Red Kites and the Liminal Zone

I went to one of the Bucks Open Studios events this afternoon at St. Dunstan’s Church, Monks Risborough. There was some really fascinating stuff there — a lady had done the most stunning watercolours of (of all things) parsnips and carrots, even salsify. There were some very interesting interpretations of the Chiltern landscape — some were linoleum engravings and others were very vividly coloured abstract views.

Outside the church were some metal sculptures — and a couple of these were of the famous red kites that I often mention on Facebook. Recently these incredible birds of prey, which have a wingspan of about six feet, have almost constantly hovered overhead. I drove down the M40 after a City class and knew it was time to pull off soon when I saw the birds circling over the motorway at Stokenchurch. There were four circling the garden this morning. The sculpture below is pretty much life sized — it’s by James Sansome. The event has its own web-page with details of the artists.

Sculptured Kite, Monks Risborough
James Sansome's Kites at Monks Risborough

Monks Risborough church is extremely old — there’s been a church there for at least a thousand years. Most of the building is 14th century but the font is 12th century — 900 years old — and came from an older church. The boundaries of the parish are apparently the oldest in the whole country — and the shape of the parish is very long and thin to apportion parts of the contrasting landscape features to the village. These include wooded hilltops, steep grazing on the escarpment, the spring line (where the settlement is) and then the more fertile low-lying flat farmland in the Vale of Aylesbury.

The geography is amazingly varied and makes me think the general location is a great place to locate the action in a novel. I’m going to fictionalise the actual location of The Angel but it will be close to the hills and all their celtic and mystical associations (there’s an ancient cross cut into the chalk of Whiteleaf Hill, which overlooks Monks Risborough) and there are some very large areas of woodland where it’s easy to go for a quiet, contemplative walk. However, turn the other way and you very soon get to some remote farming areas which, while not quite as desolate as the Fens, might not be too dissimilar to somewhere like deepest Devon.

I went for a run through these places today and I ran down one lane for about two miles (which takes me near enough 20 minutes) and didn’t see a single car, just a farmer’s Land Rover and no other humans apart from a cyclist who nearly ran me over and a horsey-looking blonde woman mucking out a stables (not noticeably fat-bottomed unlike the ones I wrote about in my last reading). In fact the whole area is pretty horsey — there are a few studs around and one of the biggest point-to-point events in the country is held just down the road at Easter.

All this made me realise, as I was running, that The Angel’s location re-inforces one of its themes. It will be in a place that in one way is very connected with London (on Wednesday I left the Queen Boadicea in EC1 at 10.45pm and still didn’t have to get the last train home). But go the other way and it’s easy to find isolation and a connection to a way of life that’s still incredibly traditional.

So the novel’s location is on a boundary — a kind of liminal zone. And that’s the point where its characters are too — they’re on the boundary between urban and rural, commercial and artistic. They’re on the edge too and wondering which way to turn.

During the slightly boozy session about ten of us had in the Queen Boadicea after the class, we were all put on the spot to say what our novel was about — and any personal elements to it. I said mine was ‘escape’ — and a lot of the stuff I write seems to share that theme — but both main characters do want to escape their predicaments at the start of the novel. Emily’s suggestion that I take a look at Ann Tyler’s ‘The Accidental Tourist‘ as it’s in a similar sort of sub-genre maybe also re-inforces the theme of reaching an edge and thinking about escape. True as the answer was, it wasn’t the one that some of the class had hoped for, given that I’d read what’s now becoming my notorious sex scene on Monday (of which more in a coming post — no pun intended).

Artistic Buckinghamshire

Part of the plot of The Angel has Kim leaving trendy Shoreditch to come and work in the pub in rural Buckinghamshire. She’s also going to carry on working as an artist. It might be thought a bit implausible by some people (probably in London) that any serious artist would leave London unless they went to other arty areas, like Brighton, Pembrokeshire, St. Ives, Southwold or Eastbeach (!).

However, there’s an event in Buckinghamshire starting today that shows that there are a huge number of artists working in the county. Bucks Open Studios is an annual event that has over 400 artists open their studios or exhibit work in churches or village halls — it’s between 12th and 27th June this year. There is an exhibition by half a dozen local artists in the village hall half a mile away (and the population of our parish, including four villages, is only about 700). There are also loads of artists’ studios within a two or three mile distance of where I live, which considering that large swathes of that area include  a big National Trust nature reserve and ancient monument and the Chequers estate and most other directions are fields full of sheep or wheat is quite surprising. There’s quite a big village about five miles away called Haddenham (used extensively for ‘Inspector Morse’ filming and the like) that has twenty five artists participating in the Bucks Open Arts scheme.

It’s probably very logical for there to be so much artistic activity here — many people may have also given up a life in the rat race in London and set up as artists at home, but London’s not that far away and there’s enough money around in the home counties to probably sustain demand for the artwork. It’s also probably a very inspirational place for many artists to work — with some wonderful countryside, nature and peace for concentration (except when some of the suburban-minded anal retentives decide to chop trees down and pulverise their remains first thing on a Sunday morning, like today).

I suspect that many of these artists are relatively old and not like Kim but I’m going to try and have a look around their open studios over the next couple of weeks to do a bit of research.