The Spark Of Inspiration
Over the years I have read, or heard about the various events, people, and experiences that inspire many authors to write what they write.
Naturally being a horror fan, what inspires tales of extremes, of trauma, of the unknown/unseen/un-natural is particularly interesting as they are sometimes something not experienced by the author because it is too extreme or impossible (depending on your viewpoint on issues like the supernatural) or they have led pretty nice lives. They are taken from articles, TV news, or word of mouth stories passed down at a party.
One day whilst at a local writer festival, I heard a talk by a female author who stumbled across two names in a sports almanac, with a few simple lines on what these women had achieved led to a graveyard visit and ended up about three years later in a book. The author believed she had received a message from the grave to be the conduit for the story.
This intrigued me, as a unique way a story had come to a writer – granted it is steeped in true history, but she had to fill in many blanks, creating a novel that is a blend of fiction and non-fiction.
It got me thinking about how stories come to me – and how what this author had said resonated with me.
At present, I write short stories, sometimes very short stories dealing with horror, mystery, and intrigue. And my ideas come from? Well sights, sounds, smells, events and people that were baffling or even irritating; personal experiences that have been without risk to oneself.
I see a painting, an abandoned bus stop, a hole in a fence, a pool of water and I project a moment in time where something strange invades the space, something that should not be but is. Sometimes the writing is nothing more than my thoughts of an underlying creepy significance in something seemingly mundane.
There are many great artists in the horror/mystery genre that look at things this way – the films of David Lynch – think about the opening scene from ‘Blue Velvet’ involving the domestic garden, and what it reveals lying beneath the saccharin exterior.
As for literature, Joyce Carol Oates in writing her short story, ‘The Woman in the Window’, from ‘Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense’ is a great example. Inspired by a painting, ‘Eleven A.M.’ by Edward Hopper, Oates weaves a darkly sexual tale of what said woman is waiting for, how she got there and what the consequences are. Was any intended backstory by the artist actually that dark? ; Or is it a projection from an author who quite often explores women’s experiences in relation to themselves and their lovers?
Naturally M.R James must come into this discussion as well – discovered objects largely being the catalyst for events that kill or alter forever the protagonist; mundane events with serious supernatural consequences, inspired by his cataloguing and writings of medieval relics, manuscripts and architecture.
Lastly I want to reference the incredible Shirley Jackson, master of the uneasy short story. ‘The Lottery’ is a classic, and is often discussed, so I would like to mention ‘The Intoxicated’. It deals with a brief conversation between a teenage girl and an older man at a party, his arrogance and her views of the future. A menace begins to pervade the intimate setting, and builds and builds, until it abruptly ends. You are left feeling unsettled, privy to a private event where existential horror creeped in, touching you personally.
I find in my forties that the horrors that really seep through to my bones come from stories that have a certain kind of insight – that see through to the rotten core of the appealing ripe fruit, the conflict of millions of tiny crawling lives under neatly clipped emerald lawns and the haunting untold lives captured in the portraits of yesteryear.
Elizabeth Wilson is an artist and writer from South East Melbourne, Australia. Her work is inspired by the horror in everyday life, the power and beauty of the natural world and childhood nostalgia. She makes mixed media art from dolls to wall hangings, some of which have their own little stories, and is an author of four zines (coming to Kindle in 2020), and a gothic art book called ‘Mulberry Manor’ which is about to go into print and be made available via Kindle.
Her art can be purchased at: elizabethscuriosities.square.site/