Sunday 30 October 2016

Cabinet of Curiosities by Mary Hoffman

We have a "Cabinet of curiosities" post on the 30th of each month that has 31 days, i.e. seven months in every year. Usually one of our number writes about an object she possesses, perhaps something handed down through the family and carrying a host of personal associations. Some of them are objects of obscure historical significance.

Others are simply items seen in a collection of a museum or gallery and just blatantly lusted after.

Today I want to write about the objects I assemble around me when ever I start writing a new book. Of course the main thing is other books - all my research materials kept in a plastic crate under the coffee table in my study, where I can easily reach anything I need. I'm not precious about notebooks - though I do like a beautiful notebook. I am happy to write my research notes on an ordinary reporter's notebook, spiral bound at the top. And especially now I have found Scrivener, I can faff around to my heart's content on the laptop when the real business of writing begins.

No - I'm talking about specific objects. I won't call them "inspirational" as I loathe the very thought. They are more like focus points to stop my attention wandering off to other books I might write, other things I might do.  I can't remember when I acquired this habit - probably with the Stravaganza sequence of novels set in Italian cities in an alternative universe.

The characters were transported to Talia (my parallel world version of Italy) by the possession of talismans and hunting for the right one for each book was important each time - a marbled notebook, a flying horse, a blue perfume bottle, a leather-bound book, a bag of silver mosaic tesserae and a paperknife in the shape of a small sword.

But the talismans, although important for the narrative, were not necessarily my object. For example, I didn't acquire the model of the black winged horse until after City of Stars was published, when a fan found one and gave it to me. While I was writing the book it was this tile, bought in Siena that worked for me.

I bought a tapestry in France to commemorate the writing of The Falconer's Knot, a small wooden trebuchet in John Lewis toy department when I was writing Troubadour and a marble miniature in the Accademia shop in Florence when I was working on David. (The marble base comes from Carrara, like the block Michelangelo turned into David - though I bought it in Pisa).

My most recent historical novel, to be published next April, is The Ravenmaster's Boy and it has very satisfactory  flibbertigibbet-controllers: two plush ravens from the Tower of London. I spent some time there with the current Ravenmaster, Chris Skaife, and his birds.

Huginn and Muninn, my plush ravens
Me and my favourite Tower raven
Chris Skaife, Ravenmaster at the Tower of London

I am currently writing a short novel about the model for the Mona Lisa but have not found a focus object. So if you hear of a daring theft from the Louvre ...

What objects do writer friends like to keep about them and are they specific to the work in hand?


Susan Price said...

I shall scan the news daily for any mention of the Mona Lisa going AWOL.

Katherine Roberts said...

I do exactly the same, Mary! Usually when the book is published, but sometimes during the writing. Love the winged horse... I remember it well from your book.