A garden and a library….

That’s all you need, according to Cicero, and I’ve just had a joyful residency in both! The Women’s Library at Compton Verney to be precise, looking out at grounds laid out by Capability Brown.

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The project was part of Spreadsheets and Moxie, a year of research and development into professionalism in the arts for women writers which I’m carrying out with fellow writer, Viccy Adams, and which is supported by Arts Council England. We first went to Compton Verney for this back in January, but this month I went back alone for a very good reason – the arrival of Viccy’s beautiful baby, Archer.

I wasn’t really alone though, because of the number of wonderful visitors to the Women’s Library who I cornered to ask for the one book they might recommend – written by a woman. From top left, working clockwise we have – I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach, One Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler and The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. And then there were the recommendations left in our #100Women100Books visitors book.

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The residency was part of the overall year of research and development into professionalism in the arts, Spreadsheets and Moxie, Viccy and I have been working on, and which is supported by Arts Council England. For this, we devised a model project – #100Women100Books – specially for Compton Verney’s Women’s Library. We asked 100 women in our lives, from toddlers to the over-eighties, what book they would recommend to other women now, and why. The resulting list – A Women’s Library for the 21st Century – can be found and downloaded from our website here. It’s fascinating reading, and we’re so pleased how many people are already downloading it. Do let us know if you do, and also leave us YOUR recommendation. You can follow us on Facebook too, or on Twitter using the #100Women100Books hashtag.

The project fitted in well with the Compton Verney Women’s Library too, which has just undergone a splendid restoration, as part of the Unsilencing the Library project. It’s really worth a visit, virtually via their website or in real life! When Viccy and I visited back in January it was a strange experience not least because there were no books. There were bookspines however (above) – a ‘false library’ of what books would have been recommended for women in the 19th century when Georgiana Verney, wife of the reclusive 17th Lord Willoughby de Broke was thought to have created it. She was an enthusiastic champion of women’s education, reading and suffrage, so it was lovely to sit writing in the library and feel her presence. And also to be with other readers, as the Unsilencing the Library team asked different individuals and groups what books they would like to see in the library. There was Emma Watson’s shelf:

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Margo Jefferson’s shelf:IMG_6309

And The Prison Reading Groups selection (I loved the wide range here):IMG_6305 2

Amongst others. And of course, outside the library there were the grounds. Can you imagine the bliss of sitting in this chair, looking up from a book and seeing this view?

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So a last shout out to Gary Webb, who is in charge of Capability Brown’s vision now at Compton Verney. Here he is standing on Capability Brown’s bridge, with the house behind.IMG_6296

And here’s the poem I wrote for #100Women100Books with lines taken from the reasons people gave for picking their own book, and collaging it into just one book!

This book

Crossing the bridge at Compton Verney

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Compton Verney – writerinthegarden.com

When I say I love Lancelot Brown, I don’t mean it in the sense of ‘I deeply admire his work.’ No, I mean it in the same sense the teenage me wanted to faint every time I saw a photograph of Richard Gere.

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Compton Verney – writerinthegarden.com

Yep, that bad.

But perhaps it explains why I almost couldn’t cross the bridge from the car park to Compton Verney when I arrived there for my writing residency with Viccy Adams. This wasn’t just a bridge, it was THE bridge Capability Brown built. Over the lake he designed, and there around me – OH GOD ALL AROUND ME – was his vision. And for the next two days, I was going to be ‘living’ in the house as if he’d designed the landscape all for me. Not just a quick visit, but I’d be able to look out of windows at different times of the day, see it in different lights, walk in it, get cuddled by it…

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Compton Verney – writerinthegarden.com

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Compton Verney – writerinthegarden.com

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Compton Verney – writerinthegarden.com

 

 

Enough.

But it was true. I’ve seen many Brown landscapes over the time, but I’m not sure I’d really got it in the way I did at Compton Verney. There were huge bits of landscaping – a derelict village cleared for this view…

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Compton Verney – writerinthegarden.com

The chapel (marked by the obelisk)…

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Compton Verney – writerinthegarden.com

…moved to behind the house so there was an unobstructed view of the lake from the windows…

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Compton Verney – writerinthegarden.com

Some relics were moved the church…

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… others remained…

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Beautiful, personable, characterful trees….

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Compton Verney – writerinthegarden.com

The bridges marking exactly the right points so the water seemed to go on forever…

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The views in and out of the house…

So, in honour of being possibly his most fansydosy* fan, here’s a love poem to him… and first a quick video… it’s only a few minutes AND IT CONTAINS… no, I don’t want to spoil the surprise…

 

(*I don’t care if this is a word or not, it should be.)

Fresh Green Silence
Sarah Salway

Maybe like this: sunburnt hands
brown as earth or the bark of a tree,
stroking the neck of his horse,
sweat and mud flicking high
in air, as even then, cantering

into the courtyard, his mind as open
as the servants’ kitchen, where ale spills
over the oak table while he arranges
pots and pans as forests, skims off foam
from his tankard for a lake,

until later, upstairs, he unrolls
vellum plans, takes silky ladies
to the window. You must always,
he urges, embrace even disorder
with necessary order. Arms stretched

out in the offer of so many possibilities:
here the sound of rushing water
under a spinx lined bridge,
there there there, spaces between trees,
full stops in a constant conversation.

I will give you, he whispers to her hand,
fresh green silence, and it’s this
she holds on to, the rush of air
as he rides away and the very land
she walks on is transformed forever.