“Literature is a toil and a snare, a curse that bites deep.”
Or so said D.H. Lawrence. Which gives me some comfort, because I seem to be doing all I can to avoid my writing, this morning. I’ve spent the last couple of hours brewing a Shitake Beef Stew that will be consumed tonight. I’ve cleaned the kitchen, posted a few Twitters, and I’ve just had a good idea for a blog post. And it is this:
The struggle to write is made easier finding inspiration in the work of others. And it makes good sense to seek out inspiring work to hold you through the dry times, like these, for me. The good ideas spur the mind forward, sending it in new directions that might never have been taken. A good book, a great piece of music, a film, a painting, a poem … even a brilliant website can fire a flagging mind.
I’m not sure if the smell of a rich Asian-tinged beef stew, bubbling in its cauldron, is an inspiration or a distraction.
One real example of something that has inspired me, recently, is my happy discovery of Historyfish.net, a curious name for a website, but an incredibly rich trove of information about the medieval period. The site is more than just a hobbyhorse, I would say, but a vocation of its Oregon-based author, Richenda Fairhurst. I would call it a sprawling labour of love for the Middle Ages, and in particular for the religious themes of the period. As a means of learning more about the period, Richenda has painstakingly transcribed four brilliant books on English monastic life, British saints, hermits and anchorites and medieval hospitals. The books are public domain, and she has turned them into fully searchable HTML documents, making them an invaluable research tool for medieval enthusiasts … such as yours truly. They have provided me with some very rich detail and valuable insights about the monastic tradition and time period.
Historyfish.net is also a repository of high-quality scans of exquisitely coloured antique post cards — called Photochroms — of British (and European) castle and abbey ruins. The post cards were created between 1890 and 1900 by Detroit Publishing and the antique quality of the colours, combined with the fact that there are almost no people in the shots, lends them an almost dream-like dimension. I got lost in them one morning; they brought back to me that sense of English Romanticism and I rushed to get out my Wordsworth, and the “Tintern Abbey” lines:
— Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
‘Mid groves and copses.
(The Photochrom of Tintern Abbey is shown above. Click on the image to see a larger view)
Historyfish.net is a valuable resource for these images and the historical material, but its author is more than a mere history buff. Richenda is the author of two local histories of Oregon and Washington: Washougal and Fishers Landing. And she is just about to publish her first novel, The Saint and the Fasting Girl, written as Anna Richenda, about the struggles of a nun and her Yorkshire nunnery to evade the hostile control of Henry VIII. She recently posted the cover proof and blurb for the book on her blog (see it here).
I will be first in line to buy Richenda’s book and will post a link here to the online bookseller when it becomes available. Or you can follow Historyfish.net yourself. Be sure to leave Richenda a comment. She loves them!
I have only corresponded with Richenda via email, but I am impressed with the humour, warmth and accomplishment that comes across in her blog, which she calls Saltwater Scrolls. She is modest to a fault: “I spent so much time trolling for information about monastics when I first started my novel,” she wrote in an email. “It was very frustrating. While I learned a lot [transcribing the books and building the website] … the goal of the site is to save others that kind of headache.”
A very noble sentiment. Thank you, Richenda!