… the perfect break. I’ve just come back from a short break down in Dartmoor. We go down there whenever we can, stay at the excellent Lydgate House Hotel (which I’d recommend) and walk and read. That’s walk lots with a little reading whilst we break, or walk a little then read for an hour or more surrounded by beautiful or inspirational scenery. This time, for me, it was as much inspiring as breathtaking.
I came away with a new start for a novel, one that made much more sense. I also, as I’ve said before, found it useful to put a finished project behind me. However, underneath the joy and relaxation I find on Dartmoor, and the inspiration, I began to wonder what it was that set it off. In other words, whilst the ‘ending’ and refreshing of mind worked well (as I’ve mentioned in other posts) it’s a matter of what is it about the place or situation that helps?
Ideas come easily: I have so many that it’s the implementation and sorting that’s difficult. As a result, the breaks and change in scenery don’t feed that part of the creative process. Sure, the difference may jog the mind into a different state, and I don’t want to belittle that important component, but it’s not like we go from a city to a deserted moor or from a built-up civic setting to a rural idyll. We live in a quiet village, one with good walking already.
Some of the way we do things may help. We’re not ‘tor collectors’ or ‘letterboxers’, we’re just walkers who like what we see around us and sharing that beauty, starkness, craginess, colour or varied weather. Each time we revisit favourite walks or places but always add new places or areas we haven’t properly seen before. We vary what we do, sometimes having good moor walks, sometimes resting, as walking across Dartmoor’s alternating bogs, tussocks and granite can be tiring!
This time, one walk revisited Grimspound, the remains of a Bronze Age settlement. Once more, I was struck by the preservation of the huts, the stone bases and the care in which porches had been built, presumably to keep out the wind. As ever, the imagination runs wild trying to figure out what they did there: Was it on a trade route? What did they farm? Why was the massive wall quite so long?
We also revisited King’s Tor and the Merrivale sacred site, including its menhirs, stone rows and cysts, but this time also had a look to the north, further towards the Merrivale range marker at Great Mis Tor and down into the valley (beyond the north of the map on this page, which gives some of the archaeological history). Here, there are a great many bronze age huts, many with a lintel-like stone outside and a little way from the entrance. We noticed the same long, narrow stone on the other Merrivale huts and wondered, because reconstructions of the buildings don’t necessarily need such stones. So, what were they? Signposts? House stones? We don’t know, and had fun guessing. We also marvelled a the remains of the walls, all aligned in the same way (as were the entrances) and, if that day was anything to go by, apparently built to protect the entrance from the prevailing wind – makes sense.
It was at this point, only the second full day out, that my mind went racing into the bronze age and rebuilt an opening chapter. Or two. A young man’s backstory came alive – though he lives centuries in the future. Something had jogged the ideas into a solid stream and I could barely get the coherent river down when we got back to the hotel that night. It’s still buzzing, now, and the whole set-up (Normal World, Call, Denial, Acceptance, Mentor in Mythic Journey terms) is interlocking.
That sort of solidifying is a marvellous place to be. The world and the characters start ‘talking’ to you, taking on their own lives.
So what triggered it? Being overloaded with bronze-age roundhouse remains? Perhaps. The extreme swings of weather (bitter cold fog and freezing wind on the tops to sheltered, sunny warmth and blue sky in the valley)? Maybe. Was it the awe at seeing such relics from 3,500 years ago or more? Hmmm – given we live near Stonehenge and its landscape (4,500 years old) and pass the stones and barrows frequently, perhaps not.
Perhaps it’s a combination of factors: I had just been thinking about historical private life before I went away and ordered some books another blogger recommended (Anna B, By Kindlelight). I’d also written another character into a dead-end and was putting her on the back-burner so I could of how to resolve the issue, and I’d just finished and submitted four long-shorts/novelettes (around 45K words total). Maybe it was a combination of endings and new beginnings, openness to rewiring, an intense multi-sensory tactile interaction as well as visual inspiration.
Whatever it is, it’s something I’m going to have to experiment with some more.