I prefer to walk as often as possible, even if that means walking several miles from Hampstead Heath to Southbank, to Harrods, to Tower Hill – sometimes in one day. It clears my mind, gives me a chance to churn through my latest must-read, and gain inspiration through people watching, or from simply allowing my mind to wander. Today, however, I took a bus, and as we passed through Piccadilly Circus at just after four o’clock, the sky had already faded to black, and something occurred to me in that moment; while walking is generally a sure-way means of triggering a wave of creative writing inspiration, there are always a few key spots that are like a crazy jump-start for me, like injecting a cocktail of amphetamines directly into that weird and wonderful part of my brain that conjures imaginary friends and fantasy places and weaves it all together into stories.
The inspiration wave always begins in the same way; it begins with a sentence, based entirely on that spot in particular. I’ll automatically look at the light, how it falls, how natural relates to artificial, the passing lights; car headlights and tail lights, the glow of mobile phones on flesh, reflections on a wet pavement, in a puddle. I’ll take note of the smells, the sounds, snippets of conversations. I’ll look at who is around, I’ll look up at the architecture, at the traffic, the visible fog of, for example, London (most likely pollution, but let’s be romantic and simply refer to it as a ‘dewy fog of dusk’). All of this happens within a millisecond, and my brain presents to me on a gleaming silver platter, a descriptive sentence.
It will be noted down in my phone, with the rest of the pages upon pages of Notepad jottings, and saved for an appropriate time, and just like that, whatever has been causing a case of writer’s block is suddenly so simple, the words are right there before me, and I end up frantically tapping into my phone to pausing to scrawl it all onto a fresh page of my red pocket-sized Moleskine.
1. Piccadilly Circus
I can’t help but wish my strongest waves of inspiration couldn’t hit me in a place better suited to such instances. The British Museum, for example. Or any museum – or gallery – for example. Somewhere with ample seating. A coffee shop. But no, I have to linger awkwardly on corners, trying not to be sucked by an invisible current back into the crowds. But then of course, that’s exactly what triggers that kick start; the hub, the bub, the buzz, the noise, the sirens, the beeps of horns and the constant tinnitus-inducing mass of voices.
2. Trafalgar Square
I love strolling through Trafalgar Square on those horribly grey winter evenings that we so often get at this time of year; just as the light is fading to night and Nelson is fading into the sky, grey on grey, and everything is just that little bit misty and dream-like, and only a few straggling street performers remain at the top of the gallery steps, and musicians have opted for mellow renditions of Hallelujah for evening shoppers’ ears.
3. Chatsworth House
Anyone who reads this blog must surely know by now of the big slice of my heart claimed by Chatsworth in Derbyshire? For me it is a wonderful place, so peaceful but vibrant, and it’s so easy to imagine how things would have been in days gone by. Not to mention, it has been the source of inspiration to other writers; Jane Austen, for example, who visited while staying in nearby Bakewell and writing Pride and Prejudice. This is Pemberley.
4. Via dei Fiori Imperiali
Next to the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument (otherwise known as ‘the wedding cake’ or ‘the typewriter’), the base of Via dei Fiori Imperiali is beautifully scattered with white marble slabbed benches, and I love to sit here, a few steps separating myself from passersby on the pavement below. My favourite bench is level with the point of road as it straightens, giving me a perfect view of the Colosseum in the not-too-distant-distance to my left, Piazza Venezia to my right, the imposing figure of the gleaming white monument before me, classic Roman ruins behind me, and endless streams of people-watching inspiration as tourists and locals make their way up and down the pavement between the two iconic attractions of this city. It’s an instant inspiration trigger.
5. Quiet Venice canal side
One of Venice’s peculiarities is just how easy it is to find solitude, and how few steps a person must take from the crowded tourist hub which is Piazza San Marco to find that blissful solitude and silence. Most of the city is deserted, I find, and so there is always a spot to stop an admire the moment, write, and let my mind wander. Since I first visited Venice, I realised one of my favourite past times pretty much instantly; picnicking on bread, cheese, cold meat, summer berries and a bottle of wine, perched on the steps of a bridge or at the edge of the many canals, bare feet dangling inches above the water, the occasional drop cooling my skin, while sheltering in the shade with a Moleskine and pen. Or, as my winter equivalent, picnicking on bread, cheese, cold meat, coffee and winter berries, perched on the steps of a bridge or at the edge of the many canals, wrapped up and huddled against the cold, while sheltering from the cold winds that bluster down the narrow streets with a Moleskine and pen.