I am very pleased to welcome author, Sandra Danby, to feature on my Blog as a guest. In celebration of her new book, ‘Connectedness,’ Sandra talks about her research into the wonderful world of art.
‘Connectedness’ is the 2nd book in her ‘Identity Detective’ series, a story that revolves around the art world, adoption and romance, from London to the cliffs of East Yorkshire and the orange blossom streets of Málaga in Spain.
So how did you, go about your research for this book, Sandra, and will you tell us about the story and the characters?
“Novelists are always asked ‘how much of the book is about you?’ With my first novel I could honestly say not much, apart from sharing an occupation with my heroine. We are both journalists. My new novel Connectedness is slightly different. It is second in the ‘Identity Detective’ series and so again features journalist Rose Haldane, but the main focus is on a birth mother seeking to find the daughter she gave up for adoption twenty-seven years earlier. In creating Justine Tree, I used two locations close to me – Yorkshire and Spain – and I gave her a profession I have not experienced. She is an internationally-successful artist.
This was a clever plan that gave me the opportunity to go to loads of art museums and exhibitions and say I was ‘researching’. I’m lucky enough to live near London and have become a regular visitor to Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Royal Academy of Arts and the Victoria & Albert Museum. All feature in Connectedness. I quickly realised that not only did I need to understand more about art, artists and how they create their work; I also needed settings. I immersed myself in exhibitions, books and television programmes, absorbing information and sifting the bits I might be able to use.
A quick scan of my Art Research folder shows that I read [or at least flicked through] a wide variety of sources from Essential Crochet by Erika Wright to Modern Art: A Very Short Introduction by David Cottington. I quickly focussed on Tracey Emin as an example of an artist who puts all her emotions and experiences into her art, something I wanted for Justine; though in Justine’s case, what you see is not always what you get. Most useful were two Emin books, My Life in a Column is a collection of her articles for The Independent newspaper; Strangeland is her memoir from her childhood in Margate to her rise to fame as a YBA [Young British Artist] in 1992.
So from Emin I drew her emotions and the fluidity of technique from drawing and painting to embroidery and installation. I embraced the outwardly chaotic appearance of Emin’s art and hopefully showed Justine’s process of making it; sometimes chaotic, but also considered. To that I added the Spanish link. Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga – near to where I spend part of the year – and I decided to use this link [more art museums to visit!] to add an unpredictable twist to Justine’s student story in 1983. Picasso brought artistic gravitas to my research and to Justine he brought collage, the technique that introduces the teenager to her artistic path.As a teenager, Justine experiences a torment of betrayal, jealousy and anger and begins to paint outdoors. Here’s a short excerpt that in my head is set on a clifftop footpath on Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire, where I grew up:
Knowing she might throw up, Justine ran until she had no breath left, sinking to the ground with a puff of summer dust. She cried for a long time, for lost love and lost friendship and then, recognising betrayal, she got angry. She opened her satchel and took out a sheet of drawing paper, orange furry pencil case and tube of paper glue. She weighed down the paper with lumps of chalk culled from beside the path and then, careless of the dust and grass seed flowing freely in the soft breeze, she created her first collage. A tangle of gull feathers, grass, dock leaves and smears of mud made of the dusty earth mixed with tears. She carried the half-finished jumble to her father’s shed where she carefully dismantled it, sorted and re-assembled it, fixing it together permanently with some plaster-like stuff from his workbench. She rescued a Frosties cereal packet from the dustbin and then, imagining it was the boy’s A-grade physics essay of which he’d been so proud, she tore it into strips. She sat holding a felt tip pen feeling empty of words until they spilled forth from a subconscious thesaurus: Traitor. Betrayal. Envy. Hurt. Jealousy. Theft. Unfair. Friend. Pain. Lies.”
TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALWAYS HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING
Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.
Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?
This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.
A family mystery for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore.
An extract from ‘Connectedness’
London, September 2009
The retired headmistress knew before she opened the front door that a posy of carnations would be lying on the doorstep beside the morning’s milk bottle. It happened on this day, every year. September 12. And every year she did the same thing: she untied the narrow ribbon, eased the stems loose and arranged the frilled red flowers in her unglazed biscuit-ware jug. Then she placed the jug on the front windowsill where they would be visible from the street. Her bones ached more now as she bent to pick them up off the step than the first year the flowers arrived. She had an idea why the carnations appeared and now regretted never asking about them. Next year, someone else would find the flowers on the doorstep. In a week’s time she would be living in a one-bedroom annexe at her son’s house in a Hampshire village. She walked slowly back to her armchair beside the electric fire intending to tackle The Times crossword but hesitated, wondering if the person who sent the flowers would ever be at peace.
Yorkshire, May 2010
The clouds hurried from left to right, moved by a distant wind that did not touch her cheek. It felt unusually still for May. As if the weather was waiting for the day to begin, just as she was. She had given up trying to sleep at three o’clock, pulled on some clothes and let herself out of the front door. Despite the dark, she knew exactly the location of the footpath, the edge of the cliffs; could walk it with her eyes closed. Justine lay on the ground and looked up, feeling like a piece of grit in the immensity of the world. Time seemed both still and marching on. The dark grey of night was fading as the damp began to seep through her jeans to her skin. A pale line of light appeared on the eastern horizon, across the flat of the sea. She shivered and sat up. It was time to go. She felt close to both her parents here, but today belonged to her mother.
Three hours later, she stood at the graveside and watched as the coffin was lowered into the dark damp hole. Her parents together again in the plot they had bought. It was a big plot, there was space remaining.
Will I be buried here?
It was a reassuring thought, child reunited with parents.
The vicar’s voice intoned in the background, his words whipped away by the wind. True to form, May was proving changeable. It was now a day requiring clothing intended for mid-winter, when windows were closed tight and the central heating turned on again. Or was it that funerals simply made you feel cold?
She repeated the vicar’s word, a whisper borne out of many childhood Sunday School classes squeezed into narrow hard pews. She was not paying attention to the service but, drawn by the deep baritone of the vicar who was now reciting the Lord’s Prayer, was remembering her first day at art college. The first class. Another baritone. Her tutor, speaking words she had never forgotten. Great art was always true, he warned, and lies would always be found out.
In her handbag was a letter, collected from the hall table ten days ago as she left the house for Heathrow and Tokyo. She had expected to return home to London but, answering the call from her mother’s doctor, had come straight to Yorkshire in the hope of seeing her mother one last time. The envelope, which was heavy vellum, and bore smidgens of gold and scarlet and the Royal Academy of Arts’ crest, was still sealed. She knew what the letter said, having been forewarned in a telephone call from the artist who nominated her. It was the official invitation. If she accepted, she was to be Justine Tree, RA.
About the ‘Identity Detective’ series
Rose Haldane reunites the people lost through adoption. The stories you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. Each book in the ‘Identity Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, Ignoring Gravity, it is Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby. Connectedness is the story of a birth mother and her longing to see her baby again. Sweet Joy, the third novel, will tell the story of a baby abandoned during The Blitz.
Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted.
‘Connectedness’ at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2q6qy5Z
‘Ignoring Gravity’ at Amazon http://amzn.to/1oCrxHd
Author website: http://www.sandradanby.com/
Photos [all © Sandra Danby unless specified] show the author, Sandra Danby, Royal Academy of Art – banners on Piccadilly, Tate Britain – front steps, Tracey Emin, quilt, I do not expect 2002 [photo: Tracey Emin] – Ceramic jug decorated with fauns, by Pablo Picasso 1951 [photo: Musee National Picasso-Paris] and the book cover of Correctness.
Thanks for sharing this, Sandra, and it’s been great to learn more about the research you undertake for your series. I have read your first book, ‘Ignoring Gravity,’ and found it a deeply moving tale. After reading this, I am really looking forward to getting stuck into your second novel. Enjoying research is something we both have in common and like you say, it’s a good excuse to lose yourself in interesting places.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s a suggested tweet:
How CONNECTEDNESS author @SandraDanby researched art & turned reality into fiction #amwriting via @SFDPBeginnings https://wp.me/p2b3Yf-oO