I would like to welcome back Author Anne Girard to Layered Pages. She is here to discuss her writing and research for her novel, Madame Picasso.
One of the best parts for me about the process of writing novels, especially those based on real figures from history, has always been going to, and experiencing, the places my characters lived their storied lives. Many years ago when I was just beginning to write my first novel, Courtesan, I had the amazing good fortune to speak with NY Times bestselling author and icon Irving Stone. Stone’s novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy, was already a classic, so I was pretty much in awe. The meeting became an even bigger factor through the twenty years of my career since it was Stone who gave me the advice that has completely changed the way I research and write. “The only true way to breathe life into your characters,” he said. “is to step into their shoes for a little while, in any way that you can. Walk the same streets, see the same buildings, see the same slice of sky, and hear the rhythm of the voices around you that they would have heard.”
Writing about true, epic love affairs has always been what inspires me, From Henri II and his Diane to William Tecumseh Sherman and Cecelia. Hopefully, if I do my job right, I give readers a story they thought they might have known but really didn’t. I like to believe that about Madame Picasso, and I hope readers agree.
Eva and Pablo’s story is one I found accidentally as I set out to write a novel about Picasso and his first significant love, Fernande Olivier, a woman who, curiously enough, still figures prominently in my book. But the fact that Picasso was pulled away so powerfully by his feelings for Eva made that romance not one worth pursuing for me. Eva was his heart when was young, when, in my opinion, he could still be open and vulnerable, and he needed her. He gave up many friends and an established life for her. After months of research, both here and abroad, I do believe with total conviction that was true, that their love affair defined Pablo the man, and Picasso the artist, for decades afterward. That sentiment is backed up by Picasso’s French biographer and friend, Pierre Daix who said that over fifty years later, the mention of her name still brought tears to his eyes.
Along with facts and in-depth research, certainly there must be elements of interpretation involved with the writing of any novel. Where the facts are unknown, a novelist must carefully weave in fictional elements in a plausible and respectful way to complete the tale. However, when I incorporate those elements, it is acknowledged in the author’s note.
In search of the factual portions of the story to include in Madame Picasso, so that I could get Eva’s voice right (the most essential thing), I received two enormous gifts. One was obtaining permission from Yale University to view her personal letters, some of which she wrote with Picasso, to Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. Since I speak French, reading her thoughts, her sense of humor, and watching their story unfold through her words, and in her own lovely handwriting, was as close as I believe anyone will ever get to the essence of Eva. There were many playful examples, letters as well as post cards, where Eva would write and Pablo would add a note to it, or even sketch a little picture. And the way his orderly handwriting disintegrated into a wild scrawl by the end of their story, well, that told me more than any biography ever could about what they meant to one another. Those letters figured heavily in how I wrote the novel, and they have stayed with me long after I wrote the words, The End.
The second gift I was given while writing this book being granted an interview, at his atelier in France, with famed French photographer, Lucien Clergue, who was a personal friend of Picasso’s for over thirty years. Once he trusted that I meant to cast his friend in a respectful light, rather than to perpetuate the narrative
In the end, it is a story of two young people living in the inspiring daring and romantic Paris of the early 1900’s, with a great cast of supporting characters. But what I took away was the theme of enduring love. Picasso was clearly pushed out of his comfort zone with Eva throughout their relationship. However, for love of her, he rose to the occasion. No expense was spared. It’s a special thing to see what true love can make or allow people to do. I believe Eva made him a better man…. At least he was for a time, with her. That was enough for me to want to tell their story and I can only hope that in Madame Picasso I did it justice.
“Diane Haeger, who currently writes under the pen name Anne Girard, holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and is the award-winning author of 14 novels, both historical and contemporary. She has moved back and forth through time, from writing about the lost love of William Tecumseh Sherman, to crafting a series set in Tudor England, entitled “In The Court of Henry VIII”. Visit her at: www.dianehaeger.com and www.annegirardauthor.com