Friday, October 1, 2010

Nature & Inspiration (Holy Cow)

No, this is not a post about St Moo, the little known Irish cow-saint of county Limerick. Although her life's journey from tragic poddy calf to hard working inspiration of working class Irish cows is now part of Paddy folklore (her case for Mooification is currently before the Vatican).

Writers often mention various sources of inspiration for fiction. They might visit art galleries and get inspired by great works of art. Perhaps they listen to music to get into the right mood for their next scene.

I love nature and being outside. I find it a real tonic for my spirit and a way of letting my mind slow down.

A lot of genre fiction contains a strong element of natural setting. Fantasy fiction in particular often relies on the trek through the forest, or might feature the loner in his cabin in a remote mountain hideaway. Think of John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice (which is YA). Descriptions of nature - the trees and forests - and the various animals are critical to his work.

Even though being in contact with nature indirectly helps my writing by allowing me to balance my oft over-heated psyche, it doesn't necessarily directly inspire me (although it has inspired some scenes & I love to write descriptions of things I have seen while travelling, including natural wonders).

It just had me curious. Are any of the writers out there directly inspired to write by natural settings? If so, is there a market for waterproof laptops?


Brendan said...

One of the things I love about going bush or even just a few miles out of the city is the different perspectives it can give to my thinking. Whether it is a dirt road in the middle of nowhere or at the bottom of a dark mountain gully or on top of a mountain spur where the views seem endless, there is something about such scenes that fill and inspire me.

I have examples of inspiration from the city too but now I come to think about them the common thread may be myself being alone in a given environment, something it is easier to be in the country.

MataPam said...

A week ago, I got up much earlier than usual, to drive to Dallas for Sarah's workshop.

I'd forgotten how beautiful the world is, in the pre-dawn. How crisp and clear and new everything is in the headlights, the trees enclosing the road still dark and mysterious. The twist of mist crossing the road where it dips down to cross a small creek.

The Moon was just past full, brilliant in the dark gray sky, setting slowly as the sky lightened. Then the sun cleared the horizon behind me and sparkled off the dew on the tall native grasses.

Isn't it amazing how many colors grass can be? Which green is just green? Which is dark, yellowed, silvered? The seed pods ranged from a gold so pale it was nearly white to a deep red. The occasional patch of morning glory added contrasting lavender flowers, and thistles raised intense purple flowers above their deep green, spiky foliage.

After driving another five hours, I sat down and wrote it all down. Yes, nature is inspirational.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


When ever I go away to another city for a convention or something it is so good for me to take a step back from my life and see the world in a different way. Part of that is being away from subtropical, suburban Brisbane.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

First, I'd like to point out in the middle ages, in France, a dragon was made a saint, after repenting of eating people. No, I'm not actually joking, though I can't give you the name because I can't find my encyclopedia of saints. Well, they DO say sainthood is a burning passion.

Next -- I'm inspired by cities. Frankly, I live in a city that's a little small for my tastes, but as near downtown as possible. No, I don't use life scenes (or rarely) but the buzz and hum of human activity are meat and drink to the muse.

Nature is all right. But my ancestors have done their darndest to get away from it for at least six thousand years (No? In the Bible almost all words for natural settings denote a terrible place. A wilderness is a horrible thing.) and I don't presume to second guess their wisdom. I could probably live off the land and there are times it seems wise, I just don't WANT to do it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you'd considere it a natural setting, but I love to walk through neighborhoods at night. I usually end up getting a walk after dark, and the safest place to not get splattered by traffic is in the neighborhood across the street. It's quiet and dark, and I can think my thoughts. I love to consider the families within the walls of the homes and hear the dogs barking from the yards if they hear me going by. I smell when grills are going or (this is weird) people are washing their clothes (I smell the detergent from the garages). I watch the various lights cross the sky or the bugs hovering around the streetlights. I find the natural ambience of being outside in the dark inspiring.


Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Brendan. I know what you mean. Whenever I manage to get right out of the city camping, its like a pressure gets released off my mind. Something I did not know was there until it was gone.

You've made me want to go camping!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Matapam. I loved your description. I was starting to hear the little birds toward the end - no really. I see that nature effects you in much the same way that is does to me.

For years I used to get up before the family to write. I'd sit on the front balcony and watch the trees and the birds as the day began, sipping my tea. I love that time of day.

There is something special about that early morning when the full moon is still up.

At one point I used to run in the pre-dawn. I can remember a couple of mornings where I was running with the full moon as the day began. Just magic.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. I think that is one of the things that is fantastic about travelling - being able to see everthing fresh. Our minds seem to quickly gloss over the familiar.

You seem to also have so much more energy for thinking when you are in a new place.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. Why can I picture you running a little cafe down the end of a winding lane?

I also am inspired by cities, but I would have to say the older the better:) I love the ancient world.

A dragon saint? Are you sure you are not pulling my hoof?:)

Chris McMahon said...

HI, Linda. I am right with you on that one. I also tend to walk in the evening, and mostly by choice. I love the dark - I find it relaxing - and often sit with the lights out by choice.

In sub-tropical Brisbane, especially in spring, you also get the beautiful scents of the flowering trees, bushes and vines in the evening. The air is cool and sweet. I love Brisbane - the shoulder seasons (and even the winter here) are magic. Nights are rarely lower than 55/60F and days ~85F with clear skies.

Summer - well that's very humid. But there is always the beaches, which are about an hour away.

Chris L said...

As a geologist, I've worked in the Tanami Desert, the Great Sandy Desert and the around the edges of the Kalahari.

People tend to think my experiences in these places would be worth writing about. Perhaps they're right...

But I couldn't think of anything worse.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, while there have been some natural settings that have inspired me, more often than not it is architecture that does. The sight of Bran Castle sitting on the sheer cliff in Transylvania and then the memory of climbing the seemingly endless rough steps to the castle and looking down on a scene that hadn't changed much since the time of Vlad Tepes. The architecture of St. Petersburg, Russia and seeing in it the growth of the Russian Empire. The ceilings and floors of the Hermitage -- yes, Sarah, I can hear you talking about the ceiling of a particular classroom ;-). But add that to the sight of the fog rolling down the Neva River and you have the start of one of the books I'm shopping around now.

As for waterproof laptops, where can I sign up to get mine?

Synova said...

Chris, Perhaps knowing too much about a place actually wears away the magic. The "exotic" quickly becomes mundane.

Synova said...

Speaking of dragons...

Buffalo at dawn, hulking shadows against a hillside, the frigid air turning each moisture laden breath to gusts and billows of smoke.

And I thought of war horses at dawn, and I thought of the origins of dragon fire.

And villagers, with burned huts and slaughtered sheep.

Kate said...

Holy Cow, Batman! I am mooved to desist from my usual lowing and offer you the honest cud.

Anything - and anywhere - is inspirational if you just look at it in the right frame of mind or from the right viewpoint.

Now, about that waterproof laptop. I'm udderly in need of a good quality one.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris L. I guess that answers the question of whether it inspires you to write or not . . .:)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Amanda. There really is something special about castles. My wife & I went on a europe trip in 1995, spending most of our time in England and Wales "castle hunting". I love those Edward I castles in Wales particularly. Fun stuff.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Synova. Too true. I guess its the same for both urban and rural enivornments. Nature is nice, but some amazing place you have never been - or seeing something you know at a new time of the year - is definitely better.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Kate. You always give me the cream of advice:)

Now I better hoof it!

MataPam said...


Brilliant poetry.

Kate said...

Chris M,

Don't get all churned up about this: you'd butter relax or you'll milk the whole thing dry.

Dave Freer said...

Chris on the udder hand - besides writing about it, some of us find the sheer tranquility relaxing and that I find helps me write.