Well, it’s April, and the Monkey has climbed back up its tree. The branches up here are budding, and I’m likewise hoping to turn a new leaf and make this spring a productive one of blogging and creative writing. Until now, travels, hosting, and craploads of editing have derailed me; I recently finished my first freelance edit and am presently juggling two simultaneous manuscripts for the publisher. Having to donate my eyes and brain to others’ work makes it difficult to write my own stuff, but it’s always a learning process and always satisfying to at least be working on something that’s getting published.
In any case, last August when I’d found myself in a similar predicament, I’d whisked myself away to Cornwall for a solitary writer’s retreat (“A Cage of One’s Own“). I found myself doing more hiking there than writing, but even that activity was steeped with literary inspiration. I was walking in the footsteps of British author Daphne du Maurier and her characters, you see, and learning a great deal about how a writer’s environment can effectively influence the settings of his/her stories. I’d promised way-back-when to blog about this and totally flaked out, but now I really have no excuse considering I just returned from an Easter holiday weekend spent at the very same location in the very same room-with-a-view! I brought my husband this time so he could also hike the trails and find much-needed respite after completing one hell of an intense graduate program. Thus, ’twas a time of needed togetherness, not for me to go all reclusive-artsy-fartsy and climb into my turret to write.
Yet the breezes off that dynamic coastal landscape still carried the sweet inspiration of Daphne, so, starting this week, I’ll finally share with you my summer photo-journey of the real-life settings featuring in so much of her work. du Maurier lived in three homes between Par and Fowey (Menabilly, Kilmarth, and Readymoney) that were not only the places where she wrote, but also where she wrote about. Menabilly and Kilmarth housed her characters as well, which I find really validating considering my own two manuscripts are set in actual apartments I’ve lived in. I at first viewed that as a rookie comfort-zone, writing-what-you-know in the extreme, but the fact is, my stories are set in these places because these places—their distinctive features and histories—are what initially inspired my stories. So, why not? Daphne did it.
I’ve admittedly only read three of du Maurier’s novels, but her writing resonates with me. Weaving dark tales with beautifully crafted language, she managed to write commercially appealing plots with literary merit—which, in my opinion, is the ideal to aim for. Of the novels I’ve read, my hands-down favorite is Rebecca, which I first experienced through Alfred Hitchcock’s faithful screen adaptation of same name (du Maurier’s novella The Birds was likewise adapted into another not-as-faithful Hitchcock film of same name). A few years ago, a random stroll through Daunt Books in London resulted in leaving with Jamaica Inn in my hands (which takes place at the actual inn in England’s Bodmin Moor), and my return to Daunt soon after for The House on the Strand is what ultimately led me to choose the wee village of Tywardreath (the book’s setting) for my Cornish holiday.
And Tywardreath is where we’ll begin tomorrow as we travel a bit of southern Cornwall to view the inspiration behind du Maurier’s The House on the Strand. Dress warm, pack light, and wear some comfortable walking shoes. 🙂
April 10th, 2012 at 14:45
Aaaah, you’re back!! And of course with a topic I can very much relate to! After all I feel very much inspired by the Irish landscape, although I am Austrian, the sea and the rugged trees and the wind just give me a sense of freedom and calm and that often leads into ideas. On the other hand, I always feel a bit oppressed by mountains, although I hail from an alpine village. Hard to explain but that’s how I feel. And I guess that is what counts. 🙂
I love what a long way you have come from from moving to the UK and not feeling at home and now getting so much inspiration out of it. So happy for you.
Btw, did you ever make it to Munich, then?
April 10th, 2012 at 17:20
Hellooo!! Ah, I just love the empathy – from what I’ve experienced of Ireland, its coast and rolling green hills are very much akin to what I’ve experienced of Cornwall, so I know exactly what you mean by the freedom of it. It’s like there’s so much more oxygen in the air (must be, I guess, when at sea-level) that infuses every pore of your body without even having to breathe it in! And the way the flora is so abundant and thickened to brace against that wind off the sea. Ahh, am trying desperately to recall it as I now breathe in the heavier London air…though, as you said, I’m indeed getting much inspiration from the UK, and London has been a huge part of that as well. It’s just so important to reconnect with nature now and again when the buildings and pavement and people and constant sounds of traffic become an oppressive rather than vibrant and bustling force.
Must say I’m envious that you’re from an Alpine village, as that’s a landscape that drops my jaw as well – yet I can see how being nestled in the mountains might give a feeling of claustrophobia. They’re definitely a looming and imposing presence; perhaps the awe I feel among them is intimidation versus freedom.
Speaking of Austrian villages, we never did get to Munich beyond the airport, but, rather, flew in there, rented a car, and drove straight into Austria to where we (well, everyone but me :)) skied in Saalbach. Oh my goodness, did we love it there…I could not get enough of the cheesy dumplings and Schneider-Weisse. 🙂
April 10th, 2012 at 18:55
I had no idea she’d written Rebecca, The Birds, and Don’t Look Now as well. I know her name, of course, but I’ve never read any of her stuff. It’s always a grand thing to spend time where you feel inspiration, for whatever reason.
I have the great fortune to live in an area that inspires me, and Highgate has the essence of many writers, for Dickens, ST Coleridge and others spent time here so I always feel I am literally walking in the footsteps of those greats chaps, plus of course, there’s the Highgate Vampire *gets shifty eyes* who is NOT my Julian (I asked him already, he said no, that he’s got better things to do than to go around Highgate Cemetery yelling “boo”)
Hope you get more time to work on your own novel. I’m still struggling with mine. Doing a re-read and oh dear, so much to work on, it’s a mess, a clunky, telling, cringe enducing tale at times, but I am grateful I can SEE all that is wrong, as opposed to being blind to it all. There’s always room for improvement.
April 11th, 2012 at 00:13
Am totally envying your ability to SEE what’s wrong, Alannah, as I keep getting blinded to my writing’s various flaws by the end of a round of revision…only to crack the manuscript open again weeks later to have the flaws slap me in the face. In which case, I’m usually at a loss as to how to fix the more serious among them. Why is it so much easier for me to spot/solve these things in other people’s work but not my own??! *shakes fist at sky* Maybe I’m meant to stay on the editing side of the fence, sigh…
Oooh, Highgate. You lucky gal, you – I love that area, especially the cemetery! Definitely prime location for literary inspiration. And I applaud Julian for being above the Highgate Vampire’s juvenile tactics. 🙂
April 11th, 2012 at 19:10
I tell you how I can see what’s wrong. It’s been over ONE year since I wrote what I did. Actually, it’s been LONGER than that, and so, I see it with fresh eyes, as if it were someone else’s work. It’s BAD, but it’s okay, at least I know what I have to watch out for. Oh and yes, Julian is quite smug about the silly Highgate vampire 😉
April 11th, 2012 at 12:02
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