What makes a writer? There must be a thousand answers to that but in my case it’s because other people fascinate me, and on my recent journey to Russia that fascination got the better of me despite the glory of my surroundings.
The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg is almost beyond description. The 3 million people who visit each year cannot begin to view even a fraction of the millions of artifacts on display or stored in its ten buildings, seven of which are monuments of 18th and 19th-century Russian culture, so when I was taken to the banks of the River Neva to admire one of the most iconic views of the city, I should have been concentrating. Instead something else caught my eye.
Sitting close together on the edge of the cobbled walkway were a young couple. Next to them were discarded takeaway coffee cups. She was holding a camera. Why was I more interested in two strangers than in the magnificent view opening up before me? Why did I stop looking in the direction of the tour guide’s pointing finger, and what made my ears deaf to the history all around me?
The answer is simple. I am a writer. So while my companions listened to the guide’s potted history of the city and how, once upon a time, it had been a great trading port, I was more fascinated by the couple in front of me who appeared to be completely oblivious to the rest of the world.
Why were they here? It was eight thirty in the morning, which explained the coffee but nothing else, so while everyone else in my tour group learned about the construction of The Great Hermitage (1771-87), the Russian Revolution (1917), and how more than a million items were evacuated from the museum to the Urals during World War II, I began to create a story about the here and now.
Were they illicit lovers who were stealing a few moments together on their way to their respective jobs, or were they new lovers who couldn’t bear the thought of having to spend a whole day apart? On the other hand, maybe the camera was the clue and they were just tourists like us who had set out to enjoy the view and been sidetracked.
I was intrigued by their body language too. The woman was slightly hunched against the early morning chill, one hand in her pocket, so had it all started when he’d put his arm around her to keep her warm? Was that her clever ploy? Was this their first kiss? Or maybe they were they saying goodbye, knowing they wouldn’t see one another again for a long time, if ever. No! They looked too happy for that. One thing was for sure, they were in love…hopelessly and ecstatically... and for a Romantic fiction writer like me it was a joy to see.
I’ll never know their story of course, and nor should I. I will use that short glimpse into their lives though. One day, in one of my books, there will be a young couple sitting beside a river and they will be so locked into their own world that they will be completely oblivious to the people passing by. She might even be wearing a green coat…but the story will be mine. Whether The Great Hermitage will also feature remains to be seen!
Visit my website at sheilaclaydon.com where I often use things I have learned on my travels and where readers are promised a ticket to romance when they read one of my books.