Catalyst For A Series: My Unexpected “Aha!” Moment from The Blackwater Lightship

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Photo Credit: Dark light… come shine in her lost heart tonight, taken on 26 November 2016 by Nikk: The Maniac Macrographer/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

I’ve talked quite a bit about inspiration on my blog. In this blog post I discuss how I believe inspiration is something you don’t sit around and wait for but go out and look for. But sometimes, inspiration can come when you’re not expecting it from an unlikely source. This happened to me with my recent viewing of the film The Blackwater Lightship (2004).

Last week, I wrote about this film as my contribution to the Adoring Angela Lansbury Blogathon. I read about the blogathon and signed up since, like the name says, I adore Angela Lansbury and have a deep admiration for her talent and versatility. I chose Lightship as my topic almost blindly. That is, I wanted to write about a film that involved family and came from Lansbury’s later career in television and this film seemed to fit the bill.

What I didn’t count on was how the film would affect me as a writer, especially at this moment in my writing career. I talked about the films’ themes in my blog post: family half-truths and the trickle-down effect these half-truths and unspoken truths have on the family through the generations These themes helped me shape my own intentions for my upcoming historical fiction series, The Waxwood Series.

Inspiration, or, rather clarity, is a timely thing. It doesn’t just appear coaxed out by something outside of the writer but comes at a specific place where a writer might be stuck or struggling. In the past month, I’ve been dealing with revisions for my upcoming book, The Specter, the first book of the Waxwood series. Using a revision program I recently found, I first tackled the “big picture” issues of story before moving on to scene-by-scene edits. Throughout the process, I had an intuitive sense of what makes my series tick — family secrets, the glitter and glamour of the Gilded Age behind which were hidden more psychologically complex family relationships — but I felt I didn’t have my finger on the way in which the books in my series worked together on these overarching threads.

Watching Lightship released the abstract ideas swimming around in my head and gave them shape. In a scene I describe briefly in my blog post about the film, there is a revelation from the mother to the son and daughter about certain tragedies and traumas in their past that came not from her as they had originally thought but from their grandmother which the grandmother confirms. That was when my “aha!” moment came. I had only to go back to my own past and examine my own psychological reality to realize how such revelations about my grandparents and even great-grandparents had a domino effect throughout the generations, into my parents and myself and sister and brother and cousins and their children.

It might sound obvious but I think we often see our past as having had an effect on us only as far as what we know and what we are told. Hidden truths may lie in generations past that we might not think affect us but they do. Such is the case with my Alderdice family, the main focus of my series. The Specter is about Vivian, the daughter, or current generation (coming of age in the 1890’s) going on a quest to discover her grandmother’s (coming of age in the 1850’s) past. What she discovers sets the entire stage for what happens to the Alderdice family in the series and leads into the deterioration of the family dynamics that we see set up in Book 1.

But this trickle-down effect of half-truths and lies do not only affect the Alderdice family. Books 3 and 4 involve other characters who cross the Alderdices’ path who also become swept in the tragedies of past generations that trickle down into their lives that they discover in the present and act upon them. Unexplained incidents, memories, relationships become clearer as their story progresses.

I wasn’t looking for an epiphany when I watched Lightship but the film, apart from being an effective one for its own reasons which I discussed in my blog post last week, became a gift to me for my own work. So even when we don’t go looking for clarity, if we keep  our minds open, we can find it still.

Question:

Have you ever read a book, seen a film or TV show, or heard a piece of music or had any kind of conversation with someone where something you had been unclear about in your work or your life became clearer to you?

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