It’s my pleasure to welcome Anne Girard, the author of MADAME PICASSO, to Book Drunkard today! If you haven’t read the book yet, run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore! You can check out my review here.
And now, enjoy!
One of the best things about writing novels based on the lives of real historical figures is going to the places they lived, and worked, getting a true sense of their lives in order to try to breathe life into their stories. Last summer, while I was researching the story behind Madame Picasso, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to interview a man who, for 30 years, was a close personal friend of Pablo Picasso. To sit and speak at length with a person who had actually known the great icon was probably the most unique situation I have yet faced as a novelist for over 20 years. Meeting the famed French photographer at his atelier in Provence initially seemed like a dream come true.
The actual event, however, became more than that. It was a memorable adventure.
An international celebrity in his own right, Lucien Clergue certainly cuts a daunting figure, even across the internet. I had done my homework prior to our interview and found photos of the distinguished looking, almost regal, snowy-haired gentleman whose intensely pointed gaze leapt off the page at me. But that seemed strangely fitting, considering the legend of Picasso’s own powerful stare. Slightly unnerved at the prospect of meeting him, but wanting to be prepared, I went on to view the iconic, sensual black and white photographs that first brought Clergue to fame in the 1950’s. Their abstract nature, the essence of them, reminded me of Picasso’s later work, and so further linked the two men in my mind even before we met.
The plan seemed simple enough: I was to be met at my hotel by a liaison who would escort me through the cobbled stone back streets of the French village to the unmarked studio where Monsieur Clergue has lived and worked for decades. There was no time limit set for our meeting, and I was told nothing other than that he was tired after a delayed flight back from Italy earlier that day. Still, my heart began racing the moment we set off into the Provencal summer heat and the guide deftly maneuvered the narrow shadowy alleyways that looked like a setting for a sequence from Romeo and Juliet. Brightly painted doors, weathered by time. Window boxes spilling fat geraniums, some of them tightly shuttered from the midday sun. Already to me the scene was other-worldly. And on we walked to an imposing, arched door that looked like, centuries earlier, it could have hidden a stable. She rang the buzzer. French pleasantries were exchanged with a male secretary before the door clicked open and we were issued inside the vaulted, shadowy foyer and the door was slammed shut. On the walls were huge framed black and white photographs, those I had seen on the internet. There was no denying now where I was.
You’re a pro, I told myself. You’ve been at this for a long time. How daunting can meeting him be? My question was answered quickly as the liaison and I were ushered up a flight of ancient stone steps and into the commanding presence of Monsieur Clergue. Seated behind a massive carved oak desk, surrounded by soaring walls peppered with photographs of himself with Picasso through the years, plus several priceless works of art, many of them signed by Picasso, Clergue sank against the back of his massive leather chair, steepled his hands, raised his eyebrows and said very simply, “So then, what can I do for you?”
It was clear to me immediately that he was wary of writers who intended to tread negatively on the memory of his dear friend. That was something to respect and a point on which we could begin. In my novel, I sought only to humanize Pablo Picasso, and thus to honor him. So, as our liaison excused herself and left the office, I decided to buck up and make the moments count. After a short exchange in which he told me of several “hit pieces” on Picasso he had seen recently, both books and movies, I told him of my project, my background and my commitment to the story of a young Picasso in love and on the cusp of his great fame.
Suddenly, as if clouds had cleared away from the sun, he gave me a reserved little grin and said, “Ask away. What would you like to know about Picasso?” I had, in that moment, been given a modicum of his trust. I opened my notebook then and went to work.
Over the next hour and a half, I heard story after story about the private Picasso, some tender-hearted things, some acts of kindness and generosity, that don’t often figure into stories about the brash, womanizing artist. As a novelist, it was not for me to judge Picasso’s actions, or his choices. Rather, I believe it was my task—and my incredible opportunity, to learn some amazing private details about someone who was, first and foremost, a human being. He was one, like the rest of us, who possessed strengths and weaknesses. But he was also one who, along the way, became the most famous artist of the 20th Century. Those were all parts of the man I hoped to put into the pages of my novel, especially one who had such a great love for his Ma Jolie, his Eva.”
Anne Girard is the author of 13 previous novels written as Diane Haeger. Many of them are historical novels based in fact, on subjects ranging from the loves of Henry VIII and George IV to William Tecumseh Sherman. She holds degrees in English literature and clinical psychology. You can visit her at: www.madamepicasso.com and www.dianehaeger.com