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Tripping the light fantastic – in Country Life

Five glorious pages in Country Life magazine

June 19 and there it is. An article I had written for my own interest, back in February, is bursting out of the pages of a national magazine. A lot of this is down to the brilliant picture desk, but still, the topic was a bit of a gift for them: hummingbirds, shiny beetles, a painting by John Singer Sargent. It was all about iridescence.

My interest had been sparked by a visit to the Ashmolean Museum’s Victorian Colour Revolution exhibition, and the grotesque sight of the necklace of hummingbirds created by Harry Emanuel, jeweller to Queen Victoria. I wanted to find out more about the iridescent effect that so entranced the Victorians. This led to many discoveries: about tricks of light, about the £2 million trade in exotic bird species in 1880s London, the formation of the RSBP, about beetles and butterflies and fish and molluscs and more birds and oh, iridescence is everywhere in nature.

By the end, I had a written a piece about nature and art. It looked like an article, but who would be interested in it? Most publications don’t combine these categories. And the Ashmolean exhibition had closed. Then I thought of Country Life. About the same time, that wonderful thing, a topical hook, came up in the form of Tate Modern’s John Singer Sargent exhibition, which opened in March and ran until July. Maybe there was still time. So a pitch, a holding of breath while the features team said they would put it forward at the next editorial meeting, and then, bingo, a real, live commission. A whole four weeks to rewrite it to their brief, check and check again each claim and detail, and to get some comments from helpful informed experts such as Lev Parikian, Vicki Hird and Cedric Finet.

The Country Life features team are delightful, positive and polite, but it was a thrill to receive an email from deputy features editor Victoria Marston saying the piece was a joy to read and then to get another from managing editor Paula Lester saying she hoped I would be able to ‘write many more similarly evocative features for us in future.’ I hope so too.

Featured image from Country Life/Getty

art, beetles, birds, Country Life, iridescence

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