Art as Influence

Cover art by the fabulous S. L. Johnson
Cover art by the fabulous S. L. Johnson

You might be surprised to hear that the Chastity Flame series (recently referred to as Fifty Shades of James Bond by one reviewer :-D) derives a lot of its inspiration from art. While the immediate influences are of course Mr Fleming’s secret agent and Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, the story begins in front of the famous Cézanne painting, Les grandes baigneuses. Now before you start to think this is all very hoity-toity let me dispel you of that notion. True, Chas’s father was a painter so she comes by her love of art naturally — and it sets her up to meet by accident the intriguing historian Damien Michelet, whom she mistakes for her contact, but that’s not all.

The point of starting there is due to my endless obsession with Peter Cook and not with poor old Cézanne himself. Although admittedly it is a lovely painting and I have stood in front of it many times admiring its many qualities and the gorgeous colours. The National Gallery’s notes tell us this was a popular topic for the painter:

Cézanne painted bathers from the 1870s onwards, including numerous compositions of male and female bathers, singly or in groups. Late in life, he painted three large-scale female bather groups. In addition to the National Gallery’s painting, they are now in the Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He seems to have been at work on all three simultaneously at the time of his death.

But I am so predictable. When I stand in front of the painting and admire its exquisite brush strokes, the whole time I am hearing this in my head:

When it came time to write the sequel, I didn’t immediately have a good idea what to call it. I pondered a variety of titles, none of which seemed to fit the nature of the story. Titles are like that for me: either they come at once or they take a lot of work. I recall sitting in pubs with friends sketching out the plot and bouncing off ideas, but none really seemed to stick. Then I went to a gallery show inspired by JG Ballard’s Crash and there was Richard Hamilton’s painting Hers is a Lush Situation. I knew at once that was the title (well, a shortened version of it).

I love the suggestion of the woman who isn’t really there, a perfect evocation of Chas herself and the issues she struggles with in the second volume. How much can she allow herself to be like a ‘normal’ person? How visible is too vulnerable? Is the lushness of her material comforts worth being invisible?

I’m working on the third book: so far it doesn’t have a name. But I’m looking at a lot of art as I think it over…