On the blog today, I am very pleased to welcome Anne Girard, the author of Madame Picasso, a historical novel inspired by the little–known life of Eva Gouel, one of Pablo Picasso’s most enigmatic models and muses. I loved the book (you can read my review here) and I hope you will too!
Are you a day dreamer too?
I certainly spend a lot of time dreaming up fanciful things to write about! It doesn’t take much for inspiration to strike and when it does I find myself imagining scenes, dialogue, characters. I guess that does make me a bit of a day dreamer.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first novel (which was awful!) when I was in high school, 178 hand-written pages. Back then, it was a hobby for me, the way kids today play video games. That being said, I didn’t believe that I could make writing a career so after earning my bachelor’s degree in English literature, I went to graduate school and now hold a master’s degree in clinical psychology intent on going into private practice. But no education is a waste. I like to believe my background in psychology helps me with my character development at least.
Tell me a little about yourself—where were you born, where do you live, and what do you like to do?
I was born in Santa Barbara, a coastal town in California, which I left to attend UCLA. I’ve been married for 30 years, we have two amazing children and we still live in Southern California. When I’m not writing, we love to travel which I do extensively for research. Both of our kids were raised in a suitcase, so to speak, and have been with us to France, England, Italy, Ireland and Spain, as I researched my stories.
How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I’m fascinated by artists and writers, and what makes them tick. I love art museums and in New York I saw Picasso’s painting Ma Jolie, which was inspired by an early lover. It was so entirely different in my mind to his previous work I knew I had to learn a little bit about it, and about her. From there, I was hooked! The story of their love affair became Madame Picasso.
How extensively do you plan your novels?
Fairly extensively. While I like to leave room each time for the characters themselves to have a ‘say’ in plot and dialogue, I outline the novel fully before I begin. Then I travel to whatever location in which the book will be set so that I am able to see what my characters saw. That was advice I received many years ago from the legendary novelist, Irving Stone when we met. It was advice I very much took to heart. I can’t expect my readers to be transported to places I have never actually seen. After that, I binge on biographies, maps, history books about the times, food, and clothing. Most of that needs to be in place before I begin writing.
Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Frequently, yes. I keep a paper and pen at my bedside just in case!
Did you make an astonishing, serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
By having the privilege of interviewing one of Picasso’s last living friends, I did discover that, contrary to public perception, Picasso could be incredibly gentle, loving, and very generous. For whatever reason, he chose never to defend himself publicly against the accusations several of his former lovers made, or at least explain his side of things. In Madame Picasso, I therefore tried to offer up another side of the artist. I hope I succeeded.
A painting of Eva Gouel by Pablo Picasso
Where do you write, and when?
I write five days a week, and in the morning when I’m fresh creatively. I have an office in my home where I write either at my desk or in a big comfy chair I have there.
What is your favorite part of writing?
I love when my characters do something unexpected, or take me in a direction which I had no planned for them to go. That’s when I know I am really connecting with them and with my story.
What do you do when you get blocked?
If I’m blocked, I know it’s time for me to walk away for a few hours, or a day or so. It means I’m trying too hard or forcing the story. For me, that’s usually all it takes and I can get back to it.
How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I’m always seeking, researching, reading which helps me come upon new subjects, or new potential storylines, and that is inspiring to me. I love the idea of a new book yet to be written, a new angle on an old story. All of that is inspiring to me.
Do you have any rituals that help you write?
I like to be centered mentally and focused before I begin, so my habit it is to go into my office, go through my social media obligations and email, and get those all off my plate. I don’t want to be pulled away by any of that once I start writing. Then I turn off the laptop I use for that and focus exclusively on my fiction computer. I guess that is a ritual.
Who are ten of your favorite writers?
Edith Wharton, Karleen Koen, Irving Stone, Oscar Wilde, Alison Weir, Ian McEwan, Philippa Gregory, Rosalind Miles, Lynn Cullen, Margaret George
What do you consider to be good writing?
For me, good writing makes me feel something, and it must carry me away. Different styles of writing and types of books can do that but both of those things must happen for me to think it’s really good.
What is your advice to someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Stop dreaming and write your story! I have long loved the saying, “The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right but to get it written.” Get your story onto the page and then go to work making it into the story of your heart.
What are you working on now?
That’s still “top secret” for a bit, but I can tell you that it’s a story that will be leading me back to France later this summer, which I’m thrilled about.
Check out Anne's gorgeous website