Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Power of The Subconscious

We've all seen the t-shirt 'be careful or you'll end up in my novel' but it happens whether people are careful or not. As writers we are like sponges absorbing things from all sorts of sources. Main sources are friends and family. All those little snip-its that pass by us and our brains grab them and tuck them away. I doubt we even think about it half the time. We might acknowledge something as interesting, but chances are we won't have even said anything and certainly not have written it down - unless it is vital to the book in process or maybe the next one up.

There are a couple of reasons I say is because the subconscious plays such a key role in most writers' lives. I am continually surprised at how events or people or objects appear in my books or things magically fall into place even though I never planned for it to happen (or to the best of my knowledge thought of it ever before)....

At times this can be almost eerie when it happens. This week I'm in Cornwall 'filling the well' as Biddy says (can't do anything else as the kids are here with on holiday and knee deep in major exam revision - I am at the moment Attila-the-mum). My editor asked me to take some pictures of what inspired me and of things I would like to see as cover images....a lovely task...

So I did what I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would do...I'm a very shy person at heart. I knocked on the door of the house that has captured my imagination for 20 years. I wanted to take a few pictures and wanted permission to do so. As I waited, I wondered what maniac had taken over my body. What on earth was I going to say...

I blurted out something about being a writer and that my book would be coming out next summer. The poor woman thought I was  mad, but kindly showed me around the outside of the house and the garden,which were more beautiful than I had ever imagined from the quick glimpses I had from the road over the years.

On our way around the house I was hit over the head by a feature of it that I didn't know had existed. Something that is key in THE CORNISH HOUSE...a tiny window beside a chimney (easy to miss it's so small). I asked about it of course. The windows opens on to a very small room off a bedroom...

Now had I read about is this somewhere? Had I seen this before? I don't think so as I'd never been this close to the house, but my mother-in-law was something of a specialist in Cornish gardens and may well have told me about such a things or maybe in one of her collected books on Cornwall I had read about it. I don't think I'll ever know but there in a real house was secret window...

I think our subconscious hoovers up information without us realizing it, but I also think uncanny occurrences do happen to...I'll never know whether I heard, read or saw something about a small window by a chimney, but I have already told DS1 that his story of sleeping in his friends car after party will end up in a book. Why you ask? Because they (he and two friends) woke up to find someone had put the pig's head from the hog roast in the car with while they slept and they woke up to it staring at them....somehow that will end up in some story....

Please come back on Sunday when Biddy's here...


  1. Great post. I think the first time I told someone I was a writer and needed to know where someone would hide a dead body in town was a huge step for me.
    People seem generally willing to give the crazy writer permission to ask anything.

  2. Perry - that is so true as I coming to realize. So where did you hide the dead body?


  3. I think it's amazing how kind people are when they find out you're a writer - they're always willing to help in any way they can if only you ask. Recently, I needed to know what ordinary women wore in Scotland in the 1750's (couldn't find this in any reference books, only the aristocrats). With just one e-mail to a friend, I suddenly had help from two experts she happened to know and it was great! Same thing when I was researching the Swedish East India Company - I went to a museum in Gothenburg and the staff took me into their actual archives and went out of their way to find me the right journals and so on. The hardest thing is taking that first step and contacting people, but it's so worth it! Glad you got to see your favourite house!

  4. Pia - People are wonderful and i just need to over come my natural shyness...and soon as I have some sticky research questions for book 2.

  5. That's amazing about the window! What a shivery feeling you must have had. I had a similar thing with my first book when I wrote a fictional history for a real-life place, and then afterwards, when I was reading up on the building's real history, discovered that, give or take a year or two, it was exactly the same as the one I'd made up.

    And yes, I agree—people are often remarkably generous to writers, especially with information and their time.