Feeding the muse…

Writing can be so demanding that it swallows one whole.

One can spend days sequestered with the doors firmly shut against the world. Even a day’s writing can leave one tired, eye-sore, with fog on the brain. We writers can look up from the computer, see family members and say, ‘Wha…, huh? Who are you?’

It’s a double life. One has mistresses, lovers, enemies and friends that no member of the family has any idea about. A secret life…I tell you, spooks and MI 6 have nothing on a writer.

So how do we anchor ourselves in reality and at the same time, fuel our creative fires? Inspired by Writers’ Unboxed, I decided I’d ask a few writer friends what they do to unwind and yet fuel their creative fires…


 *Australian writer Elisabeth Storrs, author of a number of exciting Roman fiction novels like The Wedding Shroud 

“This will sound nerdy but the way to relieve the pressure is actually do more research which then makes my fingers itchy again to hit the keys. Some people read novels to relax but I just love picking up a chunky tome, especially given I’m moving into WW2 instead of Rome for my next book!”

*Scots writer, Gordon Doherty, author of the brilliant Strategos and Legionary series. Legionary I is a fine lead-in to what will be a stupendous series.

“When I’m struggling to write, I run, and I run like f***. Blows all the doubts and fear away and shows me the way for my stories. This morning, while running in the pre-dawn moonlight, I saw the way forward for Pavo in the latest Legionary. Took him from the edge of cliff to the verge of battle.”

English novelist, Annie Whitehead, author of Cometh the Hour

“My answer is simple: Whenever I can’t write, or need to stop writing because my neck and shoulders are aching, I step away from the screen and out into the fresh air. Walking is my stress reliever, and it’s a fabulous antidote to staring at the computer screen, but it also refreshes my thought processes. The walk will begin with me still stressing, but the further I go, the more distant those stresses become, and by the time I’m on the way home, I’ve forgotten whatever was bothering me, I’m physically relaxed, and I’ve usually got the next scene of my book mapped out in my head. It’s like breathing – you have to let the old breath out to let the new one come in. Same with thoughts! Even a ten minute walk will not only get the body moving, it will re-activate the mind, too.”

*Prolific English writer SJA Turney, author of some of the best Roman fiction available. And currently the Praetorian series is at the top of the tree with Praetorian: Eagles of Dacia.

“Ha. Booze! Well you know me. I spend time with the kids, watch raucous movies, read books, indulge in armchair archaeology on Google Earth, visit ancient sites. But often there will be ale or a whisky at the end of the day. But the simple fact is that for me (and probably for many others) the pressure of writing never really stops. When I’m walking the dogs or cleaning my teeth, my brain’s mulling over plot points. When I’m visiting or looking at places, I’m wondering how I can use them.

When I’m standing in a shopping centre, I’m looking at faces and fleshing out my characters. When I’m listening to my kids talk, I’m filing away funny lines. When I’m watching a film, I’m seeing what to do and what not to do with a plot. It’s never stops. And sometimes even when I’m asleep, I’ll dream plot things.”

*Australian writer, Kathryn Gauci, author of strong and ineffably beautiful historical fiction. She is releasing Seraphina’s Song this week and I for one, can’t wait to get to Amazon to purchase my copy.

“My interests may not be that different from many others. In order, it would have to be cooking/baking, gardening, getting lost in a good TV drama or film, and having a quiet drink with my husband or close friends. I didn’t add a good book as that goes without saying!”

*Australian writer, GS Johnston, author of the sombre and thrilling historical fiction The Cast of a Hand.

“I guess dog walking has always helped.  There’s something in the rhythm, and seeing things beyond the workroom’s four walls, and meeting and talking to strangers who often say something that’s perfect.  And then there are the stories the dog acquires from all that sniffing…the tales they tell…”

* English novelist Michael Jecks, writer of soul-stirring historical fiction like A Murder too soon and the soon to be released Pilgrim’s War. Pilgrim’s War is available for pre-order by the way!

“Home brewing, because then I have something to consume when all else goes wrong; dog walking on Dartmoor, because I need to get out and find some fresh air; watercolour painting, because it really helps me to have something else creative to do just for fun.”

*English writer Alex Martin, author of the timeslip novel The Rose Trail

“Intimate moments with my other half, walking on the beach or anywhere in nature, and gardening. And time with my beloved DOG!!!!! Reading non-research books, a good film, time with friends and family, cooking, drinking wine, sunrises and sunsets, long telephone chats or more often these days, skyping/emailing.”


And what about me?

I walk.

A lot.

Always accompanied by my frenetic JRT, because walking without my dog would feel as if I were missing a leg.

‘Out there’ is exactly that – reality!

I take to needle and thread too, lost in silks and stitches. Or I garden – dirt and I bond readily.

Then there’s swimming, boating and kayaking when the weather is right, because the sea is the ultimate escape for me.

But then, as Simon says, there’s always booze! A glass of white wine is mandatory, thus allowing the little grey cells to do their own thing while I muse on grapes and flavours and the way one’s limbs and mind mellow as the wine takes effect.

When I return to the manuscript, just as all my friends have found, time off has accomplished something. Tobias  has found that a dagger is his weapon of preference. It’s a size thing, you see.

Guillaume  has discovered that a hole through the floor of a house over the Saône is perfect for removing bodies.

Michael, ah, Michael… Where do I begin? But then that’s what happens when one tries to steal the embargoed Tyrian purple dye from the Byzantines. We’ll find out his story in the New Year…

The brain is an amazing organ. It can quietly process and sift whilst an individual sinks themselves into other activities. The only tiny detail is that one has to remind oneself to return to the keyboard!

I tell that to myself frequently…