I have always found very fascinating the ability of some people to create things from nothing or from very little. The blank canvas scares me. All the possibilities. How does a painter decide where the first stroke of the brush is going to hit the canvas? What direction will it take? What colour to start with? Or even whether to use a brush at all. Why not a pencil, or their own hands?
I am not a painter but there are other things I enjoy doing where I can easily be in this quandary. For instance, I love baking. I would do it all the time if those pesky calories would just not stick to my hips, anyway I digress. Lately, I have experimented with gluten and dairy free baking, for no particular reason than just experimenting since one of my work colleagues can’t have any dairy or gluten. I researched recipes but nothing called out to me so for a while I resisted trying it.
On a recent grocery shopping trip, I found myself adding cake ingredients to the basket and deciding there and then I was going to have a go. What would be the worst that could happen? Maybe the cake would explode and I’d have to spend some time with my head in the oven cleaning it out. Not an exciting prospect but could be worse.
I started by replacing stuff that was easily replaced such as butter for a dairy free alternative and normal flour for a combination of gluten-free flour and ground almond. Once I had my bases covered I realised my possibilities were as wide as they would be if I didn’t have the restriction of no dairy or gluten. The final product looked lovely. I ended up just adding cinnamon and vanilla for flavour and chopped walnuts. I gave the cake to my colleague who took it home and then spent a week giving me daily updates on the state of the cake at my request. I wanted to know how it would taste fresh and also after a few days. The duration test would never work in my house because the cake would never last past the first 24hrs! Result: Ana 1 – Blank Canvas 0
The point of mentioning this particular experience, bearing in mind this is a blog for my experiences as a writer, is that I believe this fear of the blank canvas has stopped me from starting to write many times. How often did I have a thread of an idea and never let it develop in my head because once there was a split in the thread I was unable to make a decision? Too many times, I tell you.
I mentioned in a previous post that my book is going to be submitted as part of a series of books set around the world and of course I claimed Portugal as my country of choice.
When I decided where my story was going to happen it became really easy to build more and more into it. Suddenly I had images, smells, people, locations all coming into my head the more I thought about the story. More than that, they all seemed to fit together. Now, thinking about the blank canvas issue. Did I ever have a blank canvas? I knew my story had to be based in a particular location. That was the first thread and on this occasion, it was all I needed to start the process. All the other decisions have been made on the basis of how they fit in with the original brief. Any good ideas that don’t fit will be stored for later. I am happy with that.
It’s interesting that my planned purpose for this post was to share some photos of a particular location that features in my book. How did this suddenly turn into a public self-reflection?
The location is very real and I was lucky to have been able to visit it only last week. I started writing the book and had decided on that location long before I realised I would end up nearby on my holiday, so once I was there I couldn’t not drop by. I had this compulsion to find out if what I remembered was accurate but I also wanted to see it with a new pair of eyes. I realised that I was going to be writing about this place and I wanted to do it justice. I also wanted to explore and see if I could find something that was unique or not normally seen by those who visit.
I am not going to get into the history of the place. Google is your friend for that.
When I first visited the Sanctuary of Cape Espichel I must have been with my parents on a day trip and I was probably quite young because I don’t remember it. I went there with my sister and brother in law on a day out during an impromptu holiday about eight years ago and I found the place so mesmerising and peaceful that it stayed with me since. I also realised then that I must have been there before despite my memory failing me.
The Sanctuary and Church of Our Lady of the Cape aren’t different from other churches you find up and down Portugal but I find all those arches leading up to it quite special. Maybe it’s my imagination that conjures up stories of intrigue. The priests carrying secrets and hiding behind the arches. Or perhaps something more romantic. Two lovers on either side, wanting to reach for each other but not being able to.
Behind the church, accessed via an opening on either side of the building is the cliff looking out into the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. I managed to keep a steady hand as I took a panoramic photo of the church from the cliff capturing the sea on either side. It is a truly beautiful place that to me evokes reflection and perspective.
Just around the corner, so to speak, from the sanctuary is the lighthouse of the cape. This was one part of the area I hadn’t explored before, so armed with my camera and my writer senses I set off to capture new memories to use on my story.
I found that beyond the lighthouse there was an abandoned building I hadn’t seen before so I decided to follow the well-trodden path to it. I’m not going to lie. I felt like part detective and part explorer. There was no one else around but me. On the way to the abandoned house, I chanced upon a small opening in the rocks. It was very clean, secluded with a small trickle of water running through it. You can just imagine my inner writer was launching her own fireworks at that particular find that now can’t not make its way into the book!
I believe the building used to be some sort of pumping station to supply water to the lighthouse. I didn’t dare go inside because there was evidence that the roof and some of the walls weren’t stable. It looked as though the building might have its occasional visitors who contributed with the wall art and empty beer bottles. There were also some rather odd constructions outside, which were circular in shape with rusted iron bolted threads sticking out from the concrete floor, as though something might have been attached to them. I also found a smaller building that had a pentagram scratched on the concrete outside the doorless entry.
It was an interesting expedition. Memory-invoking and inspirational, particularly as it will feature in my book. Going back to the blank canvas issue, I wonder if my inspiration for the book was just like a ball of yarn I unraveled and will continue to do so until I finish the book. Did I just need to find one of the ends in order to start? Did I ever have a blank canvas or did I just think that was the case?
There’s a lot for me to reflect on, particularly as I find my way in this book writing adventure that I hope won’t be a one-off. In the meantime I’ll leave you with a few more photos of that wonderful place.
If you ever find yourself in Portugal I strongly recommend a visit and you can always end your trip by driving the scenic route to Sesimbra for a nice lunch by the beach.
As always, thank you for reading this far. If you like what I’m writing and are curious about this journey and want to see the end result follow me on all the social media sites. Links are at the bottom of the page.