It’s All About the Stairwell – or So I Thought – A Gift for any Historical Writer

Just over a year ago, my brother in-law and his family bought a bed & breakfast in Malta. Naturally, I was both thrilled for them and as green as any ripened avocado. For the time being, they are renting it out as a single family home until one day, they can bring back to life the charm of a B&B’s revolving door, filling it with guests from around the globe once again.

I had only seen photographs of their new home away from home until recently – photos that were enchanting. But there was one image that stood out – one I found rather captivating. It wasn’t the towering rooms that bathed in light or even the hideaway courtyard in the back that whispered “Susan’s future writing nook” (provided I’m a good sister-in-law) or even the fabulous roof deck that dons a healthy slice of the Mediterranean only meters away. No, it wasn’t any of that. It was the stairwell that connected all those bits together – the heart of their new home. IMG_8049stairwell

A recent invitation to Malta for some holiday fun was an opportunity for the family to share in their new adventure. I was curious about the country and excited to step into those photographs. When I walked through the skinny blue doors that rescued me from the sweltering heat of the street, what welcomed me was more than I’d expected. Instead of the stairwell I had remembered from a photograph, it was something truly incandescent. I was immediately drawn to it as it curled upward like a thirsty plant trying to reach sunlight. As I followed its winding treads, my hand floating along the wrought iron railing, I found my eyes were drawn to the bath of light at the top.

I hadn’t yet noticed the beauty of the limestone, how some treads hung like a falling wave in the centre – held heavy by the footsteps of a hundred plus years of life. All I wanted to do was reach the top so that I could peer down at the spotted tile below and… imagine.

I was so taken with the stairwell and how something this grand could sit so gently in its space, that it took several trips up and down before I had noticed the gem waiting patiently on its walls. Following the curve from the ground floor to the second, a quiet beauty hung in four frames. Actually, two beauties – both draped in easy fabric – one sheer falling to her bare feet. Both images conjured up a handful of romantic stories, or more accurately questionsIMG_8208lady2

As a historical writer, I wanted to know the time period, why were they dressed this way, what social class were they from, was this leisure time in the garden or simply posing, did they have a love-interest and what, pray tell, could they be thinking. Whether or not they were paintings was insignificant to me. It was about how the images made me feel. And that feeling was romantic. All those questions melted away as tiny stories took their place. I was hooked.

When I had arrived in Malta, I imagined that a new story and possible project would jump out at me by watching the people and life on the small island. I thought the colour of limestone that covers the isle in beige would bleed a fiery red love story. Maybe the salty sea would taste of the next great beach read or the passionate Maltese way of speaking would somehow write a new story on its own. Certainly, the evening was intriguing the way it brought out the older generation to socialize along the promenade. It was wonderful.

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In the end, it wasn’t any of these marvelous things that captivated me, it was an old staircase with four hanging picture frames. Before I left, I took photos of them. I didn’t want the details to escape me. What I didn’t realize until I returned to Sweden, was that in each photo that I took, the reflection of the staircase had become part of each image. Look carefully at them. Somehow, I think they enhance the pictures – fit together nicely. How appropriate I thought since it was the stairwell that drew me to them.

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So will a story emerge from these images one day? I would hazard a guess that most historical fiction writers can and do easily get inspired by photographic images, old paintings and definitely old staircases. We love to imagine what could have taken place, what love story might have happened as we swirl our pen into making it reality. So the answer is unequivocally, “maybe”. A writer’s got to leave an audience with a little bit of wonder after all.

Please share something that has inspired your writing.  I would be thrilled to hear from you.

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