“Where do you get your inspiration?” That’s a question that most authors seem to get asked at some time. It’s almost something you can’t avoid. The usual response is to refer to a few previous significant works in the applicable genre, maybe a film or a television show, and some moderately classic works of general literature, or maybe a historical figure or two. Example:
Fictional interviewer: “So, Mr. Deas, where do you get your inspiration.”
Author: “Oh, from a great variety of place. I’ve always been a fan of Conan and Elric, that’s the kind of fantasy that really pulled me in. Hong Kong fantasy martial arts movies like Zu Warrior of the Magic Mountain and, more recently, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and so forth. Anything Chinese really. Medieval Chinese history and culture fascinates me. Everything is on such a grand scale and they somehow did things in a different order. Oh, and Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle has probably had an influence I could point to on half the stories I’ve written. And Joseph Conrad, when I’ve got the willpower to plough through it. And, and…”
And and. Lots of easy answers. Not that this sort of answer isn’t true, and it certainly does answer the question, but it’s far from complete. Far, far from complete.
Trouble is, delve too far and the answers start to become downright uncomfortable. Example:
A few days ago, Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi was released from prison on compassionate grounds and sent back to Libya to die in the comfort of his own home (no this isn’t a cut and paste error from a different blog, bear with me) and with his family. I’ll nail my colours to the mast and say that I thought this was the right thing to do. I noticed that a lot of people didn’t, and then I noticed that not only did some people disagree, they were really very angry about it. Why? Were they afraid that he’d go and do it again (a reasonable thought, perhaps, given he’s going to die soon anyway)? But that didn’t seem to be it. Were they afraid that the wrong example was being set? That his release was somehow undermining the deterrent of being locked up for such horrible crimes? Again it’s an argument that could reasonably be put forward, but that didn’t really seem to be it either, although. No, it was about the feelings of the relatives of those he’d killed (or supposedly killed, if you’re into the conspiracy theories). So that’s where I went. Hypothetically, at least, into their heads to see what it was like to be them. I won’t pretend that I can tell you what it’s really like to have someone killed by a terrorist (or a drunk driver for that matter) for no better reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can tell you that I’ve tried, though. I can tell you that in trying, I’ve come to understand a little bit more about revenge, that engine that drives so many stories (imagine, for a moment, what literature would be like without any revenge. How many great stories would be wiped away?) I can understand a little better why letting someone who’s done something like that to you go free, for ANY reason, is so repugnant. And one day I will use that understanding to make some character in some story just that little bit more real. That’s the dark side, if you will, of inspiration.
I pick on this example because it’s in the news at the moment. A few weeks from now it’ll be something else and then something else again. Inspiration comes from everywhere, from everything. It comes from walks in the Southern Alps, it comes from the awe-inspiring imaginations of other writers and artists and film-makers. It comes from watching my children feeding little plastic knights to their Gigantosaurus. And it comes from plumbing the dark depths and the dizzying heights of what happens around us, from the horrible and magnificent things that seemingly ordinary people do, and from trying to go inside their heads to see the whys and the hows and the consequences. I can say my inspiration comes from all of those things and they’d all be true. But can you imagine? If I say my inspiration comes from child-molesters and suicide bombers and battered wives, that’s a bit of a concersation killer, neh? So when I’m next asked the question, I’ll probably mention Conan and Chinese history and leave it at that; but you’ll know, if you’ve read this, that that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I still think, even if he was guilty, it was right to let him go, but I sure understand now why there are those who disagree.