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:
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.
OK, I”m probably in trouble now…