How I took inspiration home from my holiday.

I’ve returned from the warm, blue waters of the Ionian Sea in Greece. My two weeks there were fantastic: sailing around the glorious islands and mainland coast, swimming at every opportunity and getting particularly excited when a huge group of dolphins decided to play along with our boat for a while. (I’m trying to remember the collective noun for dolphins, but can’t for life of me recall it. On the subject of collective nouns, whilst in Greece we had a conversation with our fellow sailors about the correct one for jellyfish; I suggested a ‘wobble’, which struck me as perfect.)

Before I left on my holiday, I made some rash statement about my trip doubling up as an opportunity for research. The writer in me knows that I should take every chance to note things down, to dig a little deeper and take stock of my surroundings and impressions, all in the name of inspiration. Writers do this, and every day. They make a habit of it and I would imagine consider it an essential part of their art. It is something I try to do as much as possible when I’m not on holiday, but I’m afraid I lapsed terribly in Greece.

Sailing all day does not lend itself immediately to jotting things down; if I wasn’t pulling ropes (I believe some are called ‘sheets’, the ones that control the sails) I was putting out fenders, attaching lines, dropping anchors or reacting to commands from the ‘skipper’. I hasten to point out that my annual sailing holiday is the only time I react to commands from him with such a degree of urgency. Being thrown from port to starboard when ‘tacking’ is also not conducive to the use of pen and paper; anything not actually attached to the boat itself has a tendency to go in the same direction as the bodies on board. Bottles of water, sun cream, charts, flip-flops, lunch: they’re all at risk from going over the side; not something I would care to see happen to my notebook.

Of course, I could have used my ‘down’ time in the evenings to write up some notes, and I did a little of this; but to be honest, I was having too much fun in the tavernas sampling the surprisingly good wines of Lefkas; which in turn led to surprisingly good sleeps back on the boat (given the restricted leg/head/arm room and the gentle and not so gentle tossing of the seas).

Now that I am home, I intend to scribble down as many points of interest as I can remember, which,  even given my appalling lack of recall, should still amount to something.

And then there are always the photos, which can serve equally well as prompts for details of all things Greek or sailing; and I tried to snap anything and everything given half a chance, much to the irritation of said skipper, whose masterful jurisdiction over me thankfully did not extend to shore-based activities.

There are the ‘location’ shots, which could serve as inspiration for a story set in a Mediterranean location:

and the ‘local colour’ shots, which lend themselves to providing details for authenticity. Fishing boats, for example:

and how about the ‘atmospheric’ pictures which will remain useful for any type of story where a description of the sky seems appropriate:

finally, there are the oddball photos which I took because I had to:

If that last one doesn’t find a home in one of my stories then please feel free to pilfer it for yourself, (and it was taken in Greece, despite the spelling of ‘El Negrito’).

In fact, thinking about the usefulness of photos as aides for story writing, they could be even more interesting to the writer than mere notes jotted down in haste. A photo can be viewed at leisure, at any time, maybe years after the event. Multiple descriptions and impressions could be wrought from a single snap and with the benefit of time, these can be more considered. Naturally, what a photo can’t give you is the immediate ‘feel’ of a place; nor can they provide the smells and noises which are so different to those at home. For these, there is no real substitute for the notebook and pen; however, I hope that at least some of my photos will act as prompts in the months and years to come.

The other thing I found little time for whilst sailing was reading. I am normally a voracious reader and took, as I do every year, an unrealistic amount of literature with me (thankfully, given the miserly baggage restrictions of airlines these days, most of this was on my kindle). The book remained unread and slowly dampening in my berth. I did though make inroads into a free e-book on the Greek myths and the siege of Troy. Now, if that lot can’t provide inspiration for story telling, nothing can. The names alone are wonderfully suggestive: Patroclus, Antilochus, Diomede, Orythaon. As are the suits of impenetrable armour, the daring deeds and deceptions, the Goddesses for mothers. Not to mention the mythological creatures which pepper the tales of Odysseus’ return from Troy. In fact, come to think of it, I wrote a flash fiction for this blog about a taverna run by Odysseus and Penelope. The cook was, as I recall, a Cyclops.

So, as a means for finding inspiration, perhaps my sailing holiday wasn’t  completely wasted after all. Only time will tell I suppose.

And at least I have those photos.

One comment on “How I took inspiration home from my holiday.

  1. Hi there Justin — some lovely looking photos there and sounds like a fantastic holiday. I can only assume your boat was saved from serious book list-age by that miserly baggage allowance and modern electronics.

    That mix of photos and written notes make sense and, actually, photos mixed with impressions of scent, temperature, taste, etc. — the things that don’t photograph — seems like a pretty good compromise. If you did nothing but take detailed notes, you might be in danger of not actually being present at your holiday, which would be kind of self defeating.

    It can be fun to take a writing sketch of a moment as if you were taking a photo, scrabbling it down as quickly as possible.

    And I suspect that cat *is* called Oddball (or the nearest Greek equivalent). The next photo: a Greek fisherman taking five hours to untangle cat from fishy smelling net?


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