Today we have Sandra Danby as a guest on my blog. I hope you will like what she prepares for us. I have the honour to read one of her books, Ignoring Gravity and really enjoy it, you could find what I think about the book here.
The Meaning of Connectedness
Imagine not knowing your family history, the connections between your generation and the next; imagine telling lies to your parents, to everyone around you, in order to keep secret your biggest shame. Imagine your connections are broken; not knowing where your child is; whether you are a mother-in-law, a grandmother. Every one of us is an individual with our own identity, but we also fit within the bigger grouping of family, a collective identity. If someone is missing from that collective, when the chains of connection are broken, it is a very lonely place. That is where Justine Tree finds herself in my new novel Connectedness. Artist Justine spends her adult life covering up what she happened to her in Málaga, frightened of the truth, suffering debilitating migraines as she internalises her pain, but longing to know what happened to the baby daughter she gave away almost thirty years earlier. To connect again. Here’s an excerpt.
An extract from ‘Connectedness’
Yorkshire, May 2010
The clouds hurried from left to right, moved by a distant wind that did not touch her cheek. It felt unusually still for May. As if the weather was waiting for the day to begin, just as she was. She had given up trying to sleep at three o’clock, pulled on some clothes and let herself out of the front door. Despite the dark, she knew exactly the location of the footpath, the edge of the cliffs; could walk it with her eyes closed. Justine lay on the ground and looked up, feeling like a piece of grit in the immensity of the world. Time seemed both still and marching on. The dark grey of night was fading as the damp began to seep through her jeans to her skin. A pale line of light appeared on the eastern horizon, across the flat of the sea. She shivered and sat up. It was time to go. She felt close to both her parents here, but today belonged to her mother.
Three hours later, she stood at the graveside and watched as the coffin was lowered into the dark damp hole. Her parents together again in the plot they had bought. It was a big plot, there was space remaining.
Will I be buried here?
It was a reassuring thought, child reunited with parents.
The vicar’s voice intoned in the background, his words whipped away by the wind. True to form, May was proving changeable. It was now a day requiring clothing intended for mid-winter, when windows were closed tight and the central heating turned on again. Or was it that funerals simply made you feel cold?
She repeated the vicar’s word, a whisper borne out of many childhood Sunday School classes squeezed into narrow hard pews. She was not paying attention to the service but, drawn by the deep baritone of the vicar who was now reciting the Lord’s Prayer, was remembering her first day at art college. The first class. Another baritone. Her tutor, speaking words she had never forgotten. Great art was always true, he warned, and lies would always be found out.
In her handbag was a letter, collected from the hall table ten days ago as she left the house for Heathrow and Tokyo. She had expected to return home to London but, answering the call from her mother’s doctor, had come straight to Yorkshire in the hope of seeing her mother one last time. The envelope, which was heavy vellum, and bore smidgens of gold and scarlet and the Royal Academy of Arts’ crest, was still sealed. She knew what the letter said, having been forewarned in a telephone call from the artist who nominated her. It was the official invitation. If she accepted, she was to be Justine Tree, RA.
Later the same day, she stood again where she had lain at dawn, at the edge of land where East Yorkshire ended and the North Sea began. The teapots were emptied, cake eaten, mourners gone. She was glad to be alone, welcoming the wind in her face, the roar of the waves pounding hundreds of feet below, wondering how she could bear to be away from this bleak beautiful place. Finally she turned, the wind twisting the unfamiliar black skirt round her knees, hobbling her stride so she stumbled over a path she knew inch by inch, a path she had walked in wet and snow and sun, in mud and dust and wind for almost half a century. Rain arrived, lashing her face like spitting gravel as if it also wept for her mother. In her pocket her hand clasped a pebble. Stroking it was always a comfort, had been since childhood.
The path ran along the cliff to Seaview Cottage, her mother’s house and now hers. On the sea side of the path, tufts of grass spread over the thin layer of earth covering the chalk beneath, growing outwards into nothing. At the other side was a field, in summer a golden flag of waving wheat, barley or oats, now the patchy bristle of new crops. Between the two, the path was well trodden. In summer there was a constant trail of hikers walking the coastal path. Most were headed from the nearby campsite loaded with cool bags and picnic rugs to the beach at North Landing. Others followed the cliffs towards the north, binoculars carried ready to see puffins, gannets, guillemots and razorbills. But today even the locals were indoors.
She stopped beside a rock known to her since she was five as the Sheep Rock because of its shape. It was kind of puffed-up and woolly, the shape of a ewe just before shearing.
This is the place.
Her unfamiliar black court shoes were edged with a muddy fringe of grass, the pattern of the storm clouds above reflected in the mirror of a puddle. At this particular curve in the path, her life had changed direction for the first time. It seemed like yesterday. Today, as the past re-opened to her, lots of things seemed like yesterday. It was here where the girl she had been, who loved drawing and making things, learnt a lesson. That real life, put into art, made it stronger. The hot days of holidays were spent here with Susie, each summer of primary and secondary school, stretched out on the grass, making magazines. They were inseparable, the writer and the artist. Susie wrote the stories and Justine designed the illustrations and front cover. The magazines were sold to long-suffering family, friends and neighbours for 1d each – then one new penny, after decimalisation – the profits spent on materials for the next issue and on Embassy records in Woolworths. Suzi Quatro. David Bowie. Queen. Tom Robinson. Wizzard. If time spent together equalled friendship, then Justine and Susie were best friends. This was their last summer before parting, Justine to the art foundation course at Scarborough Technical College and Susie to work in a local bank. They had arranged to meet at Sheep Rock at five o’clock to plan the summer edition of their magazine. Justine was confident she could fit in the design work with her holiday job at the RNLI ice cream kiosk at North Landing.
After school she went straight to a training session to be shown how to use the till and the correct way to serve ice creams. Her head full of 99s, cones, wafers, Fabs, Mivvies and Zooms, she walked along an unfamiliar footpath towards home, climbing a five-bar gate and traversing the far end of the village past the bus stop. In the concrete shelter sat Susie, her arms wrapped around a boy. Justine knew it was Susie even though her face was hidden, because she could see Susie’s favourite Suzi Quatro black trousers with metal chains sewn along the leg seams from hem to waistband. Justine couldn’t see the face of the boy until a pause in the kissing. It was Kevin. Kevin, who she had walked out with last night until ten thirty, Kevin who kissed her goodnight in the shadow of the wall of Mellor & Sons garage, who asked her to go out with him again, and she said yes.
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.
Her anger grumbled on and she picked at the hem of her school jumper, loosening a thread from its ribbing, pulling the crinkly wool until she had yards of the stuff. Next term she would wear bell-bottomed jeans, not an acrylic jumper, shiny skirt and American tan tights. She ran into the house to her mother’s needlework drawer, selected what she needed. Back in the shed she used the dark green wool to crochet rhythmically, knotting, looping. Gradually she made a long chain, each dropped stitch representing a tear. The furious crocheting rubbed a raw patch on her palm but she crocheted on. Finally she chopped the chain into pieces, fraying the edges before gluing them to the cardboard in a broken line. Morse code for her sobs.
Two years later, ‘Loss and Loss and Loss Again’ opened the door for Justine into art college. ‘The over-sentimentality of the title and the rough execution of the piece itself are unable to hide this student’s ability. There is a raw truth to the complex emotions of a teenager,’ said her acceptance report at RivesArt in London.
She wished she could see Susie again, to say thank you for everything.
It was my first collage, the first time I turned emotions into art, the first time I did more than just copy.
Justine stood at the cliff’s edge and stroked the scar on her palm, the raised line of white flesh the only evidence of that frenzied night of crocheting. She wished she had never sold ‘Loss and Loss and Loss Again’ but she had been desperate for money. That had been her darkest time when she despaired of ever making art again.
No point dwelling on it, I can’t change history.
More about ‘Connectedness’
TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALWAYS HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING
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
Connectedness is the second book in 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 series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this dilemma. In the first, 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.
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.
‘Connectedness’ at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2q6qy5Z
‘Ignoring Gravity’ at Amazon http://amzn.to/1oCrxHd
Author website: http://www.sandradanby.com/
Photos [all © Sandra Danby]:-
CN cover jpeg
Connectedness – migraine, again
Connectedness – Justine’s apartment in Malaga