Saturday, September 29, 2012
I've blogged about the glass before, for example in this post from May 2010: http://helengrantbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/glass-demon-published-today.html - its history was a major inspiration for my second novel, The Glass Demon.
I've also written several articles about it for the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter. You can see one of them here: http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~pardos/GSNews5.html#anchor60621 The other article, 'Lingering Memories of the Treasure': How the lost stained glass of Steinfeld was discovered, was published in issue 13 of the Newsletter (March 2008) and it has never appeared online. I intend to post it on my blog in the near future.
I wasn't sure until yesterday afternoon whether I would actually have time to visit the museum. The school visit was in Essex, a long journey to the eastern end of the Central Line. My train back to Edinburgh departed from King's Cross so the V&A down in South Kensington was definitely out of my way. However, I did manage to get there, although I only had about 45 minutes in the museum. It was years since my last visit (I've been abroad for most of the last decade, after all) and I was unable to work out where the glass was from the wall plans in the entrance hall, so I had to go and ask for help at the information desk.
"Is the Steinfeld glass on display?" I asked the young man on the desk.
He looked at me rather blankly. "How do you spell that?"
He looked at his computer. "Would that be in Mediaeval and Renaissance?"
"Yes," I said, and was instantly rather embarrassed at the sound of breathless excitement in my voice. Is there such a thing as a Stained Glass Geek? I think I have become one.
"Room 64, upstairs on the first floor."
I went upstairs but the layout was rather confusing; did he mean the first landing or the floor at the top of the stairs? Whilst I was debating this, a friendly security guard came out and asked me whether he could help. I explained that I was looking for room 64 because I wanted to see the Steinfeld stained glass. He very kindly directed me to it, adding, "If you go downstairs afterwards there is a room full of stained glass."
He was so friendly that I didn't like to say that it wasn't just any stained glass I was after, it was just one particular set of stained glass! Finally I found room 64 and there it was.
There were only a few windows on display. One or two others are in other rooms in the museum; most are in storage at the moment. As luck would have it, one of the windows on display is the one depicting the Fall of the Angels (in German, Engelsturz) which has a particular significance for me. In The Glass Demon, the heroine Lin describes a window from the fictional Allerheiligen Abbey, that depicts this same scene:
'I looked at the panel he was indicating; it was the one showing the Fall of the Angels. The upper part of the window was crowded with a throng of white-robed winged figures wielding swords and spears, descending out of skies the colour of Ceylon sapphires. Below them were the rebel angels, grotesquely ugly horned and winged creatures whose skin was tinted the crimson of blood or the green of decay. They tumbled down through empty space towards a bleak landscape of rock and fire far below, twisting and turning as they fell, jaws bared to reveal rows of jagged teeth snarling uselessly at their pursuers. Only one had his face turned outwards, as though staring out of the window directly at the observer. The expression on the red-tinted face was sly and complacent, even challenging, and painted with such detail that I could understand the rumours that Remsich had taken his figures from the life.'
The fictional window is based on the Steinfeld window of this subject, which you can see below, even down to the red demon with his calm complacent face staring out at the observer.
It is hard for me to express the extent of my fascination with the Steinfeld glass. Each time I have seen it, in 2007 and again yesterday, I have felt overwhelmed. Its history is so dramatic as to be almost improbable - lost for over a century, and rediscovered by someone who is himself famous for the ghost stories he wrote, in one of which the glass features.
More than that, since I became interested in the Steinfeld glass I have taken a general interest in stained glass of the period, and soon realised how little of it there is left, thanks to the church-wreckers of the Reformation. It really is a very rare treasure.
I'm also curious about the man who created much of it - Gerhard Remsich (sometimes rendered Remisch). In all my researches into the Steinfeld glass (much of it conducted amongst old German documents) I have never been able to discover anything about Gerhard Remsich the man and artist. All that we can know about him is painted into the glass: the dynamic compositions, the vivid colours, the meticulous brush strokes. Some faint echo of personality is evident in the energy and flair with which he depicted the ancient and well-worn Bible stories.
I took as many photographs as I could, and have posted some of them below. Photography was not permitted at the exhibition in the Schnütgen museum, so this is the first time I have had any photographs of my own to share, rather than posting links to other people's.
Finally I had to take my leave, hoping that this time it won't be another five years before I see the glass again. If there is CCTV in room 64, it may have caught sight of the lady in the leather jacket glancing around to make sure there was no-one else in the room, then blowing a kiss at the glass before hurrying away.
In London, however, it was hot. Actually hot. I took off the two jackets I had piled on in Perthshire and did my best to soak up enough rays to last me until next spring.
The school visit was to Chigwell School in Essex, which meant a journey far further out on the eastern end of the Central line than I have ever been before. The school had arranged accommodation for me on the premises, and before I went down there I had been joking to my friends that I hoped it wouldn't be in the girls' dorm. Well, I had one of those imagine-my-surprise moments when it turned out that I really was sleeping in a dorm! Thankfully it wasn't full of pillow-fighting midnight-feast-eating schoolgirls; it was actually a former dorm, now no longer occupied by the students. It was in a very large, very old building which in common with many old houses has its share of unidentifiable creaks and groans. If this was not eerie enough, my friend the professor texted me to tell me that my goddaughter (her daughter) wished to remind me of the scene in The Devil's Backbone where the ghost of a boy appears to his schoolfellows in a boarding school. Thanks very much, Alex! I texted back to tell her mother to tell her that if I died of fright she need not expect to be remembered in my will...
The sessions with the students the next morning were great - a fantastically attentive audience and some very interesting questions. I used to talk a lot about the inspiration behind specific books, but as it is a bit much to expect everyone to have read all my books, I now tend to talk more about where I get my ideas. My first three books were very much inspired by the places and things I saw around me, but when we moved away from Germany I found myself in a new and unfamiliar environment and I started actually looking for creepy and sinister places as inspiration for future books. I went up church bell-towers and down sewers and catacombs. The photographs from the catacombs always go down well; there is pretty nearly always an audible gasp from someone when the slide of the skulls comes up! Afterwards I had time to answer questions and then sign copies of my books.
A very big thank you to Paul Fletcher, the Senior school Librarian at Chigwell, for organising the visit, and to all the students who listened so attentively and asked so many great questions. My favourite was whether I ever have an idea for a new book when I am halfway through writing one, and what do I do in that case? The answer is, yes, I do get ideas for future books whilst I am already working on other ones, and it nearly sends me distracted because I want to write all of them at once! I wish there were more hours in the week!
One final thing: during my talk I mentioned the Steinfeld Abbey stained glass, which inspired my second book, The Glass Demon. I had it in mind that if time permitted before I took my train back to Edinburgh I would go to the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington to see the Steinfeld glass, and I'm pleased to say that I did have time for a very quick 45-minute visit to the museum. I've seen the glass before, when it was on display in the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne in 2007, but I couldn't resist going to see it again. I'm going to blog about it later, but in the meantime: if you want to see (some of) the Steinfeld glass, it's in room 64 of the V&A, amongst the Mediaeval and Renaissance artefacts.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Here is the chapter:
...and finally, here is a picture of a lady pirate from M&D's theme park in Glasgow (above)! Still capturing the imagination.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Saturday, September 15, 2012
This next tale is attributed to Vincentius, who I think must be Vincentius of Beauvais, a thirteenth century Dominican friar who wrote the Speculum Maius, an encyclopaedia which included a history of the world up to his time. This story is about a mermaid.
To finish, here is a gruesome story from Hector Boece's History of the Scottish People (1527)!
The library is a wonderful working environment - warm and quiet and well-lit. The problematical side of working there is that there are so many fabulous old books that it is very difficult indeed not to get sidetracked. Librarian Lara Haggerty nearly derailed my plans for the Treatise by showing me a fascinating old book about different countries of the world - it described the German court as full of men dressed in black leather, which I must say sounded very suave! I resolved to get my hands on that book at some future point and perhaps share some of the best passages on this blog - then I wrenched my attention away from it and back to the Treatise of Specters!
When I transcribe passages from the book, I keep the archaic spellings (which are often quite inconsistent - the same word can be spelled in two different ways in the same paragraph), use of upper case letters and italics. The only things I can't reproduce are the archaic letters! The original version has what looks like an "f" for any "s" that occurs in the middle of a word, and very occasionally I have come across what looks like the German letter ß (a double "s"). I have put those letters into normal type to avoid confusion.
Here are the two tales from the History of Strange Prophecies, and Predictions of Devils. (I will post the others shortly.) I chose these particular excerpts because they feature characters most of us are familiar with - Merlin and Macbeth! The story about Merlin is from the works of Hector Boece (1465-1536), a Scottish academic and philosopher. The Macbeth story is from Hieronymus Cardanus (1501-1576), an Italian scientist.
Friday, September 14, 2012
I'm absolutely dying to see bound proofs of the book.
Silent Saturday will be published in the UK in April 2013.
Meanwhile, I shall be getting back to work on the second book of the trilogy, The Demons of Ghent, which is, unsurprisingly, set in Ghent! I visited the city last December for research and brought back lots of interesting material including a charming booklet entitled Museum of Torture Instruments - Gravensteen. I'm intending to have the first draft done before Christmas - apart from anything else, there are some pretty horrible trials ahead of my heroine Veerle, and I shall enjoy Christmas with a clearer conscience if she is through them all by then!
Sunday, September 9, 2012
The full text of the title page reads as follows:
NB I have copied the exact spelling, which differs from modern spelling sometimes. I love the 17th century use of capital letters and italics for emphasis! This title page is followed by an introductory letter by Thomas Bromhall to Lord Cholmley as his patron. Here is what it says:
NB "Momus" is the personification of mockery or satire in Greek mythology, in case anyone was wondering! Again, I have reproduced the spelling and punctuation of the original text (Bromhall seems to have been inordinately fond of colons...). The letter is a very flowery way of saying that he hopes Lord Cholmley's support will help make his book a success and encourage people to receive it positively. It is probably one of the driest bits of the book so now that we have that behind us I'll post some of the spectral tales next!
Monday, September 3, 2012
This wasn't just idle sightseeing (cough). I am currently working on a trilogy set in Flanders (the first book, Silent Saturday, is coming out in the UK in April 2013) so I spend most of my working time thinking about Flanders or indeed "visiting" it via Google Street View. Somewhere down the line, though, the last book of the trilogy will have been completed and I shall be thinking about settings for new projects. With this in mind, I like to investigate local history and explore atmospheric locations such as old churches and castles, storing up inspiration for the future.
Here are some pics from the exhibition! I particularly like the ginger beer bottles.
If you are within travelling distance of Crieff you can find out about the exhibition and events on the CELEBRATE CRIEFF Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/celebratecrieff/