My Top Ten Inspirational Writing Haunts

From tumble-down manor houses to tropical islands, from ruined abbeys to capital cities, places have always been a big inspiration for my writing. Here are my top ten inspirational writing haunts with some of the book extracts they’ve inspired.

  1. Caldey Island

I visited this little island off the cost of Wales with my parents when I was a child. It’s one of those half-remembered places that evokes a feeling, an atmosphere, rather than solid memories. The island is the home to Cistercian monks who make chocolate and lavender perfume. I remember the smell most of all.

For that one moment, on the jetty, with the taste of dark chocolate dissolving on my tongue and the scent of gorse and lavender heavy in the air, away from the mainland, away from my troubles, I felt happy. Just for a moment. I imagined belonging, dared to hope that all I’d been through might somehow be transformed, made new, that I could…start again, find a home.

(Bea’s Witch)

  • The Philippines

My wife is half-Filipina. Every few years we travel out to see family on that archipelago in the azure South China Sea. The Banca Boats, jeepneys, jumbled cities, markets, beach BBQs and fragrant food, have all inspired my writing.

They made their way along a dirt track that led through the heart of the makeshift encampment… The air was close, heavy with the smell of fried fish, sweet meats and wastewater. Ramshackle huts of corrugated iron and scrap wood were squashed next to each other. Market stalls faced the track, boxes overflowing with spiked shells, grimacing fish and strange insects.

(Through the Uncrossable Boundary)

  • Knaresborough

My current home of Knaresborough is the backdrop for my new book, Bea’s Witch. The town is historic, a market being held there since the 1200’s, the castle an important fortress in its day; the windy, cobbled streets, ancient inns and thatched cottages so evocative. A river snakes through the town, the viaduct spanning it, magnificently gothic. I often write in a café by the river.

The town clings to this side of the valley, a church beyond the viaduct, poking out of the trees like something from Frankenstein. The other side of the river is dark, covered with forest. There are no houses there. No sign of human settlement – just the Petrifying Well.

(Bea’s Witch)

  • The Southbank, London

I grew up in London and loved travelling into the city to the theatres and galleries. When I visit now, I often wander along the Southbank to take in the atmosphere – the buskers and skateboarders, the bookshop under the bridge, the tidal river with its murky beaches and Victorian piers. A part of my heart is always in London.

A boy on a skateboard tries to push through the crowd but soon gives up. Flipping up the board, he disappears into the sea of people. Above me, blue and white lights hang across the market, spilling into the trees, causing star-like explosions in their branches. Beyond, a giant wheel rises, its glass carriages carrying people through the night sky.

So many people.

(Through the Uncrossable Boundary)

  • Little Morton Hall

We often went on canal boat holidays when I was a child, and on one of these I remember visiting Little Morton Hall, a Tudor manor house in Cheshire. I was enthralled by the secret passageways, the wonky timbered rooms and stories of the quirky characters who had lived there. It was like stepping back into a parallel world from a different time.

After following the course of the river, Fletcher and Scoop reached the Wild Guffaw Inn… As Fletcher approached the ramshackle edifice, he thought he could see its walls wobbling, as if the house of hospitality was quietly chuckling to itself. It looked as though it might suddenly collapse into a forward roll, stand up and shake itself down, before freezing again.

(Rise of the Shadow Stealers)

  • Kirkstall Abbey

This dark, brooding abbey in Leeds is a special place for me, as it’s where I got engaged. It was late April and the trees along the river had blossomed into vivid explosions of pink. Found in the old industrial city, the abbey is a place to step away from the busyness of the day, to think and to breathe.

The grey outline of an abbey came into view. It looked like a broken tooth in the gum of the valley…

She slipped through the shadowy gates… The abbey grounds were practically empty. A dog walker in a waterproof coat was being pulled along the riverbank, from tree to tree. A homeless person sheltered under one of the ruined outbuildings. The ancient site felt out of keeping with the city that had grown up around it. It was an oasis in a world that had forgotten its roots, existing somewhere between the past and present.

(The Nemesis Charm)

Image: Raj Passy
  • The Petrifying Well

In Knaresborough, next to the cave in which the 16th Century prophetess, Mother Shipton, is said to have been born, is a waterfall that turns objects into stone. The water is pushed up from a deep underground lake, the minerals slowly calcifying any object hung in its flow. People used to believe the well was magical. In the quirky museum nearby are various objects celebrities have hung in the water – Agatha Christie’s handbag, John Wayne’s hat, and a toy ewok hung there by Warwick Davies.

In the gloom, the pool looks like a grotto, the boulders surrounding it covered in moss. I can make out the strange shapes of the toys and trinkets hanging in the water, slowly being turned into stone. They look like a necklace from a strange ritual, dangling around the cliff’s neck…

To distract myself, I reach up and pull down one of the rock teddies. The wet string snaps easily. I stare at it for a moment. That’s how I feel – like I’m slowly being turned to stone.

(Bea’s Witch)

  • Mudeford

I first visited Mudeford for a performance project in which we were travelling along the south coast of England in an old postal van. I knew straight away that the sandbank with its hodgepodge of beach huts and alleyways was the ideal setting for a story – a place to hide, a place to get lost in.

I notice an upturned boat pushed back into one of the alleyways between the beach huts. It’s tipped onto its side, grass growing around it and through the wood. It can’t have been used for years… Grabbing a tarpaulin from some crabbing nets, Fletcher stretches it over the top of the boat, creating a tent-like shelter. He moves around it, weighing it down with stones. When he’s finished, both of us squeeze under the shelter and sit on the rough sand.

(Through the Uncrossable Boundary)

  • Gordale Scar

I’ve always loved walks – they’re a core part of my writing process – along rivers, up mountains, through dells, across pastureland. Gordale Scar is an impressive limestone ravine in the Yorkshire Dales, one of my favourite writing inspirations. You can clamber up the waterfall to the limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove, which was used as a location in the Harry Potter films.

They pushed along the narrow gully into the hill, careful not to slip from the footholds and crevices the rocks provided. Finally, out of breath, they heaved themselves onto a flat boulder, which jutted out from the hillside…

In front of them was an awesome sight. The steep slope of a mountain stretched upwards, battle-armoured scree guarding its ravines, its snow-capped summit distant and ethereal.

(Rise of the Shadow Stealers)

  1. A Cruise to the Azores

One of my best friends is a comedian. When he offered me his plus one ticket for a cruise to the Azores on which he was working, I jumped at the chance. Days at sea gave me time to write, and walking around the ship staring at the endless ocean was great inspiration. In the evening, we drank with a friend who had been an extra in Game of Thrones – in fact, he told us, he was a sixth of the Targarian army!

As the ship cut through the icy sea, the ocean whispered. The sound soaked into a thick mist that had formed over the water in those parts. The crew hung from the ship’s ropes like shadows, peering into the endless gloom. The sound in the sea engulfed them totally. It seemed to whisper from every droplet. It clung to their skin and trickled through their hair.

I’m coming…it whispered.

I’m coming…it sighed.

(The Nemesis Charm)

What places inspire your writing or reading? Let me know in the comments!

This blog article was first published by Deborah Zenha-Adams at

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