Where does inspiration come from? Let me tell you a story …
In the far north of Portugal, in a region known as the Alto Minho, is a small town named Ponte de Lima. The town sits on the banks of the River Lima, in a deep, wide and fertile river valley. It is surrounded by wooded hills and boulder-strewn mountains. Wind turbines top the highest mountains. The lower mountains are quarried for their beautiful granite. Ponte de Lima is one of the oldest towns in Portugal, dating from 1125. I have been visiting this place with my family for many years.
The area is a riot of contradictions. The turbines watch over a land where you still come across horses pulling carts on the road. The locals enjoy dragging a bull around town on four ropes (Vaca das Cordas), yet they host a garden festival that celebrates modernity. These contrasts tell you a lot about the Portuguese. They embrace new ideas – in art, architecture, design, technology. But at the same time they value the past – family, festivals, traditions.
The River Lima is sometimes referred to as the Rio de Esquecimento: literally, the River of Forgetfulness. When the Romans passed this way they thought that they had found the mythical River Lethe – the River of Oblivion. They believed that those who crossed it would forget everything, and stay forever. A Roman Centurion called Decimus Junius Brutus had to cross first, and call his soldiers across one by one by name, before they would follow him.
It is a beautiful river cutting through a beautiful landscape. The rest of the world seems far away. The atmosphere is tranquil, ancient and mysterious. Place and history can be a powerful inspiration. So can objects and the funny things that people say. Direct experience can inspire us, and so can our emotions and our internal struggles.
The River of Forgetfulness inspired me to write this book for children. Here are a couple of extracts:
“Elvar stared across the wide river, deep in thought. As a young elf at school, he had been taught that rivers and seas and oceans were blue. His teachers had said that their water was clear, and that you could see to the bottom of it. But the truth was, he thought now, they were mostly a dirty greeny brown colour. And most of the time you could not see what hid under the surface.
The River of Forgetfulness was a greeny brown colour. It flowed strongly all year round. Rain fell in the distant mountains and then rushed in streams and smaller rivers to join it. It seemed like the rain could hardly wait to be part of such a famous river. The fast flowing water churned up the mud at the bottom of the river, turning it a dirty brown. It might be famous, Elvar thought, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.”
And after crossing the river …
“He looked down at himself. He was wet and muddy. Water dripped from his clothes onto the ground. There were strands of green river weed stuck to his trousers. Clearly, he had just crossed this river. But why? Why would he do such a thing? Come to think of it, who was he anyway? (The River of Forgetfulness had worked its magic. He didn’t even remember himself.)”