Whence Inspiration?

Inspiration Train

On a recent 3 hour train journey, I was forced to consider creative inspiration to save myself from insanity. I can make the drive in 2.5 hours at legal speeds, but the chance to relax was worth the the extra 30 minutes. However…

My netbook battery failed after an hour, so I became more aware of the journey than usual. A writer wastes nothing, so what could this journey inspire in me? I asked where stories come from in an earlier post – would I be gifted with an answer? Read on…

From where does that magical Inspiration spring?

I was travelling from Brussels to Luxembourg. My suitcase was too large for the storage spaces available so it travelled next to me, blocking a seat. (I really had no alternative. Belgian trains should offer more luggage space.) I quickly became aware of the resentment of the travellers forced to stand because of this. They displayed a range of frowns, scowls and glares, plus a little verbal muttering and tutting. It quickly became a “shields up” situation. I stared hard out of the window, feigning obliviousness. My apologies to them all! Or – more accurately – to the single person who could have sat there.

I soon noticed that every town the train stopped at had an “e” in its name. A few ideas poked their rough corners out of the fog of travel boredom. Then it stopped at a few that didn’t. I lost interest in that game.

Meanwhile, I could not ignore the girl yelling into her phone for 90 minutes in some highly-inflected language. (You know who you are!) No-one aboard showed Gallic volatility by telling her to shut it, so I retained my British cool and suffered in silence – until now. A story about inconsideration? Hmm… I had no plot, no theme, no hook to hang her on (how I wish). Moving quickly on…

None of the other commuters showed potential as raw material for a character, except in a story about the undistinguished and bland. Didn’t sound like a best-seller. Sorry, fellow travellers, you are dismissed.

I considered my environment. The carriage had an upper and a lower deck. On my lower deck, there were 18 windows and 14 overhead lighting strips. I decided to count the seats when the commuters had de-trained. But I forgot, so I must apologise for not providing you, dear reader, with that crucial piece of information. These numbers triggered nothing, I regret. But, unbeknown to me, a spark was already ignited, of which more later.

The commuters slowly drained away at stations with or without an “e” in their name, taking their hostility and aching feet with them, I was pleased to see. The carriage was becoming quite empty. Then came a 30 minute delay, due to unspecified “technical issues”, which was unwelcome and a little disconcerting. I began to experience “stir-crazy” and a deep longing for my car.

I tried watching other travellers’ reflections in the window as it was now dark outside. But a reflection being an alternate reality goes back to Lewis Carroll and I didn’t want to compete with him. However, the occasional street light or house light racing past against a field of blackness was reminiscent of warp-speed space travel. Train carriage as spaceship? Not a novel idea, but was it a seed?

Downstairs, it had fallen very quiet (thank you to phone-girl for getting off before I committed justifiable homicide). I began to wonder what was happening on the upper deck. A sentient green goo coating all surfaces and consuming the passengers’ bodies? Zombies, sniffing the air, scenting the living flesh below? A party? Perhaps they had slain their own phone-girl and trampled her phone before de-training in ones and twos at stations whose names contained the letter “e”? I preferred the party idea, but I knew that if I mounted the stairs, struggling with my oversized suitcase, they would be creeping down the other stairs, taking all party hats and streamers and bottles and other evidence with them. I knew I would find only a near-empty deck of blank-faced travellers and wonder what the folks downstairs were doing. Strange journeys of the mind, brought on by tedium and the over-active imagination I was issued with at birth. Complaints? Address them to Head Office.

I remembered Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories train carriage containing a scattering of bleak and silent potential serial killers, while the adjacent train was full of partygoers having fun. Yes, now I was certain – there WAS a party upstairs, but like the Elves’ feast in the Hobbit (a film I was not in, but how’s that for contemporary reference?), it would always move out of my reach. Should I go and look? How could I tell the difference between a real non-party and one that was simply hidden from me?


Oh, sweet magical mystery of inspiration. The story will be called Earth-lover or Long Haul and it fell roughly-hewn into my mind, a patchwork conception formed of half-thoughts and ponderings during that tedious journey. Yes, it works. Nothing is wasted. I’ll post a link to it when it’s finished and (hopefully) published. And a big “thank you” to Belgian Railways!

So the answer to “whence?” is specifically “a long, boring train journey” and generically “anywhere and anything”.

Happy inspirations, folks!

3 thoughts on “Whence Inspiration?

  1. Pingback: Writers’ rules, rules, rules? | Andy McKell

  2. Pingback: From Blocking To Overflow | Andy McKell

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