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Gregory Hardiman update 5: October 2022

Making it up as I go along: creating a new Cambridge college

Knowing from the outset that I am writing a series is a very different exercise.  When I launched blithely into the book that eventually emerged as “Fatal Forgery”, I was convinced – if indeed I thought about it at all – that it would be a standalone endeavour.  But I already know that “Gregory 1” is the first of five books, and this means that the decisions I make about the setting and cast list will be far-reaching: I’m going to have to live with them, and write within their constraints, for at least five years.  Suddenly it all seems a bit weighty and serious.  And one of the biggest decisions I have to make concerns a college.

For those of you not familiar with the set-up in Cambridge (and Oxford, but let’s not mention that place again), these are collegiate universities.  You apply not to the university but to a specific college: your pastoral life is then the concern of the college, while your academic life is overseen by the central university.  Cambridge (and the other place) offers a variation on a theme: lectures are offered centrally by university departments, while undergraduate supervisions (tutorials in the other place) take place in your college.  So the college is a central part of the student’s life – oh, and students were called scholars or undergraduates in Gregory’s day.  With this in mind, and given that several of the plots I have planned involved dodgy dealings at a college, I had a decision to make: should I use a real college, or keep it blurry (referring just to “the college”), or make one up?  I pretty quickly decided against the first option: I’m going to be saying some unpleasant things about the place and making various allegations, and who wants to be sued by such a wealthy institution as one of the older Cambridge colleges?  And writing just a few chapters showed me that the second option – just referring obliquely to “the college” – was impractical.  It’s a bit like using a pronoun – you must from time to time use the proper name so that people remember who the pronoun means.  Which left me with the third option: create my own Cambridge college.

I’m not the first author to do this, of course.  Many of you will have read the darkly comic “Porterhouse” novels by Tom Sharpe, featuring Skullion the Head Porter and Zipser the graduate student at Porterhouse college.  Kingsley Amis mentioned All Saints College, as did Douglas Adams.  William Thackeray created Boniface College, while GK Chesterton went for Brakespeare College.  Other authors have gone for Fisher College, Lauds College, Old College, a whole slew of saintly colleges, and the very accurate (given our geographical location) Wetmarsh College.  But it’s not as easy as it sounds.  The problem is not the name, but the location.  I have a very reliable and detailed map of Cambridge in the 1820s, and finding a spot where there isn’t already a college or some other building or a ditch is tricky.  But I think I’ve managed it.
Cambridge is replete with churches.  And on my map, towards the eastern edge of town on the road leading to the Great Bridge (known as Magdalene Bridge these days), is St Clement’s Church.  And behind it are a few houses and then… empty fields.  Well, I’m sure they weren’t actually empty: Cambridge needed a lot of food and pretty much any surrounding land that could be kept flood-free was used for growing stuff.  But for my purposes, I’m going to requisition them for St Clement’s College.  St Clement’s is going to be small and quite poor.  St Clement is one of the patron saints of mariners, and is often shown with an anchor, so that will do nicely for my college crest.  But what about the motto?  And this is where you come in.

I am running a little competition to create a suitable motto for St Clement’s.  For inspiration, here are some of the mottos of Cambridge colleges that were around in the 1820s:
  • Souvent me souvient (I often remember) – St John’s
  • Dieu me garde de calomnie (God preserve me from calumny) – Sidney Sussex
  • Sancte et sapienter (With holiness and wisdom) – King’s
  • Floreat domus (May this house flourish) – Queens’
And the motto for Cambridge University itself is Hinc lucem et pocula sacra (Here light and sacred draughts – or, more colloquially: From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge).  So you can go for Latin or French – I leave that to you.  The motto needs to be short and snappy, and aspirational and/or devotional.

To take part, simply click the link in the Competition box to the right to send me an email containing your motto.  The deadline for entries is 18 November 2022 – please feel free to share this newsletter far and wide so that friends and family can take part!  The winner will receive an acknowledgement at the front of “Gregory 1”, and a Sam Plank paperback book of their choice, posted to them wherever in the world they may be (or an e-book in MOBI format if preferred).  Bonam fortunam!
The map of Cambridge engraved by S T Neele in about 1800
The cover of the first Porterhouse novel by Ton Sharpe
St Clement's Church in Cambridge
The college motto displayed in the Old Hall of Queens' College
To suggest a motto for St Clement's College, click here to send me an email!

Deadline for entries is
18 November 2022
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