Tag Archives: The Galleries of Justice

Good Queen Bess

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Just a quick post…because it follows on so well from my last one in which I posted photographs of the two Queen Elizabeths. I spent the whole of Monday and the whole of today performing my own interpretation of the first of them at work. The greatest queen ever to rule Britain…as I’ve been telling people all day. I’m not sure whether she is or not, but I certainly believed it while I was still in the wig, costume and make up. What do you think? ūüôā

True, my interpretation probably owed more to Miranda Richardson’s fabulous Queenie in Blackadder II than historical accuracy. But I still found myself embodying the character. It struck me how similar creating a character in¬†a novel as a writer is to creating a character as an actress. I always try to embody the characters in my books for a while too. It’s a fascinating process.

And it was amazing fun. I don’t know where the girl who was terrified of public speaking went…but I can’t say I miss her!

Oh, and just in case you wanted to know, I didn’t win the Lambda Award¬†I was nominated for. But I honestly don’t mind at all. I’m thrilled Ghosts of Winter was nominated, it was a real honour. And I don’t write for awards. I’m getting good feedback already for The Locket and the Flintlock. One reader writing to me to tell me how much they enjoyed it…that’s what keeps me going more than any award ever could.

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Ramblings…

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I’ve got one or two things to talk to about tonight. Nothing very profound, but still, good things. I’ve been tired lately, I’ve been working so much. At my day job, you understand, at the Galleries of Justice museum, which is many jobs rolled into one. I’ve been a Victorian warder, a Georgian murdress and a servant-whore in the last couple of weeks, as well as working with school groups.

Today was an interesting day at work. The Galleries of Justice also operate the City of Caves, a short distance away. This is a network of caves, accessed through a 1960s shopping centre. The caves, like the hundreds of others beneath the buildings of Nottingham, are manmade, cut into the sandstone rock on which Nottingham stands. It’s the same rock that Nottingham Castle is perched on, and into which the dungeons of my usual haunt at the County Gaol are cut into. They go back as far as medieval times, but found their heyday later, when used as a tannery (where leather was made). Still later, the residents of Drury Hill, an infamous thoroughfare in Victorian and early-twentieth century Nottingham, cut down into the rock to make cellars and extra rooms below their houses. Later still, they were used as air raid shelters¬†during the Second World War.¬†It’s a fascinating place. The history is tangible, and you can see it in layers, like a physical timeline. In one part of the cave system you can look above your head and see the concrete underside of the uncommonly ugly Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. Just below–in places almost touching it–are the remains of the red brick walls of the houses of Drury Hill.

Drury Hill

You can even see some of the old kerb stones. You are practically standing in the cellars of those houses, looking at the steps they cut into the stone, the broken dividing walls that made them into seperate properties. And you see the sandstone itself, the older caves, the medieval well. Just a little further on and you find an old tavern cellar, divided by just a wall from the railway tunnel that brought about the demolition of the tavern itself. The whole place is a mess of chronology and archaeology, fact and fable.

Part of the Tudorl tannery

It’s hard to be a tour guide there. But what a privilege to spend time in such a meeting point of history. So many human stories, over so many centuries, all gathered in some gloomy holes in the sandstone, cowering under the concrete of progress. But still there, persisting, when they could have been filled in and lost. Even Drury Hill, once so notorious and now invisible from the surface, still lingers there. A ghost of the past. These are the things that move me. These are the things that make me want to write historical novels. I want to find the stories, resurrect the ghosts, find their traces in our present and bring the history back into the light. It makes me feel excited about being a writer again.

On a different–but related–topic, I’m excited to talk about a new anthology. My writing group, Sapphist Writers, have been busy for some time writing and collecting poems and short stories. And now we’ve put it all together into an anthology. Even the wonderfully exuberant front cover was a collaborative effort. This collection is all about celebrating the diversity and creativity of a group of women brought together by a love of words. It will be available online (we’re finalising in which formats) through the Sapphist Writers’ blog, from 28th February. That’s the launch night, and also the night that Sapphist Writers are receiving an award at the Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage Celebration Evening. The anthology contains two of my poems and two short prose pieces, and a whole host of other wonderful pieces. All proceeds will be going to Nottingham Women’s Centre.

So, good things. And writing about them has made me happy, despite my being hormonally grumpy tonight. I’m finding life’s like that at the moment. There’s lots of depressing, agonising, sad and difficult things. They don’t go away. But the bright, happy, exciting, colourful things are always there too. And that’s wonderful!

Surprising myself…

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I’ve not posted for a while. I guess life has rather got in the way of reflections on life…I’ve also barely written a thing, depsite two¬† nagging streams of creative inspiration which I am convinced will lead to full novels at some point. I’ve just not had the chance.

But I have got a new job. A job I don’t mind telling everyone about, because it seems to compliment my writing, my academic interests…and is generally more reflective of who I am than any of my other recent employment. I’m now an Interpreter at the Galleries of Justice musuem (in the Shire Hall and County Gaol of Nottingham, the place I fictionalised as a setting for my first novel Truths).

The Galleries of Justice

I love my job. It’s very random. Just yesterday I sat down facing a severed head…walked past a sword propped in a doorway on the way to the staffroom…had a conversation with a witch who then went on to kill the Sheriff of Nottingham in a Victorian courtroom…dodged through the shadowy cells so as not to interupt the ghost hunters…oh and spent the day dressed as a stern Victorian. In the coming week I’ll be a reform school teacher and a drunken Georgian prisoner. I’ll also work, as myself, with groups of school children, helping them understand their experience of visiting such a historic building…

And I am constantly surprising myself. I first had a taste of the job when I was 18. At that time I was terrified of public speaking, but my desire to share my knowledge of history won out and I found I could talk to huge groups about what went on the gaol exercise yard. But I’m still not comfortable being the centre of attention, or with the sound of my own voice. So before every tour group reaches me, I have a moment of wondering “what on earth am I doing? This isn’t me! Why would anyone listen to what I have to say? I can’t even act!”

But then, anywhere from one to thirty pairs of eyes are on me and I open my mouth and…I surprise myself. I am stern. I am loud. I am authoratative. I share my knowledge. I crack jokes and get laughter in response. I gesture emphatically. I let myself become a character and don’t feel remotely reserved about it. And I am shocked every time. I wonder where Rebecca’s gone.

It’s an amazing learning experience. That surprise is very similar to how I feel when I remember I’m a writer. The revelation is “wow, I really can do this…and people are actually liking what I do…”

I hope to never lose that sense of wonder. Because I think it’s crucial to not taking life and it’s opportunities for granted. I think it’s essential to fulfilling the potential we’re all born with, to knowing just how much we can do. Just now and again you have to surprise yourself. And in order to do that, you have to push…you have to take risks…you have to try to do the things you don’t think you can. Because when you discover you can, it’s the most amazing feeling. You see the true miracle of how multi-faceted we all are, the skills and traits we all keep hidden because we’re not confident in them…and seeing that, you realise how much fun life can be if you stop being scared of it.

I’m not saying give everything a go. There are things you don’t want to try in life. I have no interest at all in adrenaline rushes and will never be a thrill seeker in that sense. But there are always those nagging thing. The things you want to try…the things you see others do and suspect you could do just as well…the things you’ve always wanted to do. If the opportunity arises…go for it. You have to. We’re here to live our lifes and keeping the things you want to do buried under a lack of confidence stops you living life to full…

So. Go for it. Let your light shine into the world. Tap into your creative side and trust your instincts. Surprise yourself by finding just what you can do. It’s the way I’m trying to live…one day at a time, learning about¬†myself,¬†one surprise at a time…I’m getting there…

Oh and my third novel now has a beautiful front cover! The Locket and the Flintlock will be released in May 2012 by Bold Strokes Books. That’s a thrill that never goes away…and the wonderful surprise of seeing my name on a book cover never really diminishes…

Please check out the Galleries of Justice on facebook and also add our very own Villainous Sheriff, to see photos and find out about special events!

The view from the castle…

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So I’m back to being a writer rather than a political campaigner. In fact, I was recently supposed to deliver leaflets for the Lib Dems in favour of voting reform, but I decided I don’t have time…what with being a writer and all…

In truth, I suppose what I’m spending my time doing right now is trying to be human. Or trying to be a human I like being, at least…And being a writer is a big part of that. It’s alarmingly fundamental to me, I find…Next month sees the release of Ghosts of Winter, my second novel. It’s a mostly contemporary novel, with some colourful glimpses into the past…And the “ghosts” of the title aren’t true ghosts. They’re the ghosts of history echoing into the present, and they’re the personal ghosts we all have to deal with in in our own lives.

I realise this is the second novel I’ve written with a similar theme. This time–in Ghosts of Winterit’s a fictional country house; in Truths it was the Shire Hall and County Gaol of Nottingham. A place, a historical building, leads me into a contemplation of the past, and also my present. In contemplating history, I find myself moved, and examining my own life…I feel my place in the continuum of humanity…

Just last week, it happened in a very real way. I experienced both of the sorts of “ghosts” I toy with in my novel. I took a wander to the grounds of Nottingham Castle, a place I haven’t been to¬†for many years. And lest you should see the rather square manor house that stands on Castle Rock today and feel disappointed there are no turrets,¬†let me assure¬†you¬†there is plenty of history there. And Robin Hood and the Sheriff are really nothing to do with it. A Norman fortification,¬†where medieval lovers escaped through the caves, a¬†Civil War Royalist stronghold,¬†its mighty walls demolished¬†in the 16th century to lessen its threat, the¬†fine mansion of one of Charles II’s loyal supporters, gutted by Reform Bill rioters in 1832, and since 1872 an art gallery and museum: the castle is more than it seems.

Nottingham Castle

However, it was not the castle itself that really moved me. It was the view from the terrace, high above Nottingham. From there, I could see my city. My home. And the ghosts of my own past. I could see Wollaton Hall, the Elizabethan stately home my grandparents used to take me to. I could see the Trent Building at the University of Nottingham, built in 1928,¬†where I studied for my degree. I could see the back of the County Gaol, now the Galleries of Justice museum where I worked, and from where I drew my inspiration for¬†Truths.¬†And I could see Nottingham. For better and worse. Ugly multi-storey car parks, next to the fine building of the Council House. Out towards the¬†countryside,¬†and looking closer, the¬†modern tramlines…The backdrop of most of my life, laid out before me. And it felt like mine.¬†In that moment I could take possession of myself and my life story, my own ghosts. It was like looking at¬†the story of myself.

View from Nottingham Castle

At the same time, I was aware of the¬†greater story I am¬†the tiniest part of. I was aware of the layers of time, the¬†generations of people who had¬†seen the view¬†as it changed and developed.¬†¬†I saw the bedrock of the castle, with the medieval caves. I saw the tower of St Mary’s Church, from the fourteenth century. The white townhouses of Georgian Nottingham, the fine market town, giving way to the red brick of the Lace Market, with its tall factories. My eyes swept down to the old canal, the industrial warehouses flanking it, now modern pubs. A cluster of twentieth century houses where I know full well were once the crowded slums of Narrow Marsh. The serene Victorian villas of the Park, a private residential area which is as exclusive now as it was then. Suddenly, I could see it all, I could strip back the years of development and imagine what it used to be like. I could feel the pain of the slum dwellers and Reform Bill rioters, the pride of the Victorian middle classes, the passion of the medieval lovers. I could smell the smoke of industries long gone. This wasn’t stale history. This was vivid, colourful, still echoing into the present, into my own life. The “ghosts” were all around me, laid out in front of me. I wasn’t cut off, I wasn’t alone. Other lives had been lived here, others had loved and cried and laughed and sighed here.¬† I was part of that story. I don’t mind admitting that it moved me to tears.

It was hard to come down from that castle terrace. But the feeling lingers on. I’ve gained a greater understanding of my own novel, and what I was hoping to achieve with it. When Ghosts of Winter is released, I will be reading it more eagerly than anyone. Because now I really understand the feelings that compelled me to write it. And it’s all part of the journey of understanding myself…