Art casts a powerful spell over me, although I have no talent in that direction. I paint a picture with words rather than pixels. However, I suspect I’m not the only British crime thriller writer who hands over book design to someone much more gifted (the cover for my latest, The Bride’s Trail, was designed by the wonderful David Massey and produced by the equally skilled Sofia Wilson). Art inspires me to write, though (who wouldn’t wonder at the story behind a picture?) and it has an amazing power to lift my mood. I used to work in a cramped office overlooking railway tracks, my only view the fast disappearing 10.15 express to London. The more favoured side of the office overlooked the handsome civic buildings of central Birmingham, including the wonderful Museum and Art Gallery. That was where I fled after awkward meetings with my boss. The gorgeous pre-Raphaelite paintings worked their magic, taking me from seething to calmed breathing.
Serendipity – a pleasant surprise – is one of the most delightful aspects of art. It’s not simply for visitors to art galleries either (although if you happen to be in Birmingham, you won’t regret checking out those pre-Raphaelites. The museum doesn’t charge an entrance fee, except for curated exhibitions like the current William Morris and Andy Warhol show). This summer, pop-up art installations are bringing art to unlikely urban nooks and crannies. London’s Shaun In The City exhibition has moved lock, stock and barrel to Bristol, where 70 huge, luridly coloured sheep are sprinkled across the city. Not to be outdone, Birmingham’s Big Hoot has brought dozens of man-size owls to parks, squares and shopping precincts.
The owls and sheep aren’t just making art accessible, they’re encouraging us to exercise. You won’t know what you’ll see and where you’ll see it unless you take a stroll to look for it. You can’t afford to wait, either – the richly-decorated figures will be around for just a few weeks, before they’re auctioned to raise funds for local children’s hospitals.