Thursday, 18 November 2010

Hat Juggling

A page from Lincoln Cathedral: A Journey from Past to Present
Like many people I wear a number of different hats to reflect my various jobs.  Most of the time I’m in a frivolous confection suitable to a romance writer (probably with a huge brim and decorated with a lot of feathers) but sometimes I put on my teaching hat (a beret, perhaps) or  a rather fetching cloche to mark my transformation into an editor of illustrated books.  So yesterday it was off with the feathers and on with the cloche, a quick switch of names from Jessica Hart to Pamela Hartshorne (my real name) and I jumped on a train to Lincoln to mark the launch of Lincoln Cathedral: A Journey from Past to Present.  

Most of the time project editing is like herding cats, but not Lincoln (henceforth to be known as Lovely Lincoln).  It’s the most beautiful building for a start.  I am not a religious person in any way, but there is something about those great cathedrals that lifts the hairs on the back of my neck.  I especially love them in the dark, when they’re all shadowy  and the tourists have gone and the choir is singing.  Lincoln Cathedral  has a bit of everything:  a charming close, a spectacular nave, a dramatic choir, a cloister and the most beautiful library, all of which appear in the book of course.  And for everyone else who  read Anya Seton’s Katherine and was in love with John of Gaunt when they were 14, Katherine Swynford is buried there beside her daughter.

I love editing: I’m the one who gets to set the deadlines and everyone else does the writing for a change.  We used to have meetings in a fourteenth-century house in the cathedral close where the walls were so old they were made of linen, and we’d have coffee and cakes sitting around a gorgeous antique table.  Once the text was in – and they were fantastic about meeting their deadlines, I have to say – we started to fit the images to the words.   The most exciting part of my job was being taken round the cathedral with the photographers, over the ropes, past doors marked private, and up spiral stone staircases to see behind the scenes.  In the library, an eleventh-century silver seal was unwrapped for us, and manuscripts opened to show medieval doodlings … I was breathless with the privilege of it all.

The (blurry) nave

Once we had the photographs and older images scanned, I sat down with the designer and we put it all together.  This is also a really exciting stage, and in the case of Lincoln (of course!) we had so many wonderful photographs to choose from.   I’d be in the middle of my royal romcom, and then break off to decide on the perfect image for the choir screen, or to pick out just the right shot of the verger setting out the altar, or the ladies in the refectory making sandwiches.   The layouts had to be checked and we did some tinkering, but most of my job was done before I went to Australia. 

Steep Hill
Last night was the official launch, in the crossing after evensong on St Hugh’s Day.  I don’t know why I think I don’t like winter, because actually it can be very romantic when you’re in the right mood.  It was dark when I got to Lincoln, and I walked to the cathedral up a very steep hill called, er, Steep Hill, which is cobbled and lined with very old buildings.  The tourists had gone and it was very quiet, and all the lights were on in the shops.  I tried to take a picture with my phone, which is a bit blurry, but that’s what it was like somehow. 

The south transept

Evensong was still going on as we set up the books for subscribers to collect, and I took a few more blurry photographs.  Then everyone poured out of the choir and milled around with a glass of wine and admired the book, and I was able to catch up with everyone I’d met while I was working on the project. There were a couple of brief speeches, with a very graceful acknowledgement from the Dean of my role too.  Standing in front of the choir screen, looking down that vast nave, was a real shivery moment for me.  One of those moments that get preserved in amber and last forever.  Others may pick Paris, but I’ll always have Lincoln …

The West Front
Ah, well.  The cloche is off for the time being, I'm adjusting the feathers once more, and now I’m back to Chapter 8.  It’s SO much easier when you just have to tell someone else what to write!


  1. Gorgeous post Jessica. I've had the same kind of reaction to some ancient churches, and I'm not religious either. But I do believe that some places are soaked in spirituality -- I know it sounds a bit soppy/hippy but it's what I feel.
    And I love the thought of your various hats. Coming from a mild climate, I've never been much of a hat wearer... until I became a romance writer. Now I have many hats, worn seldom. And I do love a cloche, though I take issue with you in thinking it nor a hat for a romance writer. Not ever occasion demands a feather. And besides, I'm sure I could wrap a boa around a cloche...

  2. I like the idea of a feathery cloche, Anne. Have always wanted one of those furry hats they wear in Russia too, but whenever I try them on I look like a teddy bear, instead of a glamorous Slav with cheekbones.