I couldn’t help it.
These writers put into words precisely what I felt as I experienced England, Scotland, and Ireland. Their masterful words fully encompass the 30-day trek I took across the UK with my husband and my in-laws. This was the trip of a lifetime, and I understand fully now why the world’s most incredible writers come from the UK.
England is a snow globe.
A thick layer of tradition, charm, and culture encases the little island like preserving glass from the rest of the world. Inside, both quaint and regal enchantments flicker like glitter and celebrated history drowns the land like a blizzard of ornamental snow. If it were shaken up, the glitter and snow would simply fly about faster and England wouldn’t be flustered one bit. In fact, I’m certain some folks in England aren’t aware that anything exists outside of the lush, endless emerald hills and rows of humble cottages. And I’m incredibly glad for them. As far as I’m concerned, absolutely nothing better exists outside the world of wellies, three o’clock tea, and clotted cream. Oh, clotted cream. Death by clotted cream is my death of choice.
Scotland is Narnia
England’s border to Scotland is much like an unassuming wardrobe. You see the beauty and majesty that is England and you think that’s where the charm ends. Inside, it’s nothing but empty storage for fur coats, right? Well as we traveled nearly six hours over the border into Scotland, I found that we had stumbled into a fairytale land practically unchanged since the time of its creation. It was as if I had tripped, face first, into a world everyone had forgotten was actually a portal to a land of dragons, wisps, fairies, fawns, and Nessies (or one Nessie at least). Mountains scraped the bottoms of passing clouds, jutting up from the basin of winding rivers and rocky valleys. I believed those majestic masters of the Highlands must’ve been harboring dragons. Smaug holidays there… I’m certain of it.
Ireland is an Irish Coffee
Ireland has a mix of England and Scotland in one perfect balance. The kicking personality of Scotland, with the beauty and charm of England mix to make Ireland an unlikely, unforgettable delight. Ireland has fought proudly to preserve their culture including the food, the tradition, and landscape of the country. The people are kind, generous, and friendly like the cozy influence of a strong coffee, but witty, straightforward, and refreshingly blunt like a jigger of whiskey. The landscape is breathtaking, every mile of emerald green hill and gray-cerulean ocean a rousing influence on my writing muse. The combination of people and place made for one unforgettable experience I swallowed down in one eager swig.
I could see why some of the world’s greatest writers came from these lands
These lands emit a perfume which infects one with a lust for life. Though tragedy was the foundation of progress for most of these countries, inspiration did not forsake every soul. Some of the most inspired souls were William Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Robert Luis Stevenson, and Sir Walter Scott. And those were just some.
William Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon was the first home I visited.
Unfortunately, as many incredibly famous landmarks fall victim to, Shakespeare’s relatively unchanged house was surrounded by a modern metropolis of bustling city streets and tourist-attracting shops. Honestly, it was a bit jarring and slightly disappointing. But what was I expecting? It was Shakespeare’s birthplace after all! Not like there was still going to be just a cobbler’s hut and one tea room next door!
You wouldn’t think that Shakespeare’s birthplace held much regarding the pinnacle of his life and writing career, but in fact, William was greatly attached to this humble home. Even years later when William reached fame and fortune, he often returned to this house to visit his family and hold family retreats in his hometown. As the historian put it, “William was a bit of a home-town boy who enjoyed the simple things, in fact.”
William’s father, John, was a successful tanner. There was a room on the first level which displayed replica leather tools and materials common to that era. An extremely passionate and rather charming historian dressed in clothing of the era gave us a discourse on John and how difficult (and gross) his job really was.
William saw how hard his father worked and his appreciation for his family grew stronger still.
The home was close quarters, which made for a close-knit family. In fact, William lived at home, in this very house up until he married Anne Hathaway and moved into her home nearby. The historian said that after putting on plays at the Globe Theatre in London during the week, William would return to this home every weekend. This fact helped me appreciate a side of William Shakespeare that I never knew.
When we read Shakespeare, when we study about his works in school, we think of the witty, profound, romantic, come-back king of the written page. But William was dedicated to his family and in a sense, he loved the simpler things. He was an intelligent man, a renaissance man really, but his heart lay always at the root, at the simple reminders of life.
This is a wonderful point to keep in mind as writers: who we love, where we come from, this must influence our writing. We cannot forsake the things that keep us grounded, that remind us why life is so beautiful and worth telling stories about.
The home of the Brontë sisters, the parsonage at Haworth in Yorkshire, was founded upon love, friendship, tragedy, and loss.
As I walked into the drawing room, I imagined Charlotte, Emily, and Anne sitting together as family discussing their works-in-progress together. “Should Jane marry Mr. Rochester after discovering his secret wife and her plight?”, “Will Catherine really betray dark and wolfish Heathcliff by marrying mawkish and delicate Mr. Linton?”
I could picture them before me hashing out thoughts, theories, and reveling together about editing, first draft travesties, and that rascally muse.
The sisters were greatly influenced by their surroundings. A simpler England with gray and lonely moors, feverish rains and moody clouds fed their muses. I’d have to agree that living in such a setting would feed my soul eternally and produce endless works of prose no doubt. Such a surrounding made setting in their stories rich, drowning with soul.
As writers we often look far outside our own surroundings for inspiration. We look to the unfamiliar to please the muse and we seek fantasy worlds to enthrall the reader. But this experience taught me that sometimes the greatest inspiration can come from our own backyards.
Writers can learn something wonderful from this: the most familiar places to us are foreign to others. Why not take a day to walk around your own hometown and bring a journal with you? Write down scenery, places, even people that intrigue you. You may be surprised to find how inspiring your own hometown can be. It may influence a new novel you never expected to write about!
The sisters were extremely close. In fact, the entire family- father, brother, mother- were all close-knit. The three famous sisters were especially fond of one another’s company and found refreshment in each other’s presence.
Some of the most fascinating pieces in their home, now a museum, were locks of hair the sisters kept of family members. In fact, when her sisters passed, Charlotte used the hair she saved from her beloved Anne and Emily as threading and stitched images into her shoes with it. That way when she walked on the moors, it were as though her sisters were walking with her too. I was truly touched by this affectionate, loyal, yet morose display of love for her beloved siblings.
Not only were the pains of losing her sisters hard enough, but her brother, Branwell, suffered from alcohol addiction until it claimed his life at the painfully young age of 31. Charlotte was the last remaining member of her family, and this pain fueled powerful writing.
Pain seems to be the ink in all writer’s pens. Loss, tragedy, suffering, it is what fuels our art and moulds our unique writing voice. Although none of us enjoy tragedy nor seek it, we can make the best of our sorrows by allowing it to create in us a more passionate voice. To be an artist, we must understand the colors we choose to paint with. And the Bronte sisters understood this fact very well. Their novels Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights, are timeless classics.
Charles Dickens 5-story Home in London is now a well-preserved museum
Charles Dickens had no easy beginning. Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors’ prison. This never changed, even when Dickens became a world-famous celebrated writer. He was constantly having to pay for his father’s debts and found his father to be a burden mentally and physically. To add insult to injury, his father was no thankful individual, either.
Despite his lack of formal education, Dickens edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education, and other social reforms.
His troubled beginnings fueled passionate literature and stories that have survived the ages. And his lack of formal education did not stop him from reaching his goals and achieving success.
Unfortunately the gallantry he expressed in his passions such as campaigning for children’s rights and writing novels, was not expressed so valiantly in his home life. Dickens was upset with his first wife because she seemed ill suited to him. She seemed “dull”, and he was quickly bored of her. Since she also had trouble producing him a son, he felt it the last straw and rallied to shame her publicly. He also started an affair, of which his wife was well aware of.
Charles drove all his focus into his literature, producing success after success. His desk was his constant companion. A Tale of Two Cities, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, and so many more timeless classics were produced in this very chair and desk!
He was one of the first authors ever to read his own stories aloud, and made quite an event of it. He built a desk specific to this event, where he would stand and read aloud his novels for audiences to enjoy. Charles would stand before this mirror, practicing voices of characters and matching expressions to go alongside them.
We as writers can learn much from this example: to understand our characters better, we too could read our stories aloud, even in front of the mirror, imagining what their expressions might be. It brings the characters to life!
I too enjoy doing this and have even started a podcast where I read my stories aloud and turn each chapter into a radio drama! I have found over the past year that this has brought my characters to life, and I have drawn closer to them as a result.
These timeless writers changed the face of story-telling
We look up to them and praise them for the masters of the written word that they are. Visiting their homes and learning their intricate history permanently changed how I write as well. I wanted to share that revolution with you dear fellow writers because every writer needs inspiration from time to time, and who better to gain it from than the greats themselves?
Everyday I wrote in a journal, capturing the essence of my experience as I trekked with my family across the UK. I could not believe how my voice changed and how finely tuned my perceptive abilities became. I want to share that experience with you as well and tell you why every writer needs to keep a daily journal. It will change your writing forever. Stay tuned in the following weeks for Part 2 of my first Blog Series Special: My 30 Day Hike Across the UK: A Daily Journal Changed my Writing Forever.