Welcome to the Dragon's Pen, the blog of an aspiring kiwi author ... chatting about reading, writing, querying and publishing

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Inspiration. Where does it come from?


What is it? Where does it come from?

Firstly, what is inspiration?

At thefreedictionary.com inspiration is described as being:

1. a. Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity.
b. The condition of being so stimulated.
2. An agency, such as a person or work of art, that moves the intellect or emotions or prompts action or invention.
3. Something, such as a sudden creative act or idea, that is inspired.
4. The quality of inspiring or exalting: a painting full of inspiration.
5. Divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the mind and soul of humankind.
6. The act of drawing in, especially the inhalation of air into the lungs.

So what sorts of things inspire you to write?

Where do you find the inspirational trigger that gets your mind humming and your imaginative juices flowing?

I am a very visual person, so the majority of my inspiration comes from something I have seen. And it is usually comes in the form of can be similarly inspired by a face, a name, a place, a garment or a picture. Inspiration can strike me anywhere and sometimes does at the oddest of times.

A few weeks ago, I was driving to work and I'd stopped at red light. A couple a guys were crossing the road, they were dressed in business suits, one of them looked quite dapper in a nicely tailored grey suit and scarf. Ordinarily I would have taken little notice but there was something about this guy, the way he held himself, the way the grey of his suit contrasted with his hair that made my eyes follow him as he crossed the road in front of me.

Now I don't know if non-writers get this, but there was nothing sexual or untoward in my watching this guy, I was simply downloading my IMPRESSION of him into my memory bank of potential characters.

Something about him INSPIRED my imagination.

Who know if I will every use this impression, or what sort of form his eventual character might take. He might morph into a medieval prince, or a tattoo artist come biker dude, or a 1940s war hero.... or a murderous ex.... or a tormented superhero .... the possibilities are almost endless.

I don't only find this inspiration in men. A dark haired baby named Tremorgan inspired the character in my YA novel, about a girl of seventeen.

Sometimes though, inspiration comes in the form of something a throw away comment someone makes or something another person has written, whether it is an historical article, or a scene or crisis in a story someone had written.

Lately, I find myself increasingly vastly inspired by all things Regency and Victorian, which has inevitably led to the writing of a Victorian novel, which I am co-writing with a very dear and talented writer friend. More on that later.

The fashions, the lifestyles and social expectations of the various classes, all of it so fascinating! I find myself quite inspired...

Where did you find the inspiration for the character or story you are working on now???

Friday, November 29, 2013

There and Back Again


It has been a very long time since I last blogged at the Dragon's Pen. Much too long in fact.

Life interfered and the writing was forced to take a back seat to family and work; though I continued to be busy with the Dunedin Writer's Workshop and my critique group.

And while I might not have been putting pen to paper or fingers to the computer keys, I continued to read mountains of other people's books, fell in love with a host of authors I'd never read before, and learnt much about writing. I hope to share some of these pearls with you in the very near future.

Early this year I moved from Dunedin and took up residence with my family in Windy Wellington, our fair country's quaint capital (see pic above). It takes time to settle in a new place. New city. New schools. New church. New job. New connections....

I found a job I enjoy. And I am following my long held dream of being a volunteer medic. But most importantly, after almost a year, I have found the inspiration and time to start writing again. But more on that later!

It is fabulous to be back.

I look forward to catching up and sharing more of the highs and lows of following the writer's dream.

Much love

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cottage of Dreams

For the first time in far too long my friend Sue and I managed to escape our everyday lives and retreat to a small seaside crib (batch) for some much needed rest and relaxation.

For approximately three years we have made it a habit to go on a weekend writing retreat every six months or so, but due to bad health, family stresses, work and moving house we haven't managed to get away for over a year.

We had no plans to write this time around. Both of us were just hanging out for the chance to have some down time. We excaped to the Karitane, a little place just 30 minutes drive from Dunedin. There we watched the entire first season of Downton Abbey, went for walks, had coffee with a friend and visited the village of Palmerston. We talked about out books but didn't write a word. It was fabulous!

We could see the sea, and hear its muted roar from our porch. The rain pattered on the tin roof as we curled up in the gloom, sung and warm with our hot cups of tea and chocolate biscuits.

I came away longing for the simple quiet life, free of the rush and bustle, with time to day dream and write and read to my heart's content. I've fallen madly in love with the idea of living in a small tin cottage remincent of a bygone era - with a few of the modern conviences, of course.

It would have lead light windows, tongue and grove walls, a coal range, shelves of glass jars full of all manner of foods on display, cozy quilts, a sand-scrubbed table and worn wooden chairs, a kerosene lamp on the mantle piece and a deep claw-foot bath in the bathroom. Up a narrow stair there'd be a loft bedroom with a steep pitched ceiling and pasley feather quilts on the beds, like Granny used to have.

The sun would spill cross the floor boards, honey gold, and I'd watch the dust motes dance like fairies on beams of light. I'd stand at the door, feel the breeze kiss my lips, taste the changing seasons and perfume of growing things. Sitting before the fire, flame heat warming my toes, my fingers would play over the keyboard turning inspiration into words. Ah, sigh. Dreams are free aren't they?

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I've been reading a lot of REALLY good books recently, so I thought over the next couple of weeks I'd share a few of them with you all. Though, I have to confess, some books which may have been on shelves overseas for some time do take a while to reach our fair shores so you may be fimilar with some of them already.

BEASTLY by Alex Flinn is a take off of Beauty and the Beast which manages to capture the magic of the old fairytale and the bloom of young love, and meld it seamlessly into a modern setting to create a story that mirrors the old while still being unique.

A beast. Not quite wolf or gorilla or dog, but a horrible new creature with fangs, claws, and hair springing from every pore. I am a walking monster.

You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. And I'll stay this way forever - unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I'll tell you. I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, the perfect girl, and the perfect life. And then I'll tell you how I became perfectly ... beastly.

It is a sweet, refreshing, love story. Once I started reading I couldn't but it down. Now my daughter is reading it and I've promised her that once she's finished we'll watch the movie. Yes! Beastly is now out on video. Though if the trailer is anything to go by some artistic licence has been taken with the the beast's appearence. You can watch the trailer here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Write Me: Pimp that Fairytale!

I thought it might be fun to occasionally put up a writing exercise that might challenge and inspire you. It's amazing how trying your hand at something a little different can improve your writing, help you to pick up on weaknesses, tone your strengths and open your eyes to the various aspects of the craft.

I've been thinking a lot recently about fairy tales, about the magic quality they have that seems to appeal though all the generations. People have been telling fairy and folk tales for thousands of years, and we've never grown tired of them. So how can we as writers capture that illusive magic for ourselves. Why not start with the fairy tale?

The first myth we have to dispel is that fairy tales are for children. This simply isn't true. While we may consider fairy tales children's stories this is a merely modern thinking - Walt Disney has had a big role in perpetuating this myth. You only have to open a book of Grimm's fairy tales to see how dark and brutal the old tales were.

When you pimp a car you strip it down to the essentials, the frame work. You then re-model, re-vamp and re-build the car into something super awesome. We can do the same thing with a fairytale. Strip it down to the basic plot arch ... or take it further still, down to the basic essential elements of a fairytale. Then rebuild. This requires some serious "thinking outside the square."

Lets be honest this isn't a new concept. People have been reworking fairy tales in novels and on the big screen for a few years now, and that's good. It means we have a sources to study. So let's explore a few examples.

The first one that springs to mind is Little Red Riding Hood. Hoodwinked came out a number of years ago and is a great example of a pimped fairytale. The wolf is a jaded reporter trying to catch a break on a story, the Grandma is supergran-meets-superwoman in disguise, and the evil villain is a cute bunny. More recently Red Riding Hood is dark fantasy where a werewolf prowls the night - definitely not for children.

Shrek is another great example. Though the story leans more heavily towards a retelling of Sleeping Beauty it also has undertones of Beauty and the Beast. Fiona is a beast herself, as well as being a not-so-helpless beauty awaiting her Prince Charming. Shrek is a not-so Charming hero, he's a beast, but he's a better man than Charming. The moral of the story? Sometimes true love doesn't wear the face we expect, but when we find it, it's worth every sacrifice to keep it.

Tangled is the latest contribution to a growing fairytale collection. A retelling of Rapunzel where the Hero is no prince, but is in fact a theif. The wicked witch's motivations for taking the child have been changed and are, personally, much more interesting. And Rapunzel is ... delightful.

Okay, so we've looked at a few examples to get our imagination limbered up. (If you can think of any others do mention them in the comments). Now lets consider some of the aspects of the tale we can fiddle with.

Change their gender, ethnicity, age, or "kind" - maybe to some form of mythological or paranormal creature perhaps. Change the number of characters. Maybe there are ten little pigs instead of three; maybe Cinderella only has one step sister and she's sweet and kind instead of a horrid bully; maybe Beauty is a guy and the Beast is a ghost girl.

Change the character's reasons for the things they do and how they do them. Maybe Rapunzel is a vampire and that's why she voluntarily locks herself away in a remote tower. Maybe the Beast is a werewolf or a shape shifter, or maybe he wasn't cursed, but has a horribly disfiguring disease and that's why his family hides him away from the world.

Generally fairy tales have an old time feel, a gothic or medieval setting, but what if you put Snow White in a future time and gave it a Science Fiction setting? What if the Frog Prince was set in Victorian London or in a Steampunk world?

Change the quest or the reasons for it. Maybe Sleeping Beauty's prince is a conman and a thief, maybe he only broke into the castle for all the gold and jewels he could steal. Perhaps he steals a quick kiss from a comatose broad and is really annoyed when he finds himself caught red-handed with all the loot he's carrying away.

Change the conclusion, theme or the lesson learned. Maybe Hansel and Gretel never go home maybe the witch is kind and good and makes a good home for them. Or maybe not, perhaps the witch lives in a grand castle and after she's dead they take over the kingdom and rule in her place. Maybe Snow White never wakes and the prince grows old and bitter or dies of grief.

The possibilities for change are endless and it can be a lot of fun to throw different ideas around. Feel free to mash different tales together and re-work them. I encourage you to have a go at pimping a fairytale. What crazy ideas can you come up with?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Observation and Translation

Today's observation:

Sometimes getting the images out of my head and on to the paper is REALLY hard.

I can see the characters and the scenes so clearly in my imagination but translating them into words is no easy task.

I'm writing a kind of fantasy I never imagined I'd pen, a genre I never thought to dabble in, and it ain't easy.

Can't say more now. I have to keep my cards close to my chest. This is for a competition after all. But, boy oh boy, the sweat and tears I'm shedding over every single word!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fantasy: Thinking outside the Square.

As secretary for the Dunedin writer's workshop, it was my turn to take the short lesson at last week's meeting. Our next competition in October will be judged by the fabulous Tania Roxborogh and the theme is Speculative Fiction. Many of our members have never written fantasy or Science fiction and were feeling a little out of their depth with the subject. So our lesson for Wednesday was: "Speculative Fiction - what is it?"

I wrote up a basic definition;

"Speculative fiction is the umbrella term for all of the fiction genres that embrace the “other”, by this I mean stories and novels that are a bit outside the square in terms of the “real world”."
And listed a few genres that come under this wonderful umbrella term including elements or themes that are often an important part of each genre. I have restricted myself to Science fiction, Fantasy, Gothic fiction, Paranormal and Fairy tales.

Note, my lists are very simplistic. If we wanted to be really technical each other these genres can be split up into scores of sub-genres - but we won't go there. The whole point behind this was to introduce Speculative fiction novices to the genres of the fantastical genres, to help them understand what makes each one different to it's fellows and to make them feel that writing something so outside their comfort zone is possible and can be FUN!

Science Fiction

  • other worlds; other civilisations; other universes.

  • often futuristic; often involves space or space travel.

  • may involve magic, but usually uses futuristic technologies


  • often “other” lands, sometimes other worlds

  • often (but not always) in a historical setting

  • sometimes a futuristic or alternative twist on a historical culture (ie: steampunk)

  • usually has quests and heroes who save the world, the land, the princess, etc

  • magic is an important element, but the form of the magic varies

  • sometimes magic and technology are mixed

  • often magical items are involved (ie: the ring in Lord of the Rings)

  • sometimes old fashioned technologies with a futuristic twist (ie: steampunk)

  • often characters are connected to royalty … or from among the lower classes

  • often mythical creatures are used; giants, ogres, dragons, flying horses, unicorns, genies and talking creatures, etc.


  • usual set in the real world, cities and towns as we know them

  • may involve the faerie, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, angels, demons, zombies, shape shifters or other creatures of myth who are semi-human.

  • often involves a journey of self-discovery; a love story which must overcome extreme “paranormal” obstacles; a mystery to be solved.


  • elements of horror / terror

  • elements of romance

  • elements of mystery and suspense

  • historical setting

  • prominent features are: supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses, gothic architecture, darkness, death, madness and transgressions, persecuted females, secrets and hereditary curses.

  • may also involve vampires, werewolves, monster, demons, fallen angels, skeletons and ghosts, maniacs, bandits and villains.

Fairy tales and Folktales

  • often (but not always) in a historical setting

  • often teaches the reader something about human character, mostly folktales do this

  • may involve magic or magical items, sometimes quests or tasks must be undertaken

  • evil vs good is a common theme (ie: Rapunzel and Snow White)

  • often mythical creatures are used; giants, ogres, dragons, flying horses, genies, talking creatures, etc. (ie: George and Dragon)

  • sometimes uses bewitched creatures/people (ie: Rose Red and Rose White)

Of course not every story in these genres will have every one of these things is them, but most stories will have one or more of these elements. So for those of you who are new to the fantasy genres I hope this helps you gain an insight into the crazy worlds we write. Perhaps it may even inspire you to try your hand at writing something "other." I hope so.

Enjoy dabbing. Mix things up. Play around with different ideas. Most importantly have FUN with it.

If you're in Dunedin and you're interested in dropping by the Dunedin Writer's Workshop we meet every Second Wednesday of the month at 7.30pm. If you'd like to learn more feel free to email me (you can find my details on the "Who am I?" page at this blog).

In other news: I'm proud to say I've finally finished editing my latest fairytale, Bittersweet. It's nice to have it done and dusted, and looking pretty on my flash drive.
I guess that means it's time to get writing something else.