Authors reveal the images that inspired 100,000 words



About the author...

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.

My novels are about adoption reunion and identity; my latest, Connectedness, is set partly in Málaga, Spain… but it might have been Paris. Connectedness tells the story of art student Justine King who chooses art college in Spain for her year studying abroad because she is inspired by Pablo Picasso. What happens in Málaga shapes the rest of her life, and her art. She was originally destined to spend a year in Paris, in truth because I fancied the idea of research trips involving sitting at Parisian pavement cafes, watching people go by, drinking coffee and eating croissants. Until I realized that living in Andalucía in Southern Spain, as we do, means I am within a stone’s throw of the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. So Justine changed countries.

I learned Spanish at weekly classes, got to know the locals, made some friends, and embarked on the first of many research trips to Málaga. In truth these visits involved a lot of walking around, getting lost, taking photos and sitting at pavement cafes. The only variation from the Paris plan was that I ate olives, rather than croissants. Then as I wrote Justine’s introduction to the city, I realized I was writing about food. How to order coffee, how to eat olives, why Andalucian fried fish is the best; the simple oddity of foreign food for a Yorkshire girl abroad for the first time.

A story that began with Picasso evolved into a love affair with the city and its art. It is a real case of the setting inspiring the story. Justine’s time in Málaga is short but the action could only take place there and the fantastic streets and Spanish flavour brought my sketchy ideas to life. The beaches at La Malagueta and El Palo, the Moorish architecture of the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro, are like nowhere else. To Justine, it is another world. As a child growing up on the Yorkshire coast, her father encourages her to draw seabirds. He tells her the true story of how the boy Pablo took his father’s unfinished sketch of a pigeon and completed it better than his father could. And so Picasso becomes Justine’s muse.

In Connectedness, Justine arrives in Spain in 1982 as an art student. Málaga was a very different place from what it is now. General Franco had been dead only seven years, the country was feeling its way free from dictatorship. Justine lives on the Plaza de la Merced opposite the house where Picasso was born, then still a ruin. Despite the boom of seaside tourism and the naming of the ‘Costa del Sol’ in the Sixties, Málaga in 1982 had a down-market image of kiss-me-quick hats and cafes serving fried English breakfasts. Wealthy tourists arrived at Málaga airport and left straight away for nearby Marbella. There was no Museo Picasso, no Casa Natal [Picasso’s birthplace], no CAC [Contemporary Art Centre], no Centre Pompidou Malaga, no St Petersburg State Russian Museum, no Carmen Thyssen Museum as there is now.

I wanted to convey the strangeness of being in a place where you cannot speak the language, where you are far from home and feel, though not exactly friendless, adrift. I used my experiences of when we first lived in Spain - the little difficulties with being understood, the sheer ‘different-ness’ of things, the puzzling habits and mores, the old-fashioned way of doing things - to bring truth to Justine’s isolation. She sees inspiration everywhere, in the tiles on floors and walls, the heavy wooden doors, the stone and brickwork, the light, the mountains and trees. At first she revels in the city; she is a top art student destined for success until love, and life, gets in the way. To the outside world, artist Justine Tree has it all, but she also has a secret which threatens to destroy everything. Her story, Connectedness, is published on May 10, 2018.

Thank you, Sandra Danby, for the insight into your writing world!