Inspiration and us – that’s the name of a new category for the blog. The reason I am calling it inspiration and us, instead of inspiration and me is because I want you to think about how our lives and our children’s lives inspire us. I would also be extremely grateful to hear of your inspirational experiences.
As a child, I had many books which I loved but as this is about what inspires us, I shall be mentioning the main sources of inspiration. One of my favourite books was one which was passed onto me. I regret to say that I have no idea where it came from. It was a big book which had many stories in it. My favourites were some of the stories from Shakespeare’s plays. They were the plays written in story form with some illustrations. I read them over and over. One which sticks in my mind is As You Like It. It was pure escapism. The idea of people running away from their everyday lives and living in a forest, appealed to me greatly. As a child, I loved the idea of dressing up and being in disguise. Subsequently, when Rosalind dressed up as a boy and pretended to be Ganymede, I was in the story with them. This is a story which explores sibling rivalry, romance, has a wrestling match and a court jester named Touchstone. I am proof that the story appeals to children. If the play had been thrown at me at the age of nine, I would have been put off by its beautiful, poetic language. However, I was lucky enough to have the plays as stories first and so Shakespeare‘s work was adored by me even before I had read a play or a sonnet.
So how has this childhood book inspired me? First of all, I think the greatest proof is that my son is called Will after Shakespeare. Incidentally, one of his main ambitions is to play Hamlet at the Globe Theatre. He has never had Literature forced fed to him. I was worried that I would do that so I have always been careful and introduced it as the fun, mad and exciting subject that it is.
My educational route would suggest that Shakespeare’s stories also inspired me as I have an Honours Degree in Literature and an M.A. in Creative Writing. However, I think that the most telling aspect of it is in my writing. In my children’s book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, I have a small boy trapped in a stone called Hamnet. He has had a curse put on him by the powerful magician Corspehound. Not only is Hamnet trapped in the stone but the curse is on his tongue. He can only insult people. Hamnet is actually Shakespeare’s son who died at the age of eleven. The Bubonic Plague was rife at the time. Little is known about Hamnet and so I wanted to keep his memory alive by re-writing his story. Instead of perishing before his young life had really begun, I have him living on as a huger than life character.
I have already written about introducing children to Shakespeare by using insults. Children love language if they allowed to be playful with it – this is why they love insults – they are naughty and delicious. This was part of my enjoyment when reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my story book. There was great emphasis on the argument between Hermia and Helena. It is Midsummer, they are lost in the forest, it is a time of misrule and chaos and they are arguing over men. Hermia calls Helena – “You juggler! You canker-blossom!” (The Arden Shakespeare – Act III, Scene II Line 282) Later in the heated argument, Hermia also calls Helena “Thou painted maypole.” (The Arden Shakespeare – Act III, Scene II, Line 296) The enjoyment of the insults as a child turned to inspiration as an adult. In Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, Hamnet is a master of insults; most of them are aimed at Will. The first thing he ever says to him is “thine intestines wilt be mine.” This is quickly followed by “thou wilt regret this warty nose.”
We cannot change our own childhoods. However, we can be inspired by what was thrown at us and mould it. As writers, we can turn our experiences into what we want them to be. Although we cannot change our own childhoods, we can guide our children’s inspiration and education. Catch them early on with Shakespeare in the form of his stories. Talk to them about the funny characters like Bottom, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who gets the head of an ass for a time. If you missed out on Shakespeare first time around – you might be surprised at what you find. Who knows, you or your children might end up being so inspired that you write a book too.
- Review: As You Like It – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse (actorsgreenroom.net)
- Introducing children to Shakespeare by using insults. (loonyliterature.com)
- The Complete Shakespeare Reader (ethelthefrog.com)
- Being the third and final post on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (studyingliterature.wordpress.com)
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream- York Theatre Royal (cultureyorks.wordpress.com)