Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Bare Bones of Inspiration

I'd like to thank author Pippa Jay for guest blogging today at Spacefreighters Lounge.  I got to know Pippa through the Six Sentence Sunday exercise, and became intrigued with her thought-provoking and well-crafted excerpts. We've been exchanging thoughts and ideas on writing and publishing ever since. 

When I read her recently published short story, I was highly impressed with her visual prose and the dilemma her main character faces, and asked if she'd be interested in guest blogging. 

The Bare Bones of Inspiration
by Pippa Jay

I see authors being asked this question all the time: “Where did you get your inspiration from?” In truth, there are as many answers given as there are books: music, art, family, scientific discoveries; anything and everything. Sometimes certain stories have one single spark that brought them to life. Sometimes you have to search for them. Sometimes you have to really dig …

“Oh, damn!”

Aggrieved sigh from husband. “What?”

“My tutor said that final assignment didn’t count as a short story. Said it wasn’t complete.” Well, a 1500 word limit when I’ve been writing 40K plus for a year was always going to be a challenge.

“Did you fail?”

“Oh, no, I passed. Not as good a mark as I was hoping for, but I passed.” Guess I wasn’t teacher’s pet.

“What are you worried about then?”

“Well, I wish I could write short stories. I guess I’m no good at them.”

Husband makes a disapproving noise. “Now you sound like our eldest.” Mimics the whining tone of our petulant, eight-year-old daughter. “I can’t doooo it! It’s toooooo hard!”

“Oh, shut up!”

Husband’s eyebrows raise. “Well …”

A few weeks later and I’m sitting on a stony beach with the sun blazing down and a chill wind skimming off the water. The children are throwing pebbles into the estuary, their laughter a distant sound. Behind me, the scraggy grasses clinging to the dunes hiss and whisper loudly as the sea breeze dances through them. Strangely it’s very soothing, if a tad cold. It’s a little like waking up from a deep sleep - - a bit hazy, nothing quite real.

Among the stones and sand lay hundreds of shells, thousands of them. Cockles mostly, though there are plenty of oyster shells, a delicacy for which Mersea is famous and that drew the conquering Romans to ancient Britain. A few whelks, winkles and mussels. Pieces of driftwood. String, odd feathers, bits of sea-smoothed glass and the inevitable tatters of plastic. The Bones of the Sea, I thought, and the thought stuck. I started scooping the shells and smaller pieces of driftwood into a pile. “Darrin?”


“What does ‘Bones of the Sea’ make you think of?”

“Er, dunno.” Silence for a moment. “Whale bones?”

Big curving rib bones at the bottom of the dark, dark sea. I poke some of the sticks of wood into the ground, making a circle into which I pile the shells, working without any real thought. An image comes to mind, the cover of one of my favorite books: Drowntide by Sydney J Van Scyoc. A shadowy figure hovering in murky water. My weird construction looks like bony fingers reaching up out of the sand, with all those empty dead shells in the center. And in among them is the glimmer of an idea, the start of a story. The Bones of the Sea.

Three thousand words later and I have a story. A short story. A moral sci-fi tale tied into the same Universe as my main manuscripts. It’s had 126 downloads so far and four readers have left five-star reviews. People seem to like it. And all it is came from what I saw in a pile of shells and a few sticks on the beach.

So now let me ask you: Where does your inspiration come from? And what’s the weirdest thing that’s sparked an idea for you?


  1. A huge, huge thank you, Laurie, for inviting me along. :)

  2. Fascinating, and I love all that has to do with the sea. I would love to read this story. Are all your stories, then, happening in/at the sea?

  3. Bones of the Sea is next up on my kindle. It promises to be a fun read! I love how the shells triggered your idea. I wrote a novel that started with a guy staked in the desert because I needed a drink on a hot sticky day.
    Thanks for sharing yourself with us.

  4. Thanks, Chrystalla. No, not all of them happen at sea, though the planet on which this is set is mentioned/visited in other stories that I have in progress. The sea does come up a lot as we're close to it and spend a lot of weekends there.
    Arlene - Thanks, and I really hope you enjoy it. And I love how simple things in real life, like needing a drink, can trigger something as big as a whole novel!

  5. Hi Pippa!! YOu are right about short stories being hard to write. You'd think they'd be easy - but they're not!
    My weirdest inspiration? A song by Natalie Imbruglia - I have no idea if that is how you spell her name - but I the song is Shamed and there's a line - lying broken and ashamed upon the floor. I thought for ages it was lying broken and in chains upon the floor - and I wrote my first vamp story - The Consolation Prize about a vamp who was chained and almost broken!

  6. Hi Barbara,
    I know that song! That's a great line to work from. :)

  7. I really need to try my hand at a few shorts. You've inspired me.

    Thanks again for guest blogging, Pippa. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

  8. I have kept Bones of the Sea on my kindle for a re-read and I promise to give you a five star review :)
    I get inspiration when I'm doing something mundane such as chopping veg etc and my mind just wanders off to a more interesting day dream. I think I have always lived on another plane!

  9. Great post, Pip. I have had the oddest things spark ideas, too, like the eye contact a felony probationer made with me one day (angry - flat - apathetic about me) that inspired a character. _Bones_ is such a great short story, and to everyone who hasn't read it, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's a short read (ten minutes!) and will leave your eyebrows up when you close the last page.

  10. @Laurie - thank you. I'm itching to write some more shorts myself - maybe I need to go to the beach again, lol.
    @Chantal - thank you! And living on another plane is fine. Sometimes doing the mundane things lets the mind wander.
    @Lauri - thanks. The felony one sounds scary but I guess that's why you come up with such great characters.


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