Thursday, June 24, 2010


My novel THE SHADOW SCRIBE began as a short story in a "Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy" course I completed in my senior year of college (and to be honest, I'm surprised I earned an A in that course because my short story was neither science fiction nor fantasy). It was the story of a woman who started telling a story in her sleep. Because it had a strong historical element, I set the story in Boston, which was the most historical city I knew at the time.

Shortly after I graduated, I packed up my wordprocessor (one of those crossover Smith Corona typewriters that had a 3 1/4" floppy drive) and went to Scotland on a 6-month student visa, intending to really live. And then write all about it. In six months, I never wrote a word. But what I did do was meet the man who would someday become my husband. I knew right away he was "the one" and he must have had similar feelings (even if he wouldn't admit it) because he brought me home to meet his parents. He grew up in a small village outside Edinburgh. We took the train to the town and walked to his house.

And we came to this:

Which opened to this:

Which finally led to this:

That's right. That's the house my new boyfriend brought me to. An absolutely gorgeous Georgian house in the Scottish countryside. Actually, I'm in that house at the moment, eighteen years later. I'm in the room on the second floor on the right end.

Walking into the house for the first time, I was not only completely intimidated, but I was totally in love. With the house. OK, the guy too. But as an American, I'd never encountered a place like it. And it was someone's house. Home, actually. Two parents, five kids, pets, antiques, piles of laundry, squabbles, and stuffed to the brim with knick knacks and more love than I'd encountered anywhere. Christmas at the house was amazing, as was our wedding reception.

I started having fantasies -- and serious discussions -- with my husband about maybe buying the house someday when his parents retired. Talk about an amazing place for kids to grow up (acres of gardens, woods, and a canal at the bottom of the property) and none of the siblings could stand the thought of it not staying in the family. But given the UK housing market, it is unlikely we could ever afford it. Still, it was fun to dream about.

But I also started thinking about how strange it would be to move in and change a place that everyone had known for 25 years. How could we redo the kitchen? Or dare to move the couch there?

As I had these thoughts, the writer's side of my brain suddenly came alive.


That short story that I wrote so long ago sprung back to life. Boston? Hah! I had a historical location to rival no other. And the subplots of a woman moving into her husband's childhood home -- fertile ground for a writer! 

So what's my point, other than showing off the pictures of my lovely little vacation spot? (Just to rub it in, here's the view from my bedroom:

and a view of the town, including the ruined palace and the 750-year-old church:

My point is that you never know what will inspire, and ultimately, result in a finished project. Writers talk a lot about writing what you know. But I think it is infinitely more important to write what ignites you. THE SHADOW SCRIBE took on a whole new life when I was inspired by this house. Maybe four pages remain of my original short story, but there are literally hundreds of pages that are intimately tied to this house and how I feel about it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to dreaming of where I might move the couch if the house is ever mine.


  1. Fascinating. Inspiration really is a tricky thing and can come from anywhere. And that is a lovely looking home.

    By the by, there's an award for you on my blog.

  2. I know just what you mean. In early drafts of my novel, I'd intended to only briefly mention my MC's stay in England for her father's burial, but after visiting friends in Durham, I ended up expanding the England visit to nearly 3/4 of the book. My original idea will instead become the sequel!

    And I hope you and hubby DO buy the house from his parents. It looks fabuouls!!

  3. Dominique -- thanks for the award. Obviously, I've been really distracted the past few weeks so I'll be sure to post it when I get back to reality.

    Laurel -- oh yes, you can bet I'll buy it if I ever get that 6 figure book deal! Fortunately, my in-laws seem to have no plans to go anywhere in the foreseeable future so I'm still hoping.

  4. I agree. Inspiration is a very fickle thing. It can strike at any time. But oh wow, those pictures! I'm envious. Suck a perfect vacation spot. :)