Something to be kept secret.

The American romance writer, Anita Shreve was born the same year as myself. She died last year of Cancer after a ‘long battle’, as it is often somewhat euphemistically described. It is a battle our besieged bodies fight within us, our conscious selves have few weapons other than attitude and perhaps diet.

We both began writing at a very young age but it took me a lifetime to approach my writing seriously, to focus. She however, published the first of her prolific catalog of work in 1975. Possibly the most well-known of which, The Pilots Wife was made into a film.

In an interview she gave in the Guardian in 2008 she called writing ‘a solitary pursuit’. In this she echoed my own observation and it seems to me by definition, this goes hand in hand with a certain loneliness. However, it is a loneliness which somehow gives rise to inspiration and thus becomes a necessary part of the creative character.  It was at first, she said, ‘ something to be kept secret’.

I saw myself scribbling away, twelve years old, immersed in a world of characters I preferred to real people. That these stories were to be kept other than secret never once occurred to me then.

The well-spring is very private.

 This being the case, publishing lays one bare to hurtful disregard for our carefully expressed thoughts.

Later it became a way to express emotions I had no idea what to do with.

If someone were to ask me to give one reason why I write, realizing that what I write is of little interest to most people, I could do no better than to quote the above.

Finally, it morphed into its present incarnation; daydreaming with a lot of craft brought to bear on what makes it to the page.

I am working hard on the craft, the daydreaming comes naturally.


All above quotes by Anita Shreve.

vous rêvez seule

Beyond the Bay of Angels

Autobiographical Fiction: Takes the facts and fills the gaps with your imagination.

It seems this is an accepted category, ever evolving from the genre of fiction and one for which I recently discovered the above definition.

Reassuring, even if I get the impression, somewhat denigrated and certainly lacking the prestige, or heaven forbid, comparison with Literary Fiction.

Apart from a children’s story written during my years in India, my stories and novels to date have comfortably fitted into the category of Romantic Fiction. Sometimes called Women’s Fiction. Even my attempt at mystery writing was, in the end, overshadowed by the romantic element linking the two principal protagonists.

I have given much thought to just what it is that makes a good writer. I do not mean great. I have never for one moment been deluded to the extent of aspiring to such heights as those of Conrad, Henry James or  their ilk.  However, winner of the Booker Prize some decades ago, Anita Brookner, is described as ‘ one of the great writers of Contemporary Fiction’. Another term, and incidentally, one which gives me pause for thought.

In The Bay of Angels published in 2001 we find again the recurring theme of all her work. Disappointment in love and isolation. Although an Academic, she came to writing relatively late in her life, at age 53. She never married and took care of her parents until their death. She died aged 87 in 2016.

I rarely walk now beside the Bay of Angels here in Nice where I now live, without thinking of her, or of this novel. The haunting sadness of wasted life. Both the daughter and the tragic mother seemed incapable of grasping the joys held out to them.

In my new novel, on which I am at present embarked, I find myself reflecting on life’s regrets. On missed opportunities, on untapped potential. I wonder just how much of Anita Brookner is reflected in her characters which brings me back to the term, Autobiographical Fiction. Not because knowing some facts about her life explains a lot, but knowing one’s own life experience from the perspective of later years, I see how rich a fund of material is at my finger tips. How great an adventure this story can be. If not in literary terms then in enjoyment of a good tale well told.


The Bay of Angels

More on Henry James or ‘the essential loneliness of my life’

My immediate thought on reading the above quote was, ‘ Isn’t that what makes a writer?

Recently I saw a word press blog post by a writer complaining of his boredom, as though the task of writing was just that, a task, laborious and tiresome. I fail to understand, if he feels that way, just why do it since, with the exception of the very, and still more dwindling few, it is hardly lucrative ? However, it has been described as a ‘arduous profession’ by no less than Henry James.

The most arduous part, to me being the pursuit of publication the drudge of submissions.  Mr James  published his novel The Ambassadors in a popular journal in weekly or monthly installments before the book was actually printed. A current practice of the time.

In the preface  of the copy I borrowed from the excellent Bibliothèque Louis Nucéra in Nice I noted an interesting and for me, significant anecdote. Because of the ‘peculiar diffuseness and obscurity of the prose’ the chapters were mixed up and inserted in the wrong place. This was not detected nor corrected for fifty years after its original editions were published. His time scheme apparently caused the editorial confusion. To further paraphrase the writer of the Introduction to this edition, Harry Levin,  this was possibly because the story is reflected rather than narrated. The author here has a tendency to anticipate or reminisce over events, not necessarily sequential or even really having taken, or to eventually take place, within the story.

This, for my own, admittedly untrained but instinctive style comes as an encouraging acknowledgment that we do not necessarily have to fit into the popular view of the novel. Whatever our academic background, it is style that counts in the end. One of the characters in the novel advises another to take time when reading, the thread that links is stretched scientifically tightly, he admonishes, do not break that thread. I intend to take that advice with The Ambassadors.

Another admission by this illustrious author, again a vindication of a perfectly natural fact often presented as if it were a criticism in so many writers work was that he admitted freely,

the vague resemblance between the poor old hero and himself.

a fan

The Unposted letter

Never, never my girl riding far and near

In the land of the hearthstone tales and spelled asleep,

Fear or believe that the wolf in the sheep white hood

Hoping and bleating roughly and blithely shall leap, my dear, my dear,

Out of a lair in the flocked leaves

In the dew dipped year

To eat your heart in house in the rosy wood.

Dylan Thomas.

Now this really and truly is the last of the memories I am sending you. I leave you to do what you like with them.

I will keep you in mind and heart, those days in blue satin gloves, trailing behind you in Palma de Mallorca.


The Forgotten Artist

It was quite by chance that I discovered this forgotten artist.

I was living in Pondicherry South India in the late 90’s. A pleasant enough town if you live on the right side of the canal, although unless you have air-con, insufferably hot during the long afternoons. I was fortunate to live on the right side, that is, in the french part of town, one block from the sea front. From my roof garden I could catch the breezes that arrived with the monsoon season but the rest of the year all one could do was to take cold showers and lie under the slow moving ceiling fan until the sun set with its usual abruptness so close to the equator.

It was always a pleasure to ride on my faithful and much loved Hero,  HERO being the standard bicycle manufactures trade name, which I rather liked, along with its racing green colour and shinny chrome beneath the trees and over the bridge to the French bakery across the canal as soon as it was cool enough to venture out. The bakery was air conditioned with a cafe. As was the bookshop next door. This was an especially favorite haunt, packed with classics in English, children’s as well as adult fiction, famous literary works, travel books, reference works and the Arts.Well known as a valued customer by the owner, he would proffer a stool so that I could comfortably browse for as long as I liked.

It was there in the window, halting my passage, The Forgotten Orchids of Alexandre Brun. I went in and without hesitation, splurged nearly my  entire months household budget and bought the only copy.

A Frenchman, born in Marseilles before the age of photography,  Alexandre Brun was commissioned to paint the orchids of a passionate collector of the then rare plants. Their fame and rarity in fin de siécle France had made them an obsession akin to the better known Tulip fever of the seventeenth century.

The book is full of prints of these spectacular paintings. The artist, as forgotten as his orchids. Their strange other- worldliness captured on the pages, they live still. The dark backgrounds, served to dramatize them even further and inspired me in many of my own paintings, to this day.

Maybe, that adage comes again to mind in his case, that as long as you are remembered, a part of you, or your work still loved, then you never really die.



Beautiful is Back

Checked out google and found my old domain name is still up on Facebook. Beautiful Made on the French Riviera .

It was with fascinated pleasure and some what unexpected delight that I rediscover my own work, ideas and inspirations of what is now, an incredible six or seven years ago.

I briefly wondered if Beautiful should make a come back before having a clear picture in my minds eye of my hand holding the bags of pink and black woven labels, poised above the ‘chuck out’ bag, hesitating,then deciding ruthlessly I would never use them again, as they disappeared into the depths along with countless photographs and irreplaceable memorabilia from my time since goodness knows when. I was off, or so I thought, to the remote Islands of the Pacific never to return.

It wasn’t long before I was sketching out ideas for another label for my Island studio designs. Plans to open in the Blue House direct to the public. It should have been perfect, complete with Cheechy-Peach the resident cat, soft and gentle longing for company, we sat at night lit by my computer screen in the island darkness, eerily still, remote, cut off it seemed to me from all the world.

I painted dresses, and T Shirts again as I had all those years ago in Hawaii. I take a deep breath even now and I can be back there again. So much beauty. I should have stayed forever. So much has happened since. Italy, then back to France. Sweet rushes of creativity between treatments that fought with my mind for precedence. Ah! The gift of creativity is what makes my heart sing.

‘That’s what makes you an artist’ somebody said.

Cheechy-Peach Gets creative


Love this Dress.

It Takes an Original

After viewing the current exhibition at the Musée Matisse in Nice it came to me that the trouble with being an original is that it takes someone original to recognize you as one.

This exhibition largely of photographs documented the friendship/ rivalry between Matisse and Picasso who both lived for some years, almost neighbors on the Cote d’Azur. This exhibition finds the pair when, Matisse towards the end of his life, diagnosed with Cancer,  was exploding into the celebration of his cut out colour decoupage from his bed or wheelchair, whereas Picasso was in his hey day, still full of his celebrated vigor.

There are however, some paintings and sketches by both artists. Early works exploring technique, sometimes obviously influenced by their contemporaries to discover new ways to express what they saw. An Impression then, hence the term, what they themselves actually saw, the essential feeling of it, its sense, the essence in a way, of light and colour and line to evoke an expression on a portrait,  or the feeling of being part of the scene before you, regarding it,  feeling the light shift, the wind in the trees, not a photographic perfect representation but an insight into the very mind of the sitter or the vibrancy of the scene.

Matisse apparently made three portraits of Améille. Two of them, a sketch in colour and a finished painting are on show. In the sketch, on an otherwise blank canvas he evokes the essential of the woman’s mood and character using what look like arbitrary daubs of red. In it, when we look to the finished portrait below, we see all the force of expression is the same, intensified by the completed work but essentially unchanged.

At the end, not long before Matisse’s death, we see Picasso paint a last homage to his friend and rival. An armchair, objects in a room, the open window and Palms beyond, that exquisite light that so delighted his friend each day. It is hung side by side with a Matisse, the same palette, the kind of room we always associate with his style. It was a touching tribute from a man who by comparison seems to me so earthy and sensual to one so whimsical and other-worldly.

When the Impressionists were doing that no one had seen anything like it. To view it today and not be aware of that fact is to reduce it to a simplicity it does not deserve. To judge based on an often badly interpreted reality is to lack  the ability to appreciate or even recognize originality when you see it.

Writing and Life

Why is it ever valid to make a distinction between auto biography, auto fiction and fiction? What fiction does not contain a deep reflection of the authors perspective and memory20160728_173045 and sense of the world?

More on Vincent

How did he see all those colours, how did his vision probe so far beyond the obvious, the layers, the shock of a sudden violet light ? How his brother must have loved him. I imagine him reading his letters in that famous painted room, his only real friend on whom he could always count.Perhaps he could buy the blue cobalt he needed with the few franc notes he had slipped inside the letter?

How strange I am to feel such tender compassion for this tortured old man. His loneliness touches me and yet I rejoice in the endless discovery in each painting. Renoir was a genius of his art, many, endless past and present stun with flawless and astounding skill of execution but my dear Vincent, I just want to thank you for being.