Rotten Weather, P.D. James, and Inspiration

May 31, 2010

The winds have been blowing relentlessly in my part of the Mojave, and last weekend I decided I’d had enough. It was also cold, more like Fall than Spring. I needed to escape. A dear friend of mine, and one of my editors, Virginia Moody sent me P.D. James’s “The Private Patient” as a present when it was first released. I’ve held off reading it, waiting for the perfect time. This was that time.

If you’ve read P.D., you already know her literary strengths. To say her characters are finely crafted, her plots multi-layered and deftly revealed, and her use of language exquisite—would be to go over well trodden review ground. Particularly, I love her use of language. She seldom fails to select the absolutely right word to describe or explain. But for me, she is more than an accomplished author I enjoy reading—she is one of my main inspirations. And her influence is what prompted me to write this blog.

It’s easy to say another author inspires you, but not so easy to explain what that means. For me, P.D. epitomizes the level of craft and art (if there is a distinction)—and potters discuss the point ad infinitum—that I strive to achieve. There are many authors I think are good, and I love reading their work. Some, I even think are great. But when an author captures your mind, and emotions in such a way that you hate to finish the book, don’t even care about the plot, just love the experience of reading their words—something more is going on.

Places inspire me, and I think are crucial to my stories. Consequently bringing the reader “there” is an important element for me. “The Private Patient” is set mostly at Cheverell Manor in Doreset, England. Through her words, my mind went there, walked the grounds, felt the architecture, looked up at a Dorset night sky. To my taste, I couldn’t ask for better descriptive writing.

Every author needs a guiding light. She is mine.

I’d guess being a literary “rock star” is burdensome—all those demanding fans with their expectations and adulation! But I just can’t help myself, every time I read a new Adam Dagliesh novel, I’m not only in heaven, but “know” again where I want to go. I wish a similar literary beacon for every author.

June 17th – 20th I’ll be attending the annual Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) Conference in Las Vegas. As part of that conference I’ll be on a panel moderated by Sue McGinty on the importance of “setting.” Fortunately, I’ll still have the residual glow of “The Private Patient” with me as a reminder of how important setting really is.

Can’t wait for P.D.’s next book! Sigh.

8 Responses to “Rotten Weather, P.D. James, and Inspiration”

  1. mmgornell said

    Thank you, Donna, for your comment! How wonderful you’ve met P.D. — made even more special by your daughter’s connection to her granddaughter! It’s so interesting to me how people can be “connected” through another author’s work. What a lovely part of being a reader. Again, much success with your new book “A Very Private Grave, Book 1, The Monastery Murders” Can’t wait!

  2. Madelin,

    Thank you for this lovely blog about one of my favorite authors. I had the privilege of meeting Phyllis (as she asked me to call her) when she was speaking on DEATH IN HOLY ORDERS at the monastery that was used as the setting for the tv production of her book and inspired the fictionalized monastery in my A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE. The funny thing is, it turned out that I knew her granddaughter. She had been one of my daughter’s friends at Oxford and I had no idea of the connection.

  3. mmgornell said

    Thank you Sunny and Marilyn! So nice to know there are other authors who have similar feelings about words and inspirational authors. I too like Nancy Pickard, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read her…I need to reconnect.

  4. Madeline has the same initials as mine, and goes by M.M.

    Loved the post.

    When I read The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard I thought my goodness, perhaps I should quit writing. What a wonderfully written book–and the story was great.


  5. “The experience of reading their words. . .”

    For some reason, many writers I work with think word choice is not important as long as they get to the story and the plot. Words are the building material! I relish coming onto a sentence that sings, a word that surprises and delights me.

    It’s ALL about the words!

  6. mmgornell said

    Thank you Gayle and Jackie! One of my other sources of inspiration is Writers In Residence. It’s hard sometimes to fit in reading everything, but I try not to ever miss your series and posts. Keep it coming.

  7. Jackie said

    Marilyn, I think a little of PD James has rubbed off on you and your writing. Your blog post flowed like a silvery stream, smooth and sparkling. Thanks for a taste of her book, and of your own writing. I signed up to receive your posting – I hope they will inspire me as well.

  8. Whether I am reading an unusually good book (rare) or watch a great old black and white movie (more often) I learn more about plot, character, and atmosphere. We all gain from the great and even from the not so great. From them we learn what not to do. Dagliesh is a marvel and we all can aim at that mark. Thanks for the inspiration.

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