writing

Mess Around!

I’ve got a book out tomorrow. Yay! Happy book birthday to me! It’s book two in my Kitty Slade series, Fire & Roses, so we have another location, another ghost, another mystery to be solved. It’s the location I want to talk about today, because my connection to a related place – Medmenham Abbey – goes all the way back to 19*gulp*79, when I was a student at what was then Wycombe School of Art.

The plot of Fire & Roses is set partly in West Wycombe and the Hellfire Caves, a local tourist attraction named after the infamous 18th Century Hellfire Club (about which you will learn much more in the book!) But in fact Hellfire Club meetings were mostly held at Medmenham. It’s funny because when I came to write the book I was not consciously drawing on my experiences from all those years ago. But now that it’s written, I think somehow I was always meant to write about this subject, and that visiting Medmenham provided the original inspiration. Unlike the Caves, Medmenham is not open to visitors because it is a private residence – but I am privileged enough to have seen inside it, because all those years ago I had a friend who lived there. Here I am on the lawn at Medmenham in 1979 alongside the massive family yacht:

Impressive, isn’t it? OK, but Medmenham itself WAS impressive. Here is a recent picture of it from the river:

Medmenham Abbey, on the Thames in Buckinghamshire

Part of what survives today really is the ruin of an old abbey; the rest was built between the 16th and 18th Centuries. The first time I visited, I was fascinated by things like the club motto, fay ce que voudras (“do what thou wilt”) carved over doorways and fireplaces, and leering gargoyles lurking in recesses behind paintings. The whole place was fabulous – like something out of an old horror movie.  Alas, I never took any pictures inside – I probably thought that would seem ‘uncool’ or something. And if any tutor at college had said “hey, you should Make Some Art about that”, I wouldn’t have known what to do. If I had produced anything, it would have been totally forced and uninteresting. I didn’t even visit the Hellfire Caves; only nerdy types did stuff like that.

So, I guess sometimes it takes a while for ideas to mature – like, um, 32 years. Hey, I’m a slow worker. And teenagers will Do What They Wilt. I look at my own teenage kids now, and I think, ‘OK, you may think this holiday/event/encounter with Interesting Person doesn’t really influence you at all, but I bet you one day, in some shape or form, it will.’

Just something to bear in mind next time someone gets on your case for being idle. Sometimes being creative is all about the pointless messing about.

more extremely pointless messing about at Medmenham (that's me in the wig)

OK, I”m probably in trouble now…

19 thoughts on “Mess Around!

  1. Its not messing around really beacuse the ideas there, somewhere in your brain, wanting to get out and be put into a place that you are in or somthing like that i think. =)

  2. Hi Laura, thanks for the YAY! Well, in my opinion it is still messing around – and 32 years must be some sort of record for gestation time, I think! Sometimes you get a half-formed idea that needs to latch itself onto something else – and that might not come along till much later. I think all creativity starts with messing around – it just that usually it doesn’t take quite as long as this for something to come out of it!

    • Deffo Fiona, my ideas always need to latch onto something before i start writing. When i do, i’m happy for months at a time.

      ( Thats how long it takes me to write a story. Months.)

  3. Happy book birthday! What a gorgeous cover.

    And oh! am so envious at you being able to roam around inside Medmenham. I used to work as a porter at an Oxford college, and as a tour guide at the Bodleian Library, and I LOVED having a set of keys that would take me ‘behind the scenes’ into all those places you aren’t usually allowed. And yep, expect that’s going to find its way in a book one of these days… 🙂

  4. Ha! The dungarees. Spot the teenager trying to hide her figure. No female-shaped person EVER looked good in dungarees! But ta anyway – and glad you like the cover!

  5. Great post Fiona, I always thought I could be a professional mess-about-er-er, now I realise I am! And big congrats on the new book – lovely cover.

  6. Oh yay! I loved the first one- can’t wait to read this – sounds brilliant :o) And I LOVE dungarees – just bought myself a new pair ;o)

  7. Thanks all! Kathy: really? Well, I can imagine you’d look great in them, but I am way too old & fat now! And can’t be bothered with the undoing-the-whole-thing business to go to the loo. I’m a hair’s breadth away from the middle-aged tragedy that is the elasticated waist…

  8. Happy Book Birthday! I loved the first Kitty Slade Book, so I am waiting for the copy to arrive in the library, which may take a while.
    Oh, and I’m really sad:( This is because I did a clearout of my wardrobe (does anybody else do those? If so, isn’t it really sad giving away stuff that doesn’t fit you but has a memory?) And I had to give away these gorgeous black dungarees that I had when I was little. I wish I could have treasured them more!!!

  9. Hi Orli, and thanks! Gosh, this has rather turned into The Dungarees Post, hasn’t it? I guess dungarees are the ultimate Messing About gear. I used to be sentimental about old clothing in that way, but not any more. They’re just…old clothes. I still have tiny shoes and a tiny dress from when my daughter was a baby, though, and both my kids’ christening outfits.

    Hope you don’t have to wait too long for Fire & Roses!

    • My mum still has the clothes she wore as a toddler, these beautiful dresses that they wore back then. She also has this doll that she had since she was a baby, (Wendy). Wendy’s hair used to be blonde, but she was in the sun too much so her hair is now green. Yes, you read right, GREEN. But anyway, how do these things link? I still have Wendy, and she now wears my mums old clothes.
      Does anybody else have things that have been passed on generation after generation?

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