Amanda's Circus

April 2013

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The Grange, Northington

March turned into a brilliant month for me as far as writing is concerned and April is starting out well. I have a vignette ‘Balancing on Ladders’ coming out in the marvellous Vine Leaves Journal on 19th April and on the same day my Flash ‘Room of the Dead’ will be appearing on Flashfloods Journal. A good start to the month.

‘Room of the Dead’ is a little story I reworked from a short piece of free-writing stashed on my computer years ago. It goes to show how useful these snippets can be, especially when they’ve been lurking for years. They become part of the subconscious – I’d never forgotten it so I didn’t come to it fresh as I might if it had been a prompt of some kind.

The picture above was taken on an inspiring little visit to The Grange, Northington – a spectacular, palladian country house all but derelict with an attached opera house. A beautiful spot. No one was there, you can wander freely. It’s one of my special places. Below is a photo of Mottisfont Abbey, another of these special places.

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Mottisfont Abbey

Research has been a big part of my existence recently. I visited Mottisfont Abbey last week and picked up a second-hand book in their shop – ‘Crossing the Border’ by Storm Jameson published in 1947. I find Mottisfont to be one of the most inspiring and creative places – my other place is East Chaldon in Dorset. Now, strangely enough, there are connections between the two. Maud Russell, a society hostess, held many parties at Mottisfont entertaining guests from the ‘bright young things’ set of the 1930s and artists and writers – Ian Fleming, Boris Anrep, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Rex Whistler painted the drawing room and the list goes on. Sylvia Townsend Warner lived in East Chaldon and was visited there by various members of the ‘Bloomsbury Set’ and that’s where my first connection lies.

I am particularly interested in the relationship between Boris Anrep and Maud Russell. I’ve written an article here about my visit to St Petersburg and my interest in Anna Akhmatova. Anrep spent a great deal of time in St Petersburg and had an affair with Akhmatova – another connection. He had quite a few affairs, as did Maud Russell. Storm Jameson’s novel is also written at the time when Anrep and Maud were lovers and she too was part of that literary set. It’s interesting to read the book because it gives a real insight into opinions, prejudices and politics of the era. These connections are fascinating. The more you delve, the more you reveal.I wrote a few pages in the Whistler drawing room whilst a choir were singing ‘Blue Moon’. It was a good experience and I now have the bones of a story.

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‘Folly’ mosaic based on Maud Russell by Boris Anrep’s

I visited Tate Britain on Sunday to see Anrep’s mosaics and paintings and have been researching them before and since. I have a lot of really interesting information at my fingertips now and I’m almost ready to start writing again. I’m planning to combine a lot of the research into an article which I’ll publish here when it’s finished.

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Self-portrait by Mary Beale

I’m also continuing to write and research my story featuring 17th century artist Mary Beale which I began on the Sutton House course. This is also built on a connection – I drive by Allbrook Farmhouse, Eastleigh, Hampshire, where Mary Beale lived to escape the plague, every day and I was delighted to discover two of her portraits hanging in Sutton House, Hackney. It felt like a real connection. So I’ve been busy researching again. The Geffrye Museum in London have some useful resources and of course there is the internet. Actually there is some hard fact, not a lot, but the historical aspects are important to get right – the plague, the great fire, clothes, religion etc etc etc I find it really interesting, particularly since Mary Beale is such a strong and unusual character.

I have not sent much work out recently which is a mistake. I must start submitting again or those successes which give us all a little lift won’t be happening again any time soon.

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About writing, trickery and a little music