Elizabeth Murray on her Inspirations and Influences
Inspiration is Everywhere: The Nine Lives Trilogy by E.R. Murray
Elizabeth Murray is the author of The Nine Lives Trilogy. The last book in the series The Book of Revenge was just published. She lives in County Cork, Ireland.
For me, inspiration is everywhere; in words, pictures, memories, sounds, film, sights, thoughts, theatre, emotions, art, the landscape. The question – where do you get your ideas from? – always baffles me. Rather than suffering from writer’s block, my challenge is to collect and contain the myriad ideas that bombard me daily, sifting through the chaff to find the decent sparks. Sometimes, a shot of inspiration might lead to a book, other times it might add colour or texture to a manuscript or a short story that’s already in progress.
Now, I trust in hard work but I don’t think sitting at your desk staring at a blank screen for hours on end is ever the answer. I truly believe that if you open your senses, become a participant as well as an observer, you’ll never be stuck for inspiration.
Talking about inspiring books or writers is impossible; I have far too many writers and stories that I’ve enjoyed over the years and am discovering new and wonderful voices all the time. So instead, here’s a list of some of the things that I find most inspiring outside of the book world…
Places to write
Libraries – I spent my whole childhood in libraries and they’re still my go-to place for some quiet research and a bit of nurturing.
Trains – there’s something about the motion, I think. But trains in Ireland are more sociable than elsewhere so I’ve taken to wearing headphones to ward off the chatterers!
Countries where I can’t speak the language – there’s nothing better than being surrounded by lots of people you can’t understand. There’s a wonderful buzz to it that really drives me on.
Outdoors – being outside helps me think up ideas, write descriptions of events or the landscape, and work out problems in the current WIP. For me, the outdoors can’t be beaten; I always have a notebook, pen, pencil and Dictaphone handy.
Swimming pool – when I wasn’t in a library as a child, I was in the pool and it’s still one of my favourite environments. I don’t take my notebook into the pool but I have it ready for afterwards and often think up new ideas while doing laps.
Graveyards – I adore graveyards. When I was growing up, they were the greenest and most peaceful spots around and I spent hours in them alone or hanging out with friends. I still go to graveyards for peace and focus – and they’re great places to discover names.
My father’s caravan – holiday visits to my father underpin my appreciation of the countryside and rural landscapes and my awareness of the beauty and healing of nature stems from these memories.
The ‘Black Path’ – lots of the journeys I wrote about start with me remembering trips I took along this disused railway track as a child. It comprised of a tarmac road, steep banks, blackberries, bird nests and discarded eggshells, foxgloves and fabulous stone-arched bridges. I walked this path to visit my aunty, to run away from home, to pick fruit, to make dens. It was more than a path, it was a whole world.
Adventures – when I write, I want to feel good. I don’t think writing should be difficult or painful, though many people find it such. So after I ‘finish’ any piece, if I don’t feel as exhilarated by it as the time I ran with bulls or swam with sharks or skydived, then I know it needs more work.
Turning down a gymnastics show – I really wanted to say yes to being in the show but I hadn’t expected to be asked and I accidentally said no because I copied everyone else. I was six years old and didn’t know how to tell the coach I’d made a mistake and wanted to reverse the decision. I was heartbroken and I learned to always follow my heart and my instinct and a lot of strength came from that lesson.
Malcolm X – Any Means Necessary – I was shown this speech in primary school and it made me think very deeply about human rights and how I felt about being from a country that colonised. I liked the way he made the greater issues so personal and understandable.
Neil Gaiman - Make Good Art – I absolutely love this and all it stands for.
Malala Yousafzia – Nobel Speech – as a child, I learned quickly that education was a way to break poverty, but Malala’s story brings it to another level. To hear her speak is always incredible. It doesn’t matter that I’m twice her age, she’s one of my heroes.
Picasso – I was inspired by his art from a young age. I loved how he followed his gut, how he fashioned a new style.
Frieda Kahlo – I love her strength, resilience, honesty, feminism and skill. Her life and her art are inextricable. And all that colour!
Van Gogh – he only ever sold one painting yet did what he loved passionately, voraciously. Now that’s dedication!
Harry Clarke – the intricate design and texture, the gorgeous colour and detail. It’s just stunning. I seek Harry Clarke’s glass all over Ireland and it never fails to impress. His Hans Christian Anderson illustrations were sublime.
My Auntie Rita – Always firm but fair, my auntie was the oldest sibling, the kindest and most thoughtful and always brutally honest. She died last year, but continues to inspire me. I think of her when I’m writing about honesty, integrity, and determination.
Maya Angelou – “And still I rise” – these words were written a year after I was born, but I learned them in college (aged 17) and they have never left me. What an incredible woman.
Helen Keller – we were taught about Helen in primary school and I was always intrigued by her story. I couldn’t help but be inspired by her tireless campaigning for people’s rights.
Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks – both of these women refused to follow local law and give up their seats based on their skin colour. I think of them when I’m writing about bravery, hope, and beating the odds.
My friends – I have so many strong, fun, interesting, determined, intelligent, quirky, kind and creative female friends and they inspire me every day in their own individual ways.
Rain – I live in a mobile home and the sound of rain beating on the roof is one of the most comforting and relaxing sounds – it always leads to good writing.
Storms – moody, wild, dramatic – all the ingredients for a good story. I love storms and their ferocity and if I have any dark scenes or stories to write, they get dragged out for an extra editing bash when a storm arrives.
Playlist for WIP – this is a new approach for me as I used to always write in silence but I’m trying to bring more music into my world to make writing less isolating. And so, I’ve created a playlist for my next WIP and play it when I write. It’s quite dark and depressing though, so I don’t use it every time!
Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I’m always soaking the world in. Downtime is important and so is creative input – we can’t just pour our heart and soul onto the page and create our best work. I believe ideas stem from stimulation, whatever that may look like in your world. I wonder, when you search your heart and soul, when you think about your happiest
moments writing and where you were when the best ideas hit, what is it that truly inspires you?