Inspiration - the elusive writer's muse

Once, I saw a photograph of a gorge between two huge cliffs, with clouds lapping in the space between them, and a tiny ant of a man standing on the edge, looking over that space. I imagined a world which existed above the clouds. I had a setting, but no story. I was 14 at the time. So I packed the photograph away in my 'ideas box', and pulled it out earlier this year, when I had a dream of a girl being thrown off a cliff. She turned into a dragon. That became the inspiration for my bestselling YA fantasy, Aranya. I had a setting but it took over 20 years for an idea to germinate.

Sometimes I dream about books, sit down the next day, and write up a 3-5 page summary. But you might ask, "What started you writing and publishing books?"

I'll admit, I had grave reservations about putting my writing out into the market. With 10 books now published in 2 years, that sounds inane now. But the truth is that a writer exposes something intensely personal to public scrutiny. In my case, I grew up writing but never having published anything until last year. I went the rounds of rejection letters several times. I still have piles of them! Perhaps all I needed was the proverbial kick - in my case, it was a request from my children that started it off.

The Enchanted Castle is the first book in a series of 4 adventures set in ancient Ethiopia. Just 99c this week! It began with a visit to Ethiopia's beautiful Simien Mountains in December 2009. In that jagged volcanic landscape with its unique flora and fauna, I imagined, there could easily be dragons. But the plot itself evolved from a series of bedtime stories I began to tell my daughter. She insisted that I 'write them down'. Trust me, if you don't want to put your child to sleep (or maybe I'm missing the point here, parents?) the story needs to be engaging and exciting.

From my experience of growing up in South Africa came the larger-than-life character of Mama Nomuula, from living and working in Ethiopia (I speak, read and write Amharic), the characters of General Getu and Princess Annakiya, and the cultural and historical elements of the tale are as authentic as I could make them from my own experience of living in Ethiopia for 5 years. Ethiopia itself is a country with an enormously rich, diverse and ancient culture and history, which I have found to be a fertile ground for writing. My background in South Africa also provides some of the material for these books, which deal with the issue of difference - Shioni, a white foreign slave, serves the Ethiopian Princess of Sheba, who is also her best friend. This issue remains relevant today in the pain experienced by marginalised communities and persons, and sometimes by adopted children who learn that they are 'different' to their parents.

Well, if you're going to write a story down, you should do it properly, I thought. So I worked with a well-known Ethiopian artist to illustrate these stories. I read the outstanding historian Basil Davidson, amongst other sources. I have always loved a good tale, but only recently have begun to discover the deep, ancient history of stone-age and middle-ages Africa. Did you know Africa had its own knights and castles? Did you know that there was a thriving East-West trade stretching across the Sahara from Ghana and Timbuktu to India? That the Sahara was not always the desert it is today?

Right - the cover for The King's Horse, the second book in the Shioni of Sheba series. I tested each of these books on a group of Middle Graders and had them edited before release.

Inspiration, I discovered, can also result from research and discipline. In seeking to make these stories more colourful, historically accurate, and exciting for my children, I found more ideas rising for what has become a 4-book series, taking the reader into the shadowy depths of the Simien Mountains, and down south to the ancient city of Gondar and the stunning islands and monasteries of Lake Tana, pictured left on the cover of The Sacred Lake, Book 4 in the Shioni of Sheba series. This is a photo I took from the steps of a church on one island, peeking through the leaves at another island in the distance.

So? Inspiration, I've discovered, is often linked to what we fill our minds with, but also, you might need some encouragement - in my case, from my children!

And, for authors - I write down all my ideas, however wacky, and put them in a notebook or in an 'ideas file' on my computer. You never know when an idea might come back to bite you with 'the bug'.

Having finally decided to write an self-publish my own work in February 2013, I now have 10 books published, with plans for another 6 in the works. You can find my work on Amazon, available in both print and ebook editions.


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