Thursday, 2 August 2007

Entry #12 The Writer's Museum

Our final group visit in Edinburgh was The Writer’s Museum. Located in Lady Stair’s House, built in 1622 for Sir William Grey of Pittendrum, the museum memorializes the lives and works of three prominent Scottish writers: Robert Burns (1759-1796), Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). The collection includes personal artifacts and pictures of the authors along with helpful biographical information.
There are also temporary exhibitions honoring other Scottish writers who have contributed to the “development and diversity of Scottish Literature.” When we were there Ian Rankin, author of the Detective Rebus crime novels, was being featured. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this museum. It was located through an unnoticeable alleyway and looked old and unused. While most of the museum was on par with what I expected, for some reason I was enthralled with the Ian Rankin display. I had never heard of him or read his books (sorry, I know it was on the recommended reading list!) but the display got into his mind and helped me understand a writer’s process unlike anything I’d ever seen.

They had copies of his typewritten manuscripts with his penciled in notes, posters with quotes from Rankin telling how he developed his stories, how often he wrote and in what environment, and how he used life experiences from himself and others to inspire plots. After seeing some of his manuscripts and getting sucked in – he writes killer opening sentences – I knew I had to read his books and wanted to learn about him. In fact, I left the museum and ran to a used bookstore to buy a few of his novels before boarding my plane to Italy. His books do not disappoint, and I’m working on reading through the other 14 books in the series.

Rankin says that every one of his books develops from a theme that is important to him; he waits until he has a message that he wants to share with the world before he starts writing. Once he has a theme he spends about 6 months working on characters and plot before piecing it all together. Reading this information inspired me to start writing again. I’ve always wanted to work on a mystery novel but get sidetracked by school, work, or life. Seeing the labor-heavy printing press used by Sir Walter Scott enforced this desire as it reminded me how easy it is to write nowadays. We don’t have to write with a pen, use a typewriter, or even sit still at a desk. With laptops we can be anywhere and jot down thoughts, using spell-check and other tools to clean things up later. Here’s hoping I don’t forget that inspiration and can discipline myself to finish a book!