A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Feeding your creative muse, by Helen Grant

I have to admit that I smile a bit over the idea of “feeding my creative muse”. It makes me think of myself feeding the inspirational experiences of my life into my work like a stoker shovelling coal into the firebox of a steam locomotive.

I don’t really think of my creative muse as a person, but if I did, I don’t think I’d be feeding her. I’d be taking her on road trips.

I think travelling about and visiting new places is one of the most creatively productive things I do. All my books are set in real locations: Bad Münstereifel in Germany, the small town where I lived for seven years; Brussels, where we lived after that. I’ve set short stories in Slovakia, France and Germany. The book I’ve been working on recently is set in Scotland, and I’m currently writing a story set in Turkey.

I think when you travel to a new place, you can’t help looking at everything with fresh eyes. Possibilities suggest themselves. In 2010, we visited the Flemish city of Ghent for the first time and I found myself in the large open square in front of Saint Baaf’s cathedral, a truly fabulous Gothic church. The tower is nearly 90 metres tall, which is a simply staggering height. Standing on the cobblestones below, getting a crick in my neck from staring upwards, I had only one thought in my mind: wouldn’t it be awful to fall from up there? Once I’ve had a thought like that, it won’t go away. Indeed, that nasty idea became the first scene in Demons of Ghent, as an unfortunate urbexer falls from the top of the tower. Did he jump or was he pushed? That would be telling…

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I think atmospheric locations are like a stage set: they set the scene, and suggest the type of action that the audience can expect. There is an air of waiting about them, as though we expect to see the actors in the drama at any moment. Most of my short stories and full length novels are set in creepy places: deserted castles, abandoned churches, a derelict factory, a railway tunnel, a sewer. I even set one ghost story in a wreck at the bottom of the sea (and yes, I have visited such a place – I used to scuba dive, many long years ago). Sinister lonely places just invite ideas. Plus the beauty of actually visiting such places is that you can soak up all the sights, sounds, smells and other details. It’s a great way to lend realism to your descriptions, not to mention the fact that you can pour your energy into telling people what the place is really like, rather than frantically researching it – or inventing it.

Even if you don’t (like me) write Gothic thrillers, the experience of getting out and about, and away from your desk, can be marvellously inspirational. There is nothing worse than sitting in front of a blank Word document, watching the cursor blinking away, and wondering what on earth to write. If I get “stuck” with something I’m writing, I find the best way to get the ideas flowing again is to go for a brisk walk in the countryside – preferably somewhere wild and lonely, so there are no distractions to scare away shy ideas. I thoroughly recommend it.

Don’t feed your creative muse with absinthe and Gitanes; give her stout shoes and a packed lunch, and take her out for the day.


You can find Helen on Twitter at @helengrantsays


One comment on “Feeding your creative muse, by Helen Grant

  1. writeanne
    November 16, 2016

    Definitely! Walking and travelling work for me. Both activities can inspire or just show the way forward when stuck.

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