On Inspiration and the Endless Layers of Stories
Or, on how a newsletter needs a name
As writers, we take inspiration from all around us. A lot of the time, we don’t even realise we’re doing it. I’ve spent much of this year working on round after round of edits of my first historical novel. There was a round of edits before I sent it to a few trusted early readers, a round of edits before I sent out a ‘practice’ batch of agent queries, another round before another batch and, now, I’m working on edits with my agent before going out on submission. Throughout these many, many drafts and read-throughs, I’ve noticed all sorts of little details that have made their way onto the page through a kind of inspiration osmosis. There’s an echo of the garden of one of my childhood homes, a character inspired by a job my grandmother once had, a little homage to how a loved one got his name. There is also, in the middle of a sentence, the phrase ‘shimmering fractals’, which made me stop and think about how our creative minds build connections.
Now, before we go any further, I should point out that I am not really of the mathematical persuasion. I haven’t studied maths since the age of sixteen, so the concept of fractals is not something I’d have been likely to seek out on my own. But, of course, no writer is an island. My husband is a software engineer who loves mathematics and physics. A few years ago, he wrote a software program that created intricate images of fractals, and for a couple of weeks he kept presenting me with his beautiful software creations. In those weeks, I learnt about the concept of fractal shapes, and how each time you zoom in on the shape, more detail is revealed that looks strikingly similar to the whole. I loved how this could also be applied to stories; how each time you focus in on a certain moment or aspect, there are little reflections of the over-arching narrative. Stories, like fractals, are never ending, unique, and infinitely layered.
Even with such a lovely metaphor, I don’t know if I would’ve returned to the concept of fractals so regularly if it weren’t for the two other loves of my life and their enduring devotion to Queen Elsa. In case you haven’t listened to Let It Go on repeat like I have, at one point Elsa sings ‘my soul is spiralling in frozen fractals all around.’ And so, thanks to my husband’s wonderfully intricate fractal designs and Elsa’s sparkle… at some point I found myself describing a moment of many possibilities in my novel with an image of shimmering fractals. And isn’t that what it’s all about for writers? Taking in information, finding links, discovering a spark and creating something new?
When I finally sat down to start this newsletter (I’ve only been thinking about it for multiple years) I realised it needed a name. I thought it would be nice to use something from my novel, and shimmering fractals is what came to mind. For me, it summed up the beauty of stories, the magic of inspiration and everything I’ve gained from my husband and daughters. It’s also a good reminder that the best thing to do with my anxiety over whether or not anyone will actually want to read my newsletter is to let it go. (Okay, perhaps I’m a little bit devoted to Elsa, too.)
I plan to pop up here once or twice a month with thoughts on stories, inspiration and writing, as well as a few updates about my book. I’d love it if you wanted to join me.
P.S. As you might’ve guessed, the image at the beginning of this post is one of Mr A-M’s software fractals.
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Such a good name for a newsletter, and I loved reading the story behind it! Glad you managed to let go of that fear - I was the same when I first started mine too but am so glad I did.
Oh Katie, this os beautiful! Welcome to Substack. I’m so glad you’ll be in my inbox regularly.☺️