Friday, 21 August 2009

What does your muse look like?

Come in. Sit down. The kettle’s on the boil. We have tea, coffee, Luscombe ginger beer and lemonade. And there are home made biscuits or, if you prefer, a slice of home made fruitcake. Make yourself comfy and enjoy the sea view.

I hadn’t given this much thought until a conversation that ensued from someone I know bemoaning that their muse had deserted them. Someone else asked, “What do they look like and I’ll send them home if I see them.”

The muses have evolved over time. They are most often associated with Greek cultural life, particularly the late Hellenistic period (when the nine muses as we now recognise them evolved). Some folk have argued that the root word (and possibly the concept) is from a much older Indo-European source and is associated as much with the Bardic tradition of proto-Celtic and Celtic peoples.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the muse of a writer (their inspiration) is notoriously fickle. Stephen King has, in his own inimitable way, described his vision of the muse in this article.

For my own part, my muse has also evolved. When I was writing Wealden Hill, for example, way back in 1984 it took the form of a pair of ravens. Whenever I became stalled or had other things to do, these two birds would appear – in the garden, perched on a street sign, flying back and forth as I took walks. In the end, to appease them, I put them into the story and was rewarded by a series of dreams that set out large chunks of plot and gave me a glimpse of a place I had not been able to visualize.

These days, I suspect, my muse would not look out of place walking up and down the centre of a slave galley. Large, ugly, whip in hand, this creature forces me to work at all hours of the day and night. This monster has squeezed one complete novel so far this year; 45,000 words of a second one (and plenty of time and material to complete well before the year ends); 25,000 words worth of book reports; and has earned me a couple of new editions on some of my non-fiction. Apart from the fact I am sagging at the knees and my hands are crippled from pounding the keyboard all day, I love it.

Of course, I would have preferred a sylph-like Greek woman in a diaphanous wrap who fed me ideas and enthusiasm like grapes and who rubbed me down at the end of the day before singing me to sleep. Or a sylph-like Greek woman with a whip [censored – ed]. But I’m really not complaining. Honest.

So, that’s an insight into my murky psyche. But how do you envision your muse?


Leatherdykeuk said...

What a lot of work you've produced this year! I feel positivively lazy in comparison.

My muse is always in my books - suave, sophisticated and drinking copious amounts of tea, Jasfoup the demon generally keeps the denouement to himself.

Flowerpot said...

Great post and I loved the piece by Stephen King - I so agree with him! I've never thought about what my muse looks like before. But I guess he would be like a small dragon called Elmo that I wrote a children's story about years ago. He is mischievous, contrary, breathes fire and disappears just when you need him. But he;s very lovable and I couldnt live without him. Sometimes he appears as a seagull, soaring and sweeping high over Falmouth docks, poetic and majestic - but equally unobtainable. PS You will note that both my muses are male!!!!

CC Devine said...

Ooh, thought provoking post. Like Flowerpot I've never given much thought to this.

The same as Stephen King, much of problem solving comes from walking. My inspiration, however, tends to come from an intriguing couple I might see on the train, an overheard conversation or a tourist outside a Madame Tussards on the way to work.

I'm not sure if I have a muse but undoubtedly walking about the city or catching up with friends, listening to a snatched conversation or reading something in the press can set my mind whirling. Perhaps London is my muse, not sure.

ChrisH said...

Fruit cake and lashings of ginger beer, please. Lovely! Your muse is doing a very good job for you even if it hasn't arrived in quite the shape you hoped for. But then Stephen King's muse isn't much of a looker either. I think my muse takes the form of an industrial-strength pair of Lane's Writing Pants. A physical reminder to keep my wandering bum anchored firmly to my seat.

Whilst I'm here I just wanted to add, without hijacking the coffee morning that I heard back yesterday from the publishers who requested a full t/s of my novel. They loved it... but have requested some not very onerous rewriting and with no guarantees at the end of it. I know there comes a point when you have to quit rewriting (this will be my fourth rewrite) but I can see the point of what they're saying and it's all I've got at the moment. Anyway, back to the ginger beer and fruit cake - well, a few extra calories will help keep the writing bum on seat too.

Cathy said...

I don't know what my muse looks like but I wish (s)he would appear more regularly. I've not yet rediscovered my creativity after back to back intensive OU courses!

But what a fantastically productive year you've had, Graeme!

Rowan Coleman said...

Congrats Chris, sounds very promising....I love this post. I have never really thought what my muse looks like either - how remiss. I would say rather than a person my muse is an atmosphere, sun setting over the countryside, birdsong, a particular type of light that only comes once a day, different times of the day depending on the season. On a far less romantic note I am also very inspired by my bank balance and the giant size of my mortgage - that always gets me working. An amazing year of work Graeme, maybe you could loan out your muse....

Ellie said...

Clouds. Whenever I'm stuck, I look out of the window at the sky. In Manchester, that generally means looking at clouds (and what falls out of them...). I'm in Sussex right now, and I'm looking at little filmy puffs, drifting along. Something about the motion always helps things fall into place.

Fia said...

The lemonade sounds tempting.

What a productive year you've had.

I don't think I have a muse. Maybe this is where I've gone wrong. Is there an agency you could recommend?

Attn: ChrisH - Fantastic!!!

sheepish said...

A really great post as I haven't ever considered whether I have a muse. I do know that if I need inspiration going for a run often helps, although remembering my brilliant ideas is something of a problem!!! Perhaps I should get my muse to come out of the closet and give me a hand now and then. And well done Chris fingers crossed for more good news.
Oh and can I have some fruit cake please and a cup of weak tea.

Debs said...

Great post. I've never thought about my muse, and I suppose it can't be my shed as that's where I write. I'll have to give this more thought.

Love the piece from Stephen King, he describes his muse so well.

Many congratulations, Chris. Very best of luck too.

Graeme K Talboys said...

Ooh. Well done Chris. Fingers crossed.

Thanks for all the lovely responses so far - demons and dragons and clouds and sheds and bank managers. I know for many that inspiration comes from routines, or their special writing place (or getting away from writing). I do sometimes get the sense of a presence watching over my shoulder (or cracking the whip - ouch).

Won't be getting any done this afternoon, though, as (faux sigh) I have to read through two publishing contracts before signing them.

ChrisH said...

'I have to read through two publishing contracts before signing them.' Whoop! Whoop! I'd like to do that instead of writing, too. Good news, Graeme.

Annieye said...

Congratulations on your successes. My muse is my mum. I always have her in mind when I'm writing.

Apologies for the short comment but my husband, his fishing kit, my netbook and yours truly are jetting off into the sunset for two weeks later on today!

L-Plate Author said...

When I'm in writing mode I always think I have an angel on my shoulder (I call her Mildred) as sometimes when I read my work back, I haven't got a clue what I've written but often than not I like it...

When I am waiting around to hear news, like I am now, unfortunately Mildred turns into Victor Meldrew because I can't believe I have to wait for so long and I've been trying to get published for ever and I'll never make it etc etc etc, I'm sure everyone can add more to that one.

And so very very well done Chris, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you xxxxxx

Graeme K Talboys said...

I've been in talks for weeks. Not new books, but new editions of my museum books. But what the hey, they came back and asked for more.

I have been very lucky. I have digitized that along with essence de muse slave driver and I'm sending it down the wires to you all, hoping it works at your end.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I loved the tale of the two ravens, can fully understand how that could inspire you.

My muse is my home. Or the house to be more precise. It's ancient walls constantly reach out to me when I write, telling me about history and previous occupants.

CJ xx

liz fenwick said...

My muse? Good question - I'd love to say he looks like Hugh Jackman but alas not so lucky. My muse is the landscape of Cornwall around the Helford which I suppose isn't too bad!!!

Chris have everything crossed for you.

Loved this post Graeme :-)


Karen said...

Great post, and brilliant news ChrisH, will keep everything crossed!

My muse definitely joins me as soon as I'm out walking the dog, complete with back-pack and packets of biscuits. He's got tanned, hairy legs and never shuts up, but he generally comes up with the goods :o)

thesecretwriter said...

I don't know what my muse looks like, but I kinda like to think it sits on my shoulder and whispers things in my ear from time to time.

Liane Spicer said...

As usual, I'm too late for vittles, but maybe next time I'll snag a piece of that fruitcake.

Graeme, love the story of the ravens. That's an impressive performance this year. Two publishing contracts? How nice. [...tries for faux blasé air, fails miserably] How exciting and fabulicious! [that's more like it...]

My muse changes from book to book. I'm in the market for a new one now: a Greek man, lean, lightly muscled and sans whip would be very nice indeed, but might prove a bit distracting. A stern Judi Dench look-alike would be welcome, once she gets the job done. :)

Thanks for the essence de muse slave driver, Graeme. That whip is beginning to look very appealing. I must stop sniffing the stuff!

Off to read the Stephen King link...

And congrats on the encouraging news, ChrisH!