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Feeding the Muse (or, "Topping up on India")

When I had just arrived in India in 2007, my plan was to complete a financial planning diploma, to try and stay current in financial services (though I'd just sent a manuscript to a publisher and didn't know it then but it was soon to be accepted and change my priorities). I was sitting at the computer one morning, my wife Kerry on whose ticket we were in India was at her office (which happened to be 100 yards away on the same compound), and I was checking the news before knuckling down to do some study.

It's Raksha Bandan today, the news told me. What's that?, I wondered: skimming the page and deciding it seemed to be some kind of Hindi festival celebrating couples, involving tying red strings around the boy's wrist. So I jumped on the email and sent a note to Kerry saying, "Oi, where's by Rakhi string?"

"Idiot," she sent back, "it's a brother-sister thing." Chastened, I got on with some study.

But presently she another note, saying: "However, if you bring chocolate to the office pronto, you'll earn yourself two new sisters."

Intrigued, I grabbed some chocolate bars from the fridge, and headed for the office, where I was 'adopted' by two of Kerry's staff, two lovely young women named Tanuva and Vidhi. I think it was a tribute to how well-liked Kerry was in the office, as I'd not really met either before, and wasn't sure whether it was a big deal or not. As it turned it, being 'adopted' came with duties in terms of acting as a brother socially and having at least nominal input into finding them a husband (both were single). Both Vidhi and Tanuva are western-educated and have lived outside India, and both have become good friends.

So when Tanuva got in touch earlier this year inviting us to her wedding - she'd finally met the right man (with no help from her Kiwi 'brother') - we of course decided to go. Not only do we still have friends in Delhi, but it was a great chance to "top up" on India. And as an adopted 'rakhi brother', I had to help in the ceremony (the brothers of the bride carry her around the groom seven times at one point in the three hour ceremony).

Tanuva with her husband Salil, during the wedding ceremony.

Those who've read my books will have picked up that interesting and/or exotic locations, non-western cultures and folklore are the things that stimulate the writer in me: I'm a xenophile, I suppose!

Which leads me to my point: I think all writers have something which stimulates them: bringing out the best in them as a writer. For me, this is most definitely travel. Being able to see exotic sites, hear different languages, witness other cultures and see the collision of my western culture with other ways of life is what gets me thinking. It kicks old thoughts up against new ones, and they spawn new ideas that will be the stories I write in the future. Travel alerts you to possibilities you would not otherwise have seen, juxtapositions that would not have otherwise occurred to you, shows you sights you didn't know existed, forces you into situations you would not have imagined.

I believe it is important to know what stimulates you, and indulge it from time to time. Of course you also (usually) need a stable place to retreat to when you actually write, but you've got to feed your muse and keep her/him/it happy and sated.

So what's your muse?

That's all for now. I'm feeling energised, and have some writing to do!


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