More from the Umbrella Museum

It was week two of the writing course I’m on run by Jude and Alex from Bath: – it’s taking place at the American Museum in Bath and we have been able to use the artefacts in the museum as stimulus for our guided writing.

Friends have asked my why, since I write full-time and have been self-publishing my books on Kindle, I think I need to go – I felt as if it’s time to stand back from what I wrote and the way I write and get some new ideas, maybe step out of my comfort zone; also it is always brilliant to meet other writers and talk about what we love doing and exchange ideas. Plus, the setting for this particular course was an exciting prospect!

Yesterday we were considering voice, voice of the narrator and voice of the character – which maybe the same thing, of course! I wrote a piece last week, which was about the curator of an imaginary museum, a local history museum in what was an old umbrella factory. An umbrella factory appears in my first Radwinter novel, one of the main character Thomas Radwinter had ancestors who worked in it in the nineteenth century. It was a complete fiction, but somehow, I suppose because we were at a museum that was what sprung into my mind; last week I wrote about a curator at my fictional museum, called Malcolm, and yesterday i imagined someone visiting the museum, maybe going to meet Malcolm, and going into an old store-room. Our particular trigger yesterday for our first piece of writing was a stuffed and mounted buffalo head which was on the wall of the room where we were working.

I was rather overwhelmed by the amount of objects in piles, in heaps, on tables, under tables, dusty and seemingly neglected, and presided over by the sadly benign head of a buffalo, yes an actual buffalo – or is it a bison?
it was huge, absolutely massive, and a sort of grey colour… it was obviously dust, but in my imagination it was not just the musty motes from the museum store-room, but from the prairies of the wild west.
It somehow didn’t look real, rather fluffy, its glass eyes dull… they needed polishing, but wouldn’t it be rather creepy, polishing a bison’s eyes, or is it a buffalo. I remember we did a project in history about the American west and all the things which could be made from the buffalo.

I realised as I was writing it, that the narrative voice, was not some omniscient narrator, but a character I already know well, the aforementioned Thomas Radwinter. Maybe one of his future adventures will take him to the museum in the umbrella factory!

Our next task, having been into the folk art section of the museum, which for me is one of the most exciting and interesting of the rooms, was to write about one of the characters from the portraits around the room. On the museum web-site, ‘folk art’ is explained: ‘Folk Art’ is a misunderstood term in Britain, often used to mean ‘unsophisticated’ or ‘primitive’. In American museums, the term simply refers to the artistic legacy of ordinary folks living in pre-industrial America.  

We were supposed to write about one of the objects as well, but I didn’t get quite around to that. Here is my character – I wrote about her as I remembered her and as I wrote she changed – as you will see:


The child was a watcher, an observer… When she was with her friends playing, particularly outside, she would be like any of the others, perhaps sometimes louder and, maybe sillier.
“Calm down, Rina!” her parents or teachers would shout.
She wasn’t the most popular, but she wasn’t the least popular, and she had more little friends who were boys than who were girls.
She was a sturdy child, but not fat, tall for her age, and a rather plain face, and if she hadn’t had such an unusual name, people would have struggled to remember her.
loud and silly or quiet and reserved…
She had brown hair, just brown, cut in a plain style. She had dug her heels in at the hairdressers when she’d had her long hair cut, much against her mother’s wishes, and only because of much whining and naughty behaviour.
She didn’t want it ‘styled’ as her sisters had, she wanted to look like a minstrel boy in a story book she had, a long bob and full fringe. Beneath her fringe her pebble coloured eyes, not exactly brown, or grey, or green would watch and observe.
As she got older this characteristic became more pronounced, and as her sisters became prettier, their long blond hair rippling like sun-caught water down their backs, she was able to step back… and retreat. She would always join in, but when people exclaimed over the three older blond children she would stay quiet.
“Oh, you must be Azurine!” people would remember belatedly. “What a pretty name!”
When she was younger she had replied that she hated it, then that she wasn’t Azurine she was Michael, then that she was Rina, then she wouldn’t say anything.
She began, subconsciously at first, to be deliberately reserved, and then began to see how long it would be for new people to notice her, and then – most unusually and only occasionally to talk to her, to have a conversation.

The little girl in the painting is Emma Thompson, and it was painted in about 1850 by the portrait painter Sturtevant J. Hamblen, who was born in 1817, and died in 1884.

I’m not sure that this will ever be more than just an exercise, but I think the name Azurine may figure in a story at some point!

Here is a link to the folk art section of the American museum, and I really recommend that you watch the video on the page:

…and here is a link to all my e-books, including my Radwinter stories:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s