Monday 17 October 2011

INSPIRATION by Liza Perrat

Liza Perrat writes wonderful evocative novels that flit through time. Here she tells us how the inspiration for a new novel came about. If this new book, set in Australia, is anything like the previous ones, there will be descriptions to die for and intimacies that will touch your heart.

I can't wait.


The first photo captures my gaze: a wooden bench seat, the chipped paint and worn slats gleaming in the angle of morning sun. Splotches of rust trace the spirals of the iron arm rests.

My great-grandfather proposed to my great-grandmother on that seat,’ my friend says. ‘Ramsay and Henrietta.’ She shows me photos of Ramsay and Henrietta. ‘They look fierce, don’t they? But they weren’t at all; apparently they were very sweet and affectionate.’

The next photo is of her white, federation-style family home with its jacaranda, magnolia, and fruit tree blossoms. In the backyard, a dilapidated chook-run leans to one side, the hens long gone, and the thunderbox has lost its roof. We laugh, thinking about growing up with those outside toilets, alive with spiders, bats and mice.

So many stories, so much history,’ she says with a sigh. ‘What a pity we have to sell it. All that will be lost, forever.’

I feel it coming on then – the ticking mind, the quickening heartbeat, the thrill pulsing through my veins. Flashes of characters, dialogue, exotic settings. My mind’s eye visualizes the stories behind those photographs: the Australian convict settlement, the gold rush, fierce bushrangers galloping off into the hills.

It won’t be lost,’ I say. ‘Because I’m going to write their story.’

There’s nothing quite like inspiration; the exhilaration that sets my fingers itching, trembling even, over the keyboard. I want to drop everything and set off immediately, on this foray into the unknown. I never know where it will lead me, what will happen along the way, who I’ll meet, who I’ll like, love or despise. All I know is that it’s an adventure on which I’m obliged to embark; a magnetic pull into the clutches of my new, invented world.

After almost ten years of writing fiction I’ve come to realize that nobody, apart from fellow writers, can understand or sympathize with these impulsive snaps of stimuli.

My excitement taking hold, I stutter out ideas, quirky characters and dreamy scenes, my arms waving about in the air. Friends and colleagues gaze at me blankly. They smile politely and start discussing last weekend’s football match.

That’s it!’ I say to my mother. ‘Inspiration has struck.’

That’s nice, dear,’ she says, with that knowing smile.

I’ve got a new idea for the next novel,’ I say to my husband. ‘I’m sure it’s going to be good, this one.’

He stares at me aghast, not daring to dampen my flying spirits. ‘Oh right … another book.’ I note the hesitation, but he doesn’t comment on the four novels I’ve already sweated and slaved over, none of which are published. Yet.

Because when inspiration, enthusiasm and motivation strike – those things that propel me into an unexplored land – I live in the hope (or is that blind delusion?) that this will be the one; the novel that will capture the attention of publishers and readers. A story people will love to read which, for me, is what it’s all about.

Ah yes, but of course I know about that initial spark, that first kindling of literary genius, and how it doesn’t last. I realize that once I’ve pored over the photographs, read the books, trawled the internet for endless hours then sat for more endless hours actually writing the damn thing, that familiar mid-story chill will creep into my bones.

The winter months set in and, as they pass, I’ll become colder, stiffer and more brain-addled. I’ll search desperately for the light of that welcoming beacon: The End.

So, what can we do to avoid this mid-novel bog; to keep hold of that first revelatory hunch? Perhaps we should go back to the beginning? Look at those photos again, listen once more to our friends’ anecdotes; the stories that captivated us so?

Take a few days away from the computer, the internet, the family, the job. Go and sit on a beach, in a caf√©, on a crowded bus. Anywhere you can clear your mind of the clutter and mist, leaving those neuronal pathways free for creative thought. And once you’ve recaptured them, hold onto them tightly, believe in your story and trust yourself as a writer.

Then, somehow, that inspiration may carry you through to The End.

Liza Perrat.

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