Showing posts with label Francis Bacon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Francis Bacon. Show all posts

02 January 2014

The Prisoner of the Riviera

by Eve Fisher

First of all, meet Janice Law:

Secondly, meet Francis Bacon:
  File:Pourbus Francis Bacon.jpg  No, not that one, this one:  File:Study for a Self Portrait -Triptych, 1985-86.jpg

Francis Bacon, artist.  Francis Bacon, gambler.  Francis Bacon, bon vivant.  Francis Bacon, gay, asthmatic, Irish, auto-didact, devoted to his Nanny (who lived with him until her death in 1951), and an absolute mess (his studio, by all accounts, was like something out of "Hoarders").  Francis Bacon, who must be howling over the whopping 142 million pounds paid for his portrait of Lucian Freud last year (the most ever paid for any work of art), especially since he never made anything like that sum in his life, despite his taste for high low life.  Let's just say the boy lived above his means, and that's part of what gets him in trouble.

Especially in Janice Law's "The Prisoner of the Riviera", the second of her Francis Bacon series (and if you have not yet read "The Fires of London", go and get it immediately).  Francis is back, in all his dark, louche, sardonic, hungry, artistic, reckless glory.

File:Real Monte Carlo Casino.jpg
Monte Carlo Casino
Did I mention he's a gambler?  Well, in post-WW2 Britain, it's practically the only fun you can have (all right, there is Albert, his lover...), but Francis' luck hasn't been good.  And it doesn't improve when he sees a Frenchman shot in front of him as he and Albert head home.  Francis leaps to help, but the man - Monsieur Renard - dies.  And then Joubert, the owner of the gambling den, makes Francis an offer he can't refuse:  take a package to Madame Renard on the Riviera.  In exchange, all of Francis' gambling debts will be forgiven.  Well, Francis' debts are high, and he and Albert and Nan had already planned to go to Monte Carlo for a vacation ("A solemn promise, dear boy"), so why not.  So off they go, Francis, Albert, and Nan, to eat and drink and gamble and relax in the sun and, eventually, fulfill his commission...

File:Fuchs.margin (MMW10F50 f6r) detail.jpgNow, to those of us who know our French fairytales, the name Renard hints that this is not going to be all pate de foie gras and Chateau Lafite, although Francis does his best to consume as much of the good stuff as he can.  And indeed, when Francis (eventually) goes to fulfill his commission on a hot, lazy, dusty day, things go south remarkably quickly.  The house is sinister, the widow unusual, and two thugs seem to be following him with ill intent.  Two days later, he is the prime suspect in the murder of Madame Renard - after all, everyone knows that a foreigner, especially a British foreigner, would be the obvious suspect in a small resort town - even though the dead woman does not look at all like the Madame Renard to whom he handed that mysterious package...  And the package has disappeared.  And "Renard" used to be the codeword for various operations, some of which had to do with the Resistance...   And everyone wants him to "help" them with their inquiries - licit or illicit. Thankfully, the food is good, the wine is wonderful, and Pierre the bicyclist is delightful...  until all hell breaks loose.  Again.

Francis quickly discovers that he has walked into a world that is just as haunted by World War II as Britain, only differently.  The Riviera spent its war occupied by collaborators and resistance, fascists and communists, counterfeiters and criminals, and far too many of them are still there, still feuding, still fighting, still procuring, masquerading, lying, killing... (the bodies are piling up!)  And far too many of them want Francis dead.

"The Prisoner of the Riviera" is a fast-paced ride that has as many twists and turns as a Riviera mountain road.  And Francis is just the man to tell the story:  witty, sarcastic, honest, an artist whose interest is always in the unusual, a lover who makes no bones about who he is, a man who knows everything about the dark side of life.  Read it now, and then wait, breathlessly, for the next installment of Francis Bacon, channeled through Janice Law!

10 December 2013

Nothing Wasted

by Janice Law

Thanks to Dale Andrews and Terence Faherty, who have kindly given up space so I can announce the publication today, Dec 10, of Prisoner of the Riviera, the second volume of my mystery trilogy featuring that campy bon vivant and artistic genius, Francis Bacon.

Surprisingly, since I rarely plan anything in fiction, I knew from the start that I wanted to do three novels with this character. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the trilogy involved me in the same sort of plot problems that individual novels have caused. Namely, I had a wonderful idea for the beginning: a mystery set against the London Blitz– the Blackouts, sudden death from the sky, spectacular, if dangerous, light effects, and the disorientations of a totally disrupted urban geography. Who could ask for a better setting?

And then Bacon was a character that I found irresistible if rather foreign to my own experience. He was irrepressible and pleasure loving, but hard working, too. And he lived with his old nanny, the detail that convinced me to use him in fiction.

I also had a pretty good idea about the third novel. Painful experience has taught me that it is folly to embark on a project without some idea of the ending. It’s good, if not essential, to know who the killer is, but I find I absolutely need some idea of how the concluding events are going to go down. And I did know, because, just on the cusp of real success, Bacon embarked on his great erotic passion with a dangerous ex-RAF pilot. In Tangiers, no less, the exotic height of romance. How could I go wrong with that?

The problem, as perspicacious readers will have already divined, was the dreaded middle, the getting from the brilliant idea of the opening (for who ever starts a project without the delusive conviction that this idea is really terrific?) to the clever and satisfying (we do live in hope) ending. The solution was not immediately forthcoming and volume 2 might still be just a faint literary hope if not for personal past literary history.

Over every writer’s desk, in addition to Nora Ephron’s mom’s: “Remember, dear, it’s all copy,” I would add, “Remember not every project works out” and “Nothing is wasted.” Years ago, I wrote a novel called The Countess, which borrowed some of the exploits of a real WW2 SOE agent, a Polish countess in exile. I did a lot of research. I read a lot of books. I visited the Imperial War Museum in London. I even made an attempt at beginning Polish.

But just as sometimes a piece one dashes off turns out to be very good, so sometimes one’s heart’s blood is not enough. The Countess was published to small acclaim and smaller sales and I was left with a working knowledge of the French Underground and SOE circuits, plus acquaintance with the toxic politics of Vichy and the right-wing Milice.

Years passed. Although I forgot, as I tend to do, the names of agents and the dates of significant actions, a notion of the infernal complexity of war time France remained, along with the conviction that the post-war must have been a very confusing and often dangerous place.

When I recalled that Francis’s lover had promised him a gambling trip to France after the war, I had the ah-ha moment. The real Bacon, his lover, and his old Nan had actually gone to France. That was good. And what was better was that I could invent a whole range of people who had scores to settle and secrets to hide. What better environment for Francis, who does have a knack for smelling out trouble?

The French setting of Prisoner of the Riviera also enabled me to add one of my passions to the story, as very soon after the war, the French resumed the Tour de France, still the world’s most glamorous bike race. Handsome young men in bike shorts seemed to me to be just the ticket for a vacationing Francis Bacon, and having given him all sorts of obstacles and miseries, it seemed only fair to let him indulge in a little romance.

Finally, we had spent holidays in France, a number of them in the south, and the sights and sounds of the Riviera have lingered in my mind. With both the physical and emotional setting of the novel well in hand, it remained only for me to trust to the Muse to come up with the incidents. She complied and Prisoner of the Riviera, in which in best mystery novel fashion, the hero, having survived Fires of London goes on vacation and finds himself in the soup, was the result.

03 September 2012

The Fires of London

by Janice Law

I have a book coming out tomorrow, September 4, from Mysterious Press, the first time I’ve issued a novel in eBook form. The Fires of London is set during the London Blitz and uses the Anglo-Irish painter, Francis Bacon, as the detective.

Leigh asked me to write about constructing The Fires of London and about the research involved, but, though he is too polite to put the question, I think he really wanted to know how a reserved, virtually teetotaling old lady from rural Connecticut, who, incidentally, just celebrated her fiftieth wedding anniversary, came to write about that gay, promiscuous, thoroughly urban, alcoholic genius, Francis Bacon.

Well might he ask! I’ve certainly asked myself the same question, but the Muse has her reasons, and I’ve found it unwise to reject anything she offers. Besides, after a little thought and research, I discovered that FB and I share a good deal more than might be evident on the surface.

But first the Blitz. Among my earliest memories is a great distaste for news broadcasts. Since I was only a toddler I cannot have understood the bulletins but only reacted to the concern and distress of my parents, Scottish immigrants anxious about relatives in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Fife, and points south in England. My other early memory is the big cardboard boxes which were shipped back to the old country during, and for years after, the war, containing coffee, chocolate, various other foodstuffs, wool, clothing, and even garden seeds to replace a blown up allotment garden in Aberdeen.

Later I visited the Imperial War Museum in London and did extensive WW II research for a novel about an SOE agent who was active in France. That background, plus the ever helpful web, with its pictures of barrage balloons and ARP clothing and various sites with memoirs of folk who lived through the Blitz, did the rest.
 
Just the same, what about Francis? Ah, well, I hesitated. But however rackety FB’s life, he was apparently up and in his studio by 6 or 7 a.m. He was a worker; I approve. Art was his lifeline and his earthly salvation. I drew well before I could read and write, and the visual world has been a constant source of interest and delight. In many ways, drawing and painting have always been the way I comprehend the world.

Of course, FB was a genius, and I am not, but even leaving his great abilities aside, he was an odd duck. Maybe too odd for me. Then I learned about Nan, his old nanny, whom he lived with until her death. She loved him unconditionally, entered enthusiastically into all his schemes, and, though half blind, went shoplifting for food when they were on their uppers.

This I understood. My mom had emigrated via Canada as a children’s nanny and my parents worked on a big estate. I was a downstairs child of an upstairs downstairs establishment, and I knew a lot of women – all, I must say, far more respectable than Nan – single women whose men folk, or would have been men folk, had been ground up in the First World War. These nannies, governesses, upstairs and downstairs maids, and cooks often had complicated relationships with their employers and, especially, with their employers’ children.

So was a love of painting and a bird’s eye view of the class system enough? I decided it was. Michael Peppiatt’s fine biography, Francis Bacon, Anatomy of an Enigma, various memoirs of people in Bacon’s circle, a fine exhibition in Buffalo of Bacon’s paintings, and some books on gay London recommended by my late university colleague, Hans Turley, gave me the details of FB’s life and information about the milieu in which he thrived.

For the rest, blame imagination. However remote the characters one creates seem, they are all made out of the same cloth, the writer’s own experience and personality. So Francis in The Fires of London is my version of the man, created by flinging imagination over the facts as I understood them and linking my experience to his very different one.

Though the ease with which I have written some peculiar and undesirable characters has sometimes given me pause, that was not the case with FB, whom I frequently disapproved of but whom I grew to like. He was a bundle of contradictions. One friend described him, I fear I paraphrase, as ‘camp as an army base and tough as old boots,’ an unusual combination, maybe, but no more or less complicated than the next person you meet. Tertullian wrote, “ I am a man and I think nothing human is alien to me.” Include my gender and that’s as good a motto for a writer as I can think of.

02 September 2012

Fires of London

by Leigh Lundin

Wot's a nice, straight all-American dude reading about the London gay scene some seventy years ago? I just finished Fires of London, Janice Law's novel about the mid-1900s English/Irish artist, Francis Bacon (not the Elizabethan logician, philosopher and essayist, nor other historical figures).

cover
Let's get one issue immediately out of the way: Yes, the star of Fires of London is flaming. I confess inquisitiveness, wondering how the author might handle Bacon's homosexuality and penchant for BDSM, especially given the number of exploitative erotic romances written by– and for the titillation of– straight women. I congratulate Janice on making Bacon's sex life integral, immersive, and tasteful, even sensitively done. Androphilia is beyond my ken, but the author makes the window of understanding accessible. Not only has the author handled Bacon's sexuality better than other authors, Janice's research, art background, and careful craftsmanship set this story apart from other historicals.

Fires of London draws upon art, poetry, history, mythology, and the classics. The author is a literary architect. She builds meticulously, syllabically brick by brick, painting the backdrop, sketching the characters, scene by scene, so the reader sees the novelistic theme park, not the girders underpinning it. The reader feels the protagonist's asthma, fear, bravery, and reluctant persistence to learn who's committing murders in the midst of the gay community.
Francis Bacon, 1979
Francis Bacon, London 1979,
The Spectator, photo
© Dmitri Kasterine

The author is not one to flaunt her intelligence and knowledge, giving the story a natural feel. Nor does she belabor drollery. The humor is sly and understated, including makeup advice to Francis to "keep your powder dry." When Francis needs to ditch evidence, his Nan picks his pocket and says "Dear boy, leave everything to me." Francis comments about boys in the rough trade, "I'm not one to leave hard feelings behind."

London town is real, palpable. The description of the Blitz is riveting. What I know about the gay scene you could fit in a teacup, but it feels true. You may think this isn't the kind of world you'd inhabit, but it's impossible not to connect.

In the latter chapters, the emotional roller coaster moves from angst, to spookiness, terror, anger, vindication, sadness for one of the characters who made Francis' life miserable, and finally a feeling of satisfaction.

Who could ask for more?

Defy the heat. Fires of London is available 4 September from Mysterious Press.