A big welcome to Sandra Danby. Sandra’s latest book ‘Connectedness‘ was published on 10 May and is book number 2 in the Identity Detective series. Sandra has provided a guest post on how she created the character of Justine.
Thank you Tracey Emin
The protagonist in Connectedness, Justine Tree, is a successful but controversial artist. The initial inspiration was Tracey Emin but Justine quickly took on her own quirks. So how did I make Justine into a real person? And how did I get into the head of an artist when I didn’t even take O’Level Art?
Once I decided Justine would be an artist I began to absorb art; visiting exhibitions, reading memoirs and watching television documentaries. This was not hard work as I love art but am an enthusiastic amateur. I even have a box of watercolours, sadly under-used. I decided to visit as many art exhibitions as I could, particularly those of which I knew nothing. This, I hoped, would expand my understanding. It was also fun. Most influential was Tracey Emin and her in-your-face way of baring her emotions in her work. Love her or hate her, everyone has heard about ‘My Bed’ and ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995’.
How would it be, I wondered, if Justine seemed to be like Emin – Justine is criticized in Connectedness as ‘emotionally incontinent’ – but was hiding a secret behind the publicity and controversy. When Justine was an art student she had a baby daughter, later adopted. Connectedness is the story of her struggle twenty-seven years later to find Jenni, but to do this Justine must admit what she did and recognise the lies she has told.
The book most helpful in fine tuning Justine’s daily life as an artist was My Life in a Column, a collection of the newspaper articles written by Emin for The Independent between 2005-2009. As I grew more confident in my subject I felt able to allow Justine to become herself, to develop her own personality. Key to this was the creative force unleashed by her migraines; these headaches are a physical manifestation of her shame at abandoning Jenni and the quantity of lies told afterwards. Here’s a short excerpt:
Today’s pain was black. Black on black. White flashing lights, Titanium White? Justine stood with a microwave-heated wheat pad on her shoulders, a thick fleece hat pulled down over her ears and a ski neck-warmer snuggled up to her chin, wearing sunglasses despite the grey sky outside. She felt feverish and over-medicated, but over the worst.
Scooping a handful of glaziers’ putty from the pot, she spread it thickly across the canvas to represent her skull.
Putty is bone-coloured.
Grey, cream, brain-coloured. Using a tablespoon, she scooped black oil paint from the pot on to the canvas, tipping it this way and that, and then lying it flat. She surveyed the result; the damp putty was slicked over by an oily black sludge. She balled her fist so the bones of her knuckles shone white through her parchment-pale skin, and then hit the canvas in time with the pounding in her head. The chemical smell of the paint made her head spin but it cleared a path through her sinuses and gave her brain a kick-start. After a break to retch in the sink, she added more putty, more black, more drips of Titanium White like splinters of light creeping round the edges of her sunglasses. She pressed the linseed oil putty now, massaging it as if to force the pain away, kneading it like bread dough. Her fingertips left a trail of grease across her temples.
Today’s pain was black with grey.
Afterwards, she felt a kind of relief. As if a headache cleansed, bringing a new emptiness with which to face the day.
So Emin helped me to create Justine’s emotional character, but what about the art she makes? Artist Kurt Jackson was the starting point for my idea of Justine making collages outdoors. He works outdoors on the cliffs of Cornwall, using paint and collaging with sand and found materials. Watch him talk about this process in his short film ‘An Mor Kernewek/Shave Green (2009)’.
As a teenager, Justine experiences a torment of betrayal, jealousy and anger and begins to paint outdoors. Here’s a short excerpt which in my head is set on a clifftop footpath on Bempton Cliffs, 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.
| About the Book |
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.
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.
| Author Bio |
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.