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A Conspiracy of Inspiration: The Historial Novel Society conference 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

In early September, I was lucky enough to attend the second conference of the Historical Novel Society Australasia, held in chilly Melbourne. For those of you who were unable to attend, here is the brief speech I made to welcome all the attendees,

The Historical Novel Society is an international organisation that was founded in 1997 to celebrate fiction of all kinds set in the past. The Australasian branch of the society was formally established in 2014, and I am very proud to be its patron.

In our auditorium today, we have some of Australia’s most celebrated and respected authors, working in all genres and all-time frames. Their stories are variously powerful and poignant, sexy and surprising, illuminating and inspiring.

As the weekend passes, they will be asked all sorts of questions and yet I can guarantee the one they dread the most is: Where do you get your ideas from?

My books have been inspired in all kinds of different ways.

A story my grandmother once told me about a bloodstain that can never be scrubbed away.

A charm bracelet passed down through generations of women. 

A raven that dropped a feather at my feet. 

A book that fell open on an unexpected page.

A story that haunted me for a lifetime.

A dream, a day-dream, a painting, an apparition.

Inspiration cannot be manufactured or manipulated. It comes like a bolt out of the blue, or like a whisper in the darkness. I call it ‘the flash’, which is what Emily of New Moon called it, in a beloved series of books by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

The word ‘inspire’ comes from the Latin ‘in-spirae’ which means ‘to breathe into’, as a shepherd might breathe life into a newborn lamb, as a god might breathe life into a statue of clay. Its root word is ‘spiritus’, which means breath, spirit, courage. Other words that arose from the same root included perspiration, respiration, aspiration and – surprisingly – conspiracy, which means to breathe together. 

To be inspired is to be filled with courage and grace, to be given an idea or purpose, to be animated with the breath of life.

And so I hope that all of us today can join together in a conspiracy of inspiration – as Mary Oliver writes, ‘Breathe it all in, Love it all out!’

Thank you.

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