Five Places to Inspire Writing

Venice, Italy, one of my favorite “storybook” places in the world.

Readers really seemed to enjoy the “Castles!” blog a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve decided to try a short series (maybe the next two or three Fridays) of places that can inspire writing and, in particular, fantasy novels. As I’ve mentioned in the past, travel can be a great inspiration for fantasy world-building and for writing in general. Even though global travel is still mostly off-limits at present, we can all look forward to a time when the world will open up again.

So, to start off the series, I’ve chosen five places that made me feel as if I was walking through a story when I visited them.

Venice, Italy– Yes, the city really does have canals…and gondolas…and beautiful piazzas. The first time I stepped onto a stone bridge to cross over a canal, I knew I was in a magical place. The city seemed to be full of twisty alleys with new things to discover at every turn.

One of the many carved structures in Petra, Jordan.

Petra, Jordan– If you’re like me, you first learned about Petra from a fictional archaeologist who didn’t like snakes and once got chased by a giant boulder. There is more to Petra, however, than the “Treasury” (which is the place used in the movie). Just walking through the narrow gorge to reach the famous site is an adventure. There are also many other beautifully carved structures, although the Treasury is the best preserved.

An artifact in the British Museum. I’m think it’s from the Sutton Hoo collection.

One cautionary note: Remember that you have to climb back up the gorge once you are done. It almost killed my dear co-author to walk back up the trail too fast in the heat of the day!

London, England– I love London! The city has always seemed like a larger-than-life place to me. You can’t walk for ten feet without seeing a street name or locale with a literary or movie reference. The British Museum, alone, is the stuff of legends.

Looking down on the beautiful village of Cesky-Krumlov.

Cesky-Krumlov, Czech Republic– Over the years, I’ve visited many beautiful, fairy-tale villages. Cesky-Krumlov is definitely one of the best. The river winds around ornate, old-fashioned houses and shops. As you walk through the streets, you can easily imagine yourself in another time or place.

A photo taken somewhere along our snowy route to Triberg. (Sorry for the photo quality — it was scanned from an old photo album.)

The Black Forest, Germany– “John, are you sure we’re on the right road?” Sometimes you enter those fairy-tale moments unintentionally. Back in the days before cell phones, when tourists still relied on paper maps, John and I were trying to drive from Stuttgart, Germany to Triberg. We had planned our route in advance, only to learn that there were long delays on the main road due to construction. A helpful person at a restaurant told us of a route we could take via backroads to arrive at our destination more quickly.

Of course, he gave us the directions in German. John understands some German…some…enough to get us on the correct road…I think. It was a little, windy, one-lane road through the mountains, with snow-covered forests on both sides. After driving for a while, we realized two things: first, we were the only car we had seen for a long time, and second, we had no idea where we were. It was very beautiful, with snow drifting down from the tree branches, but part of my mind was thinking of all those stories that ended with the words, “And they were never seen again.” Maybe not the best type of fantasy story to land in.

Fortunately, the directions were good and we did eventually reach our destination. In retrospect, it was a lovely adventure. Triberg is definitely worth a visit.

-Susan 6/11/2021

Castles!

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. The quintessential fairy-tale castle.

Castles are amazing, mythic places that always inspire the fantasy novelist in me. Towers, barbicans, winding staircases, crenellation — the very words evoke magic and wonder.

Budapest, Hungary. I’m not sure if this bastion is actually part of the castle, but it’s still beautiful.

Of all the “standard” elements of fantasy stories and games (things like dragons, unicorns, and elves), castles are among my favorites because they exist both in the imagination and in the real world. You can visit an actual castle. You can walk inside it and look out from the tower windows.

A staircase in the Rosenkrantz Tower in Bergen, Sweden.

Fantasy authors can describe a character walking down the narrow staircase to the castle dungeon. No words, however, will match the feeling of those steps beneath your shoes or the sensation of running your hand along the uneven walls to brush your fingertips against the cold stones.

Bunratty Castle in County Clare, Ireland.

Historic castles can differ from what you expect. The first time I visited a real castle when my family went to Europe in the 1970’s, I was surprised by how drafty and damp it seemed. Castles were no doubt warmer when people actually lived in them, but it was still a surprise to me.

One of the fortifications on the island of Rhodes in Greece.

When I asked John his impression of the castles we had visited, he said he was surprised by how small the interior rooms were. Based on the way castles tend to be portrayed in fantasy media, it is easy to expect huge halls with vaulted ceilings

Cesky-Krumlov, Czech Republic. This arched walkway was one of my favorite parts of the city. I think it is considered part of the castle, though I could be wrong.

As much as I adore historic structures, I must admit that I also love that magical castle in Anaheim. It was the first castle I ever visited, back in the days when I was so young that “Fantasyland” still seemed like a real country to me.

-Susan 5/28/2021

p.s. This was my first attempt to incorporate multiple pictures into a blog post. (I hope it works!) Although I took all the pictures posted above, I am not responsible for the photo quality — some of them were scanned from old 35 mm prints in my photo albums and one was taken with a very early digital camera. Photography has come a long way since I first started visiting castles. Any weaknesses in photo composition, on the other hand, are entirely my fault.