Thursday, July 15, 2010

On the Shoulders of Giants

On our recent vacation in Scotland, it was pouring one Sunday as we waited for the museum to open, so I suggested we duck into a cafe across the street to wait it out. As we stood in line at the Elephant House to order coffee, I saw a sign that made my heart stand still.

This was the cafe where J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter.

I am a huge Harry Potter fan. My copies of the books have all fallen apart from so many readings. I used to sit with my daughter in her room, sewing little quilted eye pillows while we listened to the Harry Potter books on tape. Whenever the books came out, we attended the midnight parties and came home with three copies so we wouldn't have to share. Heck, my sister even changed her wedding date because it was going to be the morning after the release of The Order of the Phoenix, and she didn't want me to be reading during the ceremony (I was her matron of honor, after all).

So when I returned to the cafe a couple days later with my laptop and sat at a table with the magnificent Edinburgh Castle visible through the window, I spent some time thinking about those famous books and about what inspires us to write. The cafe was busy and loud, and I could only imagine what it must have been like to write in that environment in longhand, her infant baby fussing at her side. Without question, she must have been completely driven to tell that story. It simply had to come out.

But I realized that it's more than the story that drives us. It's the heroes who came before us, both the writers we admire and their characters we love. It's the whisperings of Hermione and Dumbledore, who inform my wiser characters. Hagrid's giant heart, whose lingering warmth undoubtedly influenced my Christoph. And Harry himself, whose uncertain footing in the magical world was so easy for me to relate to that it allowed me to tell Ashlyn's story.

So as I sat and tried to soak up any of the remaining mojo that guided J. K. Rowling, I realized that although having an inspiring place to write is so important (and indeed, I wrote a whole chapter in what felt like five minutes but was actually the fastest hour of my life), we really carry inside of us all the inspiration we need. Those are the gifts given to us by the writers who came before us, and hopefully we'll pass similar gifts along to other aspiring writers later on.

But I must say: if I had the opportunity, I'd do all my writing at the Elephant House in Edinburgh.


  1. Really inspiring! That is so cool that you wrote in the same place J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter!

  2. I've never read any Harry Potter books, but I love that your sister scheduled her wedding around the release of one of the books! Was there something special, by the way, about the cafe, other than that J.K. Rowling wrote there? And who writes with a baby at their side? WHO can do that?

  3. The cafe was wonderful. The back room where I was sitting was light and cheerful, and with the rather spectacular view of Edinburgh castle in the background, it's not hard to see how she found inspiration, despite the baby at her side. All I can say is that she must have had one of those mellow babies that I've heard so much about.