Inspirational Places: Hay-on-Wye and Raglan Castle

Last weekend, I had a rather lovely mini-break in Wales. It was the first time I had been to the country and it is unlikely to be my last. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and, while it was mostly a walking and relaxing break, there were two places which really got the inspiration going.

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The first is, of course, Hay-On-Wye – the bookshop town. There was no way I was going to go to Wales and not go to the bookshop town. Yet, amazingly enough, I managed to survive the entire visit with only buying one book, and that book was a first edition of Intervention by Julian May (which I got for £5!), so I couldn’t really say no.

There weren’t actually as many bookshops as I thought there were in the town, but the ones which I did find where pretty incredible. The most impressive was probably Richard Booths’ bookshop which had an incredible selection of second-hand and new books. The shop dedicated to crime novels was another favourite.

Really though, Hay-on-Wye is a book-lovers’ heaven. Being surrounded by books and never more than a short walk away from a book shop really gets you in both the reading, and writing, kind of mood. There is nothing quite like the seeing so many books on a shelf that can bring up the excitement at the thought of seeing your own book there and so inspiring you to write. That is, of course, if you can resist buying all the books in the shop and reading those instead.

 

Raglan Castle

You can’t really go to Wales and not visit a castle – there are so many of them! There were a number we could have visited from where we were staying, but in the end we decided to visit Raglan Castle which was on the way back and, more importantly, was also the filming location of the Isle of the Bless for Le Morte D’Arthur episode of Merlin. Whatever our reasoning was, though, the castle was incredible.

About twice as large as I had thought it to be, there was so much to see. It was in ruins, but the ruins were complete enough and stable enough for us to have a good old explore. We climbed to the top of a tower, looked into every nook and cranny and took a vast number of photographs. It was very easy to imagine what life could have been like living there, something which was made easier by the Living History even going on at the same time. With people wandering around in historic clothing, it felt like we had stepped back in time.

All in all, while it was only a short holiday, it was a really enjoyable one and I would certainly love to return to both bookshop town and castle. I would also quite like to explore a bit more of Wales itself and see what else there is to discover.

 

Inspirational Places – Rhodes

The muse is a wily creature, often disappearing for days on end and returning in the dead of night or when there is no notebook to hand. There are ways to summon it back, from taking a simple shower, taking a walk, or going on a holiday.

I have just returned from two weeks in Rhodes – an island rich with ancient history, blazing sunlight and a valley filled with butterflies.

In the time leading up to the holiday, I was focused on one task: editing my novel, which I finished just before we set out. As a result, my imagination was feeling a bit desolate on the way out. Now though, my brain is teaming with ideas for future books and conjuring up scenes for me. A holiday was really what I needed to bring the muse back into the fold and here are a few of the places I found the most inspirational while in Rhodes.

Lindos – Acropolis and City

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Lindos is beautiful. This was the first place we visited and was the first to spring the inspiration out of hiding. The white-washed buildings, cobbled streets between closely built buildings and canopy overhead lent itself well to a story setting and the characters only spilled in from there. It’s location in the shadow of the large Acropolis only give it an added sense of mystery and power.

The Acropolis itself is a masterpiece of architecture. From the sea, it is an impressive, yet foreboding sight. From within, even the ruins tell a story and it’s easy to imagine what it would have been like in its hey-day. The views are impressive and there is plenty of the building left to explore.

Rhodes Old Town – Grand Master’s Palace

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Entering into Rhodes Old Town, you are instantly swept back in time, into another world. But it was the Grand Master’s Palace which really caught my imagination. The building itself is massive and in good repair. It contains museums, mosaics and restored rooms. In some places you can practically hear the footsteps of the knights who once walked the corridors or see a flash of fabric as a figment of the past darts around a corner. This trip transported me, not only into the past, but also into another world, of a story that had been working its way around my head for a while. Upon returning to the hotel, I just had to sit back and scribble out my ideas.

The Sea

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Okay, this one is not quite a place, and there are plenty of other locations in Rhodes that could have taken this third spot, but it was while sitting on a boat, bobbing about on the waves that I could really feel my imagination whirring. Taking a boat tour might not sound the most exciting thing in the world, but you can have as many magical encounters on the sea as you can on the shore. From secret coves to rocky sea passages to incredible views on monuments on land, the is much the sea can offer. With the fresh air and gentle rocking, your mind is also given space to ponder and churn out ideas.

The sea around Rhodes is a stunning blue and incredibly clear. A number of steep cliffs, often scaled by mountain goats, plunge into it creating a daring face out to the horizon. There was even a rock which, from a certain angle, looked disconcertingly like a lion’s face. It is easy to picture characters travelling the waves and the mighty buildings, such as the acropolis, really give that picture depth.

Other Inspirational Places in Rhodes

There are a number of other places that really capture the imagination in Rhodes. A couple which were in close contention for a larger mention was the ancient city of Kamiros – ruined twice by earthquake and now an incredible layout of ruins looking out to the sea – and the Valley of Butterflies – a place swarming with moths and butterflies that also resembled a fairy wonderland.

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Holidays allow for the brain to switch off and the imagination to kick itself up a notch. Visiting a wide range of places can provide plenty of areas of inspiration to strike, and that was certainly the case with my trip to Rhodes. I now have plenty of ideas for the stories I am working on and the worlds they are set in now look like the camera has got into focus.

Have you been to any inspirational places recently? If so, let me know in the comments below, I may just be inspired to pay it a visit.

Inspirational Places: Jane Austen’s House Museum

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One of the most prominent female writers of all time is, undoubtedly, Jane Austen and so one of the most inspirational places for a writer to visit is the place where she was at her most productive. Jane Austen lived in a number of houses throughout her life, but it was at the house in Chawton, Hampshire, where she lived with her mother and sister, that she saw the completion of her many novels.

The house itself is rather beautiful. It sits on the corner by a quiet road, and opposite a scrumptious tea-house. You enter through a side-building which houses the gift-shop (full of delightful books and Austen-inspired merchandise). This then takes you into the garden which is something mine can only hope to aspire to. It’s a peaceful place to sit and contemplate but also contains a number of interesting herbs and plants.

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The main attraction is, of course, the house itself. The rooms are a blend between museum and home. It contains artefacts from Jane Austen’s time, including some of her own possessions and those belonging to her closest friends and family. This truly gives you a sense of stepping back into Jane Austen’s world and seeing how she lived.

The most humble yet most extraordinary feature of the house is the original table that Jane Austen used to write her novels. Despite its importance to the books’ creation, it is nothing special to the eye. Indeed, it is rather small, with barely enough space to fit a laptop today, and there are no ornate decorations. It is very easy to walk past it at first glance before doubling back upon realising what the table actually is. But once you do, it is strangely captivating and haunting in the way you can almost see Jane Austen at work.

Walking out of the house, I found myself feeling desperate to return to my own writing and follow even the faintest of Jane Austen’s footsteps. But, before I could do so, a visit the Chawton House was in order. Chawton House is the house Jane Austen’s brother lived in, and is now a centre dedicated to the study of early women writers. It is also open to the public to explore, and have a further glimpse into the past. I was only there a short time, but it is a stunning building with a library that surrounds you with the musky smell of old books upon entering and is a room you never wish to leave. There is plenty more of the house to explore and I hope to do so again in future.

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If you ever wish to visit, next year (2017) is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death so there is likely to be a number of interesting events occurring in celebration – certainly an entertaining time to go.  

Jane Austen’s House Museum: http://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/

Chawton House: http://www.chawtonhouse.org/

 

Inspirational Places: Blenheim Palace

It has been a while since I last did an ‘Inspirational Places’ post and I thought Blenheim Palace was the perfect place to pick it back up again.

I went to Blenheim a couple of weeks ago. I was only there for a few hours but while I was there, my brain ended up going in all sorts of directions – the creative juices were flowing and I found myself envisioning myself sitting in the gardens engrossed in my writing or even my art. P1000056

If you’ve never been to Blenheim Palace before, I would certainly recommend the trip. It’s most common claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Winston Churchill, but there is so much more to the building and history than just that. For instance, the first child to inherit was female, much against the traditions of that time, and the library has over 10,000 books in it.

If you’re looking for ideas, Blenheim Palace is a wonder. The gardens extend for ages and include a hollow tree, a grand waterfall and an Obelisk. You can also explore many areas of the house which also contains beautiful paintings, antique furniture and a rather peculiar statue. There are also plenty of events held there which could help sprout ideas. From the triathlon running when I visited, to a flower show this weekend, there is something for everyone and, by extension, pretty much every type of story. Not to mention, the names sound like they’re straight out of a fairy tale.

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Have you been there? If so, how did you find Blenheim Palace? If not, which places do you find the most inspiring?

Inspirational Places: Centre Parcs and Stonehenge

As a mini-break from work, my family and I went off to spend a weekend at Centre Parcs and dropped off to see Stonehenge on the way back.

Stonehenge

Centre Parcs is probably the closest thing I have to a holiday home. I’ve been to the various parks so many times, and they’re all fairly similar, that it’s become like a third home. It’s the perfect place to relax for me – I know how it works, there is very little stress, and it’s surrounded by nature. I went with my family, so it was very much a family holiday – making use of the facilities available and doing lots of activities. But I could very easily have gone on my own as a writing holiday, surrounded by trees, with use of the pool and other sporting ventures should I need to clear the cobwebs. The only downsides are the price and the incredibly poor wifi connection.

Stonehenge, on the other hand, is not somewhere you can stay and write. For one thing, the wind almost blew me away. A notebook probably wouldn’t survive. That being said, the rocks do have a curious atmosphere around them, one that is increased by the history. Being built on a site where two seemingly sacred constructions were built before, one does wonder if there isn’t something mystical about the monument. It is smaller than expected, but it still has the power to amaze. Walking around it, I could feel my mind teeming with inspiration and ideas.

I found both Centre Parcs and Stonehenge to be inspirational in their own separate ways. One is perfect for getting away and relaxing amongst nature. The other is a monument to history – elusive and mystical. It only shows that you can be inspired in different ways, and change is always good for getting creativity flowing. If you have a chance to go to either, or something similar, I would recommend that you do. Not only will you get a bucket load of new ideas, but you will also gain a wealth of knowledge and experience. For example, I now know how to clay pigeon shoot with lasers.

Inspiration can only be a good thing.

Inspirational Places: Oxford

Sorry about the lack of posts lately, the past week has been incredibly busy for me. But now, I shall restart the posting anew and keep up the usual schedule of posting on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

One day last week, I was in Oxford for a total of three hours and twenty minutes. In that time, I went to a café and a bookshop, and yet, my head was buzzing with ideas all the way back home. Looking out across the skyline of the city, from a café many floors up in a building, you can see so many delightful buildings – domes, gothic spires, shops – that you can’t help but imagine stories interweaving with the city’s architecture.

Walking through the streets, there are so many interesting people about that it is easy to see a whole host of characters battling evil or rushing to solve a murder, or get away with one. While you can get such a variety of people in pretty much any city, the atmosphere of Oxford, with all its heritage just made it all the more easy to imagine. You could picture a whole history of the person serving you in the café, or make up a story about the boy with brightly coloured hair on the street.

Not only that, but visiting the bookshop just made me want to write. With all the inspiration of the city, seeing the books on the shelves and tables, just waiting to find a new home, made me want to sit back and write. And from that writing, see a book on that shelf, maybe even to see that book give the joy and inspiration to someone else that my own venture into the bookshop gave to me.

If you do ever have the chance to visit Oxford, I say go for it. Explore the city, the colleges and the old buildings. Visit the bookshops and people-watch from a café table. You never know when you will be hit with inspiration, so keep a notebook handy. Oxford is certainly an inspirational place to be. I just wish I’d had the chance to explore it more and take a trip to the Bodleian Library.

My Month in Sri Lanka: The Work

This summer, I spent four weeks volunteering in Sri Lanka. Needless to say, it was an experience and a half.

My trip there was arranged by SLV, an organisation that runs a number of projects for students and graduates to volunteer with. They have a various placements for volunteers to choose from and I went on the one that focused on psychology. That being my degree and all.

The work involved a mix of teaching English to underprivileged children and youth, running activities (mainly arts and crafts) for people with special needs and those with mental health disorders. The various projects took half a day each, so we got to help at a whole range of places, with a whole range of people. It was fantastic getting the exposure to so many different disorders and circumstances, and seeing the how much they enjoyed us being there. I don’t think there was one day when I did not get a warm greeting.

The work wasn’t all of it either. From arrival, I was fully immersed in the culture. We stayed with locals, in their houses, and the work was well away from the touristy zones. We braved the buses and the tuk tuks (all great fun when you get used to them) and even survived crossing the bustling road. Food was a problem for me, given my intense dislike for all things spicy – dinner was an ample serving of rice and curry, as was lunch if you chose to have it. But as with the transport, you get used it. Well, most people do. I never did.

For the psychology placement and graduate mental health scheme, there were some added extras. Working with Samutthàna and local psychiatrists, SLV organised talks, workshops and fieldtrips that involved shadowing a psychiatrist at work. Each of these helped develop skills and knowledge about mental health in Sri Lanka. I really enjoyed the extras, even if you did have to pay for a few of them (the currency in Sri Lanka is amazing – so many notes and so cheap when you convert to English costs!).

As much as I enjoyed it, there were some downsides. When it was hot, it was very hot, and that was most of the time. The showers were cold though, which was both good and bad. And I did find myself missing home, particularly since there were so many stray dogs about. They just made me miss my dog even more. I did find that after four weeks, I wish I could have stayed an extra two, as I felt I had not got everything out of it that I could.

This was only part one. Next week will be a bit more exciting when I discuss the weekends! Elephants, Beaches and Dancing – what more could you ask for?

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