On Finding Inspiration: A Spilling Ink Creativity Blog Guest Post 

One Monday morning in 1978, I walked to the little green school in my little piece of sunny South Africa, and sat down at my wooden desk. I stuck my pencils in the inkwell and realised with horror that I had forgotten all about my teacher’s instruction: please bring in a picture from a newspaper or magazine.

Our teacher was a lovely woman in high heels and a cheerful sari. “Now children, I want you to paste the picture into your English books and then write as much as you can about it.” Everyone nodded obediently while my eyes darted around the classroom looking out for anyone with an extra picture.

Sure enough, one of the swotty boys, who also happened to be rather snobby, was busy laying out his collection of brightly coloured pictures. I went over, and asked nicely. He shook his head. I begged and pleaded - and after thinking about it for absolute ages, he finally parted with the only black and white picture. I swallowed my disappointment, grabbed onto it gratefully and scuttled back to my seat.

It was a picture of a new hotel being built in my city’s Golden Mile - the road along the beach, and the place where most people took their Sunday Afternoon Drive. I loved the beach road and yesterday, my father had cruised slowly past this hotel and pointed it out to my brother and me. It was the tallest building in the city and had a lift on the outside.  “And inside,” my father said, “instead of normal lights, there are beautiful crystal chandeliers! Like a palace!.


I glued this picture carefully into my exercise book and chewed on my pencil for a few seconds before getting on with the task. For the first time, I waited impatiently for our teacher to mark my work – and squealed with delight as she stuck a star into my exercise book! The gold star shone against the black and white picture and I hopped and skipped back to my seat – amazed that I could write and even more amazed that I’d enjoyed it . . .

Nowadays, getting started is always the most difficult thing for me and whenever I am stuck or overwhelmed, I search around for something familiar, and start with that. I think of the Maharani Hotel that is no longer such an icon in my hometown and remind myself that it is a little easier if you know what you’re writing about. I also remember the boy who thought he was giving me his worst picture and tell myself that inspiration often comes from unexpected places or people.