I am always fascinated by the first moment of inspiration–when that spark, even if it is only a glint in the periphery, makes itself known. It may take only a moment to be acknowledged and acted upon, or it might take years of quiet gestation. Regardless, it is a gift and one that I am always grateful to receive.
Last year, I entered my first writing contest–a short story competition hosted by the Historical Novel Society. I thought it would be fun to try my hand at a short story after years of novel writing. I don’t think I even had a moment of doubt that I would write about Consuelo.
The inspiration for the story came from this portrait by famed American artist John Singer Sargent. I first saw the portrait on a family trip to England after my high school graduation. I wasn’t overly impressed with Blenheim Palace (my tastes at the time ran more medieval) but when I passed by this painting, I could not move. Consuelo Vanderbilt’s long neck and proud, pleading eyes stopped me in my tracks. From our tour guide, I learned she was one of the young American heiresses forced into a loveless marriage by an ambitious mother desperate for a title (think Downton Abbey without the lovable Lord Grantham). I wanted to write her story and boldly began my first novel.
Cut to twenty-(ahem) years later and I never finished the story. There was college, and life, and marriage, and children. But through it all, I never really forgot about Consuelo.
So I researched a bit and began my short story, The Pearl of Blenheim. I had such fun writing it and was honestly shocked when it was short-listed for the contest. The HNS has recently published an ebook of the top twelve stories and, having read them all, I am even more shocked that my story received second place. These are some really great short stories . . . and if you are looking for some inspiration in this new year, I would highly recommend giving them a read.