My novel, The Haunting of Alice May, published in March 2019, was written in Monterey Bay, California, where I was working for two years for National Geographic Television.
In the novel, 16 year-old Alice Parker moves to Pacific Grove, California, with her father and little sister after her mother dies. Whilst kayaking in the bay, she paddles towards a mysterious island in the bay, but capsizes and is drowning when a young man, Henry Raphael, magically appears, delivering her safely to the beach. Against all rules they see each other.
While working in Monterey, I was inspired by the natural beauty of the Bay area. The fog would inexplicably roll in, making it perpetually cloudy, whereas if you drove just five minutes inland, the sun would shine. The unpredictable weather was all part of the shrouded secrecy and charm of the region, with its rich folklore in the supernatural.
Writing the story became incredibly personal to me. I walked the coastal paths Alice travelled, I kayaked over the kelp forests of Monterey Bay, marvelled at the diaphanous moon jellies in the Monterey Aquarium, and inhaled the salty sea breeze during long sunset walks along Carmel’s sandy beach. The past is evoked everywhere on the peninsula, especially in the old canneries, cypress forests and hidden cabins which form the backdrop of the novel.
Living those two years in Monterey was an incredibly productive time for me; I wrote my book on the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie; I fashioned a screenplay which I later turned into my first novel Playing Mrs. Kingston, and I wrote the outline for the Ghost Maven series, which I then developed into a novel.
I often wondered why I felt so creative while living in Monterey. Indeed, I now envy the creative thought processes and insights I had at the time. Maybe it was the fresh sea breeze, the stretch of the Pacific, and the cool forests to hike in, all of which supplied a rush of oxygen to my head?
Recently I was researching another science television programme for the Discovery Channel about genius and creativity, which helped shed light on my supercharged bursts of activity. I was fortunate to be able to interview John Kounios of Drexel University, Philadelphia who wrote The Eureka Factor. He shared some very useful tips on creativity, which I can apply to my writing process, and help me become more insightful.
Outdoors colours like blue and green have been shown to enhance insight. Not surprisingly this is where the phrase ‘Blue sky’ thinking may have originated. Certainly the possibilities seem endless, when I stand at the end of Lover’s Point and look out at the vast Pacific stretching in front of me. Big open spaces can enhance creativity and broaden your visual attention, which is why Monterey and the Big Sur became a tonic and a mecca for many artists and writers, from John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac.
It’s also well known that sleep can enhance creativity and insight. I try to have eight hours sleep every day, and adhere to a regular sleep pattern, waking up without the aid of an alarm clock. I’m not one of those writers who rises at the crack of dawn, nor burns the midnight oil (unless I have a deadline). Speaking of which, deadlines have been shown to supress insights, so if you want to be creative you’re unlikely to do it under pressure. Insights are more likely to arrive during one’s off peak hours. If you’re a night owl, you will likely to be more creative in the morning. If you are a morning person, your evenings should be more creative.
But what is less well known is that while small spaces may enhance analytical thought, they also supress creativity. So while some writers like to hole themselves up in a small room or study to get the work done, it may not be conducive for those creative or eureka moments. Better to take a strolling walk or a run, which the Japanese author Haruki Murakami favours in his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
A positive mood facilitates insight, while anxiety suppresses it. Even a little alcohol can facilitate insight, as it did for those seasoned drinkers Ernest Hemmingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald. That’s worth remembering the next time you order a long drink and watch the sun set over the Pacific.