Sources of Inspiration: Atwood, Shakespeare (and cats?)

margaret-atwood-001I went to see one of my favourite authors, Margaret Atwood, on Saturday in Stratford (and, thank the Lord, I managed not to cough).

She’s inspiring for several reasons, not least because she’s clever and funny and at 76 she’s still a working writer who jets around the world (see her schedule here, she’s still in the UK for a few days).

She’d come to the Royal Shakespeare Company because her latest novel, Hag-Seed (great title), is based on The Tempest (which, incidentally the RSC will be staging from next month – and, of course she’ll be zooming back here from North America to see it).

3 things I learned on Saturday about The Tempest, by the way:

1) it’s the most ‘male’ of Shakespeare’s plays. There’s only one female character in it – Miranda. “Even Julius Caesar,” (said Ms Atwood), “has two!”

2) It’s the only play Shakespeare wrote about what he did: putting on a play. (OK there are plays within plays but they’re not the main story. The Tempest, to quote Ms Atwood in the Guardian is “a play about a producer/director/playwright putting on a play – namely, the action that takes place on the island.”)

3) It has more songs and dances and music in it than any other Shakespeare play.

Margaret Atwood’s novel is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which well-known novelists were approached (oh, to be ‘approached’!) and asked if they’d write a novel inspired by or based on, one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, for example (ahem, on my Amazon wishlist…), is based on The Taming of The Shrew; Tracy Chevalier (another favourite of mine) is writing something inspired by Othello, Gillian Flynn has got Hamlet, Jo Nesbo, Macbeth.

There’s nothing to stop us doing it too, of course (even if we haven’t been ‘approached’). Shakespeare, after all, famously ‘borrowed’ the plots of other stories for his plays, so if you’re stuck for a plot, why not turn to The Bard for inspiration?

And on the subject of inspiration, I met up with my writing buddy Sally yesterday – in this café, to be precise.


Every quarter we get together to ‘talk writing’ for a couple of hours: to congratulate, commiserate, moan, laugh, swap ideas and generally try to ‘gee each other up’ a bit!

We agreed that we need to be more PROLIFIC!

But how?

In no particular order we agreed that it would help to:

• Get up earlier
• Be less of a perfectionist. Get it written, rather than get it right (at least, in the first draft)
* Resist the lure of social media
• Treat writing ‘like a job’ (eek, that sounds like hard work)

Funnily enough, we were talking about getting a cat yesterday too (because the Cat Protection League was at the venue, with some cats ‘to view’) and when I was Googling ‘be a prolific writer’ (as you do), it turns out that Muriel Spark – a prolific writer if ever there was one (she wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in a month) – advised, if you want to be able to concentrate on your writing, you should get a cat.

Anyone got any other good ideas?


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22 Responses to Sources of Inspiration: Atwood, Shakespeare (and cats?)

  1. Suzanne Goldring says:

    But my cat demands attention!

    • Helen Yendall says:

      Muriel Spark obviously had a different kind of cat! (My dog demands attention too, if that’s any consolation…!)

  2. Thanks for that inspiration, Helen – useful tips for increased prolific-ness! (apart from getting a cat as Other Half doesn’t like them).

  3. Wendy Clarke says:

    Muriel Spark said getting a cat helps with your writing? Mine spends all his time trying to sit on my keyboard!

  4. Margaret Atwood mentioned her own cat at a Getting Published Masterclass I attended in London. Apparently a stranger knocked on her door, in Canada, with a gift for her cat. He was going away on business and was worried the cat would miss the odd prawn he used to donate when he walked past! I got the impression he was unaware who its owner was…
    My own British Blue is great at listening to rough drafts.

  5. Sara Kellow says:

    The other day one of my cats leapt on my shoulder and sat there like a furry parrot – it’s very hard to type like that.

  6. pennywrite says:

    Umm perhaps not a cat such as we once had. He regularly brought in (live) frogs from the pond and chased them. I remember thinking: I’ll bet that’s something Miss Austen never had to deal with 🙂
    But a furry parrot, yes, that sounds lovely!

    • I’ve never had a cat but I’d struggle with all the ‘live’ things that they bring into the house – or leave on the doorstep. Yuck! When my dog was a puppy she caught a mouse and carried it proudly around in her mouth for a while until we realised and got her to release it. Because she’s a spaniel, with a very soft mouth, it seemed to be unharmed, as it zipped away. Must have had a bit of a shock though!

  7. juliathorley says:

    Of course Jo Nesbo got Macbeth! Great post, as always.

  8. Patsy says:

    Resisting the lure of social media is something I struggle with.

  9. I do try, but always fail, to spend less time rewriting and editing. It’s so hard not to check ‘just once more’.
    Not sure if a cat would make me more productive, but I do miss having a dog. Walking is a good time for writing in your head, but if you don’t have to take a dog out every day it’s tempting to stay indoors when it’s cold or wet.

    • Yes, Linda, as much as I love my dog, having to walk her every day can seem like a chore, at times. But it definitely helps with ‘writer’s bottom’ as it does mean I get some exercise every day!

  10. philippabowe says:

    Hi Helen, very interesting post! I’m envious of you seeing Magaret Atwood, she’s one of my favourite authors. Though I did get to see a reading by and interview with Eimear McBride last month (it happened to coincide with a trip to London) and LOVED it and her, will definitely read her two novels (and have now put the new Atwood on my list). The enduring influence Shakespeare’s stories have on us is fascinating, and he continues to be a great source of inspiration: I came over for London to see my sister’s play (written and directed by her) which is, in part, one of the many reworkings of Romeo and Juliet. As for trying to become more prolific – I wish there was a magic and infallible formula! I think your third point, treating writing like a job, is crucial: I made that mental shift recently, at least partly – seeing it not as a ‘luxury’ but a job that needs doing, and it has helped – though not enough to be writing prolifically! I also find achievable daily deadlines invaluable.

    • Hello, Philippa, nice to hear from you. I agree that deadlines are useful (vital!?). Instead of a great long ‘to do’ list – which is daunting, off-putting and it’s easy to ignore the things you don’t really want to do – I’ve started to just write a list of 3 things that I want to achieve from each day (to do with writing, I mean. I don’t include things like ‘Watch Strictly’, ‘Have Breakfast’, etc). It’s much more achievable/manageable and if something doesn’t get done (quite often!) then it just goes back on the list for the next day!

  11. charliebritten says:

    If you get a cat, Helen, you’ll never write anything! I love my cat to bits, but she insists of sitting in the gap between my waist and the computer and putting her paws on the keyboard. My cat is my editor!

    • Ah bless, that sounds cute. My dog does sometimes stand up on her two hind legs, with her front paws on my lap, to try to get my attention. But she’s never actually tried sitting in my lap, as I type. Not agile enough, I expect!

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