Pineapple Inspiration at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Museums are great places for inspiration and for research, and I'm lucky to have some great ones in my home town of Cambridge. One of my favourites is the Fitzwilliam Museum. Two regal stone lions guard the building. There is a story that they come alive at midnight and drink from 'Hobson's conduit' - the gulley that runs along the edge of the street nearby. This story was the seed of the idea that became The Mystery of the Midnight Ghost. You can see the two lions on the front cover, posing on the steps of Pendragon Manor.

Another of my stories was inspired by an object in the Fitzwilliam Museum. High over a doorway there hangs a rather dark portrait by Theodorus Netscher. It's not a portrait of a king or a queen or a girl in a pearl earring or a boy with a dog. This is a prize pineapple - perhaps the first one ever grown in England.

Intrigued by this painting, I started reading about pineapple growing in the eighteenth century. It was all the rage among the rich and fashionable of the day. If you weren't rich enough to grow or buy your own, you could rent one for the evening to display in pride of place on your dinner table! I was so fascinated I wrote a mystery story called The Mystery of the Pineapple Plot for the anthology Mystery and Mayhem.

So I was very excited to be invited to talk about my story in the Fitzwilliam Museum itself, as part of their Family First Saturday event. The theme of the event was writing, and there were all kinds of other interesting activities and story-tellings going on as well. I had a lovely time, talking with two groups of children, all about the painting that inspired my story and the pineapple-growing craze. We finished with an interactive reading of a scene from the story - complete with extravagant Georgian wigs, fake pineapples and jumping centipedes!

Photograph, Jen Morgan.

Now I'm busy working on another pineapple-y project with the Fitzwilliam - more about that soon!

Thank you to every one at the Fitzwilliam Museum for asking to take part and for helping with the talk on the day. Thanks also to the families who came along and joined in the fun.

Special thanks also to seven year old Jamie, who has sent me not one, but two, brilliant mystery stories inspired by the event and by Fitzwilliam Museum.

You can find out more about The Mystery of the Pineapple Plot and its historical setting here.