For the last event before the summer break, Suffolk Book League welcomed Pamela Holmes, who enthralled the audience with her talk on her debut novel The Huntingfield Paintress (2016). The novel seeks to shine a light in a local Suffolk glory that is often overlooked: St Mary’s Church, Huntingfield.
Pamela shared how she came across the church by accident, after visiting a friend’s on New Year’s Day in 2010. Published in 2016, Pamela spent many years researching the novel and uncovering the life of Mildred Holland. Her journey began when on her New Year’s visit; Pamela came across a small pay metre in the church. Upon depositing money into the slot, the church was illuminated, revealing
the hidden paintings on the ceiling. Amongst the paintings were golden angels, and Pamela was drawn to the composition of the piece.
There was little information in the church on Mildred, except a small leaflet that revealed she was the Vicar’s wife, and that the paintings were created to inspire more visitors to attend the church. Pamela imagined the conditions and hours Mildred would have spent painting, and wanted to reclaim her voice which, over history, had been reduced to that of a meek Victorian woman.
Mildred’s story enabled Pamela to write for the first time. She always wanted to write but did not feel as if she could for many years, her writing felt dormant until she discovered Mildred. To trace her journey Pamela lived in Huntingfield herself for a short period whilst writing and even visited the old rectory to explore the walls that once inhabited Mildred.
The novel's own journey was highlighted by Pamela. Originally published by Urbane Publications before their closure, The Huntingfield Paintress was subsequently reissued by Bloodhound Books, who have also reissued her second novel Wyld Dreamers which was inspired by her own life experiences.
Pamela also gave us a sneak preview of her upcoming work on Elizabeth Blackwell, which builds upon her intentions to reintroduce forgotten historical figures to a contemporary audience. As we eagerly anticipate her next work, it is no more fitting time to discover the wonders of St Mary’s Church and remember the strength and skill of Mildred Holland. No longer will she be forgotten in history.
Please see BookTalk # 179 for a review of The Huntingfield Paintress as well as a piece about St Mary’s Church and Mildred Holland. To access Simon Knott’s richly illustrated article about Huntingfield Church see http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/huntingfield.htm