Harry Potter: Up Close and Personal

Last weekend, my daughter and I drove to Leavesden, near Watford, to the Warner Brothers Studio for the Harry Potter Studio Tour. My daughter grew up with Harry, Hermione, Ron and Dumbledore and has always been a big fan. She raved about the books so much I ended up having to read them to see what all the fuss was about. Yeah, you’ve guessed it – I got hooked too! So it was with great excitement we set off on Sunday morning for the seventy-five minute drive.

Thanks to Sally SatNav (GPS to my friends across the pond), we found the place quite easily and once parked, took a few photos and collected our tickets before entering the enormous building.

The large reception area’s walls displayed huge photos of the key characters; my one disappointment of the day was the lack of a picture of the original Albus Dumbledore, Richard Harris. Hanging from wires hooked into the ceiling we found the ‘flying car’ from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as well as the trolley loaded with Harry’s trunk and Hedwig’s cage which was used at Kings Cross Station to get Harry onto Platform 9 3/4. As we passed the barrier to enter the tour, we saw the staircase from 4 Privet Drive as well as Harry’s bed in the cupboard beneath. I also noticed the following inspirational quote from J. K. Rowling:

“No story lives unless someone wants to listen”

Once through the doors, and after a short cinematic presentation, we wandered through the hallowed doors into the Great Hall. WOW! It’s very large and, apart from the CGI ‘enchanted ceiling’, it was exactly as you see it on the films.

From there, we walked into one of the sound stages. In here were the sets for the Gryffindor Common Room, Harry’s dormitory, the Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut, Umbridge’s pink office, The Burrow (complete with working props like the self-washing frying pan) and the fireplaces from the Ministry of Magic. It was amazing! I was imagining them in the films my daughter and I have watched (and enjoyed) over and over.

Potions Classroom

Potions Classroom

These sets were interspersed with some of the most memorable props from the films: the ice palace from the Yule ball; the door to the Chamber of Secrets; various costumes; the door to vault 713 in Gringotts; the massive pendulum, the Griffin which guarded the stairway to Dumbledore’s office; Hagrid’s motorbike and sidecar; and, of course, the Nimbus 2000 and Firebolt. There were also the two massive statues from the Ministry of Magic.

In between all these (and much more I haven’t mentioned), were information cards displaying interesting details about certain aspects of the films.

It must have taken us more than two hours to work our way round this first area and I’m not convinced we saw absolutely everything!

From there the tour led us onto the ‘Backlot’ where we found the Knight Bus, the Potter’s Cottage from Godrics Hollow, 4 Privet Drive (these last two were almost full size properties build on the Lot – unbelievable), Hogwarts Bridge, the Riddle family gravestone (you might remember it from the Goblet of Fire), but best of all – BUTTERBEER. OMG! If you have a bit of a sweet tooth like I have (and we both blame my father for that particular trait, lol), Butterbeer is a non-alcoholic nectar from the Gods. Both my daughter and I loved it so much, we went back for second helpings!    DE-LI-CIOUS!

The Potter's Cottage in Godrics Hollow

The Potter’s Cottage in Godrics Hollow

After enjoying the fresh air for a while (and more photo opportunities), we proceeded to the second sound stage. The first part of this was all to do with the creatures, how they were made and the animatronics used – very interesting. As I predicted, my daughter’s complexion paled a little when she saw Aragog (she is a chronic arachnophobe), and being the wicked mum I am, I just had to take a photo of it for her. *sniggers*

Who's scared of giant spiders? My daughter!!

Who’s scared of giant spiders? My daughter!!

Suddenly, we were in Diagon Alley. Another ‘WOW’ moment. All the shops and Gringotts bank are real buildings. You can actually look through the windows and see the shop’s wares laid out as they are in the films. The only exception was the animals were stuffed.

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley

The penultimate section was the work that went into building the sets, from concept drawings and ‘artists’ impressions’ paintings to detailed plans which most architects would be proud to display, and miniature models made from white card of the most widely recognised buildings from the films.

Then . . . the pièce de résistance . . . we round a corner and there it was – a huge model of Hogwarts. It was the wow-est WOW moment of the entire tour. The way it was lit and the sheer magnitude were breathtaking. You could actually walk around the whole model and see it from different levels. I have to say, it was a fitting end to the tour and putting this magnificent structure anywhere else would not have done it justice.

Do I really need to caption this??

Do I really need to caption this??

On our way out to the gift shop, we suddenly found ourselves in Ollivanders, where there were literally thousands of wand boxes – each one was labelled with a cast or crew member who had been involved in any one of the eight films. I thought that was a lovely touch. My daughter was overjoyed to see the name of her nephew, who was an Assistant Director on the last two films, on one of the wand boxes and insisted on taking a photograph (even though it was about four foot above her head) and instead of stepping back, she decided to crane her neck and then wondered why it was aching a bit.

On a TV-type screen was the following quote, again from J. K. Rowling:

“The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”

We spent over six hours there altogether and the time just flew by – we were totally mesmerised by everything we saw.

So, was it worth the money and would I go back again? Too right! The gift shop wares were rather over-priced, but apart from that I couldn’t fault it.

Now I’m home, I’m filled with even more inspiration than usual and am pouring it all into the final revisions of my second book, Heart Search: Found. With a bit of luck, it’ll be ready by the end of the month. J. K. Rowling may write for a younger audience than me, but she’s no less of an inspiration!

#AprilPrompts Day 13 – Throne

Hmmm, another tricky one. Well, it would have been if I hadn’t had an LOTR-fest last week. It was just the inspiration I needed.

Throne

Day 13 - Throne

Day 13 – Throne

When you visit royal palaces around the world, or see photographs of them, the thrones are almost always elaborate, heavily padded and look to be reasonably comfortable. Yet, in fantasy books, TV series and films, they appear about as uncomfortable as it is possible to make them.

 

The throne of Gondor from LOTR

The throne of Gondor from LOTR

Gondor’s throne is carved from stone or marble and ne’er a cushion in sight.

The throne of Rohan - also from LOTR

The throne of Rohan – also from LOTR

Although the wood is elaborately carved, it still looks very basic.

Finally, the one from Game of Thrones.

Finally, the one from Game of Thrones.

Despite the unusual design, this looks about as uncomfortable as you can get, and I certainly wouldn’t want to sit on it for any length of time!

Now, I have a theory as to why fantasy thrones are depicted this way. In epic and high fantasy, the amount of world-building necessary sometimes precludes attention to detail on smaller items like thrones. Writers strive to make their worlds believable so readers can connect with them, and the choice between describing an enemy fortress and a piece of furniture is a no-brainer. Tolkien, of course, was an exception in this regard, as he tended to portray everything in great detail.

So was Tolkien’s method correct or did he over-describe? I think it’s a matter of taste.

#AprilPrompts Day 2 – Muse

Is it a coincidence that one of my favourite bands is Muse? I’m not sure. I listen to their music quite a bit when I’m writing as it inspires me. But there is another Muse who inspires me more . . .

Muse

Day 2 - Muse

Day 2 – Muse

A Muse is a writer’s best friend. They give us inspiration, ideas and help us on our writing journey.

When I began writing Heart Search: Lost, I didn’t know who my Muse was. However, a clairvoyant friend gave me a reading and since then, I’ve got to know her very well.

Catherine (I’m not sure if she spells it with a C or K though), my Muse, lived in the sixteenth century.  She has an oval face, gentle hazel eyes, pale lips and is quite pretty. Her hair is dark brown and hangs in ringlet-type curls down to her knees. She wears a long, jade green, velvet dress typical of the times and an unusual amulet hangs around her neck.

muse1

She was an herbalist and healer – a dangerous profession to have in those days. She loved to help people and was very generous, often giving medicine away for free to families who couldn’t afford to pay for it.

It’s not clear who in her village accused her of witchcraft, but she was ambushed in the woods one day when she was picking herbs and murdered, driven through by a sword.

Catherine is always with me and I treasure her.

muse2

Affirmation

It’s strange how our minds’ work. It has this strange habit of sowing doubts, making us question things we were once confident about. Let me explain . . .

After finally publishing Heart Search, book one: Lost, I was euphoric. My dream of seeing something I’d written on the pages of Amazon had come true and I was riding a wave of triumph; I’d achieved my goal!

I knew early on in the writing of Heart Search: Lost that the story wouldn’t fit into just one book and made the decision to spread it over three. It didn’t faze me in the slightest, at the time, and I looked forward to getting the next section drafted. Once the blog tour was underway, I began making my plans to push forward with it during NaNoWriMo. It would give me the discipline and momentum I needed to get it written quickly, I told myself, and was eager to start.

affirm1

November 1st came and I sat down to write, full of ideas and inspiration, confidence running high, and then my mind decided to throw a spanner in the works.

Despite the fact the story was flowing quite well and I’d written over ten thousand words by the end of day three, I began to doubt my abilities. I suffered a crisis of confidence. Just because I’d successfully written one book, did that automatically mean I would be able to complete another one? Did I have another novel in me? Would I find enough of a story to finish it? Was I a good enough author to write a second book?

doubt

All these questions and more spun around in my head like a Tasmanian devil on crack, and it was a horrible feeling. On one level I truly believed I could achieve this second goal, but those niggling doubts had taken root and the tendrils were spreading. I kept my own counsel during this worrying time, dug my heels in and gave myself a strongly-worded lecture. And I carried on writing.

As the word count grew, and one chapter led to another and another, my confidence began to come back a little at a time. The fears didn’t go away, but instead of letting them overpower me, I took back control. I was determined to prove to myself that I wasn’t a ‘one-trick pony’!

I finished the first draft of Heart Search, book two, on 11th January – just eleven days ago – and have now begun the revisions and edits. I can honestly say I experienced the same sense of achievement and joy as when I finished writing book one; I’d overcome my misgivings, my confidence crisis and affirmed that yes, I did have it in me to produce another novel.

affirm2

I have no idea where the doubts came from or why my mind decided to throw me a major curve ball. What I do know is, I can fight it and win!

A Flash of Inspiration – Or Is It?

The next post to appear for the Heart Search Blog Tour was written for C M Skiera. He gave me the topic of inspiration to write about and I decided I was going to do something a little different for this one. Here is the end result.

Inspiration – what does that word mean to you? In the dictionary it’s defined as:            1. Stimulation to do creative work; stimulation for the human mind to creative thought or to the making of art [found inspiration in the landscape around her]. 2. Somebody or something that inspires; somebody or something that inspires somebody to creative thought or to the making of art [His book is an inspiration to all would-be travellers]. 3. Creativeness; the quality of being stimulated to create thought or activity, or the manifestation of this [a moment of inspiration].

As writers we all need inspiration to put pen to paper or our fingers on the keyboard. Yet there’s a missing ingredient here – imagination. To me, inspiration and imagination go hand in hand, like eggs and bacon or toast and marmalade. Yes you can have eggs without the bacon or toast without the marmalade, but will it taste as good?

So let’s explore imagination for a minute. As children we had truckloads of it; we would do drawing and paintings, play with dolls or toy soldiers making things up as we went along yet as we grow into adulthood our imagination seems to get stifled by life. Yeah, sometimes it’s hard to let our imagination run riot when we’re worried about paying bills, work, and maybe we’ve got kids and a spouse. But to be a writer we need to allow our imagination out of its box and go wild.

The dictionary defines imagination as: 1. Ability to visualise; the ability to form images and ideas in the mind, especially of things never seen or experienced directly. 2. Creative part of mind; the part of the mind where ideas, thoughts and images are formed.

Do you see the link between the two definitions?

Okay, so let’s put the two together and see what we get. Your scenario is – you’re out for a drive in the countryside and you come across a little church tucked away behind some trees or bushes. You’re intrigued so you stop for a closer look. It’s just a small abandoned church with weeds and overgrown grass in the yard. Or is it? Now let your imagination soar . . .

Why is the church abandoned? Perhaps it was used for pagan or satanic worship and a posse of god-fearing folk drove them out. Maybe there was a small town around the church at one time – what happened to the people and houses? Did a plague wipe out the town and the homes razed to the ground to eradicate the disease? Was there something supernatural which drove the people away, like a poltergeist? Perhaps a serial killer methodically wiped out the town, one family at a time. Did extra-terrestrials have something to do with it?

Going back to the church itself, is something hidden in the crypt, something magical? Is someone or something evil buried beneath the church? Is the crypt now used as a vampire’s resting place? And what about the churchyard – have the grass and weeds been allowed to grow wild to hide something? If so, what could it be? Do some of the gravestones hide clues to a secret treasure or symbols to summon demonic forces.

Now you’ve let your imagination picture all these possibilities for a simple abandoned church, you have created the inspiration to work some magic with it. Now you can grab your keyboard or pad and pen and begin to sketch out a story. Once you’ve decided which scenario you’re going to write about you can then start thinking about characters and building your plot.

Anything you see, no matter how ordinary can be made extraordinary just by using your imagination. This also applies to people. A man walking down the street looking shabby could be a millionaire, a celebrity in disguise, a spy, a witch hunter, a wizard or a homeless ex-soldier.

If you struggle to find inspiration for your writing it’s probably because you’re not allowing your imagination to feed it. So as you travel to work, walk down the shops or out in the countryside, or drive somewhere in your car, really open your eyes, let your imagination take flight and allow yourself to be inspired.

The lesson from this is that inspiration is all around us – we’ve just got to open our eyes and see!

In The Woods #BlogFlash2012

Hi. It’s Day 24 already and I can’t believe we’ve only got 6 more posts after today and then #BlogFlash2012 is finished. Anyway today’s prompt is In The Woods. As I wrote a dark-ish one for the Forest prompt, I decided to go the opposite way for this one.

 

In The Woods

I love wandering through woods. There’s a real sense of getting back in touch with nature and I’m lucky we have some great ones only a short-ish car journey from where I live.

As a writer, I find getting away from the hustle and bustle of town living very therapeutic. Wandering amongst the trees, ferns and brackens, and seeing some wildlife not only calms and relaxes me, I find a great deal of inspiration there.

The way the sun peeps through the arboreal canopy, the colours of foliage and wild flowers, enriches me in ways nowhere else can.

 

Seven Cans Short of a Six-Pack?

A writer’s life can be quite strange in some ways. That’s not to say we’re strange people (well maybe a few are, but on the whole…), but strange things happen to us. Let me explain.

I can only tell you how it is from my perspective, but some of my author friends have voiced the same things so I know I’m not alone here.

When I’m working on Heart Search: Found (book 2 in the trilogy), I’m totally focused on it to the extent I sometimes forget to eat lunch (like yesterday). I’m totally engrossed in the story I’m creating, the interaction between the characters, building the next twist, where I’m taking it next, but at the same time the story seems to write itself. I start writing a chapter knowing what I’ve got planned for it and suddenly I find I’ve thrown a curve ball into the mix and something I’ve not planned for takes shape on the pages. It happened when I was writing Heart Search:Lost (book 1) as well.

In some ways it’s like the books actually write themselves and I’m just the channel to put the words on the screen. I believe my Muse has something to do with it. Many writers believe they have a Muse who helps and guides them on their writing journey – I know I have, and can describe her, tell you her name and a little of her history! But anyway, I digress.

It’s when I’m away from Heart Search that things get strange. On the rare occasions these days when I leave the house, I watch people more closely than before, scrutinising their expressions, mannerisms and listening to the inflections in their voices when they speak (that’s probably one for another post), basically anything I can use to help bring my characters to life. Those of you who have been following my blog for some time know my feelings on this matter, but for those of you who have just found me, check out the archives and you’ll see how much emphasis I place on making characters real so readers can relate to them.

The other things I suffer from are random characters running around in my head begging me to tell their stories. They have nothing to do with my current project and yet they make themselves known to me. They give me just enough to pique my interest and if I’m able, I jot down some notes for future reference. I just never know when one or more of these characters will make it into one of my stories.

In addition, I get new story ideas floating around and they can appear at the most random places and times. The weirdest things can set this off; an overheard conversation, a painting in a shop window, a building, a person, or just walking (or in my case hobbling) or driving somewhere and letting my mind wander.

If I write all the story ideas running around my head which I’ve made note of, I’m going to be writing about 30 books and that’s just what I’ve got at the moment!

I love how inspiration for a story can appear ‘out of nowhere’ – it’s strange when it happens, but it’s what we writers live for, to get that spark to start the next book or a new twist for one we’re working on. It’s our form of sustenance and without it, we can’t create the stories to entertain you.

So the next time you’re walking down the street and you see someone grab a small notebook and start frantically scribbling or they have a slightly glazed look in their eyes, don’t write them off as someone who’s seven cans short of a six-pack, they’re probably authors getting inspiration for what could well be the next best seller!