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" The songs of our ancestors

are also the songs of our children "

The Druid Way

On Inspiration – From Juliet Marillier

February 2nd, 2009

Philip is away for a couple of weeks so I’ll be looking after his blog until his return by posting articles from a number of wonderful guests. The first is from Australian writer Juliet Marillier with her thoughts On Inspiration.



europa-park-boulder-sculpture-smallOn Inspiration

One of the questions readers love to ask novelists is, where do you get your ideas from?

Now, the answer feels so obvious to me that I am surprised people need to ask at all. As a writer I am an observer. I do a lot of watching and listening (no wonder some people think I’m a shy, antisocial type.) It’s summer here in Australia, and I’m taking in the warbling of magpies in my garden as the light fades; the smell of freshly-mown grass; the grumble and sigh of a little dog as it curls up for sleep. I’m thinking about a wonderful novel I’ve recently read, Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels, which is a dark, deep take on the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. I’m considering a Breton folk tale I found in a book called Celtic Lore by Ward Rutherford, and pondering the fascinating concept of drowned cities. Last but not least, I’m remembering a family visit. There’s my five year old granddaughter clad in a pink dress-up outfit with tiara and glittery mask, presenting a dance for me and her parents. ‘I am Arayana, the angel fairy,’ she says sweetly. Her three year old sister dances along behind, and explains in gruff tones, ‘I’m the tortoise.’

There can be a lot of stuff in my head at any given time. I think inspiration is messy. It’s the way a person uses all those stimuli, those many and varied sounds, sights and ideas, that distinguishes a writer, artist or composer from a reader, viewer or listener.

I’ve been struck by how closely inspiration, for me, is tied up with the druidic concept of the Spirits of the Circle, as set out in Philip’s book, Druid Mysteries. I could almost interpret the messy mind-picture above in terms of that circle. No wonder finding OBOD felt like coming home!

Spirit of the ancestors: I believe there’s an ancestral memory, a ‘blood memory’, that infuses my work with the strength and wisdom of my antecedents, down to my music and book-loving parents. I see it going forward to my children and their children.

Spirit of the tribe: For me, the immediate connection with the tribe is through family – the birth of a fourth grandchild next month can only strengthen that. Readers will find a very strong thread of family in my writing, and plenty about identity and culture as well.

Spirit of the journey: The Greeks identified the Muses as the source of inspiration for creative artists. Sometimes I sit down to write, and an hour or two later I realise I’ve been working without conscious thought. It’s almost as if I’ve lived the story myself. Invariably, those pieces of writing are my best.

Spirit of place: The sacred sites of my ancestral turf in Scotland and Ireland speak to me powerfully. Sacred places play a major role in my stories, especially the concept of magic existing in places where the elements touch: caves by the sea, high rocky peaks, forest pools. Australia has its own spirit places.

Spirit of time: I generally set my novels in periods and cultures in which druidry or other earth-based faiths were commonly practised, and I often build a story framework around the turning points of the year. For the Picts, who left so tantalizingly few artefacts and no written records of their own, I had to construct a spiritual system based on my knowledge of other, possibly similar cultures. The creation of a ritual for Burghead Well (called the Well of Shades in my novel of the same name) took me into a very dark place indeed.

Next time someone asks me where I get my ideas from, I might say: everywhere.

Visit Juliet’s website at

Juliet is a regular contributor to genre writing blog, Writer Unboxed

Illustration: photo taken by the author at Europa Park in Lithuania