Enjoying Hard Time with Jodi Taylor

This is a blog tour stop for Jodi Taylor’s marvellous new book – Hard Time – the second in the Time Police series.

Hard Time by Jodi Taylor on my And The World Went White quilt

Many thanks to Antonia Whitton and Headline Press for inviting me to review Hard Time, and for sending me an advance hardback copy.

About the Book

Team Weird are back causing havoc in the Time Police in this irresistible spinoff series by international bestseller Jodi Taylor, author of The Chronicles of St Mary’s. If you love Doctor Who, Ben Aaronovitch and Jasper Fforde, you’ll love the Time Police.

The Time Police do not have problems. They have challenges. Idiots who want to change history have always proved ‘challenging’. But now temporal tourism is on the rise – highly illegal but highly lucrative.

Step forward Jane, Luke and Matthew. They may be about to graduate, but there’s still plenty of time for everything to go wrong. Throw in the Versailles time slip, a covert jump to Ancient Egypt and a race against Time itself and you’ve got yourself an assignment worthy of Team Weird.

My Review

I am a great admirer of Jodi Taylor’s books. From the moment I picked up Just One Damned Thing After Another, I have been captivated by her work. Her ability to conjure up characters, institutions, and worlds is phenomenal – and her new Time Police series is no exception.

A shelf full of Jodi Taylor

I noticed that some of the other reviewers on this blog tour haven’t read the St Mary’s series – they have a treat to come – and their enjoyment of Hard Time demonstrates that the Time Police books can hold their own as a series in their own right as well as a spinoff. I’m coming to Hard Time as a lover of St Mary’s, so my perspective is that of someone who knows and loves St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. And, yes, I would love to work there.

Readers of the Chronicles of St Mary’s know the Time Police. Or at least we know the Time Police from the point of view of Max and Leon and Dr Bairstow. But we now get to see events from the Time Police point of view, and share the career and personal development of Jane, Luke and Matthew – three very different young recruits who don’t really fit in. In the first book in the series, Doing Time, we saw their early mistakes, their incompatibility, and the trouble in which they found themselves – and now in Hard Time we see them growing slowly into a solid team, forming friendships – and still finding themselves in trouble.

I don’t want to give away the plot of Hard Time, but I can guarantee that it is a funny, tense and exciting read. There are shocks galore, plenty of jumps to interesting places, lots of chaos, unexpected heroism, the appearance of some St Mary’s personnel, and some very bad behaviour by some very unpleasant people.

The overall tone is slightly lighter than that of the St Mary’s books; anyone who knows the Chronicles will be aware that alongside the laughter there is tragedy (I can’t bear to think about what happened at Troy) – and there are no guaranteed happy endings for anyone. But the Time Police have a less emotional approach to history, which makes Hard Time the ideal read for a gloomy autumn day, when you want to be transported to different times and watch a bunch of engaging characters jump in and out of trouble.

You don’t need to have read the Chronicles of St Mary’s to appreciate Jane, Luke and Matthew – so why not give them a go? I thoroughly recommend getting to know the Time Police – and I am sure you will enjoy the ride.

Hard Time by Jodi Taylor was published by Headline on 15 October 2020, and is available in hardback for £18.99 from all good booksellers. It is also available as an ebook, and I am looking forward to listening to Zara Ramm reading the audiobook.

Locking Down with Georgette Heyer

Way back in March 2020, when it was becoming clear that we were entering a strange, antisocial period of staying in during a growing global pandemic, I sat down to think of a pleasant diversion for a scary and dark time. The diversion that sprung quickly to mind was reading, and I recalled a comment about my Georgette Heyer Advent Calendar on Twitter – that seeing a nice edition of a Heyer novel each day in the run up to Christmas had helped them through a difficult December. And so, on 19 March, I posted a tentative tweet…

I had no idea what the reaction would be. I knew there was a Georgette Heyer corner of Twitter, and I knew there were discussions to be had about her novels. And I knew that The Unknown Ajax was a favourite with Heyer readers – largely due to its lovely hero, Hugo Darracott – but would a Twitter readalong work? I expected it would be me and a couple of other people and that it would quickly peter out, but decided to give it a go anyway.

So on Sunday 22 March, I read and annotated the first two chapters of Ajax, and prepared a series of tweets – questions, comments, observations – and at 7.00pm I was amazed to find about 20 people eager to discuss the Darracott inheritance. We spent a splendid, friendly hour unpicking family relationships and the bullying behaviour of Lord Darracott. Two days later, in the UK we were in full lockdown, and the #GeorgetteHeyerReadalong community started to grow in earnest.

Twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, we read three chapters, and came together (while staying apart) to discuss our admiration for the majestic Aunt Aurelia, whether Vincent and Claud were redeemable, whether it was fair to dupe an exciseman just trying to do his job, how it was easy to underestimate Mrs Darracott, and, once we reached chapter 12, to swoon at Anthea asking “Hugo, how dare you call me love?” As the reading progressed, we got to know each other better and the discussions reflected this – jokes were exchanged and personal information shared.

Cotillion. These editions Book Club 1954, Pan 1967.

When we finished with Hugo we carried on reading. I wondered what participants would like to discuss next, ran a poll, and Cotillion was voted the favourite. I felt slightly disappointed: I had only read it once before and had dismissed it as fluffy – but reading it more slowly showed me how wrong I was. The fashionable Freddy Standen turned out to be a capable, practical young man – just what is needed during a pandemic. Lots of readers were big fans of his father, Lord Legerwood. And far from being fluffy, Heyer didn’t shy away from showing the seamier side of high society, so the Readalong discussed the fate of the dependent woman, the sex trade, and sexual double standards. To my surprise, I found that I loved Cotillion. Conversely, I really struggled with a slow read of Sylvester – a former favourite – finding the hero’s behaviour extremely problematic.

All the time we were reading, companionship was growing. We had enormous fun during our sessions during which hashtags about favourite characters – #TomOrdeIsSoSolid and #AllHailMrTrevor – were thrown in. Members were extremely generous in sharing historical background information, in a tribute to Heyer’s own meticulous research. I enjoyed a running joke about my love for Regency Buck in general and Lord Worth in particular. Conversations spilled over into the rest of the week as we thought of new themes or answered each other’s points. Books were recommended, news shared, heroes and heroines compared.

Keeping track of what we read when: the #GeorgetteHeyerReadalong log

We roared with laughter at The Talisman Ring, debated Frederica’s management of her family, and thoroughly enjoyed loathing the monstrous dowager in The Quiet Gentleman. As a result of slower reading, we had the opportunity to reflect on Heyer’s writing style, her sentence construction, and her gift for dialogue. We also considered the social and economic background to the novels: Heyer makes clear in The Quiet Gentleman that the Frant fortune originates in the enslavement of people, and, while we were reading this book, the National Trust published its report, Addressing our Histories of Colonialism and Historic Slavery. The large houses and the society about which we enjoy reading had a horrific human cost.

Now it’s October and the news continues to be grim. The pandemic is still with us, we are still social distancing, and, at the moment, there seems no end in sight. But having seen the way in which the #GeorgetteHeyerReadalong participants cheered each other on and provided companionship through the first lockdown, I am determined that we will carry on reading into the autumn and winter.

Beauvallet. These editions: Heinemann 1938; Pan 1963

More activities are being added to keep us cheerful. In August, I had to reduce the reading sessions to once a week on Sunday because of busy work commitments, but participants said they missed the Wednesday connections, so I introduced #GeorgetteHeyerReadalong #MidweekMusings where we have a deeper discussion about one theme. We’ve talked about philanthropy, responses to unwanted attentions, matched or mismatched couples. On a lighter note, on Fridays, we now have #GeorgetteHeyerReadalong #FridayFantasyCasting (Christopher Plummer IS Lord Worth), and I am looking at organising some sessions where we can actually see each other with quizzes, readings and debates.

Wear a mask like a Heyer Hero!

From that tentative “would anyone like to read The Unknown Ajax with me?” to today when we have a very active community. There were 188 participants at the last count – people who join in the discussions, those who quietly read along with us, people who stumble across our hashtag and find a welcoming community. Even as I type this post I can see that there is a Twitter discussion taking place about possible real locations in The Nonesuch, complete with illustrations.

When the Bad Times are over, I suspect at least some of us will gather near Miss Heyer’s beloved Albany and take tea at Fortnum and Mason. We’ll swap old editions, argue over the merits of Lord Worth, and celebrate the friends we made while reading during a pandemic. I just hope our Georgette would approve.

How many participants? 188 as of 9 October!

A Seasonal Countdown with Georgette Heyer

I collect vintage editions of Georgette Heyer’s novels, and in December – the season of sharing good things – I like to share my collection with other Heyer readers, and Twitter provides me with a great place to do so. While Twitter nowadays can be a fairly toxic environment, the online Heyer community is a warm and friendly place. So I have been tweeting a Georgette Heyer Advent Calendar as a thank you to my fellow Heyer-ites.

It’s very enjoyable. I choose a book each day, take out my vintage editions, snap a quick picture, draft a short summary, and post it on Twitter. Throughout the day Heyer readers reply. They comment on the choice of book, their views of particular characters, they discuss the plot, analyse the covers, advocate for their favourite supporting characters – the dialogue the Calendar inspires is absolutely splendid.

For this year’s Calendar, I started with Venetia, a great favourite among Heyer-ites. But Damarel divides opinion – some readers love him, and others really, really dislike him. Should Venetia have married him? Well it depends which reader you ask!

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Venetia. This edition: Heinemann 1958.

Days 2 to 5 were Beauvallet, Sylvester, Sprig Muslin, and The Convenient Marriage. Two of these are particular favourites of mine – Sylvester and The Convenient Marriage – both of which have particularly engaging heroines in Phoebe and Horatia (and I adore the Earl of Rule!). And those Beauvallet covers are marvellous!

Day 6 involved The Masqueraders, which divides opinion. I don’t especially like it (I cannot bear The Old Gentleman), but I know people who adore it, and I wanted to share a lot of the books I knew others enjoy. Day 7 was Faro’s Daughter, and a number of people said they really must re-read it. I know I haven’t read it for years, so it has gone onto my To Be Read pile for 2020. Day 8 was Regency Buck. This book really does split the Heyer community – some readers really dislike Worth and Judith; others are very fond of them. This was my first Heyer, so I have a real soft spot for it. And I definitely like Worth.

Day 9 was Frederica. This book is absolutely adored by many Heyer fans. Rather than attempting to do justice to Heyer’s sparkling plot, I summed it up with humour: “Never leave your hot air balloon unattended. And make sure you have Dr Ratcliffe’s Restorative Pork Jelly to hand in case of injury or illness.”

GHAC - Frederica

Frederica: These editions: Bodley Head 1965, Book Club 1965.

Days 10 and 11 were The Quiet Gentleman and The Grand Sophy respectively. ‘Does Sophy’s conduct go “from bad to worse?” Is Cousin Charles a dictator? Is Eugenia a suitable bride for him? Or will Sophy disrupt the entire family?’ I asked.

And then on Day 12 I had a dilemma. Should I include My Lord John, Heyer’s longstanding, unfinished John of Lancaster project, published posthmously?  It’s not widely read, even by Heyer-ites, so was I wasting a day on an unpopular choice, so unlike her lighter novels that are so beloved? As her biographer Jane Aiken Hodge wrote, one of the problems with My Lord John was that ‘Heyer could not make her characters think like mediaeval people and, fatally, she could not make them talk like them either’. (The Private World of Georgette Heyer, p.76). And Jennifer Kloester noted, ‘In this book, Georgette had failed to wear her learning lightly’. (Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, p.385).

GHAC - My Lord John

My Lord John. This edition: Bodley Head 1975.

It’s that learning that fascinates me: Heyer was a meticulous researcher. She went to enormous efforts to research My Lord John and this research was very important to her. Photographs of her notebooks intrigue me – her drawings of armour, of coats of arms, of maps. Her card indexes of materials relating to the project. Her efforts to read mediaeval English. I felt that the painstaking process of her research and her persistence in maintaining this project had to be acknowledged. So I included it.

I re-read Friday’s Child for the first time in years and laughed again at Ferdy, George and Gil (and disliked Sherry, but loved Hero) in preparation for Day 13. And I blundered on Day 14 with Devil’s Cub. My memory told me that Mary shot Vidal by mistake, and Heyer-ites kindly pointed out that my memory was at fault. As one reader tweeted: ‘She definitely means to do it’. Either way, Vidal definitely deserved it! And Powder and Patch gave readers a lot of pleasure on Day 15.

More enjoyment came with The Talisman Ring – another popular choice, largely due to the love readers have the heroine, Sarah Thane. I wish there was another novel about one of the secondary characters, Eustacie de Vauban – who provides lots of laughter. Day 17 was The Corinthian, and Day 18 brought These Old Shades. I have to confess to disliking These Old Shades – I don’t like the characters – but it’s very popular with other readers, so it had to be included. And both Day 17 and Day 18 provoked comments about the cover illustrations, and how faithful or otherwise they were to the plots.

I had a message from a Heyer reader expressing a wish for Cotillion so that came in on Day 19, and there was much love for Arabella on Day 20. Day 21 was reserved for An Infamous Army, which divided opinion. Was Heyer’s recounting of the Battle of Waterloo fascinating and informative, or was it to be rushed through to get on with the story? Was Barbara liked or loathed?

I had to include The Reluctant Widow on Day 22 – it’s the Heyer I have probably re-read the most because of my research into the 1950 film adaptation. It isn’t a favourite of mine, but it probably contains the most loved younger brother character in all of Heyer – the hilarious Nicky and his dog Bouncer. And Day 23 was Bath Tangle which provoked some strong reactions – Serena and Rotherham really aren’t popular!

So what of Day 24? Well, there’s only one choice really. It has to be The Unknown Ajax and the marvellous Hugo Darracott. “Hugo, how dare you call me love?” asks Anthea, but readers everywhere would give much to be in her shoes. If you haven’t read any Heyer, The Unknown Ajax is an ideal place to start. There is intrigue, family tension, mystery, humour, and love. And an absolutely ideal hero. Does anyone not love Hugo?

GHAC - The Unknown Ajax

The Unknown Ajax. This edition: Heinemann 1971.

It’s been lovely to read all the comments and discussions while I have been posting the Georgette Heyer Advent Calendar and sharing my collection. If you would like to have a look, you can find the 2019 Advent Calendar here on Twitter.

The Georgette Heyer community is a friendly place – so why not join us and tells us your favourite Heyer, your first Heyer, your most loved characters, and what Georgette Heyer means to you?

 

Picking up a needle again

For most of 2018 and 2019, my quilting inspiration was notable by its absence, and I was starting to wonder if it would ever come back. But with the help of a long-abandoned project – which required some creative remedies – I’m definitely now back in the quilting spirit.

Lucie with a finished quilt

The pleasure of completing a very long standing quilting project.

Quilting took a back seat while I worked on writing up my PhD thesis about the early career of Maurice Elvey, which I submitted in February 2018. I passed my Viva that August, was awarded my Doctorate in September, and attended my graduation ceremony in November.

I anticipated feeling a bit dislocated once my PhD was completed, but I didn’t realise that this dislocation would extend to my sewing practice. As one of my quilting friends commented, “I thought that now you’d finished, your quilting would be unstoppable!” Rather than being unstoppable, it almost stopped altogether. I spent months picking up projects and putting them down again, unable to find satisfaction in any sewing at all. Nothing seemed right and I kept bemoaning my lack of inspiration.

In January 2019 I decided to make a Double Wedding Ring just to see if I could – precision piecing isn’t really my thing but I wanted to challenge myself technically – and I completed the patchwork, but couldn’t decide how to quilt it.

I then fiddled about with some quilted drawings but they didn’t capture my imagination. I was starting to think I’d never really quilt properly again, when I came across an unfinished quilt I started back in 2006.

I was fairly new to quilting then, and at that time, I was trying – unsuccessfully – to get to grips with using a sewing machine, so I pieced the patchwork by machine, and then attempted to handquilt it. I decided to use a big stitch pattern – and some of those early stitches really were huge!

In 2019, I couldn’t remember why I had abandoned this quilt until I washed it, had a good look at it, and found that there were significant problems with the construction: uneven seams, some seams that didn’t even meet, a misguided use of seersucker around the edges, and some terrible fraying in places. As a new quilter, I hadn’t known how to address any of these problems so I’d stuck the whole thing in a bag and moved on. But all these years later, I knew what to do. I unpicked some of the uneven seams, patched over the largest gaps, and cut off the frayed fabric. The seersucker – a real mistake – was anchoring some of the quilting stitches so I couldn’t remove that entirely, but I did cut it down and made a mental note never to use seersucker in a quilt again.

Quilted flower

I added finer quilting to contrast with the original big stitch design

I agonised about the original big stitch quilting, some of which was really badly executed, and unpicked the worst of it. But in the end I left most of it in place – it was done to the best of my ability when it was first sewn, and it felt important to acknowledge this. And it’s a useful reminder of my learning and developing my quilting technique – and knowing when to let go: I could probably have spent another year unpicking and resewing, but there are other things to stitch.

I added new borders and stitched the long process of making into the quilt itself, so the bottom border reads I started this quilt in 2006 and completed it at the end of 2019. And suddenly, this abandoned quilt was bound and complete.

From being crumpled in a bag and hidden in a cupboard – a reminder of frustration and failures of technique – over the last couple of weeks, this newly finished quilt has been out for a walk by the Thames, been blowing in a friend’s garden on a windy day, and is now a favourite way of keeping warm during the colder weather.

Lucie Dutton, ‘Maurice Elvey, a Film about Nelson and Quilting my Research’

I have been so busy writing up my research this year that I haven’t had much time for sewing or blogging. But this summer, I attended a great, thought-provoking conference about Creative Histories at the University of Bristol and gave a paper about my Nelson Quilt. Here is a summary of what I said. And, yes, lovely people are still sending me Nelsonia…..

Storying the Past

In 1918, British director Maurice Elvey made a film about Admiral Lord Nelson, a film he had planned for five years. My research into this film and its production history led to a series of quite unexpected quilting projects, which are described on my blog: www.isthereroomformetosew.com

Nelson and Nelson Tea

I’ve been researching Elvey for the last decade, as his early career is the subject of my PhD. He had a film career that lasted over 40 years, and some of his films – particularly the later ones – are poor quality, but in the early stages of his career he was a very interesting filmmaker – innovating, developing, and pushing boundaries. I’ve watched film after film: Bleak House; Dombey and Son; Hindle Wakes; High Treason; a number of Sherlock Holmes stories; I Lived with You; Frail Women; The Man in the Mirror; Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary

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A quilt, a cat, and a bluebird

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Norman Page as Tylette the Cat, December 1909

This postcard, from my early 20th century theatre collection, is one of my absolute favourites. It shows the British stage and silent film actor Norman Page as Tylette the Cat in a production of The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck at London’s Haymarket Theatre in 1909. It also shows a rather splendid hexagon quilt, in what looks like a simple Grandmother’s Flower Garden pattern. It thus rather neatly combines a number of my interests.

I’ve been intrigued by The Blue Bird since I was about eight years old when I first read Noel Streatfeild’s 1936 children’s novel about the theatre, Ballet Shoes. There are two chapters about a charity matinée of The Blue Bird, and, as a child, I was intrigued that there were extracts from Maeterlinck’s play script contained within the text, along with a lot of information about the plot. As a result, I feel I know the play really well even though I’ve never seen it. And a production featuring Norman Page would be my ideal production (outside the fictional world of Ballet Shoes).

norman-page-in-stingaree

Norman Page (centre) as Ives in Stingaree, The Bushranger (1908) 

So who was Norman Page?  He was born in Nottingham in 1876, and educated at Trent College. After school, and an attempt to become an artist, he underwent theatrical training at the Theatre Royal in Margate, and his first performance on stage was in 1896 at the Opera House in Chatham. In 1904 he first appeared on the London stage as The Gardener’s Boy in Prunella, or Love in a Dutch Garden by Laurence Housman and Harley Granville-Barker. He went on to work as both actor and producer, and had an interest in some of the new styles of acting and the experimental plays that were being staged in the early 1900s. In 1909 a season he produced at the Glasgow Repertory Theatre was considered by The Times to bring ‘that spirit of modernity … which consists in a sense of artistic unity, a repression of the “theatrical”, a reduction of the emotion displayed to the proportions of the occasion – in short, in naturalness’. (Glasgow Repertory Theatre, The Times, October 19 1909)

Page played Tylette the Cat in The Blue Bird in a number of productions – it seems to have been a Christmas favourite in the years before the First World War. On December 27 1911, The Times considered that a ‘chief joy in the acting is still the sinister Cat of Mr Norman Page.’ In 1912 he travelled to Australia to produce the play there. And on 9 January 1928, he reprised the role for a radio production, broadcast on the 2LO London and 5XX Daventry stations. Cats seemed to have been something of a speciality for Page. As well as Tylette, he played the title role in Puss in Boots at the Apollo Theatre in 1926, and the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland at the Little Theatre in 1932, when he was ‘the best of many good performing animals’. (The Times, December 22 1932)

norman-page-signed-photograph 

Page also had a long association with the Academy of Dramatic Art (which later became RADA) where he was an instructor for 23 years. After his death in 1935, Kenneth Barnes, the then director of RADA, wrote that:

‘He had a great sense of the dignity of the profession of the theatre, and his talents, as producer-actor, scenic designer, and teacher, it can ill afford to lose. I know this because Norman Page was the hardest worked member of my staff … How we wish he were still with us.’

Like a lot of stage actors of the 1910s and 1920s, Page also acted for the films – and that’s where I first came across him. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that his screen presence has had a huge impact on me.  Nearly a decade ago, I had an idea for a research project about the early work of British film director Maurice Elvey, but back then I’d only seen one or two of his films. So when I heard about a screening of his film of Bleak House in Nottingham, I got on a train so I could find out more. I wasn’t expecting to be so delighted by that film’s exquisite portrayal of Dickens’ lovelorn clerk Mr Guppy – played by Norman Page. That screening – particularly  Norman Page’s performance – was the deciding factor in confirming my Elvey research project.

norman-page-and-teddy-arundell-in-bleak-house

Norman Page (right) as Mr Guppy with Teddy Arundell as George in Maurice Elvey’s 1920 film Bleak House

And when I saw Elvey’s Life Story of David Lloyd George (made in 1918 but not released at the time) with Norman Page in the title role, I couldn’t believe it was the same actor. It’s an extraordinary performance in an extraordinary film – and a world away from Mr Guppy.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am busy writing up my Elvey research at the moment, so I am writing about Norman Page a lot – The Life Story of David Lloyd George plays a major role in my thesis. That leaves very little time for sewing. But a couple of weeks ago, I was clearing out some fabric and I came across a hexagon quilt I started some years ago. It’s just the sort of undemanding project I need at the moment and it fits in with my research nicely. It reminds me of the quilt on stage in The Blue Bird so I think it’s fitting that while I’m sewing it, I remember the role of Norman Page in starting off my research about Maurice Elvey.

hexagon-quilt

Hexagons for Mr Norman Page

A Year of Quilting Differently

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The clock is ticking…..

My quilting practice has been changing in recent months as my PhD deadline looms ever closer. I want to submit my thesis this autumn, and, while I have already written about 85,000 words about the early career of British film director Maurice Elvey, I know they are not yet the right words, so the next few months are going to be very busy, with redrafting, checking, editing and checking again. Essentially, my quilts are getting more straightforward while my thesis gets more complicated. And that’s because I don’t have the space for thinking too much about my sewing just now.

Thames Quilt - up the garden path

The Thames Quilt – leading me up the garden path?

It’s a year since I started my Thames Quilt project and I got as far as Greenwich Reach when I had to put it aside. Although I planned the whole project quite carefully, and had a good idea of how the quilt should progress, the research that sits behind each section of the quilted river is proving a hurdle. At the moment, I can’t look into munitions workers at Woolwich, or find out about the Nore Light Ship, and the ancient forest at Purfleet will have to wait. I have more than enough reading to be getting on with….

too-much-reading

Having said that, I don’t want to stop quilting. It’s a really important part of my life – the one thing I never worry about – and it’s essential that I have an alternative to writing and worrying over the next few months.

I have a notebook full of quilting ideas – Bleriot’s flight over the English Channel in 1909; Dr John Dee and his magical mirror; the many wonders of bee folklore; maps of places known and unknown. All very involved. But until my thesis is finished I need to find different ways of sewing that involve less research, less interpretation, and less planning. And, for me, that’s a challenge!

time-quilt-complete

First finish of 2017 – an unplanned quilt

Quilting in an unplanned way and just letting fabric and stitch take me into new styles of sewing is proving interesting. My first experiment involved turning a small amount of mid-century clock fabric and a very textured big stitch style into a wall hanging. I didn’t plan in advance but just let the piece grow, adding bits here and there, and working up the texture as I went along.

time-quilt-close-up-2

I’m wondering how far this change of approach will take me – but I’m also eyeing up some Nelson’s Victory blocks I made a couple of years ago. Surely I can manage another Nelson project without too much difficulty? After all, there’s a Nelson chapter in my thesis….

Nelson's Victory Quilt Block

From 1905: Nelson’s Victory Quilt Block

Hunting for Clues

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Museums are magical places. I learned this at a young age from a book called From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg. First published in 1967, it tells the story of Claudia Kincaid and her brother Jamie who, fed up with life at home and “the sameness of each and every week”, run away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This they do with some success – pretending to be ordinary visitors – but these are visitors who make use of the antique furniture out of hours. They explore the galleries, find places to hide, dodge security guards, and tag along with unknown school parties. During their stay in the museum, they become fascinated by a statue of an angel which is attracting record-breaking crowds because it might (or might not) be a piece by Michelangelo. The provenance of the angel is inconclusive, so Claudia and Jamie set out to prove whether or not it is the work of Michelangelo.

“They decided to do their research when they had the statue and the museum to themselves. Claudia especially wanted to make herself important to the statue. She would solve its mystery; and it, in turn, would do something important to her, though what it was she didn’t quite know.”

The sheer hard graft, the excitement swiftly followed by disappointment, and the need for lateral thinking by researchers is beautifully conveyed by Claudia and Jamie. Anyone who has ever researched anything or anyone will probably recognise the promise of a museum or archive: the prospect of finding a missing piece of information, that elusive bit of evidence missed by everyone else. The joy of finding what you had hoped for – and the bitter disappointment of the empty, disappointing, or censored file, or of an exhibit removed for conservation.

If I’m looking up something specific, I plan museum and archive visits carefully  to make the most of the time I have there. But if I’m just looking for inspiration, I love very unstructured visits, just wondering through and stopping at things that catch my eye. The unstructured wander means finding things by accident – and who can tell where that will eventually lead?

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Man’s Doublet and Breeches, 1630-1640, satin trimmed with silk braid and silk ribbon, possibly made from a bed cover. On display at the V&A.

A couple of months ago I was in the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington – my best place in London for a wander when looking for quilting inspiration. I’m particularly fond of a satin doublet dating from 1630-40, which is quilted with a breathtaking level of detail. I go and stare at this item every so often and usually end up peering beadily through the glass case, muttering about the skill of the stitching. After my last visit I even went and bought some satin with a view to attempting some very tight quilting – and found it terribly slippery to work with.

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Man’s Doublet Detail: Look at that elaborate quilting!

Once I’d admired the doublet for quite some time, I visited the Medieval Galleries – not part of the museum with which I am very familiar. And there I stumbled across one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen – the Tristan Quilt.

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This Italian bed covering dates from about 1360-1400 and was made in Florence, from linen and cotton, embroidered with linen. It shows fourteen episodes from the life of Tristan, one of the heroes of medieval literature and is simply extraordinary in its ambition and the level of skilled work involved. The narrative structure seems to have been disrupted as a result of restoration work, but the overall impact is stunning.

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Of course seeing this quilt whetted my appetite for a new research project. What were the techniques used? How has the quilt been restored? How much is already known about it and what else can be discovered? And there’s a sewing project there – why aren’t I making a wholecloth-telling-a-story quilt? Sadly these questions will have to wait. I’ve got too much else on at the moment (I intend to finish my Maurice Elvey thesis in 2017) so I can’t afford to get distracted by all the many intriguing things that catch my eye in museums and archives at the moment. But they are still there – waiting.

And what of Claudia and Jamie? Did they ever answer the mystery of the angel? Was it sculpted by Michelangelo? I couldn’t possibly spoil the story. You will just have to read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler to find out.

High Treason: Looking forward to 1940 or reaching back to the Great War?

Yesterday, I introduced Maurice Elvey’s 1929 silent film High Treason at the beautiful Curzon Cinema in Clevedon for South West Silents. In preparation, wrote a piece about the film for South West Silents – and this is what I said.

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With our upcoming screening of High Treason at the Curzon in Clevedon on September 10th, we felt it necessary to get some words up on the website about this spectacular film. Luckily for us we know the brilliant Lucie Dutton, a PhD student at Birkbeck College, who is currently completing a thesis on the film’s director Maurice Elvey! For a film launched between the two wars, and at the transition moment of sound arriving in the UK, Lucie has been good enough to outline in detail what this films means for British film history. Without further ado, over to Lucie!

Maurice Elvey’s High Treason (1929), a vision of the future, is often referred to as “The British Metropolis”. Depending on the version you watch, it is set in 1940, 1950, or even – in a French version – in 1995. There are modernist cityscapes and exciting innovations: television…

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A Movie Star Album: Commemorating Rudolph Valentino

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The elaborate title page of an album made by a dedicated admirer

Ninety years ago, at 12.10pm on 23 August 1926, Rudolph Valentino died at the age of just thirty-one. At the time, he was probably the biggest star in the world – he was certainly the brightest – and an outpouring of public grief followed his untimely death. 

Every 23 August, I spend time remembering Rudolph Valentino – watching a film or two, reading about his work, and reflecting on the impact he had on the filmgoers of the 1920s. Watching his films on television courtesy of Channel Four Silents (when I was a lot younger) awakened my lasting passion for silent film, so I feel I should honour his memory.

I may have my private “Rudolph Valentino Memorial Day”, but back in the day, the Shepherds Bush Pavilion in London held a “Rudolph Valentino Memorial Week”, with revivals of Monseiur Beaucaire, The Eagle, Blood and Sand and Beyond the Rocks. Mr Forsyth, the General Manager of the Pavilion, seems to have taken care over the event, hiring an Italian singer to perform a special “In Memorium” prologue, publishing one of Valentino’s own poems, and giving a detailed synopsis of what he considered the main draw, Monsieur Beaucaire.


Today, Monsieur Beaucaire is one of the lesser-known Rudolph Valentino films. I have seen it just once on the big screen – about eighteen years ago – and I loved it. The costumes are beautiful, Valentino is witty, and the swashbuckling is excellent. It also seems to have been enjoyed by a mysterious Valentino fan who put together a beautiful Rudolph Valentino album between 1924 and 1926 to express some of their feelings about what they were seeing at the cinema.

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The mysterious album maker was definitely dedicated to creating something lovely. The album is beautifully made. Some pages are covered in black paper, the better to create a dramatic effect. Black and white pictures, cut from magazines, have been painstakingly coloured with inks. Blue skies have been cut out and pasted behind a picture of a captured Valentino in The Son of the Sheik. Poetry and prose is carefully written in stylised lettering, some in gold paint.Tiny flourishes are used to highlight the text.

The maker selected poetry with which to honour Valentino. I identified three poems as being by Rupert Brooke: Not With Vain Tears, When We’re Beyond the Sun; The Great Lover; and Beauty and Beauty.

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Another poem – When Thou Art Dead – had me at a loss. The words were used by Erich Korngold as the basis for his song Tomorrow in The Constant Nymph but this was not written until 1943, far too late for a 1920s album. Eventually, I tracked down a song with the same lyrics that had been popular during the First World War by Sir Eugene Aynsley Goossens.

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A further poem appeared to have been copied from Valentino’s own book Daydreams. But when I checked the album version against the original words, I realised that the maker had adapted the words. Valentino’s “You are the History of Love and its Justification / The Symbol of Devotion / The Blessedness of Womanhood” seemed to have become slightly darker.

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Sadly the album was never finished. The last dated entry is from October 1926. There are then a few pictures cut with great care from magazines, ready to be pasted on to blank pages. An unfinished page, with illustrations drawn in ink and a poem traced out in pencil, shows how carefully the maker prepared their pages. The pencil marks are faded and just the ghost of a poem remains. I suspect it was written by the maker, who had graduated from copying out poetry, to adapting it, to writing their own.

Perhaps the maker lost interest in the album or found a new object of desire. Maybe the lack of new films and fewer and fewer opportunities to see Rudolph Valentino on the screen made the album feel less important. However, the album wasn’t thrown away. It was kept, and kept in very good condition. We can’t tell who made it, we don’t know what they did after 1926, where they lived, or how old they were.

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I hope very much that the maker wouldn’t have minded their album being shared. It is such a beautiful object that it seems a shame to keep it sitting on my shelf to be taken out once a year on 23 August. We know very little about silent film audiences, but this album tells us that at least one cinemagoer in the 1920s found the inspiration to create something beautiful from what they saw at the picturehouse.