Photograph by Michael Jones, Fitzwilliam Museum
... ENJOYED BY ALMA CULLEN
As a writer who spends between ten and twenty hours a week in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Reading Room escaping home-induced claustrophobia, I only wish I could claim, high-mindedly, to be inspired by some item in the Fitzwilliam’s eclectically charming collection, a collection that, after all, includes not only Mediaeval, Renaissance and Impressionist masterpieces but can also produce, on request, Beethoven’s watch and the spectacles of William Blake.
I could of course lie and insist there is indeed a particular work that never fails to lift my spirits and stir my own tattered creativity to life: Derain’s 1929 Portrait of Madame Van Leer, for instance, which I might call a study in amber and smugness that nonetheless keeps the beholder guessing about the artist’s relationship with the sitter and spells out the importance of mystery in any imaginative work. Or I might do a lyrical number on Cézanne’s Still-life with Apples, contrasting what’s known about the austerity of the artist’s day-to-day existence in the 1870s with the life-enhancing richness of his painting, and so stir myself to greater effort. I might even, on an off-Cambridge day, be inspired to take apart the work of a local icon - Gwen Raverat’s Punting, perhaps - as a lesson in avoiding the bland and derivative.
But the truth is that nothing in the august Fitzwilliam Museum excites me so much as the scone I consume every day for lunch, together with an Americano coffee, in the excellent Courtyard Café. A thick, golden disc, knobbly on the outside and delicately crumbling within, the Courtyard scone with its slick of pale butter is a daily variation on perfection - sustaining, uplifting, nourishing and energizing - a sensual experience that sends me back to my desk with the will to go on working restored. If that isn’t inspiring, what is?
A screen-writer and playwright, Alma Cullen worked in radio and television from the late 1970s to 2004. The author of twelve radio plays and many screenplays, she has written for both the BBC and commercial television. Cullen has also contributed to several long-running TV series, including Inspector Morse and A Touch of Frost. She now concentrates on writing for the theatre.
Alma Cullen lives in Cambridge.
The Caledonia Cascade, 1979
A Hardy Breed of Girls (for the series Send in the Girls), 1979
Degree of Uncertainty (BBC Play for Today), 1980
Lives of Our Own, 1981
Northern Lights, 1982 – ‘Emmy’ nomination in the USA for the best non-American drama script
Two Per Cent, 1983 – Pharic McLaren award for best script of its year
Winter Sunlight, 1983 (original 4-part drama series)
Intimate Contact, 1987 (original 4-part drama series)
Inspector Morse, 1988-1991 (one 2-hour screenplay for each of series 3, 4, 5 and 6) – during this period the series won the BAFTA, Royal Television Society and Writers’ Guild awards for best TV drama series
A Village Affair, 1995 (from the novel by Joanna Trollope)
A Touch of Frost, 1996 (one 2-hour screenplay for series 4)
The Pale Horse, 1997 (from the novel by Agatha Christie)
All the King’s Men, 1999
Outside the Rules, 2002