sides of a foam cube in Dunedin airport. Imagine my joy when I saw them - no really, I was completely fascinated by them! I may be frightened by most bugs, (and moths and butterflies, if large enough, do flutter at the periphery of this phobia) but I do find them captivating and spend a lot of time looking very closely at them - in books/jars/cabinets. More on the critters later: I am still working on the bug poem I posted a couple of weeks ago. I began drafting it two weekends ago but it turned into an 8000 word story - oops! Last weekend I typed that story up, as well as doing more research reading for my WIP and a little writing for that, also. I'm as busy as a bee...enough of the creatures for a moment...and am currently decorating my daughter's room. No intrigue yet?

Image taken from "Homes & Antiques" back issue.

Well, it was whilst thumbing through old "Homes & Antiques" magazines and paint colour charts with a view to finding my daughter's favourite colour - you see, it's coming together now - that I came across this image, above. I wasn't sure what it was but it looked to me like a seat cushion made from old papers. What do you think? And I thought the blue looked very soft and worn and lovely. But I also remembered watching this Ted Talk on colour and illusions:

Remembering this, I took a second, closer look at the blue and noticed how the fibres were breaking away and that the seat was in fact made up of many different shades of blue, and that the blue only appeared that shade of blue in relation to the other colours in the picture: the neutral shades - the warm tones which accentuated the blues - and then I played around adding different colour cards to see how they would alter my perception of the blue seat.

Image from "Homes & Antiques".

And something started to tingle in my brain and I got excited knowing I was growing a story. You can call it inspiration if that works for you but for me it is like hundreds or thousands (or some other too big to actually bother to count number) of flash cards which are all electronically tagged. Anything which makes a connection to an existing thought or memory in my brain jumps into place like the opposite poles of a magnet and I know I'm onto something.

Image from "Homes & Antiques", plus Dulux colours of New Zealand - funny: looks just like yellow and blue to me!

I flicked through some more pages and there was an article about a Scottish castle, I don't remember where exactly it was but I've been to Scotland a few times, most recently the west coast and the Highlands four months before I moved to New Zealand, and I had seen old stone buildings, like the one featured in the magazine, there. I had a real connection and an emotional response to the images I was looking at - a good sign.
Image from "Homes & Interiors" - again.
I had real interiors in response to the ones in the magazine and photographs of beautiful scenery to prompt my memory. I thought of "The Fish Wife" which, although I didn't mention it when I blogged about it, I had actually set in Mallaig on Scotland's West coast. From there I remembered Arisaig, Ardnamurchan, Ben Nevis, Ben Lawers, and lochs and those funny little pine tree filled islands you see in the centre of the lochs, all of which I have photographs of. However, I still had a "proper" reason for looking at the magazines and I continued to browse for the perfect shade of blue.

Image from "Homes & Antiques", a really old one, about four years old - I had them given, alright?

While the Highlands were wiring themselves into some sort of story in my head I saw these frosty images and, again, noted how the blue was more attractive for being beside the neutral warmth of, in this instance, wicker.

You guessed it - "Homes & Antiques" - yes, I do have other interiors magazines and no, I didn't buy any of them, and yes, they are all old ones!

And here, the path sets off the frosty box hedging. Hedging reminded me of walls and I had a complete setting.

Image from "Homes & Interiors", bla, blah, blah.
I remembered a conversation I had with my host in South Island, asking me if I thought the scenery there reminded me of Scotland. It did and it didn't. I was, however, splicing the two places together in my head when I thought of ways to describe the neutral shade and the fibres of the blue seat (which had now become a crushed velvet - like moth wings).

The rabbits I had read about in the museum on my South Island trip, the hunting also, plus I had masses of similar imagery archived in my memory, as well as our own pet rabbit. There were deer farms in South Island and we saw a dead doe with a chunk of flesh bitten out of its rear: tufts of its fibres breaking free and blowing in the breeze. Old buildings had shingled roof tops.

All of this, and more, went into "Your Favourite Colour" but the really interesting part is, I wasn't conscious of any of this until after I had written it. What actually happened was:

I was flicking through magazines looking for a shade of blue I liked for paint. I felt a story coming on. I started writing and what I was writing reminded me of "The Fish Wife" and I thought, wouldn't it be nice if this were a sort of sister for that piece. The words came out automatically, I barely had to think, aside from researching a suitable moth, and when I read the "finished" story/poem - for it came out as is, with no redrafting - I had a realisation of where every element in it had come from and I thought you might be interested to know that.
I also want to thank Andrea, at Rainbow Notebook, for giving my story a special mention on her blog. Head over there if you really want some inspiration!
(On a side note - I'm having pc trouble and links are not working properly - am on to it!)


Andrea said...

Very interesting to read! I'll probably be passing through your top secret location soon on my summer holiday to an undisclosed location (all top secret stuff - ha ha!)

Seriously though, those landscapes are very inspiring. It's funny the way ideas come together too and the synchronicities that come about.

Rachel Fenton said...

Don't tell anyone, Andrea! :) Hehe!

It is strange and I'm not usually able to recognise their source so easily as i was in this instance, which is why I thought it would be a good thing to post.
Cheers for that.

Mary McCallum said...

Thank you for this lovely insight into the workings of a writer's mind, Rachel. These felicitous leaps are fascinating reading...

Thomas Taylor said...

Wow, those copies of Homes & Antiques are really old! Why on earth did you buy them?

But seriously, a great post and a very beautiful secret location. I've always imagined New Zealand to have lovely countryside, and it looks like I was right.

Golden West said...

The steps in your inspiration remarkable, Rachel.

Titus said...

Fascinating post, Rachel, visually and literally! And I was at a (ruined) Scottish Tower House today.
Really enjoyed reading about your mental processes, the leaps and the landings, and I enjoyed the story itself.
I am not quite convinced by your protestations about the plethora of Interiors magazines in your house. Hmmmm.

Rachel Fenton said...

Hey, Titus, cool. I very nearly moved to Scotland instead of New Zealand - I have some great memories. Thanks for reading and I'm really pleased you enjoyed.

Golden West, thank you. I'm having lots of camera trouble at the moment which, combined with my poor pc skills means I haven't made my posts as visually interesting of late as I would have liked to.

I also meant to mention the wood pile - one I photographed in South Island and one you photographed on your blog! You have been very inspirational. Thanks again.

Thomas - you should see the pile of back dated Country Life magz I have! Haha!

NZ is breathtaking, Thomas, and this picture is not a good one, mostly because the good ones make it obvious where the place is! There is a little piece of everywhere else on earth contained within two tiny Islands. You should definitely visit if you get the chance.

Mary, thanks for stopping by and reading. I'm pleased I've posted something interesting. There were more little insights and images - I could have gone on and on pointing out links and leaps - but I'm sure my mind's not that fascinating. Hopefully my writing is.

Thanks again everyone.


Yes, the New Zealand shots are all beautiful Rachel. Where are you from originally? The butterfly shots are gorgeous - now nature really gets brilliant colour schemes together. Brown and corn-yellow - the colours of my kitchen!! And I love all those Home mags - especially older ones. I have a collection of mags on DIY from the 70s - earth colours galore and fab 70s furniture!

Rachel Fenton said...

Your kitchen sounds groovy, Jaki!

I'm from Yorkshire - been here about two and a half years now.

All the best colour schemes come straight from nature. I never get bored of looking outside and I'm always trying to think of new combinations for ways to describe what I see.

I just bought a groovy retro table and chair - my new desk I told myself - haven't anywhere to put them!
Thanks for stopping by.

Nik Perring said...

Great post, Rachel, and what a fab video. TED don't half do some interesting things.


McGuire said...

Enjoy these images, I've often heard the comparison with Scottish landscape and New Zealand, I can see it but there is a difference; but they share a lot in come, despite being so far apart.

I still intend to visit New Zealand. One day. When it needs me. When I need it. When I am sedated on the plane trip.


Rachel Fenton said...

Hi Nik, thanks for popping over - I am a big TED fan, plus I'm a fan of sharing ideas.

McGuire, 24 hours in one seat is enough to sedate anyone! I am badly travel sick so had to dose up on sea legs...there's an interesting concoction over here called something like the Pahia Bomb, supposed to be great for making happy travellers!

Good to see you here.

I, too, can see the comparison but I agree that Scotland and NZ are different. The light's very different on the the wildlife, there's hardly any here it seems...

Dave King said...

Fascinating stuff - but why does the location of your novel have to be a secret?

Jim Murdoch said...

Always fascinating to see how other writers cobble together a work from the strangest of places. I found there wasn't nearly enough of this when I was a newbie. I just muddled through as best I could. Nowadays I've come to realise that very few writers can sit down at their desk and turn it on like a light. An awareness of what you're sensitive to is important but even then I'm delighted when something completely off the wall sparks off an idea.

Rachel Fenton said...

Dave, I cannot reveal the location - for a very good reason - you'll simply have to wait and see! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment.

Jim,I thought much the same thing. I was either amazed at the "magic" of writing or completely put off by the mechanical ability of the writers I read about - even until fairly recently. Just looking at the series they did in the Guardian where there was a photograph of the room of some writer had me feeling inadequate! More so if that person was able to wake at Dawn and write for x amount of hours, x days per week, in a room as uninspirational as a jar of toe nail clippings (suddenly I am inspired to write about toe nail clippings...erm)!

I write when I do because so much of my week is being unable to write, so that when I have the opportunity to sit down and put ideas to paper I am quite frantic with the need to write. If I had to sit at a desk for most of every day, I doubt I would find writing such a thrill, nor be in a suitable state of mind to be creative. I thnk I've found a good working pattern - though, a little more time variously would go down a treat.

It's good to demistify some of the process where possible. Of course a little of writing is, I like to think, magic, and some of it is mechanical, but some of it is plain and simple dot-to-dot with a few memories thrown in.

I suppose the process means very little, however, without the finished article.

I'm glad to have posted something interesting and thank you for popping along to read and to comment.

And, thanks again to Steven who asked me the question about my writing process in the first place. I'm always happy to receive your questions and will do my best to answer them.

Rachel Fox said...

Some people can make writing about writing very dull but here you make it exciting. Enjoyed the TED too though he went through everything so quickly! Trying to pack a lot into a small space!

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks t'other Rachel. That's a great compliment! The TED does fly on at a pace, good to go back for seconds though. I like things which are either so pared down they are universal in scale or so packed with details they are like personalised carved, enamelled or inlaid trinkets!

Ramshackle Review said...

Great blog, great post. Thanks, and all best.

Rachel Fenton said...

Cheers, Mark. Ditto.