Posts tagged ‘literary novel’
June 22, 2018
KOB: Both of your novels are driven by strong female characters. Would you consider your work to be “Women’s Fiction” and if so, how do you feel your position as a male novelist impacts your female-centric writing?
DFM: I have noticed that women seem to respond well to my work, which I’m happy about because they buy far more books than men. However, I’m not sure about this notion of “Women’s Fiction”. There seems to be this idea in publishing that men write bang-bang-shoot-em-ups, while women pick apart dysfunctional relationships over the kitchen table with a large glass of red wine. Publishers like to categorise books into genres, I guess it makes it easier for them to target the audience they think they’re after, but so far as I’m concerned there’s only good fiction and bad fiction. I don’t really mind whether it’s packaged as crime, romance or a thriller, if it’s well written and captures my imagination I’ll read it, if it doesn’t I won’t. I think one of the most important traits you need as a writer of fiction is the ability to see the world from someone else’s point of view, whether that’s a politically engaged Irish woman, a Timorese teenager or a corrupt ageing Indonesian army officer. It’s the only way, in my view, you can create convincing characters that readers will relate to and care about.
Click on the covers for more information about the books
KOB: The recent Lush cosmetics campaign against Spycops has brought the issue tackled in The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal to light. Decades after these incidents took place, do you believe justice can eventually come from the public enquiry?
DFM: To me the Spycops scandal offers a perfect example of what can happen when a group of people in a position of power who aren’t publicly accountable to anyone for their actions lose sight of what they are there for in the first place. For those who aren’t familiar with the background, what happened was that in the 1970s a group was set up within the Metropolitan Police to infiltrate political organisations that were deemed a threat to society, and in doing so gain intelligence about their activities, plans and intentions. For obvious reasons no one knew about this group, and it didn’t seem to be answerable to anyone outside the Met. There was never any proper debate about what constituted a threat to society, or how far this group could go in order to counter it. As it turned out, the targets were typically peace campaigners, animal rights or environmental activists and other groups the government of the time didn’t particularly like, but who were engaged in legitimate political protest. Even if they did occasionally cross the line of the law, by comparison to the type of terrorism we see today, their activities were benign, almost charmingly quaint. We’re talking about people breaking into a laboratory and releasing a few rabbits destined for experiments, or tearing down some barbed wire outside a missile base, not some fanatic walking into a crowded concert hall and blowing up a hundred people. What has always staggered me about the Spycops scandal is how much effort, resources and moral compromise went into these deceptions when the stakes were so low and the threats to society so trivial. Over the years undercover officers infiltrated these groups and entered into intimate relationships with female members of them, sometimes going to far as to have children with them. At weekends they might go back to their real families; then there would come a time when they would be recalled and simply disappear from the lives of the women they had betrayed, leaving them to wonder what had happened. The collateral damage to the women and their families was mind-boggling, and no one in a position of power wanted to know or do anything about it.
The campaign to bring justice to these women seems to be pretty well organised and it’s certainly very determined. The Guardian newspaper has done and continues to do an excellent job keeping the story in the public eye, so I think despite all their prevaricating there’s a good chance the British Government will eventually be shamed into owning up and paying compensation where they haven’t already. Whether that constitutes justice or not is another question, as the real damage was done years ago and can’t be undone. There was no excuse for it in what’s meant to be an accountable democracy, and it was an absolute disgrace it was ever allowed to happen. What I was interested in pressing in The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal is whether it is ever possible to justify engaging in that level of deception, when the stakes are much higher, when innocent lives really are at risk, and what happens when you decide they are and go down that road.
KOB: Both Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal are focused on divided societies. What draws you to explore stories of such societal division?
DFM: The divisions in society, both in Europe and America, are becoming more extreme each year, and it’s something I find very worrying. It’s one of the biggest issues we are currently facing, and in my view is behind a lot of the political turmoil we have experienced, such as Brexit and the election of Trump. History tells us that whenever societies start to experience severe inequalities on the scale we are currently seeing, when people feel they have lost a stake in their society and have nothing to lose by overturning it, it generally ends badly all round. Just ask the French or the Russian aristocracy. Can we achieve a more just society through peaceful means as opposed to violent ones? I’d like to think so, but right now I’m not overly optimistic.
The other thing about divided societies is that people often end up in situations they could never have imagined in a more stable, peaceful environment. I have always been fascinated in what happens when people are pushed to extremes, how moral lines can become blurred, how they will do things and behave in ways that would have astonished and horrified them but a short time ago. How does a football mad kid who likes collecting stickers become a soldier capable of murdering innocent civilians, and what was the process that paved the way for that to happen? It’s only by exploring these threads and understanding them that we have a chance of preventing the worst aspects of our history repeating itself. You only have to look at some of the appalling things people did to each other during the Northern Ireland troubles to realise we are deluding ourselves if we think we are too civilized or sophisticated to go down that road. Bosnia was the same. These things weren’t done by animals, they were done by people like us. That’s the frightening thing about it. We can go down that road any time we choose. The camps are closer than we think. If fiction can wave a red flag and alert us to some of the dangers, then in my view it’s serving a useful purpose.
KOB: While both novels explore divided societies, they also both examine issues of family and human connection. Would you say that this is a major preoccupation of your writing?
DFM: For most people their families – and that concept can be understood in the loosest sense – constitute the arena where they engage in their most intimate relationships, where they feel free to reveal the innermost parts of themselves. And that is certainly a rewarding seam for a writer to mine, so to speak. I am fascinated by our human connections, which interestingly enough is a theme that Forster grapples with in Howard’s End. As a writer, your topic is the human condition and how that plays itself out. Connections are an inescapable part of that. Fiction is all about conflict and collision, whether it’s between world views and wills of the characters involved, or people and their external circumstances. If there is no conflict there is no drama, if there is no drama there is nothing to keep the reader with you. So, yes, I would say that’s a fairly major preoccupation of mine.
For adepts of serious summer reading:
June 20, 2018
Kelly O’Brien: Both of your novels, Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal are set in the 1970s and 1980s, is this period of time significant to you? What interests you in the writing of historical fiction?
Donald Finnaeus Mayo: Most decades have something interesting to offer, and if you have lived through them your recollections will obviously be coloured by your own experiences. Though to hear the 1970s and 1980s described as historical fiction makes me feel very old! I tend to be drawn to subjects or events as opposed to specific decades, but I also think you sometimes need a bit of time to elapse before you can gain a proper perspective of an era. If you’re too close to an event you can end up writing reportage rather than fiction. I remember a slew of novels about 9/11 came out a few years after the twin towers came down, and people didn’t seem ready for them. They had already digested all the documentary coverage they could take, and it begged the question as to what fiction could add. It takes me a long time to percolate ideas and work out what I really think. Possibly there’s an element of nostalgia to it as well. In writing about an era I get the chance to immerse myself back in it; what music people were listening to, what was happening in the world, what they were wearing, what they feared and where their hopes lay, recreating that world for people who weren’t there or may have forgotten what it was like. Right now I’m writing a novel about the impact of the 2008 financial crash on a small town in the American South.
KOB: Francesca follows the story of a young woman in East Timor during the Indonesian invasion of 1975, a moment of history that is potentially not very well-known, is this what inspired you to tell Francesca’s story?
DFM: It was more personal than that. My father worked in the oil business, and I spent a number of years as a child living in Indonesian Borneo. This period coincided with the invasion of East Timor, which ended up costing the lives of almost a third of that country’s population. Cocooned in our expat bubble, we were completely oblivious to what was happening. That was deliberate – journalists, human rights activists and anyone else who might cause trouble were kept well away from the place by the Indonesian government. With no social media, mobile phones or internet, it was possible for a military dictatorship to effectively shut a region off from the outside world in a way that seems inconceivable today. Western powers such as the United States and Australia, who did know what was going on despite what they may have said publicly to the contrary, were happy to sit by and let Suharto’s troops embark upon this genocide because he represented a bulwark against communism, which they were terrified of spreading throughout South East Asia. Saigon had only recently fallen, and there were worries revolutions could be sparked off through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and beyond. So poor old East Timor, who had never threatened anyone, was forgotten and left to suffer. It was only many years later, when I was working as a volunteer for Amnesty International in London, that I started coming across all these cases of human rights abuses from the region. When I examined them more closely, I was shocked to discover this mass murder had been taking place just a few hundred miles from our tennis courts and swimming pools. No one talked about it, no one wanted to upset the cosy relationship between the Suharto regime and the western oil companies. The genesis of the novel lay in the idea of what would happen if these parallel worlds jumped off their rails and collided.
KOB: You have worked previously as a radio journalist for the BBC. Do you bring any of your journalistic skills or knowledge to your fiction writing?
DFM: I’ve always been interested in politics, and in newsrooms you’re surrounded by people who live and breathe it, so you get some great conversations going with bright, witty, well-informed people. They are fairly cynical environments, and there’s a lot of cut-and-thrust between the reporters, peppered with a fair amount of black humour. It’s no place for shrinking violets. Journalism taught me discipline when it came to writing. You need to check your facts, and you need to get your point across quickly. A radio news story might be less than 100 words, so you have to make sure each one counts. On the other hand, it can be quite restrictive in what is deemed important and worthy of coverage. What’s not reported is often as significant as what is. You can end up thinking the entire human experience amounts to plane crashes, political clashes, sport and celebrity intrigue. Journalism is also very workaday and practical. There isn’t any of the mystique of the tortured writer struggling to come to grips with the essence of life as there is with fiction. Complain to a news editor you’re suffering from writer’s block and he or she will inform you the deadline’s less than an hour away and politely suggest you just get on with it. You learn very quickly to push through the barriers when the muse has taken the morning off. That helped me a lot when I was trying to juggle novel-writing with looking after young children.
KOB: You begin The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal with a quote by E.M. Forster. Was Forster a particular influence on the narrative of the novel?
DFM: Not especially, other than the quote, which came from one of Forster’s essays rather than his novels but seemed to sum up the essence of The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal. I read a lot of Forster as a teenager, but haven’t really returned to him much since they made all those Merchant Ivory films of his books. I suppose the main thing I have taken from Forster is his emphasis on creating three-dimensional characters, which is something I have always tried to do in my work. I don’t believe in goodies and baddies per se, even one of the most odious characters in Francesca, Benny Surikano, is partially redeemed by the love he has for his son. I suppose one of the most interesting things about Forster as a person is his struggle to live a double life as a gay man in an era when that could not only destroy your reputation and livelihood, but land you up in prison. You just need to think of what happened to Alan Turing to appreciate just how repressed certain aspects of people’s lives had to be for their very survival. Having made one of the most spectacular contributions to Britain’s effort to defeat the Nazis by cracking the Enigma code, he was subsequently hounded by the police for a gay indiscretion to the point where he committed suicide. How those forces played themselves out in Forster’s fiction is a matter of ongoing debate. I know some literary scholars get very irate when everything he wrote is viewed through this lens – others see it as the only way to understand him properly as an author.
To be followed on Friday, June 22nd, 2018
Click on the covers for more information about the books
January 22, 2018
Colin O’Sullivan‘s novel KILLARNEY BLUES (French translation, Éditions Rivages, Sept. 2017) is on the RTL radio (C’est à lire – To be read)!
“This first Noir novel from Colin O’Sullivan is magnificent, very finely written, and profoundly sad. To be savoured while drinking a Guinness and listening to some old blues, by Muddy Waters or Bessie Smith. And if rain knocks on the window glass, like in Killarney, it’s even better.”
C’est à lire : “Killarney Blues” de Colin O’Sullivan
À Killarney, charmante bourgade irlandaise, Bernard Dunphy passe pour l’idiot du village. Il n’a pas trente ans, s’habille hiver comme été d’un lourd manteau de laine et conduit d’une main sûre sa calèche à touristes tirée par sa vieille jument Ninny.
Bernard a toujours le sourire. Il est légèrement autiste. Ça ne l’empêche pas d’avoir deux passions dans la vie : le blues et… Marian, la sublime Marian, qu’il courtise à sa façon, en lui envoyant des cassettes de ses chanteurs préférés. Bernard, c’est en quelque sorte la face lumineuse de Killarney.
Pour le reste, la petite ville a essentiellement du sombre à offrir. La violence perverse de Jack Moriarty, une brute épaisse, sur les terrains de sport comme dans le lit des filles. Parlons des filles, justement : Mags et Cathy, l’officielle et la maitresse de Jack, qui noient leur temps libre dans des pintes de Guinness en attendant le prince charmant. Qui bien sûr ne viendra pas ; rebuté peut-être par les 250 jours de pluie annuels sur Killarney. Rebuté sans doute aussi par les fantômes qui hantent la petite ville… à commencer par celui de John, volontairement noyé dans le lac et dont les lourds et terribles secrets remontent à la surface, comme des cadavres gonflés. C’est tout cela, l’innocence de Bernard et la laideur du monde alentour qui vont se percuter, l’espace de quelques jours, à Killarney, comté de Kerry.
Ce premier roman noir de Colin O’Sullivan est magnifique, très finement écrit et infiniment triste. A déguster en buvant une Guinness et en écoutant un vieux blues de Muddy Waters ou Bessie Smith. Et si, comme à Killarney, la pluie frappe les vitres au dehors, c’est encore mieux.
October 2, 2017
Voilà à quoi ressemble Killarney à l’aube de ce siècle nouveau. Il y a des bagels. Et c’est le genre d’endroit dans lequel elles viennent prendre un café : un bistrot élégant, bien éclairé, minimaliste, avec des tableaux de bon goût sur les murs, des décorations végétales spectrales en forme de bâtons sur les tables et des fauteuils qui vous aspirent, des fauteuils qui vous vaudront des problèmes de vertèbres à terme mais qui sont paradisiaques le temps de ce bref répit, alors que les sacs de shopping lacèrent atrocement les bras fins. »
Colin O’ Sullivan, inconnu au bataillon avant ce premier roman (on lui doit paraît-il de nombreuses nouvelles et des recueils de poésie), a un ton, un style et un univers. Il n’a par contre pas grand-chose en commun avec les innombrables auteurs de polar et de thriller actuels.
Situé à Killarney, ville irlandaise touristique, son Killarney Blues ne compte que deux flics (en uniforme) venus arrêter un type dans un bar. La scène se passe à la page 231 d’un ouvrage qui en compte 270. Elle se termine à la page 234. C’est dire que l’intrigue policière n’est pas au centre de cet ouvrage qui vous happe pourtant dès les premières pages pour ne plus vous lâcher.
[“This book grabs you at the first page and won’t let you put it down.”]
Car Colin O’ Sullivan fait naître une galerie de personnages d’une formidable justesse auxquels on s’attache instantanément.
[“Colin O’Sullivan creates a gallery of characters so true and real that you get attached to them immediately.”]
Au centre de ce petit monde, on trouve Bernard Dunphy, grand amateur de blues et jarvey de profession. En clair, Bernard promène des touristes dans la ville à bord de sa calèche tirée par la jument Ninny. Bernard est un drôle de type, solitaire, un peu inadapté au monde, puant la sueur et portant toujours un gros manteau noir.
Autour de Bernard, il y a sa mère, dure et forte, qui s’occupe de tout pour son grand fils un peu décalé. Et qui porte en elle le souvenir de son mari, noyé dans le lac tout proche. Il y a aussi la belle Marian, dont Bernard est amoureux depuis toujours et qui semble l’ignorer. Elle passe son temps avec ses deux copines, Mags et Cathy, à faire du shopping, à s’envoyer des vannes et à se murger tous les week-ends dans leurs bars préférés tout en s’inquiétant de n’avoir pas encore trouvé l’homme de leur vie à près de 30 ans.
Un récit choral
Il y a encore Jack Moriarty, que Bernard considère comme son seul pote mais qui ne voit pas tout à fait les choses de cette façon. Jack le séducteur, Jack le joueur de foot gaélique incapable de canaliser sa fureur, Jack qui traîne aussi ses fantômes du passé. Et puis il y a Linda la serveuse qui se mue en chanteuse à la nuit tombée, Laura la touriste américaine et son frère, amateur de blues lui aussi…
Tout un petit monde que l’auteur met en scène et suit entre passé et présent, bondissant de l’un à l’autre, tissant un récit choral où les dialogues se réduisent à la portion congrue au profit d’une écriture qui embrasse tous les aspects de l’intrigue, emporte tout sur son passage, tend la main au lecteur pour l’emporter au cœur de ces vies banales et pourtant porteuses d’une multitude de petits et de grands drames.
Au fil des 270 pages, chacun se découvre petit à petit. Tout ce qui semblait évident dans les premiers chapitres prend de nouvelles couleurs, de nouvelles directions, de nouvelles raisons d’être. Le passé resurgit sans cesse et vient le plus souvent pourrir le présent. Heureusement pour Bernard, il y a le blues. Cette musique qui l’habite littéralement, sa passion pour Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, B.B. King et tant d’autres. Dans une Irlande où les clichés culturels croisent sans cesse un nouveau mode de vie mondialisé, Bernard va petit à petit se révéler, ainsi que tous ceux qui l’entourent. Pour le meilleur ou pour le pire.
Porté par un véritable souffle d’écrivain, Killarney Blues est un roman noir, plein de mélancolie et de rêves inaboutis où surgit malgré tout une étonnante lueur d’espoir. Sans la moindre naïveté. Une révélation.
[“Carried by a genuine writing talent, Killarney Blues is a Noir novel full of melancholy and unfulfilled dreams with a surprising glimmer of hope at the end. Without the slightest naivety. A revelation.”]
Roman noir. Killarney Blues, Colin 0’Sullivan ; Tr. de l’anglais par L. Bouton-Kelly, Rivages, 272 p., 21 €, e-book 14,99 €
June 7, 2017
Donald Finnaeus Mayo new novel is available HERE
Last night saw the official launch of The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal by Donald Finnaeus Mayo at the Union Club in London’s Greek Street. Family, friends, figures from the world of publishing as well as guests from many walks of life gathered at the event to chat with each other and receive signed copies from the author.
With the horrifying events of the past few weeks events on everyone’s minds, the issues raised in the novel have seldom been more pertinent. How do we effectively counter terrorist atrocities that threatens us all, and to what lengths is the state justified in going in order to protect its citizens?
Donald Finnaeus Mayo signing copies of his latest novel “The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal” at the Union Club in London’s Soho
We’d like to thank everyone who came to the event, and to the Union Club for hosting such a fabulous evening.
May 25, 2017
This novel is O’Sullivan’s second, after Killarney Blues, published by Betimes Books in 2013. It takes place in a world transformed by disaster: earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, nationalist and corporate mergers, roaming wolves. The Starved Lover Sings is a fever dream of a world at the end of its rope.
Our protagonist, and in many chapters our narrator, is Tombo, a PE teacher and soccer referee.
In this excerpt, our antagonist is one of the two teenage girls, called Ferocity and Velocity, or Tink and Tank, or Weal and Woe, or Tooth and Nail, or Bado and Sado — whatever suits them at the moment — who develop an obsession with Tombo and decide he’s “the one”…
May 15, 2017
The second novel from Donald Finnaeus Mayo, author of Francesca, is an unlikely love story between an undercover intelligence officer and an IRA activist. While the novel is set in the 1980s, its theme has been placed into sharp focus by recent investigations and court cases concerning the controversial practice of undercover policing.
March 1, 2017
Fionnuala Brennan’s novel about Francisco de Goya takes the fresh approach of telling the artist’s story through those of the important women in his life. Who were these women, and what was their relationship to the great painter?
Rosario, Goya’s loyal but conflicted daughter
On the eve of her father’s burial, Rosario keeps vigil by his bedside, spending the hours talking to him before she loses him forever. Affectionately known as “his little ladybird”, Rosario and de Goya had been very close and so, on this night, she is desperate to leave nothing unsaid.
Yet, already distraught by his death, young Rosario also has to cope with being de Goya’s illegitimate daughter, ostracised by the rest of his family. As night turns to day, Rosario’s fear for the future grows more intense. Without her father’s protection, how will she and her mother, Leocadia, survive? Can she trust de Goya’s promises to provide for them despite the antagonism of his legitimate family members?
Feeling guilty for doubting her father’s word, Rosario determines to keep the promise she made to him before his passing. But can she succeed in doing so, in the midst of the chaos that follows de Goya’s death?
“Swear to me that nobody will dictate the art you will make. And when the day comes when you know you are good enough, then use my name. But not until then.”
Gumersinda, the spiteful daughter-in-law
“Opportunist, adulterer, collaborator! I know that one should not speak ill of the dead, but I do not care.”
Money, respectability and status; for Gumersinda, these are sacrosanct. Her father-in-law, however, appears to defy these values at every opportunity.
Rumours of infidelities with models and rich patrons, of his relationships with servants and his spawning of illegitimate heirs do not appear to ruffle him. Nor does he see the hypocrisy between his political paintings and his political actions. But Gumersinda cares. And she will not stand for de Goya jeopardising her, or her son’s, reputation anymore.
When she is called away from her comfortable life in Spain to attend to her dying father-in-law, Gumersinda is annoyed with Javier, her husband. He is blind to his father’s faults and has never caught on to Gumersinda’s dislike of the man.
However, seizing the opportunity she has unwittingly been given, Gumersinda resolves to save the dignity of her family before de Goya’s mistress, Leocadia, can cause any more harm.
Leocadia, Goya’s frustrated companion and mother of Rosario
Fleeing an unhappy marriage and with a son to support, Leocadia first met the widowed de Goya when she applied to be his housekeeper. Over time, they became lovers and their daughter, Rosario, was born. Due to the scandalous nature of their relationship, neither Leocadia nor Rosario could ever receive recognition as de Goya’s family which left Leocadia feeling like an object of shame, hidden away in de Goya’s house.
“Everybody here knows that I was his wife – in all but name.”
For Leocadia, de Goya has never appreciated the sacrifices she made to be with him nor has he always been kind to her. He directed his passion and energy towards his art and his tenderness to his children and grandchildren, yet for Leocadia, all her efforts led to were loud arguments and stormy exits. Even the memory of his deceased wife, Josefa, loomed like a spectre in their relationship.
But now that de Goya has died, will Leocadia finally receive some token of appreciation from him? Can Leocadia now emerge from the shadows of Goya’s life and earn the respect she deserves?
Josefa, the long-suffering wife
Confined to her deathbed, Josefa spends her remaining days looking back on her marriage to the fiercely proud and temperamental Goya. Marrying into a respected and well-connected family was of great advantage to Goya, yet for Josefa it produced a string of tragic pregnancies which left her feeling voiceless and alone.
“I was stricken with a sickness of mind and body worse than the plague. There was no hope, no reason for me to go on breathing”
A sympathetic response was all Josefa desired but proved difficult to achieve when having to compete with Goya’s art – and his female models – for his attention.
As she approaches the end of her life, Josefa wishes to make de Goya hear the truth about their marriage, about the ways she suffered.
Can she at last cease vying for Goya’s attention and get the respect she deserves? Yet if there was any love in their marriage, will it fully reveal itself now before it’s too late?
Duchess of Alba, Goya’s fiery patron
Beautiful and intelligent, the Duchess of Alba does not lack confidence in her abilities. When she sets her sights on something – or someone – she normally gets her way. If this makes her endearing to men, it bristles the women she takes them from.
In an effort to rile another woman, the Duchess summons Goya to her home to paint a number of portraits for her. Goya’s arrogant nature vexes the Duchess at first but, to her surprise, she finds herself wanting him nonetheless.
“In truth I am fascinated by this uncouth artist. I ask myself why this is so and have to admit that it is simply because he appears so impenetrable, contradictory and, most exasperating of all, unattainable. He has become my challenge.”
Widely revered for her beauty and skilled at the art of seduction, the Duchess feels a certain power over the artist she has employed. But Goya is headstrong too. Will her flirtation with the artist succeed or has she met her match in Goya?
Dolores, a naïve artist’s model who gets a hard lesson in life
Working as a maid in the Duchess of Alba’s home, Dolores thought she knew exactly how her life would turn out; she would follow the rules, marry a man of her rank and have a family of her own. However, the normal and secure life Dolores foresaw is utterly changed after a strange artist is summoned to paint the Duchess. Intrigued by the young servant, de Goya asks for her to model for him and introduces her to a life Dolores would never have expected.
“I could hardly wait to find out what being a model for an artist meant. I also wondered why there had to be so much secrecy about it. I was soon to find out.”
Duchess of Osuna, another aristocratic patron
“María Josefa has a great many talents and gifts. So elegant, so learned, so accomplished.”
As an artist, de Goya relied on the regular and loyal patronage of a number of Spain’s wealthy elite. His status as the Court Painter and his reputation for being one of Spain’s leading painters of the day helped him receive more commissions. Of these many aristocratic patrons, one of the most fervent was the Duchess of Osuna.
As with many of de Goya’s models – and to the detriment of Josefa and Leocadia – rumours swirled as to whether the two enjoyed a strictly business relationship.
Queen María Luisa
The queen of Spain was another of Goya’s patrons and was fond of horse-riding, as seen in her portrait here. According to the Duchess of Alba, Queen María Luisa was suspected of having a relationship with the prime minister, Don Manuel Godoy.
“Despite the torture she endured while Goya painted her, the lump of lard was apparently very pleased with the finished work, and especially with the portrayal of Marcial, a present from Godoy and thus her favourite horse. Her Majesty was also delighted with the progress of another big painting on which Goya was engaged – a group portrait of the entire Royal Family.”
February 8, 2017
Patricia Ketola‘s novel Dirty Pictures is about artistic daredevilry. It is a cultural romp, peopled by musicians, painters and performance artists, and it conceptualizes a world in which the older artistic traditions manage to embrace the younger, more conceptual definitions of art. From stolen Rembrandts, to gypsy jazz, to free-climbing, Dirty Pictures celebrates all forms of self-expression and the will of the artist to, quite literally, take a leap into the unknown.
Below is an extract celebrating the exhilaration and the beauty of free-climbing.
“Willem was in a meeting when we got to the studio, and we decided to wait until he got out. We went in his office and Venessa sat down at his computer: ‘I found a video of the boys on YouTube, but I don’t know if we should show it to Willem. He’s not too steady on his feet since the head injury, the shock might give him a stroke,’ she brought up a video: ‘Take a look, Martel, what do you think?’
The video showed Dries and the Viper sneaking into a building site and climbing the skeleton of an unfinished skyscraper. The building was tall, and when they got to the top they had a superb view that stretched all the way to Siberia. The boys worked in bare feet and without ropes or tools. The climb had been jaw-droppingly difficult, but when they reached the summit they did not rest on their laurels, instead they began to crawl out on the exposed beams. Acting in unison they lowered themselves off the beams and into the air. At first they hung from the beams by both hands like trapeze artists, but then they took one hand off the beam and hung by one arm as their bodies dangled out into empty space. It was a frightening performance, and one that I did not think Willem would be able to tolerate.
‘Let’s just show him the picture,’ I said.
‘Pretty scary, isn’t it?’ Venessa smiled. She seemed intensely proud of her cousin and his friend.
‘Yes, but it’s also frighteningly beautiful,’ I said.
‘This is real performance art!’ Venessa was enthusiastic. ‘I wish I could write my dissertation on this mode of expression, but those old frumps at school wouldn’t stand for it.’
Just then Willem walked in followed by his secretary, Irene. He was giving dictation and she was trailing behind taking notes on an old-fashioned steno pad. Willem stopped dictating and noticed us: ‘Oh, hello you two, what brings you to my lair?’
‘We’ve got a big surprise for you. Wait till you see it!’ Venessa gushed.
‘I hope it’s not another Rembrandt.’ Willem smiled at Venessa and then turned to Irene: ‘Get that typed up and I’ll sign it this afternoon.’
After Irene left Venessa jumped up from the computer and ran to Willem with the print in her hand: ‘Look at this Uncle Willem. Dries and the Viper have surfaced. They’re living it up at a nightclub in Moscow.’
Willem took the print and studied it. ‘I wonder who made those T-shirts?’ he mused. ‘They show a great sense of design and the portrait of Stalin is authentic 1930s propaganda art. It’s a nice piece of work, but I’m surprised the boys are running around with a picture of that tyrant on their chests. ’
‘They’re just kids, Willem. It probably wasn’t a political choice,’ I said.
‘I don’t care a damn about their fucking T-shirts,’ Venessa wailed, ‘look at them, Uncle Willem, they’re with girls, and they’re smiling. Dries never used to smile. He always kept a tight lip, and now it looks like he’s happy.’
‘I can see that, Venessa, and I am deeply touched.’
I looked at Venessa: ‘Maybe we should leave, darling. I’m sure Willem is terribly busy.’
‘Yes, of course,’ she said. We started for the door.
‘No, stick around. I want to talk to you about Dries,’ Willem said. He sat down at the computer. The screen was black and he hit a key: ‘I’ll be with you in a minute; I just have to get some dates for Irene.’
Venessa’s face got very pale and she ran towards Willem’s desk, but it was too late. In her haste to show Willem the picture of Dries and the Viper she had forgotten to sign out of YouTube, and now Willem was sitting in front of a video that was labeled Dutch Daredevils Go Wild in Moscow.’
‘You weren’t supposed to see that,’ I said.
‘Then why is it on my screen?’ He clicked on the video.
‘It’s up there because you didn’t turn off your computer when you went to the meeting.’ I was trying to deflect the blame from Venessa, but I knew what I said was pretty lame.
‘I’m sorry, Uncle Willem, I just wanted to show the video to Martel,’ Venessa chimed in. She looked scared and sounded contrite.
Willem paid no attention to our excuses because he was caught up in the action on the screen. When the boys finally climbed back down to safety and were greeted by a gaggle of cops he relaxed: ‘Is Hendrik around? I want him to see this.’
‘I’ll call his office,’ I said. I got Hendrik on the first ring and told him to meet us in the studio. He said he’d be right down.
After I hung up my focus was back on Willem. ‘What did you think of the climb?’ I asked.
‘I think they’re thrill-seeking morons, but aside from that it was an exciting piece of work. I didn’t think those two little bastards had it in them.’ He paused for a moment and then said: ‘The cops took them away. Do you think they’re in jail?’
‘I doubt it,’ Venessa said, ‘the photo was posted after the climb. They seem to be celebrating their success.’
‘I hope you’re right because I don’t feel like engaging with a bunch of Moscow cops. The bribes would be outrageous.’
The door opened and Hendrik walked in. When he saw his family members gathered around the computer he gave us a wary look: ‘I hope you haven’t called me here to have a conference about my illness.’
Willem smiled, ‘No, Hendrik, it’s much more serious. Take a look at this video and tell me what you think.’
The video played through again. It was the third time I’d seen it, but it remained eminently fascinating and I couldn’t help but hold my breath when the boys started dangling in space.
‘It’s fucking brilliant,’ Hendrik exclaimed. ‘I don’t understand how those two puny little shits developed the skills to perform this kind of stunt.’‘They probably trained day and night,’ Venessa said. ‘Also, it helps to be in an environment where your hopes and dreams are encouraged by a peer group of like-minded people.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Willem asked. He was taking her comment as a slight on his parenting.
Venessa backtracked, ‘I just meant he was with people who could give him the skills and support to meet his goals.’
‘That’s enough,’ Hendrik commanded, ‘let’s not get off track here. Willem, what are you going to do about this? Frankly, I don’t like the idea of Dries and the Viper continuing in this suicidal activity. They are going to fall to their deaths if they continue.’
‘You don’t know that, Daddy.’ Venessa was really hot on free climbing. If she liked it so much, maybe she should take a trip to Moscow and get trained in the art.
‘You’re right, shatje, I don’t know, but you have to admit it does seem possible. Think about it, we don’t want to lose Dries or the Viper. We have to stop them.’
‘I’m going to Moscow and bring them back,’ Willem said. He looked at Hendrik: ‘Will you come with me brother?’
‘Of course, Willem, you know I’ve got your back. Although I do wonder if that’s the right approach. These kids are flushed with triumph after their great ascent, and I doubt if they’d welcome two middle-aged relatives busting in and trying to bust their balloon.’
‘You may be right,’ Willem said.
‘Maybe Bobby could help,’ I said. ‘I know he has a lot of influence on Dries. The kid adores him.’
Venessa had been sitting quietly at the corner of Willem’s desk. She seemed to have taken her father’s words to heart. I understood her enthusiasm for the art; you had to be a fool not to see the brilliance. These kids were the ultimate in nihilism, and you could write a whole paper on their existential activities. Venessa was a scholar and she was taking free climbing from a philosophical point of view, but now that Hendrik had forced her to see that two young lives might be dashed to pieces after a long, hard, fall, she was giving it a different take:
‘I’ll call Bobby,’ she said.”