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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

Staggering out of the cave

November 4th, 2007

In response to yesterday’s post Hennie commented:

“Isn’t that the old Masterpiece : to be conscious of the Unconscious; like the Baron von Münchhausen pulling himself out of the swamp by his own hair? Ambitious indeed…

On second thought it must be the other way around : to be unconscious of the Conscious, like the people in Plato’s cave. But what ignites the deed of turning to the light? Curiosity?”


That’s very interesting. At first thought it seems that the concept of using words to describe the indescribable is most equivalent to using the Conscious to try to express material that is in the Unconscious, but as Hennie suggests is there not also a way in which the Unconscious is the realm which contains the ‘Essential’ (and includes the Superconscious as well as Subconscious) and which is ultimately the source of articulation and expression and therefore yes, we are like Plato’s cave-people just becoming aware of the light outside and trying to talk about it (while many of our fellows are still hypnotised by the shadows on the cave wall).


In both ways of looking at it, we are talking about inhabiting the limen – the threshold between worlds and hence the connection between writing and spirituality – we drag the unthought out of the darkness of the cave into the light of expression.

Getting past the committee…

October 13th, 2007

Imagine a rugby pitch with a player dodging his way past the opposing team and touching the ball down behind the line. Well writing this blog is like that for me. I give myself ten minutes at the start of each day and my job is to get past these guys to post this message.

My opposing team is, however, a little unusual. There is a lawyer in his city suit, an aesthete with a bow tie and glasses (a cross between the camp art critic Brian Sewell and that man with a bowtie and glasses who used to be on television – Robin Day?) and a rare breed – a grammarian (a schoolmistressy type with a bun and glasses again). These are my ‘inner critics’ who screen everything I write usually. The lawyer says “Is this statement true? How do you know? Can you prove it?” The school ma’am says “You can’t write that – look at all those split infinitives!” and finally Brian Sewell-Day surveys the sentence and says “Oh for heaven’s sake how clumsy – where’s the art, the style, the beauty in this? Can’t you write something more uplifting, more beautiful?”

So when I write about Bishops and actresses it may seem trivial (which it is!) but it represents a triumph at another level. It got past the committee! So I’m experimenting with this medium as a way of stimulating spontaneity, encouraging flow and ease of expression.

Now here’s the twist: it might seem like these critics are just a nuisance and I should attempt to fire them – eliminate them with intense therapy or something, but instead I’ve realised that they’re really on my side. We’re work colleagues and we just need to learn how to work together well – and we’re playing this game for fun and to improve our working style.  I’m going into the shower room with them now!

That’s very 2005

October 7th, 2007

There’s something very salutary about having a family. Other people might flatter you about your books or your writing but your family can be guaranteed to bring you down to earth. Read more

One Continuous Mistake

October 4th, 2007

Gail Sher in her book One Continuous Mistake – Four Noble Truths for Writers presents writing as a spiritual practice. Reading her book was inspiring, and helps me to understand how I can use this blog as a spiritual practice too. Developing the ideas in yesterday’s post, I can see how it could offer a way in which to cultivate clarity of mind and power of expression. This I think is what the Transcendentalists were recommending – the use of journaling as a means of cultivating our spiritual and creative potential.

Sher talks about the way in which writing from this point of view words rise up from the still centre of her being: ‘One beats through me, pushes its way to the forefront and appears on a page. I care about this. I care about the clarity of myself as a vessel, the utensils used, the paper as receptor and the way the whole process unfolds. Silence for me is replete with possibility.’

The blog as a means for cultivating clarity. What an idea! And what a pity blog is such an ugly word with its resonances with bogs, which are sticky (and toilets at least in Britain) and logs which by definition have been cut down and are no longer living trees.