As an annual contributor for Parisian Gentleman, James Sherwood muses about what it's like to write his next book "Sartorial Treasures", to be published by Thames and Hudson. You may read more of his diary (in his signature "Dear Rowley" format) at Letters from Bloomsbury Square. The writings of this erudite author is best enjoyed at home, while dunking your biscuits in afternoon tea.
As a tribe, writers are suspicious. We all have rituals necessary to get from bower of bliss to desk; necessary as it happens when nobody is watching and one only has self-discipline and a January tax bill for motivation. If I don’t spring up like a scalded cat with the alarm and start brewing a pot of hot chocolate – love in a china cup – the day is over before it has begun.
Though I love the thought of writing in a silk jacquard Turnbull & Asser dressing gown and a pair of velvet Trickers slippers, it doesn’t work. An actor will tell y0u it all starts with the shoes and the same goes for me. If I’m not looking down at a pair of Loake Chelsea boots planted under the desk (mine I hasten to add), I’m not ready to even attempt a line of golden prose.That said, repetition is death. If I’m not at large in London for at least a day or two away from Bloomsbury Towers I start to feel like a battery hen. Hence you found me happy as a clam at Henry Poole yesterday photographing the formal portfolio for my new Thames & Hudson project Sartorial Treasures with the supremely talented Andy Barnham.
Andy and I go some way back working on features for The Rake when I was editor-at-large. He shot a lot of pictures for my Perfect Gentleman book that were quite simply outstanding. All the jewellers will tell you that photographing gem-set pieces is an absolute nightmare for the light. I think Andy and I got through about forty pieces yesterday loaned by Van Cleef & Arpels, Grima, Theo Fennell, Shaun Leane, Wartski, Bentley & Skinner and Hancocks. I’m quietly thrilled with the results. I’m sending you some of my amateur snaps from the day to give you a flavour of the aesthetic we’re going for.
As you’ll see, the pieces I’ve chosen are not shy. Because I’d done my appointments in December and made the choices for the shoot, every piece was a favourite. Naturally, you never know how they’re going to register on camera when positioned on a suit or in a shirt cuff. Turns out the boldest pieces I chose looked spectacular rather than clownish when shot on black tie, white tie and smoking jackets.
The biggest surprise was the pearl and diamond spider with ruby eyes set by Hancocks, the antique jeweller in the Burlington Arcade. Insect brooches are usually made to scale so this particular spider must have been a fearsome beast because it loomed rather large on a grosgrain lapel of a Henry Poole dinner jacket. But the scale is the making of the jewel.
We were scuppered trying to shoot cuff links on Poole’s Stockman mannequins because in order to show the jewel, we had to flash a ridiculous amount of cuff that looked totally wrong. So we decided on still life to explain the dimensions of the links and the mechanisms. To give an idea of the scale, we photographed them on Poole’s historic hand-written customer ledgers.
Anyway, we made a sterling start and I am delighted with the photographs so all is well with the world. Well, I say that if you discount the inevitable January blues that I sincerely hope don’t descend into the mean reds (salve Truman Capote) or the ink blacks. Successful work always tends to shake my blues away so here’s to it.
Are you attempting Dry January this year? Quite frankly I think it’s like trying to shoot the rapids when you’ve burnt the paddle. January has to be the most melancholy month in London when you need all the help you can get to make it through the month. Naturally one doesn’t order a crate of Plymouth Gin, lock the door and only come out on the 1st of February when it’s all over. But if you can’t enjoy a glass of Prosecco on a cold, dark January evening then when in the name of Elaine Stritch can you?
Do you know what really helps to power on through January without getting depressed? A complete blanket ban on news. Politics in the British media has become an industry in much the same way that red carpet events have for fashion. Debates about both fill an awful lot of time. Nobody to my knowledge outside the Palace of Westminster has the insatiable interest that merits blanket coverage of every cough and fart about Brexit.
Speaking of repetition being death, there is something to be said for stepping out of one’s comfort zone and keeping the mind challenged. Of an evening you are likely to find me with my nose in a biography of Queen Marie of Romania, Sir Philip Sassoon or Dame Edith Sitwell. But Hilary Mantel aside, I’m not exactly up to speed with contemporary fiction.
So I bought the new Jack Reacher thriller by Lee Child the other day. Granted, I kept turning the pages of Night School and appreciated the pace and the veracity of the plotting. But I can’t say the story thrilled me. Violence and terrorism in Hamburg doesn’t exactly make a January night any the pleasanter.
My guilty pleasure at the moment are M. C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin murders read by Dame Penelope Keith. My God she’s marvellous as a narrator. I did read one of the books and didn’t enjoy it half as much as when Dame Penelope is describing each character with evident relish for the many accents she performs.
Can you remember I recorded an audio tour entitled Marilyn Monroe’s London a while ago? I absolutely loved recording the half hour script including all of the accents required. It would be heaven to do more this year. Much as I love writing I think variety is the key to a happy career in 2017. Until next time…