Today I’m delighted to feature artist and author Lynn Bushell. Lynn writes highly readable, insightful, novels about the relationship between artists and the (usually) women who inspire them. Her 2019 book Painted Ladies, about the artist Pierre Bonnard and his muses, coincided with the block-buster Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern. It was also one of my Top Five reads of 2020. I’m now looking forward to reading her latest book The Lovers and the Dustman – about the artist Stanley Spencer, which was published in January this year.
Lynn started writing as a means of subsidising her work as an artist. She spent three years as a features editor on ‘Vanity Fair‘ magazine, acted as research assistant to Michael Holroyd on his Augustus John biography, taught Life Drawing in several London colleges and lectured at The City Literary Institute.
Over to Lynn:
Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
When I was ten my ambition in life was to be invited onto Desert Island Discs so I’ve had my 8 records to hand (just in case) for several decades. Some of the pieces on it, like The Teddy Bears Picnic have gone onto the reserve list although in my dotage I may well come back to them.
Tom Lehrer: ‘We will All Go Together When We Go’ Not to everybody’s taste, but my anarchic eighteen year old self still finds it hilarious. We weren’t any less frightened by the thought of nuclear conflagration in the ’60’s and I’m comforted by the thought that humour and satire remain a weapon – often the only weapon – against bigotry, cruelty and the threat of annihilation. After all, it’s more difficult to kill someone who’s shared a joke with you.
Anyone who warms to ‘We Will All Go Together‘ try ‘The Vatican Rag‘. Wittiest, slickest, sickest. Just laugh.
French Brexit Cabaret. As someone who regards France as a second home, I’m grieved by our withdrawal from the EU, but cheered to find that we can still poke gentle fun at one another. It’s hard to see how we bon-viveurs will get by in a post-Brexit world.
‘Boum’ Charles Trenet Makes me feel French even when I’m not there.
Beethoven’s 7th. 4th Movement. This is the piece I go to when I’m really low. His music is so brave. When I was twenty, I was told I would ‘outgrow’ Beethoven in the same way that one is supposed to outgrow socialism. It didn’t happen so perhaps I haven’t grown up yet.
Puccini: Tosca: Vissi d’arte. I came to Italian Opera late and my one regret is that I didn’t discover it earlier.
What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
i) An animal. I bought my border collie (now twelve) in France, thinking I was buying a border terrier. My French clearly wasn’t as good as I thought. My husband and I had agreed that our next dog would be hardy, scruffy, indifferent to exercise and definitely not more intelligent than we were. Enough said.
He has one blue eye and one brown and since I loathe having my photograph taken, I occasionally use him in photo-shoots. People say ‘Ahh’, something they rarely say when they see me.
ii) Like a lot of people I habitually lie to doctors (and myself) about the amount of wine I drink. I attribute my taste for it to my years in France but it was probably the reason I went to France in the first place.
iii) A double bed to myself. I have friends for whom separate sleeping arrangements would spell the end of a marriage. It’s what’s kept mine together. I’m restless, insomniac, prone to getting up in the middle of the night to write or snack or listen to the World Service whereas my husband falls asleep the minute his head touches the pillow.
iv) and v) ) My need for the natural world has grown over the years. I have a wonderful view of the River Stour and the willows lining the banks from my writing room. Because we live in the depths of the country it conflicts with my other need – to be near the sea. I grew up by the sea and I can’t be away from it for too long.
Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?
Don’t feel you have to achieve success by a particular age. We all develop at different rates.
Remember that unpleasant people are usually unhappy people. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Never send an email when you’ve had a glass of wine.
Remember what Ray Charles’ mother told him: ‘Face it. Not everyone will like you.’
Accept that if you put a bucket under the sink to catch the drips, you’ll inevitably forget and up-end it into the sink again when it’s full.
Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you
Friends joke that I’m so obsessed with the sea, I must have been a fish in a previous existence. Few know that I can’t swim. On the one occasion when I went in out of my depth I had to be rescued by the coast guard.
I have two phobias. One is having my photograph taken (You’ll have to invite me back if you want to know the other one). We have 15 family albums full of photos of my children and their father. You’ll be lucky to find me anywhere.
When I was 18, I spent a summer vacation as a night nurse in a home for retired nuns. I realised then that the experience called for a novel and I don’t know why I haven’t written it.
Thanks to my grandfather, who lived with us whilst I was growing up and was a veteran of the 1st World War, I learnt to play Gin Rummy long before I could put a sentence together. I could have made a living as a croupier by the time I was eight. I still hold this in reserve as a job.
I talk to the trees.
Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.
Just one now – to learn to live in the present whilst there’s still time (although I still have that yen to be on Desert Island Discs)
Many thanks for joining me today Lynn, it was a real treat for me. I know I don’t have the same ‘pull’ as Desert Island Discs but I hope this helped to tide you over until that other call comes. I’m with you on having an animal, I miss our dog and am definitely getting broody about having another. I’m also with you on having a double bed to yourself. Mine started with looking after the dog, during the night, then my illness. Now that things are back on track we’re both happy enjoying our personal undisturbed sleep with no signs of impending divorce! I’m busily thinking of another feature that means I get to discover your other phobia – you might have spawned a whole new series of posts. I’m looking forward to reading the new book and I’ll be keeping my eye out for a possible future novel featuring retired nuns!
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Paris 1917. For twenty-five years, the legendary Marthe has been Pierre Bonnard’s companion and muse. His new model Renée, lovely and captivating, thinks it’s time her rival stepped aside. But Marthe won’t give up her place in history without a fight. An artist may have many models but there can be only one muse.
The Lovers and the Dustman
“Why can’t I have two wives?”
The two women artist Stanley Spencer loved most were his wife and fellow artist Hilda Carline and his muse, gay vamp Patricia Preece. The problem was, he wanted both of them together. As an artist, wasn’t he entitled to have two wives?
The result was scandal, madness and some great art.