Saturday, August 11, 2012

History aside, how about the Landscape?

As someone who loves history and archaeology, and believes vehemently in their importance, I often speak of and write about how they affect and inspire a large part of my writing. As an author of historical fiction/fantasy, I have always used the man-made past as a portal to the world or age about which I am writing. I love the past, seeing the remains left by our ancestors. When we travel, we take photos of ourselves beside ruined walls and intact citadels. We treat them like old friends – there’s me with my arm about that bloody great sarsen stone, two peas in a pod. Well, you get the point.

But there is another presence, another doorway to the past that is sometimes even more accessible, easier to immerse oneself in, easier to understand – the landscape.

Gog and Magog
Ancient Oaks - Glastonbury UK
I have found that the landscape itself, without anything man-made, can inspire some of the best writing. Not that I don’t love castles, amphitheatres, ruined walls and mosaics. I am deeply inspired by all of those. But, when it is just me and the landscape, it feels like a completely blank page where I can step back to any age and feel the same wind, smell the same flowers and herbs, touch the same sea, and hear the same birds that my characters and their historical counterparts would have felt long ago. What better way to immerse a reader than by appealing to their senses? As a reader, I know I love that.

Mediterranean Sea
Here are some examples. When I am in Greece, the sea is always there for me. You can find any one little, deserted bay with calm turquoise water where you can close your eyes and imagine your characters in that very spot. The sounds and the smells would be exactly the same, were it one hundred years ago or two thousand.

In Tuscany, which I wrote about in another post, the way the sunlight plays on every shade of green and gold brings an ancient world of colour and light to life. In Glastonbury, two ancient gnarled oaks speak through time, their earthy smells and the feel of their rough bark something that could have been experienced a thousand years before.

Storm rolling in
Another time, as I stood on a mountain in the Languedoc of southern France, I watched a mass of storm clouds come rushing off the Pyrenees to crash on the valley floor below and then slam into the mountain on which I was standing. A scary experience to be sure, lighting and all, but the sights, the sounds and the smells of the summer storm were magnificent.

Olive Branch
These things may appear too simple to most, obvious, but some times those are the things that work best, that are most easily related to. Whether it is the sound of a bird, the smell of wild herbs or the salt sea, or the feel of the sun upon one’s skin, all of this adds a richness that is common to our present day lives and those of our ancestors.
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