You’d think 2020 would be full of inspiration. A pandemic. Political shenanigans. Murder hornets. But like a lot of people, the onslaught has left me ducking for cover rather than grasping the thistle. Maybe one day after the dust has settled, it will be time to write the 2020 Story.
But that’s me, always looking back. That’s why I write historicals.
Why do I write about the past?
Perhaps because it’s easy to pin down, easy to control. Once something is in the past, the events aren’t likely to change. It’s easier to examine cause and effect when both have already happened, than to make predictions.
Making predictions is for science fiction writers.
My family and I moved to Scotland nearly four years ago. It was a move I’d been wanting to make for a long time, and when the opportunity came, I leaped with both feet. It was the best thing we ever did, for so many reasons. But the biggest one, at least for me, has been inspiration.
In Scotland, history is all around.
It’s most evident in the buildings. Beautiful blocks of Georgian flats with curved windows, winding cobblestone streets bristling with narrow medieval alleys and passageways, churches, castles and monuments…
If you go back even further, though, peel back the layers of structures left by successive waves of civilizations, you’ll find the subtle mounds, stones, and circles that mark iron age forts and settlements. There’s a standing stone at the top of one of the hills in my neighborhood, and my dog and I love to stop there and think about other people and dogs who might have passed by millennia ago.
Some of those people were writers. One of Scotland’s favorite children, Robert Louis Stevenson, used to walk a path that goes right by my house, to visit his auntie in the Pentlands. I often wonder what he used to think about, and where he would find his own inspiration.
The wild weather is another source of inspiration. I’m a California girl, and I’m used to being able to plan outdoor events a month in the future, used to counting on fair weather.
But here in Scotland, the wind howls like a freight train through the hills. It picks up trash cans and flings them down the road. Some days cycle through weather like flipping through TV channels: sun, rain, hail, snow, rain, sun.
I think best when I’m moving. Standing, or worse, sitting still is death.
I took up trail running in Scotland. My city has so many unexpected expanses of field, hill, and forest. One can run for hours without encountering a single other person. It’s great for thought, and you never have to worry about social distancing.
And you never know when you might encounter an abandoned castle, a stately home, or walled garden.
And then there are the ghosts.
I spent many years wanting to have a supernatural experience, followed by many years believing that it was all rubbish.
Then I went for a run in a patch of woods where Oliver Cromwell and his merry men stayed while sacking Rosslyn Chapel.
I’m very careful and surefooted, but I’ve never come out of that stretch of woods without a cut, scratch, bruise. Many times I trip — or am tripped. I blame Cromwell. Why not? A few months ago, I fell flat on my face and ended up with an impressive shiner.
And then I left that stretch of woods to Cromwell.
I’m done looking for ghosts for the time being. But I do have a few story outlines.
And there are so many more stretches of wood to explore.