I is for Inspiration

Bridge of Venice

There’s a funny thing that happens when you travel.

Every sense is heightened by unfamiliar places, foreign languages and new experiences. Something as simple as a woman pushing her pram is somehow more interesting as she skillfully navigates the bridges of Venice.  A man paying for his groceries at the supermarket is enthralling when you understand none of the Polish that he speaks but at the same time recognise that he is participating in friendly banter with the checkout woman as you decipher facial expressions, hand gestures and body language.  Doorways become portals. Statues become sentient. People become characters.

The Edinburgh School of English inspired to get creative with their sign.

The mundane suddenly becomes fascinating.

When you watch the world through a traveller’s eyes, I am convinced that inspiration is at your unlimited disposal. With sight, sound, smell, touch and taste all intensified through being surrounded by the unknown, this naturally precipitates a different perspective on not just the extraordinary things, but the standard, run of the mill everyday stuff too.

What could be better fuel for the imagination?

If you have read E is for Edinburgh, then you’ll have some idea already of the impression it made on me. Not least of all was being able to follow in the footsteps of successful writers such as J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith to the Elephant House cafe where they each, at one time or another, went to write parts of their novels. Or seeing the belongings and original works of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns in the Writers Museum.

I have already expressed that I am in no way surprised that they were inspired by such a beautiful city, and though it wasn’t just Edinburgh, it was there that I understood something probably quite significant to my future as a writer.

J.K. Rowling writing Harry Potter at the Elephant House cafe

As I looked at the photos of J.K. Rowling sitting in the cafe writing Harry Potter, I realised that once upon a time she was like the rest of us aspiring creatives. Before Harry Potter was a household name, she sat in that cafe writing her novel, probably never knowing if it would ever see the light of day, wondering if she could afford that fourth cup of coffee. I’m sure that later on when she received her 1st rejection letter she felt as dejected as we all feel when are work is not recognised or loved as much as we love it. I’m even more certain that she felt worse after the 2nd, the 3rd, all the way up to the 12th rejection letter.

All these thoughts led to a small epiphany, all relating back to the big question: How do you know if you’re a writer?

I don’t think I’m the next J.K. Rowling, Tolkien or Robin Hobb. I don’t believe that my stories will survive the ages like the greats of old, or make me loads of money like the greats of today. I am not even convinced that I write particularly well or skillfully.

What I do know is this. If I practised every day I could probably play the piano fairly sufficiently. If I trained morning and night I might be able to make it as an athlete. If I tried really hard I might be able to learn all the things there are to know about accounting and become an accountant. I could probably succeed at many things if I put my heart into it.

But what I have discovered is that I am never going to be any good at any of those things. Why? Because I don’t care enough for them to put in the required effort to try.

Writing, writing, writing!

And then there’s writing.  I wake up every day looking forward to it. Without getting paid for it or ever expecting any monetary remuneration, I sit at my desk and I write. I edit and I perfect as if it were a thesis awaiting submission, and then I click save and sometimes never look at it again. Sometimes it’s hard and I get disappointed when the words don’t accurately reflect the idea in my head, which leads to frustration and misery.  But every day I still go back to it.

It’s the 9-5 job that keeps me in the office from 7am until midnight without a lunch break, and yet I never feel compelled to complain.

And I think that is what maybe, just maybe, makes me a writer. Not my skill with words or my chances of success. Nor any likelihood that it will ever amount to anything more than a little blog called Storytelling Nomad and a few published ramblings.

But like that ordinary woman sitting in her little cafe writing about an unknown wizard called Harry, I’m willing to keep at it every day because I’ve always been told that if there’s something you are truly passionate about, then you won’t care how long you spend working at it or how little you get paid for it, because the undertaking itself will be reward enough.

So I is for Inspiration. Be inspired, not by the people that have already ‘made it’, but by the average Joes like you and me, the ones that may or may not make it, J.K. Rowling circa 1990. I think we can learn the most from these people, because they are the ones that are willing to put their heart and soul into doing the thing they love most with only the smallest of hopes that it may one day amount to more.

Try and see the world through a traveller’s eyes and be inspired by the ordinary. Because if you do it right, extraordinary will certainly follow.

Sunrise in Scotland

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E is for Edinburgh

Where to begin?

If you’ve read C is for Castles then you already know what an impression Edinburgh made on me. It had me writing poetry. Me. Poetry. Wonders never cease.

The journey began by train. Now, I’m usually not too eager to participate in long train journeys. While the idea of being able to sit quietly watching scenery fly by, reading a book, or listening to music, is of course very appealing, I rarely get to enjoy such leisurely activities when it comes to actually being on the train.

You see, I lack what I have been told is known as a ‘fuck off face’, if you’ll excuse my French.

Scenic views on the train

What this means is, that if there is one weirdo, crazy person, creepy man, talkative eccentric, drug addict looking for someone to look after her child while she shoots up in the loo (true story), then that person will without fail come and sit next to or opposite me.

Joy!

As such, I usually lack the enthusiasm that many show for long train rides. THANKFULLY, the four and a half hour London-Edinburgh train trip was nothing less than absolutely delightful.

My friend, Hayley, and I were seated opposite each other across a rather agreeable little table, which we agreed was the most civilised we had been since we’d begun our journey. The carriage was peaceful, we had free wifi (a luxury when travelling o/s, I tell you), and as we passed through the English and Scottish countryside, I could do little but admire the stunning scenery.

And that was the beginning of what soon became my favourite leg of the entire trip.

The Writers Museum

For a writer (or an aspiring one at least), there is nothing more satisfying than visiting a place that embraces literature with (wide and very) open arms. Edinburgh is the world’s first UNESCO city of literature, so they take the whole business of writing and reading very seriously and you can see evidence of it everywhere. From writer’s museums, storytelling centres, author tributes and pavements quoting famous writers, the city is absolutely brimming with creative energy.

The Writers Museum pays tribute to three notable writers, each who at one time lived in Edinburgh: Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns. The museum houses a permanent exhibition to the three writers, displaying rare books, manuscripts, photographs, and original tools of the trade. Like many of the places I visited in Edinburgh, the museum was interactive, which meant that walking into a room could set off an audio reading of one of the writer’s works. Admission was also free, so no excuses not to get your literary nerd on.

"And yet, and yet this New Road will some day be the Old Road too." Literary flagstones on the streets of Edinburgh

Outside the museum, the courtyard, streets and stairs leading to the museum are paved with quoted flagstones, citing famous Scottish writers.

Another place in Edinburgh worthy of literary note is The Elephant House cafe. This cafe, where yours truly just three weeks ago could be found sipping hot chocolate, was where the literary genius of none other than J.K. Rowling wrote parts of the Harry Potter novels.

And who could blame her?

Where magic happens

The back room of the cafe offers spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle (yes the same one I doted on in C is for Castles), and the hot chocolates ‘aint bad either. It has also played regular host to Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith. They quite clearly put something in the coffee there, and I’m hoping whatever it is they put in the hot chocolate too. Perhaps I left with a little extra writers luck?

But it isn’t just one funky cafe that is fuel for the imagination in this city. There’s a story in every nook and cranny, and you don’t even have to be looking for it. It is hard to say whether writers have found their inspiration in the architecture of Edinburgh, or rather, if Edinburgh was in fact built in faithful reproduction of the fairy tales and romantic stories of old. All you have to do is look up to see Cinderella’s castle or Rapunzel’s tower.

Fairytale buildings

What fascinated me most about this city however, was just that. That it’s a city. And I still loved it. I mentioned in an earlier post that big cities often make me anxious, but thoughts of anxiety were far from my mind when I was there. Whilst it is obviously a tourist attraction, I didn’t get the feeling that I was surrounded by in-a-hurry tourists. The locals were doing their grocery shopping and the students were on their way to classes. The lovers were walking hand in hand and friends were having a laugh at the pub. All this, right in the heart of Edinburgh, amongst the medieval buildings and before the castle’s towering gaze.

Statues in Edinburgh

What’s more, the locals seem to appreciate their city, something people often lose sight of when surrounded by beautiful things every day. Everyone was cheerful, despite the cold, and there were no signs of the graffiti or vandalism that I’ve seen lining the canals of Venice or the streets of London. It’s a beautiful city, and those that live there obviously do not take that for granted.

Whilst the train trip home was just as pleasant as the incoming journey as I watched the sun rise over Scottish seas, I can’t deny I was sad to leave that place. Even now I long to return to Edinburgh.

One day soon…

NB: Edinburgh also had me delving right out of my comfort zone and trying something new to eat – Haggis, otherwise known as sheep’s offal (entrails and internal organs), served with ‘neeps and tatties’, or, turnips and potatoes. I’m happy to announce that it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all.

Bookstores line Edinburgh streets

Holyrood Palace

Me following in J.K. Rowling's footsteps at the Elephant House cafe.

Statues at sunset in Edinburgh

Greyfriars Bobby - the sky terrier known in the 19th Century for spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner

Rooftops of Edinburgh

How to choose a pseudonym

I realise the title of this post suggests I’m going to reveal some kind of ten step formula, perhaps a clever strategy of sorts to come up with a suitable pen name, but in the name of full disclosure I should probably state right now that I have no such knowledge.

In fact, quite the opposite.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late since writing my article about Females in Fantasy (check it out here), and how a great deal of female authors still choose ambiguous, androgynous or straight-out male pen names to help the sales of their novels.

There are unquestionably plenty of other reasons for authors, male and female, to put a name that is not their own on the front cover of a book, but what I want to know is how they come up with such a name.

To get an idea, I sourced out some of the more well-known authors and their pseudo counterparts.

J.K. Rowling uses her first initial (Joanne), her grandmother’s first initial (Kathleen) and her last name. Easy.

Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series, is actually James Oliver Rigney, Jr.. It is said the idea for his pseudo-surname came from using the initials of his full name: J.O.R.. It is also speculated that he adopted it from Ernest Hemingway’s character of the same name from For Whom the Bell Tolls.

George Orwell, aka Eric Blair, chose a pen name that “stressed his deep, lifelong affection for the English tradition and countryside: George is the patron saint of England (and George V was monarch at the time), while the River Orwell in Suffolk was one of his most beloved English sites.”¹

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) - The Cat in the Hat

Theodor Seuss Geisel became Dr. Seuss, because apparently his father always wanted him to become a doctor.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson invented his pen name, Lewis Carroll, by translating his first and last names into Latin, Carolus Lodovicus, and then anglicizing it.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, were published under Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, at a time when female authors lacked credibility. Each of their pseudonyms began with the first letter of their actual names.

Children’s writer Dav Pilkey came up with Sue Denim, which I think needs no explanation.

So if I wanted, or was asked, to choose a pseudonym how would I go about it?

My initials, K.M.H., are all consonants, so no help from Robert Jordan’s strategy.

I could get back to the origins of my name, like Lewis Carroll.  Katy, which is thought to derive from either the Greek Aikaterine, or even earlier Hekaterine, would be Katherine in Latin. Hulme derives from the Middle English Holm (someone who lived near a holly tree). Katherine Holm? Katherine Holly even? Maybe I could just do a Madonna and go with the single named Hekaterine. Hmmm.

If I wanted to follow the Brontes, Robin Hobb, or J.K. Rowling, with an ambiguous sounding name, ‘Kit’ is the diminutive of both Christopher or Katherine. Christopher Hulme? Kit Hulme?

Or perhaps I could follow Dr. Seuss’s reasoning and just add a title to my name. I’ve never wanted to be a doctor, but I could see myself as a noble. Lady Katherine? She wasn’t the most pleasant character in Pride and Prejudice. Countess Hulme? Hardy ha ha.

Failing these, maybe I could cheat and consult a name generator. The Leprechaun Name Generator has christened me Tweedle O’Gold. The Fantasy Name Generator, has me as Lena Amethystmace. Or more subtley, The Pen Name Generator tells me I’m Cindy Capleton.

I think I’m having a slight identity crisis.  Honestly, I feel no closer to finding my bestselling counterpart. For the time being I think I’ll stick with the name my parents bestowed upon me, and focus my attention on writing my novel, as opposed to the name that will appear on its cover.

Anyone else have any interesting pen name formulas to share? A pseudonym of your own perhaps? For those of you who don’t, any ideas what you’d like to call yourself if you were told to choose one?

~Tweedle O’Gold~

An inside look at Pottermore

Last month I received early access to the beta Pottermore website after participating in a Magical Quill challenge, which basically involved answering a question that related to something in the Harry Potter books.

I was pretty excited when I found out that I would be one of a million rewarded with early admission to the elusive site, partly because I really had no idea what Pottermore actually was.

The home page had described it as so:

Pottermore is an exciting new website from J.K. Rowling that can be enjoyed alongside the Harry Potter books. You can explore the stories like never before and discover exclusive new writing from the author.

So the new content bit sounded pretty damn exciting, but as for the rest of it…”enjoyed alongside the Harry Potter books” and “explore the stories like never before”.  What the hell does it all mean!?

Well, let’s start from the beginning. First thing I had to do was choose a name for myself.  Because it’s all child friendly for the little people fans of the series, everyone gets a Harry Potter inspired pseudonym, so that the only way you can add your friends is by asking them what their pseudonym is.

Now, you don’t actually get to make up your pseudonym; you instead get a choice of five to pick from.  I chose DragonSpell167, but also had choices along the lines of UnicornHolly and SpellPatronus, both with random numbers at the end.

So with that over with I was introduced to the site.  And wow.  Really, WOW.

The first thing that hit me was the graphics, which are simply spectacular.  The site takes you though each of the books, chapter by chapter, through a number of images.  The beta version only has book one for now.

At the start of each chapter it looks something like this:

Pottermore: Chapter One

You get a small snippet of the chapter and below it three images of three scenes that are significant to the chapter, which in chapter one are entitled “Number Four, Privet Drive”, “Something Peculiar is Happening” and “Harry is Delivered”.

You then click on one of the scenes, and it takes you to that interactive image.  I say interactive, because that’s what they are.  The pictures are very subtly animated; car lights will flicker if you run your cursor over them, or owls will fly away if you do the same.

Beautiful Hagrid image in Chapter One

Each image also has three layers, and by double clicking you move further into the image from the foreground, to the middle, to the background.  In each layer, you might find objects which you can add to your trunk, or which might offer you extra character, place or scene information, content that did not make the books, or previously unknown backgrounds.  You get to collect Chocolate Frog cards, potions and spells.  Very cool.

So you go through each chapter the same way, exploring the images and finding things within them.  Some chapters may have only one or two images, others three or four.

What a lot of people have been talking about though, is being sorted into a Hogwarts house, and receiving your wand from Olivander.  The very cool thing about this, is that you get to do these things as Harry does them.  If Harry doesn’t get sorted into a House until Chapter 7, then neither do you.  But when you do, it’s a matter of answering a number of mysterious questions that really don’t allow you to cheat in order to get the house you want.

I consider myself proud (and lucky!) to have been sorted into Gryffindor!!! Woooo! You knew this already though, when I told you a while back about my time at Hogwarts.

Being sorted into the COOLEST Hogwarts house...naturally.

You can keep track of your house points, what’s in your trunk, what chapter you’re up to, your Chocolate Frog cards, your wand and everything else on your profile page, which looks like this:

Profile Page

There’s more to it as you scroll down, which unfortunately I couldn’t capture in one image, but basically it just shows your progress and gives you easy access to the rest of the site. The line of yellow dots represent each chapter in the first book, the other larger red circles to the right being the remaining six books which are yet to be opened.  The highlighted yellow dot with the cat avatar pictured above it shows the chapter I’m up to.  The cat is the pet I chose for myself (only when Harry goes to Diagon Alley of course) and which is used as your avatar.  This page also shows the details of my wand, which was likewise chosen for me after answering a number of questions.

An example of the extra content that you might discover is shown here with Professor McGonagall’s background and extra tid bits of information:

Extra content from J. K. Rowling: Professor McGonagall

It goes on to give a particularly interesting history that explains her interest in scouting Harry for the Quidditch team and her eagerness to beat Slytherin.

Finally, the other activity worth mentioning is Wizard Duels.  You can gain house points by duelling with your friends!  You can also go to the Great Hall to see how all the other houses are going in their house point tallies.

All in all, I think it is a very cool concept.  The graphics truly are amazing, and it really is a great accompaniment to the reading of the books.  It’s not until you actually get into the site that you realise how accurate the original description of it was; “an exciting new website from J.K. Rowling that can be enjoyed alongside the Harry Potter books. You can explore the stories like never before and discover exclusive new writing from the author.”  As confused as I was before, it really does make sense now.

I’ll leave you with a few more images to peruse over, including an example of how the multiple layers work in the Diagon Alley scene.  Give them a click to see them full sized.  I honestly can’t get over the graphics and their multiple layers.  In the meantime, hopefully see you there in October when it becomes available to all!

Harry recieves his letter: In this image, the letters are actually moving around the page

The Forbidden Forest with the Whomping Willow in the foreground

A unicorn slain in the forest

Diagon Alley foreground graphic

Diagon Alley middle layer graphic - the foreground images become slightly unfocused and move aside slightly to reveal what's beyond them.

Diagon Alley Background graphic - the other characters have moved aside to reveal Gringotts Bank, which you can now click on and enter

~storytelling nomad~

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 11

Book from your favourite author

I have to pick just one? Okay, you win today Miss Rowling.  And just to be different, I’m going to showcase The Tales of Beedle the Bard.  This book of wizard children’s stories/fairy tales appears in the last of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and is the key to helping Harry, Ron and Hermione find and destroy Voldemort’s horcruxes.  Within, is the Tale of the Three Brothers, which I think the movie adaptation did an amazing job of recreating.  I absolutely loved the animation.

For those of you who haven’t seen the animated version of the Tale of the Three Brothers, or just want to be once again in awe of such epic awesomeness, check it out here.

In true J.K. fashion, this book was originally released as only seven copies, one of which was auctioned off and purchased by Amazon for I.5 million pounds ($3.8 million), with the money going to charity.  Well played J.K, well played.

~storytelling nomad~

Book that changed your life

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 10

To be honest, no single book has changed my life.

Books (pl.) on the other hand, yes they have changed my life entirely.

~

From my early days reading Roald Dahl and The Famous Five, to my present day addictions to Robin Hobb, J.K. Rowling and Tolkien.  From those that have scared me, bored me, reminded me, moved me – books have granted me inspiration, escapism, magic, language, pleasure, entertainment, love, expression, adventure, community, relaxation, creativity and most importantly, knowledge.

Without books I would be without a primary source of learning, a source that encourages me to discover, to improve, to embrace, to empower and to inspire.

~

Without books I would not be me.

~storytelling nomad~

J.K. Rowling on the importance of failure (via Alec Nevala-Lee)

She really knows her stuff ol’ J.K….

J.K. Rowling on the importance of failure Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. Th … Read More

via Alec Nevala-Lee