What Inspires Writers?

Prep Talks, Presentations & Workshops


Author Ruth Eastham gave the School several answers this week – most ideas come from “real life”.

In particular, she is fascinated by the “mysteries in history”, whether it be the discovery of a 5,000 year old body in a glacier or a visit to the Imperial War Museum and seeing the Enigma machine. The Jaguar Trials is based on an existing Portuguese explorer’s diary extract hinting at the whereabouts of the lost city of El Dorado.

She spoke about authors such as Philip Pullman primarily being inspired by what they read: he advises, “Read like a butterfly, write like a bee.” Obviously, the environs of Oxford also appear in several of his novels. Landscape affects many writers: Jon Mahew feels that the “haunting” atmosphere of his walks across the Dee marshes “seeped” into his first book “Mortlock”. Matt Dickinson’s climbing of the North Face of Everest led him to make documentaries, write an autobiography and a new trilogy using his experiences. Sarah Mussi’s gritty, edgy thrillers are based on her understanding of North London and teenagers’ struggles there.

She also informed us about the key ingredients of exciting novels; one of these is conflict, whether internal, external (i.e. against the elements) or within society. Warrior in the Mist is based on the conflict between the Romans and the Celts. She then uses that most powerful of questions “What if?” which allows her imagination to add modern issues and twists: how do you link Boudicca with fracking? Read her novel to find out. The pupils were intrigued by the quintillion possibilities Bletchley Park was facing during WW2 in The Messenger Bird.

The crucial effort and persistence put into editing was emphasised. This key skill should never be overlooked. Philip Pullman took 7 years to write the Northern Light trilogy. Another message was, “Buy a shed!” from which authors like Dahl travelled the world in their imaginations.

The pupils’ feedback is already incredibly positive as they are finding the books gripping and want to read more of them.  

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