Monday, March 29, 2010

Inspiring Places

Julie has a lovely post about the Palace of Versailles over on her blog today, and she asks if you could go anywhere to be inspired to write, where would you go?

I said Westminster Abbey in London. It was an instinctive answer (if I thought for two minutes, I'd come up with a list the length of Westminster Bridge) but I think I'll stand by it, and here's why.

I'm a bit of a history nut. I like Antonia Fraser and historical novels, and my usual Wikipedia reads are articles about historical figures, places and events. When I visit somewhere, I do all the historical stuff before I do the literary stuff. I don't do much literary stuff, mostly because I'm not a big fan of looking at authors' former houses - luckily, since I live in Dublin, where it's possible to go for years doing nothing else. I tend to be underwhelmed at the thought that someone famous once lived somewhere unremarkable. I'm more likely to walk through Hyde Park thinking 'Wow, Cassandra Mortmain [who never existed] walked through here. Cool.' This, perhaps, illustrates my sketchy grasp on reality.

But show me somewhere where something historical happened, and I'm like a kid at Christmas.

And I do love Westminster Abbey. You could argue that not much real history happened here - it tended to be a place where history started (when someone was crowned) or ended (when they were buried). But such a wonderful mixture of people! Kings and queens, long-forgotten consorts, prime ministers, poets, the unknown soldier. . . If they could all get up at night, and sit around the altar having a chat, who wouldn't want to be there? Not least when Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I finally met (is it just me, or is ordering the execution of your cousin, whom you've never met, really bad manners or what?).

This does have something to do with writing and inspiration. The reason I love reading about history is because I love thinking about motives, and how people must have felt. Like Queen Elizabeth, so utterly terrified of losing her kingdom. Or Mary Queen of Scots - a queen before she could walk, widowed in her teens. Or Henry VIII, having to change the faith of his whole country just so he could marry the woman he. . . wanted to marry (she says tactfully). Behind every historical decision is a person. And that is always where the fun starts.


  1. Westminster is great! So atmospheric. I commented on Julie's site that I'd love to go to southern France. I love the countryside there.

  2. I'm with Talli. I want to be like Peter Mayle and go live in Provence and eat like the French, walk everywhere and write whenever I'm not eating or walking. Or Italy would be good, too. Or Manhattan, but I could afford it even less. Can you tell I've thought about this subject at great length?!

  3. Hi Ellen, Introducing myself, found you via Karen G,s blog.
    I'm with you on the London atmosphere, lived there for many years and lots of historical places.
    I will visit you again.

  4. Thanks for the mention, Ellen :) Westminster Abbey is so beautiful. We spent a few days in and around London but didn't get a chance to see any more of Westminster Abbey than we did on a passing tour bus. It must be just as exquisite inside. There's something so romantic and inspiring about Europe. Dublin must be beautiful, too! My friend just spent a month in Ireland and Scotland and absolutely loved it.

  5. @ Talli and Karen - I've never been to the south of France but I love Paris and French people so it is on the list! And I agree, Karen, Manhattan would be incredibly inspiring but we'd probably just end up in the Strand and never manage to write anything!

    @Brigid - thanks for visiting, I visited you too :) Always nice to find another blogging Dub.

    @Julie - no problem, it was a really lovely post, too nice not to pass on! Westminster Abbey inside is really interesting, I went there for the first time with two friends and we just went inside on a whim and were so glad we did.

    Dublin isn't really that beautiful - it doesn't have the same long history of people spending money on nice buildings that you often find in Europe. It is quirky, though, and if you like Georgian architecture or red bricks, they are *everywhere*!

  6. Like you Ellen, when I travel, it is the places of history that call to me. I go where I can feel and smell the history.

  7. That is my absolute favorite period of history - with Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth and Henry. My husband and I visited London once, I loved it. We visited Dublin as well and loved it there, too!


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