I was thinking the other day about author Sara Douglass. She had one of the best creative writing Genesis myths I had ever heard regarding the provenance of her book BattleAxe (and the subsequent Axis series). I could retell this story, but it is her’s and she wrote it down for us.
The entire concept for the novel came from a miniature axe I found on a chair in a shop in Adelaide one day. I had sat down, waiting to be served, when I discovered I was sitting on a tiny axe. No-one knew to whom it belonged, so I took it home and, the day I decided I would try my hand at a fantasy novel, pulled it from my purse and stuck it to the casing of my computer — where it rests to this day. I sat down … stared at the axe … and began to type. Once I started I found I could not stop; I wrote BattleAxe in a flurry of activity over five weeks’ worth of evenings and weekends…
I was walking to the supermarket, passing the usual shops, and, as I said, thinking about this story of the axe and the nature of inspiration. On my way back home, I ducked into the animal charity store that sells second-hand items, because I liked the look of the ornate candle snuffer in the window and was pondering it for a story. In the book section, I came across BattleAxe. In five years I had never seen Sara Douglass books in this store, and on this day there were two. Was it a remarkable coincidence, or a message or something else?
I can’t say I ‘knew’ Sara, although I was amongst the cohort of students in the course she taught into while a history lecturer. Sadly, I did not study history and I continue to rue that decision. I did however, attend Sara Douglass’s writing workshops. Her delivery was emphatic and her advice helpful, and because of this, I followed, when I could, her social media presence.
But the coincidences of the other day do not end there. Sara Douglass and I share a home state and, even more surprisingly, a home town. We share the fact our mothers died young, although the details and ages differ. We love cats! So of course, I bought the second-hand copy of BattleAxe (in the US it was published as The Wayfarer Redemption) for a dollar, and ignored the candle snuffer.
However, what also caught my eye while I was waiting to hand over the cash, was a framed illuminated manuscript page. I bought that too, in memory of this Medieval historian and fantasy writer, and in honour of my own interest in codices, old books, and book making.
The picture presents perhaps the bigger mystery than coincidence. The image is Medieval, on a flyer for a Warwickshire Museum exhibition from 1996 that was then framed by The (then) Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. How did this well-travelled framed poster end up in suburban Melbourne? Why did this US library frame advertising from a UK exhibition?
It may turn out that the why of such things will never be known, at least not by me, but perhaps they will lead somewhere, just like a toy axe lead a historian to show the world the marvels of her imagination as an author.
5 thoughts on “Of myths, coincidences and writing histories”
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Wonderful post, Bec. Do you know, I have Sara’s axe? It’s very precious to me and I keep it nearby for inspiration. She used to tell two different versions of the discovery story. The other was she found it on a bus as she took her seat. Either way, she found it and I have to tell you it is not as small as I thought and it has some weight for a nevertheless modest-size object. It would have been most uncomfortable. But yes, it seized her imagination and in turn all our hearts. x
I was thinking of you as I wrote this. I hoped you had the axe, I could think of nowhere else it belonged. x
The nature of inspiration is unknowable. But, I’m curious, how has the print you found inspired you?
Hi & thanks for asking. The mystery of it’s long journey to me has me thinking of all the strange meetings that occur in life. It also has me thinking that narrative rarely accounts for this. Narrative is about plot points being linked in a cohesive and satisfactory conclusion. What if my mystery print is a point without narrative links, a picture without a plot, just a thing in my life that happened? If it becomes more, then it will have inspired me. At the moment it is Schrodinger’s Picture, neither just a real life a thing, nor yet part of a story.