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Pictures at an Exhibition - a great summer read from North London mum Camilla Macpherson


If you are looking for an enjoyable summer read and you like stories that combine romance with interesting period detail, you could try Camilla Macpherson's Pictures At An Exhibition. We really enjoyed reading it and were very happy when Camilla, a North London mum herself agreed to answer a few questions about the book and how she wrote it.


Pictures at An Exhibition tells two stories - the historical element of the book relates the story of wartime London when every month during WW2, the National Gallery put one painting on display for the culture-starved inhabitants who remained in London during the blitz. A young woman, Daisy Milton decides to visit each painting and write about the paintings and the impact they have on her in letters to her cousin Elizabeth. This story is very touchingly told and convincing.

The modern day story is about a young married couple who have recently lost a baby late in pregnancy and how they both come to terms with this tragedy. The two stories intertwine very effectively and the parallels drawn between them are revealed as the book develops. We thought it was great to see miscarriage tackled so sensitively in a book of this type.

We sent Camilla the questions below, which she very kindly answered:

What gave you the idea for the book in the first place?

I was on a walking tour of London and the topic of the tour was London during the Second World War. The guide mentioned the National Gallery's war-time Pictures of the Month scheme, which forms the theme of the novel, and immediately I thought it would be a great starting point for a novel. Basically, whilst most artworks were put into storage out of London during the Blitz to keep them safe, the National Gallery decided to display one masterpiece a month to help keep culture alive and morale up. I remember rushing home so I could check whether someone had based a plot on this scheme previously - but luckily not! Taking my characters on a journey through art gave me a great framework for the bigger story too, as I take the approach of focussing on one painting per chapter.

The main character in the book has suffered a miscarriage, not something you read about too often in fiction. Was this something that you deliberately wanted to bring to wider attention?

The story of Claire and her miscarriage just came very strongly to me. I started writing Pictures at an Exhibition before I had children and I am thankful not to have had a miscarriage myself, but a number of women I know have, and there was something about the tragedy of that situation - and how differently and unexpectedly people respond - that made me want to write about it. It is an element of the novel that stood out powerfully for my agent and publishers.

How many children do you have? How on earth did you write this book whilst having children?

I have one child, Freya, who is 2 and a half tomorrow. My secret is that I wrote the initial manuscript before she was born! It then lay around for a year whilst I was working full-time before I focussed on trying to find an agent. I actually found an agent on the same day my daughter was born! After that I had to do quite a few re-writes and that was definitely hard with a small baby. I don't have any family who can help look after Freya so once she was a couple of months old I decided I would pay for some care from a wonderful lady for a few hours a day on those days I felt that I wanted to write. It was a very difficult decision because inevitably I felt very guilty about leaving her at home while I was sitting at my laptop in a cafe or library, but sometimes timing is just like that!

What are your tips for people who would like to write and get published?

The key is persistence and concentration in terms of sitting down and actually writing. Writing is a huge discipline and one that is infinitely harder to do these days. I am very easily distracted! As for getting published, this was about postage, writing letters and a lot of luck.

Did you enjoy writing the book?

This is an excellent question, to which the right answer should be Yes but the true answer is Sometimes. Pictures at an Exhibition is quite an emotionally intense book and that can be a bit draining for the author. All that writing is also hard work! I mixed up the actual writing with research, editing and field trips around London's museums and art galleries and that kept it interesting.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am focussing on marketing Pictures at an Exhibition and enjoying the publication. Come September, Freya will be in nursery so I may have some more free time/head space for another big project.

What is your favourite thing to do in North London with your children?

I have lived in Highbury since 2005 and there are so many great things to do with children. The new Clissold Park cafe and toddler area are great, and Tick Tock music (which operates in Islington, Crouch End and Muswell Hill) is my daughter's absolute favourite thing to do. She talks about it all the time.


Camilla's novel, Pictures at an Exhibition, is published by Random House and is available from Amazon, Kindle and good bookshops. Find out more at www.camillamacpherson.com
Culture bloggers 26 June 2012 at 22:31 said...

Great read! Enjoyed the book and loved looking at all of the paintings as well.

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