I Love Art. So Much, That I Wrote A Book About It!
I have always loved art. I drew endlessly as a child and as a teenager was fixated on (Tudor portrait painter) Holbein; I adored history and historical novels and those pictures of the flat-faced Tudors and their courtiers became almost as familiar to me as my own family (a couple of years ago Tate Britain had a big Holbein exhibition; I was moved and thrilled to see the gang all together again). In time, from being hooked on the ruff stuff I became potty about the pre-Raphaelites – those bright colours! Those strange subjects! Those crazy artists and their intense Gothic lives! (I really enjoyed Desperate Romantics on the telly. And I'm now lucky enough to be nearish Manchester and Birmingham, both of whom have cracking collections of PRB stuff).
As I began to travel about, especially during regular visits to the South of France, I began to develop a wider appreciation and in particular to get my early modern art eye in. There are, it has to be said, few better ways to really get your head round Miro or Giacometti than standing on the wonderful terrace of the Fondation Maeght, the fantastic modern art institute in St Paul de Vence on the Riviera. Ditto the various amazing collections in Venice, Paris and Rome. And of course London, but there's no point me listing endless galleries that everyone knows about anyway. Just let me say that I love twentieth century British art; Frank Brangwyn, Ian Grant, Ben Nicholson, Terry Frost and Tom Monnington are big favourites and every time I go down to Cornwall I make sure I pop in to see Barbara Hepworth in St Ives (she is of course long gone, sadly, but her fantastic sculpture garden is a must-see for any cultured Cornwall-visiting soul, however bogged down with children or wet weather). I can only occasionally say the same for Tate St Ives, with its emphasis on the type of contemporary art which often borders on the ludicrous; last time I was there I tried to add my wet and crumpled coat to a collection of similar ones on the foyer – you've guessed it, it was art, complete with fierce room guard.
My own art career got a certain distance; being able to draw is pretty useful, it has to be said. At university I regularly got free entry to May Balls by working as a portrait artist (it was while drawing vicious caricatures of harmless ball-going couples that I actually met my husband Jon!).
After Cambridge I wanted to go to the Royal College of Art and study illustration but the necessity of making a living rather got in the way; as luck would have it, however, the prestigious art monthly Apollo was the first to offer me a job. This turned out to be the start of a career not as an artist, but in journalism; but I continued to be fascinated with art and the art world and kept up the illustrating. I contributed to Vogue, The Independent and Private Eye among many others. These days I don't draw so much, preferring to buy other people's. I collect twentieth-century British painting and especially love going to auctions. My first port of call in any new town is the art gallery if there is one, not least because they always have good cakes. Sheffield, the nearest city to where I am, is a case in point – its wonderful Graves Art Gallery has a Matisse, a Pissaro and a Gauguin, and it does a top flapjack too. Nottingham, with its dreamy Lowry, is another one.
There is of course a connection between the visual arts and the literary ones; all writers have to be able to picture clearly the people and scenes they are writing about and depict them in a certain way to create a certain effect. In my case, my flair for cartoon drawing became the facility of describing amusing people or situations in novels. But now, finally, my love of art (and slight scepticism about contemporary art) has gained full expression in the writing of my new novel Gallery Girl; I'm even working on an exhibition to accompany the launch, and will be displaying a full catalogue on line in due course. Be afraid…