My Sources of Inspiration, Part IV: Fantastic History

As a student of the English language and culture, I am confronted daily with the tumultous history of the British Islands. The political entriges, the dire economic situations and many illnesses might not seem a great setting for the supernatural – unless, of course, you are George R. R. Martin and you manage to recreate the Wars of the Roses in a setting so terrible that not many people would ever link it to the British history. I am not George R. R. Martin. I am not a fantasy writer. Still, I allow myself to be inspired by the many superstitions throughout history.

First of all, there is no doubt that the witch trials took place. They are a very real part of history, yet they were based on a lack of knowledge and thus a deep-seated fear of the unknown. As a writer, playing with the unknown definitely is fun. The witches were just poor herbalists, right? They could be; poor people followed by the inquisition for their knowledge. They also could be time travelers, using their real magic to escape their prosecutors. Both are ideas for relatively solid tales, but as a writer of fantastic (as in, fantasy – I’m not going to call my own work fantastic) horror, I prefer the latter. In fact, it is part of the series I’m working on at the moment. This is one of the reasons I love history: it allows me to combine the real – the witch trials – with the supernatural.

Secondly, and this is just what my geography teacher told me, the political situation in China once was so bad that the people desperately tried to grow their crops as big as possible. When they realised they could not grow them any bigger, they started creating them out of paper-mâché, just to show the emperor how much they loved him. I once tried to write a story about this strange tale, combined with the fact that the Chinese at that time definitely did not like the English colonists. I created a world in with a non-existing country’s emperor would come and see if the crops were already big enough, just to find out they were eaten by rabbits (the villagers did not look after their crops, as they were too busy creating fake ones). From that moment on, people started to disappear or be killed. Immediately, all the blame was placed on the one foreign boy in the village – who I imagined to be British – as he was said to be a werewolf. Plot twist: the boy did not have any magical abilities at all. Instead, the emperor was the werewolf, killing of the villagers one by one as he was disappointed by their lack of hard work. It was definitely a strange story, but part of me feels that it could work… If only I knew how. My imagination sure was a lot greater when I was younger.

My history-based stories surely are the ones I enjoyed most coming up with, although I doubt most of it would be publishable, even if I wrote it down. Still, the writer’s imagination should never stop working. Whether it is a fleeting thought or a page-long idea, just coming up with anything stimulates the brain. Thankfully, I enjoy doing research. Otherwise, writing could not be the best idea.


My History of Writing, Part III: One Bridge Too Far

At one point in my life, I dreamt of being a fantasy writer like Tolkien. A tad arrogant, perhaps, seeing as he was the father of the epic fantasy. I knew I would never become as famous, eloquent or imaginative as he was, but I loved his world. That was the part I aspired to recreate.

All of my free time I spent on inventing a world: places, languages, songs, culture, animals, gods and people. I felt strongly attached to the world I had created, but there was one problem: I had gathered so many ideas that I had no idea where to start, what was important to the story and if I really needed so many characters. There were three continents, twelve gods, around fifteen villages and a countless number of characters.

My main character was a seventeen-year-old who had been taking from his home country as a young boy because his sisters decided to flee from their fate as princesses and take their brother with them. The sisters died, my main character ended up in an adoption family at the other side of the world. He also had gotten the task from one of the gods to restore the world’s religion. There was too much information. I knew everything about the character himself, but the story seemed to be lacking a thread. It was meant to be epic fantasy, so I made the boy visit every single village. A story was connected to every single one of them. Most of these had absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

Soon, I was out of inspiration. I could no longer stand writing about the countless fights between my main character and his adoption family. I could not get a hold of all of the family trees. Everything in the story was meant to be connected… But it was not. In fact, it turned out to be nothing but a 110.000 word rigmarole. By that number, I mean the word count at the moment I decided I could no longer do it. It was just half of the story, though. Then I gave up. I spent at least two years of my life trying to figure out every single detail of the story, before coming to the conclusion I did not even enjoy it anymore.

Maybe it was too much for fifteen-year-old me. I did not even like writing for my target audience – teenagers like myself – so I wonder why I ever thought this was a good idea. This is how I ended up wanting to become an author of children’s fiction. Small, compact stories with a lot of fun and action seemed much more interesting than writing down page long arguments that never seemed to end. Now, when my characters fight, it is actually fun. I have learned my lesson: world building may have been amazing, but writing epic fantasy was not meant for me at all. In the end, the choices that we make in life shape the path that lies ahead.