past and future

Finding Inspiration: How A Broken Tomb Inspired a Book

‘A picture paints a thousand words’ they say, but I say, why stop at a thousand? I wrote a 5-book series off the back of one image. OK, so it wasn’t a painting, or even a picture. The inspiration for Mortal Fire came from a broken tomb.

I can’t remember where I first saw him, or even his name. I’m not even sure whether his name survived down the long centuries since his image was captured in stone. There he lay, frozen in time – a knight in full armour – his monument to be read like a book. Minute traces of pigment remained trapped in the detail of his sword belt and in the fur of the dog at his feet. His hands, steepled in prayer, spoke of his hope of redemption after death, his collar his affinity in life.

I have seen many such effigies over the years of visiting churches that have become the unintended guardians of the past. Each tells its own story. Whatever we were intended to read from such graceful piety, the dignity of his composure, the emblems of duty, this had a postscript. And it shocked me to my core.

At some point long after the man’s entombment, someone had taken a chisel to his face. It was no accident, nor an act of mindless vandalism. This was a deliberate attempt to erase the man’s identity, his story, his legacy. What struck me on that day as I lingered at his side, was a question in two parts:

  • What had this man done or what did he represent to provoke such a violent response?
  • Who was the umknown person who desecrated the tomb and why?

It was from considering these unknowables that the concept behind The Secret of the Journal series was created so many years later. Although the period in which my protagonist, Emma D’Eresby, was cheifly interested bracketed the English Civil War, the devastating events of that time could have happened in any era. Ignorance breeds mistrust – mistrust, fear – fear, reaction. We see it all the time throughout history; we see it now. The Secret of the Journal goes one step further in its question: what happens when the past and present collide?

I wish I could remember the name of the little medieval church in which the unknown knight lay, or even the corner of England in which I found him. It was a long time ago now. The grass grew lush around the graves in the churchyard, flowers invaded the tumbled stone. I left my knight to rest in peace as he contemplated Heaven ignorant, I hope, of the fate of his legacy, a reminder that history is as much of our present as we are to the people of the future. Those ripples of time continue indefinitely and who knows where they will reach?

Wherever I go and whatever I do, I try to take photographs as a reminder of what I have seen. Although I often fail to make a note of the place (N.B. to self: take a notebook and a pen), the resulting images form a visual reference and the starting point for further research. Sometimes they even become the inspiration for a book. So, have a look through your own photographs and at the people, the places and the things that inspired you to capture them on screen. Now look again and see them as a source of ideas for  your next creation. A picture makes a thousand words.