Where does inspiration come from?

Crows Books & God’s Horses

Did you ever read a book, a poem or a story and wonder how the hell did someone come up with that idea?

Have you watched a film recently that you loved but wondered how  someone could take a script on paper and turn it into a visual masterpiece?

Have you ever looked at a painting and wondered what put the idea for that into someones head or what were they smoking when they painted it? 

At a recent writing workshop with the fabulous Fiona O’Rourke,  https://twitter.com/fionamkorourke we were asked to write down the first things we heard as babies. Simple enough exercise for a thursday evening.

What we heard or did not hear produced a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration so much that my head was going to burst….and that was only listening to four or five peoples sounds apart from my own!

I heard the sound of O’Donnell Abu on the radio first thing in the morning.

Wood pigeons.

The shipping forecast (including Malin Head, knots, decibels and the Irish Sea)

The low moan of Jersey cows across the road. 

Racing commentary from Aintree on a Saturday on the tele and from Newcastle on the portable radio in the shed at the same time.

The Sunday Game on the same portable radio. 

The Angelus which seemed to go on forever.

The theme tune to the Magic Roundabout and the bastard Zebedee who always said “it was time for bed”.

The Kennedys of Castleross.

The wind which I thought was a banshee whistling on the wires in Mornington.


The sounds also brought alive the other memories. The smell of burning porridge (sorry mam!) a sink full of prawns, pheasants hanging on the back door of May Mullen’s kitchen (I loved the colours of the feathers) my granny’s many cats howling like dying babies in the night. Frost, daffodils, bluebells, rabbits and leaves.

My mother would not have been particularly known for being creative, and yet like so many people of her generation she was creative on a daily basis which we took for granted as “just how she did things.”

She told me casually that black furry caterpillars were “God’s Horses”. Pine cones which had fallen were “Crows’ Books” and a flock of crows flying overhead were “Crows going home from school”. I believed her as any four or five year old would. And why not?

I doubt very much if Peggy was being profound or inspiring or literary in those moments, I expect she heard the same thing as a child. When I decide to write or paint or make something I could go to an art gallery for lofty inspiration, read a book of classic poetry or see a play.


I can go back the Bettystown in my head, to being four or five years old and see what I could see then. Listen to what I heard then. Smell lilac, honeysuckle, gorse bush for the May alter or feel chestnuts smooth and brown picked on the way home from school. See the mussel beds at the sea or the crunch of sand in the sandwiches on the beach. The salt smell of scutch grass and the smell of whitethorn blossoms and hot tar on the road in summer which was great for poking sticks in.

As I type I have a bunch of daffodils picked from my cousin’s garden on my desk. There were daffodils growing in the same garden when I was small and they smelled just as lovely then as they do now.

From one simple exercise on a thursday evening I have a hundred different smells, sounds, visions memories that I can draw on.

And I didnt have to go anywhere.

It was all there anyway.

(Peggy would think I have lost the plot 🙂 )

My guess is that most people write/paint/make from what they see around them and what they know,

what they remember

and what they feel.

So this month if you feel uninspired and a bit fed up of doing the same thing over and over but being too tired to “think up” something different, why not find a few minutes to   yourself with a pen and paper.

Remember what your favorite smell was as a child (I also remember the smell of silage!)

What season or type of weather did you love?

What did you like to look at? Water? Grass? Meadows? Houses? Sky?

And write it down, or paint it, or find something that smells the same now as it did then.

If you want to go to town or out in nature to get inspiration then by all means do.

But I am guessing there is a whole world of inspiration just inside your head, behind the worries about bills and kids, parents and work, underneath the fears for the future and just beside your hopes.

You never know what you might find.

You never know what you might make with it! 🙂 🙂


…and if you are feeling inspired to take your creative muscles out for the spring then join us in Portmarknock on 14th April for a seven week intensive course of The Artist’s Way on Saturday mornings.





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