The inspiration of place

The inspiration of place can strike us anywhere. Wherever you are, it can inspire your creativity, whether it be in writing, painting, drawing, or in business and charitable opportunities too.

The Majlis al Jinn cave in Oman, second-largest cave on earth: a key location in King of the Djinn

I wasn’t always a writer. I started my career as an Investment Banker. Some might think that a place of numbers was not an inspiring place, but believe me, it was.

A place where huge sums of money can be made and lost in seconds makes for a very interesting study of human nature. Just how far will people go to make a lot of money – and then how much further to make a truly stupendous amount of money? The answer to that, and the desire to lift the lid on some of the practices that went on there, inspired me to write my first novel, Nest of Vipers.  I went on to write five more financial thrillers which were published around the world and translated into over thirty languages: it’s fair to say I found a lot of inspiration in the City of Money.

Then I moved with my family to Dubai. Now, I’d always wanted to write children’s books, and I’d always been interested in Djinn.  Then one day, the two things came together.

I was walking on the public beach in Umm Suqeim when I found a shell with a very intricate pattern… Sea Djinn was directly inspired by that moment on the beach.

Surfers enjoy the waves at sunset on Umm Suqeim Beach, Dubai: a key location for Sea Djinn

For Fire Djinn, I was walking in the Suffolk countryside when I came across a huge rubbish incineration facility. It was surrounded by massive fences topped with barbed wire. Why, I wondered, should rubbish warrant such robust protection? What if it were merely a cover, literally and metaphorically, for a hidden underground bunker of some sort? I transported that underground bunker to the deserts of Dubai, and gave it to my Dark Fire Djinn, Jehannem, for his own evil purposes.

For Storm Djinn, I found inspiration in the Rub al Khali, the magical Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world:

The Rub al Khali ~ the Empty Quarter: one of the driest regions in the world, virtually uninhabited, and largely unexplored: a key location in Storm Djinn

Finn smiled back. ‘Tell us about the desert, about the Empty Quarter.’

‘The Rub al Khali? It is a beautiful, heartless place where death licks at your heels with every step. Even the Bedu just skirt the flanks, rarely if ever venturing in very deep. Perhaps it is the ultimate test of survivability.’ Hareb paused and a wistful look settled in his eyes. ‘It’s a worthy foe. Most people would die before they got a few miles on foot during high summer. The temperatures reach 55 degrees centigrade, so hot the air sears your nostrils when you breathe. The dunes are taller than the Eiffel Tower. Imagine trying to claw your way up and over them in the blistering heat.’

‘Why would anyone want to?’ asked Fred.

‘Because it’s there.’ Hareb smiled enigmatically. ‘But don’t worry, our trip will be just a short escapade.’

‘Tame,’ murmured Finn to himself.

Hareb heard him and raised a sculpted eyebrow. ‘Finn, believe me, tame is what you want in the Rub al Khali.’

‘Yes, I suppose it is,’ conceded Finn, mind far away. He gazed out of the window, green eyes sharp with longing.

The dunes of the Empty Quarter stretched out for a quarter of a million square miles around them, a sea of sand, with mountainous waves towering away into the horizon; empty and desolately beautiful. Scary too. They were miles from civilisation, driving back through time it almost seemed, to another age, another millennium where there was just sand and that huge, towering sky curving away to the ends of the earth. No houses. No people. No help. Finn laughed to himself as a flicker of unease rippled through him. Why would they need help? They had ten desert experts driving them, ready to set up their tents for an overnight camp, and all the vehicles were loaded with enough food and water for a week. It was going to be tame, he chastised himself.

Finn frowned at the sky and checked his watch; four p.m. – too early to get dark, yet the light was fading. The roar of the Land Cruiser mounting a dune was matched by a louder howl; the wind. Suddenly the atmosphere in the car changed. Finn could feel the tension. He could see it in the veined hands of Shaukat, the driver, as he gripped the steering wheel, and in the hunch of his shoulders.

Fred glanced uneasily out of the window. He saw the sun. It looked odd. It was tinged green, as if burning feverishly. A strange ring of dull brown-grey ran around it, like a dark halo.

‘What’s happening?’ asked Fred, fear churning his stomach.

‘A shamal,’ answered Shaukat. ‘A sandstorm. Coming from nowhere. The sky was blue a minute ago.’

‘That’s what shamals do,’ answered Hareb. ‘They come from nowhere. We should stop.’

‘As soon as we crest this dune,’ replied Shaukat. ‘If we stop here, we’ll get stuck in the sand.’

Finn glanced at his teacher. Hareb’s voice had sounded oddly ominous. But then he was an Emirati, he had grown up in the Liwa Oasis on the edge of the Empty Quarter, so he would know better than any of them what a shamal could do.

Suddenly, Hareb flinched as though in pain. Finn watched him, concerned.

Sand wheeled through the air and pummelled the car windows as if it were trying to break in. Finn wondered how the driver could see to drive, yet the car powered on, racing upwards towards the top of some hidden dune. Finn tried to spot the other cars ahead, but there was no sign of them. Perhaps they had already crested the dune and were down on the other side.

Atop the dune, the car shuddered as a gust hit it full blast. Shaukat gasped as the car began to angle up on two wheels. Fred gulped, Georgie turned white and Hareb glanced round, face tight with apprehension.

‘Hang on!’ he shouted. ‘Brace yourselves!’

Sickeningly and seemingly in slow motion, the car toppled. It rolled one hundred and eighty degrees, suspending them in the air before tipping the whole way over and thudding down again. Finn covered his head with his hands, like air hostesses show you to do in the safety demonstrations on planes. He held his breath as the car rolled again, then again, then again, picking up speed as it went, like a demented fairground ride, only there was no getting off this ride. The screams were real, the danger was mortal and they were trapped. The wind screamed back at them. Darkness fell, devouring the light.

Storm Djinn by Linda Davies, Chapter One

So, all around us, we have inspiration.  But only if we LOOK!

Think about the synonyms for ‘look’:

see, perceive, discern, look, witness, glimpse, notice, distinguish, regard

And its antonyms:

ignore, deny, overlook, disregard, overlook, look right through, discount

Do we see, or do we disregard? Familiarity breeds contempt, or perhaps, more gently, comfortable acceptance.  To be inspired by where we are, we need to look with a questing eye.

There is a great quote from the poet William Blake:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

WILLIAM BLAKE, Auguries of Innocence, published 1863 (written circa 1803)

The next step on from seeing is imagining.

I have another great quote for you:

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, Back to Methuselah, Act I, from Selected Plays with Prefaces, vol. 2, p. 7 (1949)

So see what is before you, then really look, imagine what is hidden, what happens next, what buildings could be built, what stories could be written, what paintings could be painted.

Look around, see what is there, be inspired by the beauty of the landscape, the vision behind the buildings. See how you can be inspired by it in your own life. Maybe it is to write, or to set up a business, or to help a friend who you hadn’t noticed before needed help.

Try it for yourself: try to see something new in your surroundings and describe it in three crisp sentences…

Good luck!

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