English: The Gatehouse at Thornton Abbey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have great writing days and I have writing days when I simply do not understand why I am writing at all. On the great ones, I experience life at its best, I know I am not simply alive but actually LIVING, really living as the excitement generates around my body and my fingers flash along the keyboards. On the bad writing days, I stare at the text and I hate it, every word seems wrong; the characters are cardboard and the plot is boring. I have trouble concentrating as my mind is more concerned with Bowie songs which will play themselves on a loop in my brain and my study looks like a dusty dump. At this point, it might seem that on the great days, I get lots of quality writing done and on the bad days, I get nothing done at all. On the contrary, I still get some done on the bad days, maybe not as much as the good days but the main difference is that it is unpleasant. To be honest, it puzzled me so much that I started to analyse it to see if I could do anything about it.
I thought about the great days and how they start off and after a while it occurred to me that it is all about feeling certain ways for certain pieces of writing. For instance, when I work on Mulgrave Castle a supernatural, Victorian novel, I often get a certain feeling coming over me which is my supernatural, Victorian feeling –all it is, is how I felt when I read books and visited places which inspired Mulgrave Castle. In other words, I had captured the feelings when being inspired to write the book and sometimes they appear when I am actually writing it. On the bad days, when I would rip it up, if it was on paper, I have not conjured up these feelings and it is jolly hard work.
The more I thought about this, the more it occurred to me that if I could retain the feelings I get when I am inspired and conjure them up at will, my writing and writing experience will greatly benefit from it. I suppose that really it is merely what Stanislavski suggested actors should do all those years ago, capture the emotion, store it and learn to bring it back at will. As I reflected on this, I thought it would be useful if when visiting places to be inspired, I also went with the purpose of capturing the feelings to use again later. To do this as an experiment, we decided to visit Thornton Abbey in North Lincolnshire as we have used it before for inspiration; I expect though that all ruins will do perfectly well, wherever you are.
There are some places which one should arrive at preferably by train, Venice being the most obvious example, however, Thornton Abbey in North Lincolnshire is another one. If you want to feel as if you have gone back to the world of Enid Blyton or “Swallows and Amazons” dump the car at one of the rural villages along the Barton Upon Humber to Cleethorpes railway line and catch the train to Thornton Abbey.
As I chug along through the flat Lincolnshire countryside, I prepare myself for the jump down from the train. The platform at the Thornton Abbey stop is so old, I literally have to jump off as the platform is way lower than the train. It is at this point that I start to feel as if I’ve gone back in time. The beautiful Thornton Abbey Gatehouse beckons in the distance as we make our way along a path which has glorious countryside on either side and big faced, lazy sheep greet us with a glimmer of interest. The reason I suggest dumping the car and catching the train somewhere along the line is that walking up the path to Thornton Abbey transports me into another world and is a strong source of inspiration when writing children’s adventure stories. I strongly remember being eleven and long summer holidays; I close my eyes and monitor the feeling, truly noting it and recognising it instead of simply basking in it. I picture an eleven year old me running down the path towards Thornton Abbey and hold it. I do a mental click as if I have taken a photograph and hope that I will be able to conjure up this wonderful feeling when the time is right.
We get to the entrance of The Gatehouse and I am really excited as I have been here before and I have to say that it is one of my favourite places to visit. I am not going to write the history of Thornton Abbey as that is not the point of the piece and there is lots of information on that elsewhere on the internet.
One of the reasons I love visiting Thornton Abbey so much is that it has a wonderful effect on me. Whenever I visit it, it changes my mood into a very happy, carefree one; the peaceful, happy feelings on the land are so powerful it is like taking a tonic. I intend to capture that strong feeling today, hopefully for use in the future. I have to say at this point that I am well aware that there are stories of Thornton Abbey being haunted by Thomas De Gretham, the 14th abbot of Thornton Abbey, who was supposed to have been a practitioner of the dark arts and rather partial to the pleasures of the flesh. He suffered for his crimes in that he was bricked up alive in an underground dungeon and was found still sitting at his desk in the 1830s, hundreds of years later. There are supposed to have been sightings of him but the only feelings I get from there are happy, beneficial ones which I can use to energise me when I am writing.
Even though Thornton Abbey has a very strong happy aura, it can be used to create feelings for writing spooky stories. Will and I took picnic rugs and a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” to Thornton Abbey to read the story amongst the ruins. We had just finished the story when the sky turned black and we were assaulted with that hard, harsh rain which hurts and soaks within minutes. We had to shelter in the ruins, which, being ruins, did not really shelter us at all. It was too far to run to the gatehouse or the small exhibition room so we had to wait and watch the turbulent weather and the swallows flew in and out of our shelter telling us to go – the scene was spooky but made me feel excited. I closed my eyes and focussed on the image I experienced. Hopefully, when I remember the scene, the emotions I experienced would return when I want to create that feeling for writing.
A spooky place to take shelter when there is a storm.
Once the rain stopped, we went to do our final experiment. We were going to use the main hall on the second floor of the gatehouse for Will to perform a Richard III monologue. The room was darkly lit with a wooden floor which bends slightly when walked along and shafts of light escape through the gaps up into the room. It was perfect for Will to perform the villain’s piece and as I watched I shivered and did feel as if I was in another time. Will took the emotion of how he felt in that room away with him; he really did feel that it was a powerful exercise.
I could really imagine Shakespeare’s Richard III in here plotting.
It might all seem like a great deal of fuss for a bit of writing and acting but it works, not every time because we all have times in our life when it is distraught and we cannot escape reality. However, because the great moments in life are so precious, we have to create them when and where we can – give it a go when you get the chance or have you been doing it for years? Let me know.