I've been looking back through my photos and it reminded me that it was two years ago that I was in Iceland. This isn’t to brag about my extensive travelling, since virtually everybody I know also seems to have been to the land of ice and fire at some stage, and they all seem equally bowled over by the experience. But this two-year anniversary did get me thinking.
Normally I’m strongly influenced by location. I know that when I go somewhere I’m going to come back with An Idea — or rather A Plot. There’s always something about the sun or the wine or the mountains that gets the creative juices flowing. Hence my two novels set in beautiful Majorca, not to mention the Lake Garda trilogy. And Looking For Charlotte trades heavily on its setting.
Yet Iceland defeated me. I never had an idea when I was there, though I was constantly haunted by the nagging feeling that I ought to. There were the colours, for a start — the basic black of newly-minted rock; the extraordinary green of mosses that have taken a thousand years to turn that rock into a primitive soil; the blue of an almost-Arctic midsummer sky; the foaming white of a dozen waterfalls.
Then there were the patterns. The waterfalls that drop vertically over cliffs of banded black and grey ash. The shadows of the canyons carved back into the cliffs. The almost-perfectly-parallel inland cliffs which mark the trench where two continents are being forced apart. The braided channels of glacial rivers on a stony plain. The smoking hillsides as hot water rises to the cold surface and the occasional (every five years or so, on average) firework display as nature comes violently to life.
And the people. The Icelanders are quirky, different, unafraid of what anyone might think of them. They have an offbeat sense of humour. Most of them believe in fairies (or elves) and will tell you so with a shrug, not caring what you think of them. They are closely tied into their land of sagas and film sets (think Game of Thrones).
There’s no excuse for not having a plot. Everyone else seems to. There’s a thriving Icelandic subgenera of Nordic noir, and the country’s dark and unforgiving interior reputedly inspired Tolkien to create the land of Mordor. But for some reason I can’t seem to find the heart of what I want to write about it. Is it a bleak story of pursuit and destruction? Is it a modern fairy tale of the secret folk who I almost believed in while I was there? Is it a cautionary tale of a writer in search of an elusive plot?
I’ve no idea. I know the story’s there. I’ll just have to go back there to find it…