Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Alchemy of Inspiration

Today I am delighted to have Barbara Scott Emmett as my guest.

The role of Serendipity and Synchronicity in the creation of
Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion
by Barbara Scott Emmett

I first encountered Arthur Rimbaud at an exhibition at University College London when I was a student there. A display in the foyer told the story of a house in nearby Camden Town and the two scruffy French poets who lived there in 1872. The characters and relationship of Rimbaud and Verlaine touched some romantic streak in me – they were Bohemians, writers, living wild and free and they seemed to me like the rock stars of their time.

It was Rimbaud who most intrigued me – the boy poet who wrote all his great work before he was twenty-one. Over the years I read all the books about him I could find; I read his poetry both in the original and in translation, visited his home town of Charleville, and even wrote a play about him (Death without Tears – Edinburgh Fringe 1999). I always had it in my mind that one day I would put him in a novel.

An intriguing aspect of the tale of Rimbaud’s life and works was the reference to a missing manuscript, La Chasse Spirituelle. According to Verlaine it was Rimbaud’s best work but it had gone missing and had been lost for well over a century. This was the initial trigger: What if someone found it?

And so, the idea for Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion came to me.

Andrea Mann goes to Rimbaud’s home town in northern France because she is obsessed by the boy poet. In Charleville cemetery she meets a youth who claims to have a copy of La Chasse Spirituelle.

So far so good but I needed more.

I remembered an incident many years ago in Berlin. While in a park with a friend, I got talking to a wild-eyed youth who said he was under the influence of a Magician. He told us this man could control him by tapping his —the youth’s— forehead and singing a jingle. He would then get a headache and do whatever the man told him. Though he was obviously terrified of his tormenter, he refused to leave him.

I was never sure whether this story was true or whether it was simply the deranged ramblings of a confused young man, but the idea stuck with me. What if it was true and he was being controlled by some mysterious puppet-master?

Out of this sprang the idea for Albert the Magician, and Rimboy, his protégé.

Andrea’s sense of herself, her life and everyone she meets is fractured and distorted by Albert. His  intention is that when she has been completely broken down, torn apart, destroyed, she can be put together again in some kind of better order. This idea came out of my own life experience reinforced by various novels broadly working around similar topics.

One of these—probably the main one—was The Magus by John Fowles.

Also, Rimbaud’s theory of poetry included the idea of a total disordering of all the senses. He believed that through drinking, drugtaking, sleeplessness, debauchery and other methods of self-abasement, the mind would be forced into experiences beyond the mundane. Sounds would become colours, vision would be distorted, enlightenment would be attained, and out of this, poetry would arise.

As well as telling Andrea’s story, Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion also tells the story of the lost manuscript itself. Perhaps the manuscript of  La Chasse Spirituelle had lain forgotten in Madame Verlaine’s lawyer’s office, where it had been sent with various letters as evidence for her divorce. Perhaps a lowly clerk had saved it from destruction and taken it home. I wanted to show how the missing manuscript could have been handed down through the years and to tell the story of each person who had possession of it and how it affected them.

This idea became the consecutive stories of Jean Martins, the legal clerk; Simone Vennard, the wife of a soldier during the Great War; Aurore and Dora, lesbian lovers in the twenties and thirties, and Charlie Dick, a private eye who attempts to track it down in the fifties for his client, Babette Beaulieu. Each of these strands is written in a different style, in voices which I hope are true to the characters and the type of stories they are telling.

One of the delights of creativity is the way happy accidents and timely discoveries link together to produce their own magic. Seemingly unconnected incidents fertilise each other and something entirely new is born. Out of these few germs of ideas, Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion grew and took shape. In the mysterious way the creative process operates the various elements blended together and formed a cohesive whole.

Now all I have to do is blend my current germs of ideas together and wait for them to be transformed by the alchemy of inspiration. With the help of serendipity and synchronicity perhaps another book will bloom. I can’t wait to see how it develops.


Barbara Scott Emmett has published novels, short stories and a book of poetry. Her work has also appeared in anthologies and magazines. She has been fascinated by French poet Arthur Rimbaud for many years and her new novel Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion will be published in association with Triskele Books in October 2014.  Find out more about it here.

Barbara lives in Newcastle and writes in a room overlooking the Tyne often accompanied by her husband, writer Jimmy Bain, and their cat Gizzie.

Please see her blog or website  for more details.

Her books can be purchased at Amazon, Smashwords, and and at other online stores via Pentalpha Publishing Edinburgh

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1 comment:

Barbara Scott Emmett said...

Thank you for sharing your space with me, Lorraine.