Life in Squares

I can’t say that I made up the clever title of this blog post – instead it’s a quote from Dorothy Parker, the full quote saying that the Bloomsbury Group “lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles”. Ever since I did a project on the artist Augustus John at school, I have been quietly in awe of the unconventional lives of this generation of artists.

Augustus John was not part of the Bloomsbury Group, but he did study at the Slade School of Art in London. He was married, but also had a lover – and the three of them, along with their children, enjoyed travelling around in a gypsy caravan. My digging around into the lifestyles of these characters lead me further down the rabbit-hole, to the likes of Dora Carrington, Lytton Strachey and the beginnings of the Bloomsbury Group.

The Bloomsbury Group started off as a collection of friends who would meet up on a Friday evening to share their creative ideas with one another and also support one another in these endeavours. “The Friday Club” was initiated by Vanessa Bell, the sister of Virginia Woolf, and Vanessa was a student at Slade. Vanessa married the critic Clive Bell, but also had a deeply complicated relationship with Duncan Grant, who, although he was homosexual, fathered a child with Vanessa, who was named Angelica. I do believe Vanessa and Duncan did love one another, but of course it was never destined to be a ‘true’ physical love affair. To further complicate matters. one of Duncan’s lovers, David ‘Bunny’ Garnett, actually ended up marrying Angelica. Bunny was also one of the poet Rupert Brooke’s friends. I recently went down a rabbit hole with Rupert’s life as well and read a huge biography of him – the lives of these fabulous people are truly the gifts that keep on giving.

Bloomsbury is one of my favourite areas of London, with its links to the Pre Raphaelites and the Bloomsbury Group, so where better to set Lady Elsie Pencradoc’s London home in the fourth Pencradoc Cornish Secrets novel? Lady Elsie, of course, is an unconventional historical heroine, and you may have gathered that if you’ve read any of the other Pencradoc books. So basically, I had to think about everything that would horrify the Edwardian Society that Elsie lives in, and attribute all of those things to Elsie. She’s a wonderful character, and surprises even me with some of the things she does. In the meantime, this is where I decided her London home should be (the now demolished part of Brunswick Square!), and she commutes daily to the Slade where she studies and teaches.

And if that wasn’t horrifying enough, I’ve given her a wonderfully eclectic set of friends, designed to be just dissolute enough to shock Society. It was only as I was writing that I realised I’d borrowed a little of the Bloomsbury influence I’ve soaked up over the years and transferred it into the book, along with a solid dash of David Essex’s Myfanwy. I adore that song (and David) and wanted to be Myfanwy. Yes, I know it was a poem first by John Betjeman, and I adore that version too! I even have a Myfanwy bike – my original “bike with a basket” from when I was a teenager and swooning over the song even then.

Elsie’s story in turn, however, lead me down another rabbit hole – this one ending in Jack Davenport as Bunny Garnett in the fabulous BBC production Life in Squares that was recently televised. I love Jack Davenport. I loved him in This Life, The Moth, and even in Pirates of the Caribbean.  So it wasn’t too hard to imagine that one of my characters looked just like him, and one looked like Rupert Brooke, and suddenly, my writing has gained thousands of words in several days.  What on earth could be better for Elsie, than finally getting her story out there? Hopefully, I’ve not got much more to write – but I shall keep you posted!