Connectedness is the story of Justine Tree, a globally successful artist who goes in search of the daughter she gave away when she was an art student. To get an idea of Justine’s success think Tracey Emin, Paula Rego, Tacita Dean, Phyllida Barlow. Key to Justine’s story is the risk she takes in searching for her lost daughter. She has built her career, her public image, her reputation, on baring her emotions for the world to see, of searching the depths of her soul and putting it into her art. Except she has been hiding a large secret for twenty-seven years.
In order to understand the adult Justine, I had to know how she started out as an artist. So I set her childhood in a location I know well, the East Yorkshire coastline where I also grew up. There are two key influences at this stage of her life.
The first, Pablo Picasso, is mentioned by her father when her attempt to draw a pigeon is proving a challenge:
The woodie was getting restless in his box in front of the Rayburn. He could move his wing and her mother was making noises about him being shifted from the kitchen to the shed. Justine wanted him to get well and fly again, but she wanted to keep him too. So far she had thirty-three sketches of him. On Saturday the touring library van arrived, and she quickly found a book about Pablo Picasso. She flicked through the illustrations and found one of a dove, but it was not what she expected. It was a black line drawing on a white background. Pigeons weren’t white. Davy Jones was mostly grey with a pink breast and two white patches where his collarbones would be, if birds had collarbones. Justine made a mental note to ask her father.
She closed the book with a bang.
‘Are you all right, dear?’ The lady who drove the library van was sitting at the tiny desk where she kept the wooden box in which were stored everyone’s library cards. They were little envelopes, really – blue for children, red for adults – into which the library lady slipped the ticket for each book borrowed. When you returned the book, the ticket was put back into the book, which was returned to the shelf.
‘Are you searching for something in particular?’
Justine was standing beside the adult section of the bookshelf, out of bounds to children.
‘I’m trying to find out about Picasso because my dad said he drew a pigeon and I’ve got a pigeon. Davy Jones.’ She waited for a reaction.
‘Davy Jones,’ she said again, ‘like the Monkee. The English one.’
There was no sign of recognition on the library lady’s face.
She started to sing ‘Hey Hey We’re the Monkees’, including some dance moves popular in the playground. The library lady did not smile. Justine stopped dancing.
‘He’s not a pet, he’s wild. But he’s injured and I’m trying to make him better. But,’ she held up the Picasso book, ‘this isn’t a drawing of a pigeon. It’s white.’
Maybe Picasso didn’t draw a pigeon after all, or maybe it wasn’t Picasso who drew it but another artist altogether. But her father was always right. He knew everything about birds: where swallows went in the winter; why owls sicked-up their poo; why a woodpecker’s beak didn’t break with all that hammering.
‘Well now, let’s have a look.’
They both leant over the page, studying the illustration.
‘Yes, I see what you mean. This is actually a print, a lithograph. The title is French for dove; it’s called ‘La Colombe’. Picasso made it in 1949 when he drew another very famous dove picture, ‘La Paloma’, which is also sometimes called ‘The Dove of Peace’. I know it’s confusing; two pictures of doves, made in the same year, one title in French and one in Spanish. But, you see, although he was born in Spain Picasso has lived in France for many years.’
The second influence on the young Justine is a real place, the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull. Justine visits on a school trip and is disappointed with the absence of Picasso works hanging on the walls. When she finds a picture of a tiger, it makes her reconsider what she is looking at:-
Justine trailed from room to room without a glance at her questionnaire or her study partner Susan Pratt. Painting after painting, wall after wall, room by room, it all seemed the same to her. Just like those sea paintings in the library at Brid. Dark brown and grey. Ships tossing on the sea. Fishermen pulling in nets. Mariners shipwrecked. And then she turned a corner into another room. It was empty of people; just four paintings but dominated by the largest. At first it made her think of a tiger, with a large eye, and green-striped fur. Then she thought it was a paper cut-out of a tiger, laid flat, like the dresses you could cut out of Twinkle magazine with tabs to attach to the body of the paper girl. Then she wasn’t sure at all what the painting was of, except that it definitely wasn’t a shipwreck. She read the small plaque on the wall. It read: ‘The Archer by Eileen Agar, 1967.’ That was all.
I was seven when this was painted.
She took three paces backwards and, with her arms folded and fingers neatly tucked in, studied the painting. Then with her sketch pad and best HB pencil, specially sharpened last night, she sat on the polished floor opposite the painting, her back leaning against the wall. She thought there was probably a rule saying ‘no sitting on floors’ but had purposely avoided reading any signs so, if caught, she could honestly say she didn’t know it wasn’t allowed.
‘The Archer’ had two outlines, one inside the other, which she drew. Each had shapes that were a bit like legs, a head, a mane. The outer shape was solid black and was the shape she imagined an animal skin would be if it was cut off the animal and laid out flat like a rug. What a disgusting thought. Surely that couldn’t be right. She concentrated on the inner shape. She sketched in the green tiger-patterned parts, though now she wondered if it was meant to be grass. At the top left, where the animal’s eye should be, there was a daisy.
She stopped and examined what she had done.
That’s not right.
She tore the page out of the pad, folded it into two once, again, and again, and then slotted it in at the back.
This time, she decided to really study the painting. To wait before drawing anything. To see what she could see.
She could see a tiger.
TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO 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
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 ‘Identity Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, 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.
Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness at Amazon
Photos [all © Sandra Danby unless otherwise stated]: