Today Monday Moments includes an interview with fellow Crooked Cat author, Tom Gillespie, regarding his debut novel - Painting By Numbers.
On 'My Promotions and Book Reviews Blog' you'll find my review of Painting By Numbers and an excerpt from his novel. Click on the tab above to access 'My Promotions and Book Reviews ' blog.
What is Painting By Numbers all about?
Painting By Numbers is a DARK, SURREAL THRILLER that follows one man’s relentless pursuit into an old truth buried deep within.
Day after day, Jacob Boyce – faltering academic and failing husband – visits a 17th century allegorical painting which hangs in a Glasgow art gallery. By using a series of measurements and calculations, he attempts to create a mathematical theory that will decipher the code locked into its canvas.
As more of the painting’s hidden SECRETS are revealed, and he meets a mysterious young woman, Jacob’s life spirals into chaos.
The object of his obsession has begun to move.
To me, his novel doesn't easily fit any classification, so I asked Tom some questions. Let's see what he says about it...
N: Painting By Numbers is not an easy novel to fit onto the genre shelves. If you have to classify it as one prime genre category what would you label it under?
T: I hate genre classification. It’s something dreamed up by the marketing departments of publishing houses and film studios, desperately seeking ways to boost sales targets. Good writing should whisper, shout and sing to the heart regardless of whatever approximate style a publisher thinks it fits into. When I began working on PBN, I didn’t set out to write something that either slotted into or defied categorisation because I don’t believe such categories exist in the first place. And if you found it a difficult book to classify then that makes me happy. I would say though that my novel is primarily a story about loss and a search for truth and meaning. It is also about finding ways to accept and love who we really are.
You're not getting off the hook quite so easily! List three sub-genre categories. What would they be?
Oh.. now there you go again. But if you really want me to, then I’d say that PBN is a tragi -comic psychological drama or an unconventional road thriller
When you finally completed Painting By Numbers and dusted off the edits, what kind of gut reaction did you hope for from your readers?
I hoped that the book would raise a number of questions in the reader’s mind about our perceptions of reality, and how honest we think we are about ourselves and the lives we lead. I also wanted the book to remain a puzzle, a conundrum that is open to interpretation. I love writing that is ambiguous, where the reader is left to make up his or her own mind about what they think might be going on. I’ve been amazed by the range of interpretations, theories and explanations I’ve received from readers since its publication. It fills my heart with joy as it shows a serious engagement with the story and the plight of my central character, Jacob. I think though, there is a narrow line between ambiguity designed to draw the reader in, and ambiguity that frustrates and alienates, and I worked hard to ensure that Painting by Numbers walks on the right side of the line. I hope that readers agree that it does. But as far as what it’s really about, my lips are firmly sealed.
The novel seems to cover quite a number of themes. What would you say is the main theme you wanted to explore when you wrote Jacob’s story?
In many ways, the book is about the polarity of opposites; stillness and movement, sanity and madness, fate and chance, truth and lies, damnation and redemption, the list goes on. The art world provided an excellent backdrop to explore Jacob’s actions, motives and state of mind. Baroque artists such as Velazquez were all rather strange people to say the least. They lived in a time where science and the occult were considered pretty much the same thing, and so they dabbled and experimented with all sorts. And I think Jacob was drawn to these strange, experimental and obsessive worlds that the artists created within their compositions. Through allegorical art, he found his means of transport to help him on his psychological odyssey, his long journey home..
I found the plot of Painting by Numbers complex and the time sequencing a thready web with a lot of snags. Did this mean a lot of planning in advance of writing any of the first draft, to create the situations where there could be multiple interpretations?
It was quite complicated to make sure things threaded together, and each time I changed, removed or added a part, I had to re-trace my footsteps and alter related sections as well. I worked closely with a number of people including an art historian and a mathematician to piece together my complex tale, though I think it’s important to bust a myth about the book and say that there’s actually very little mathematics in it. In many ways that too is largely an illusion or deception created through careful and selective use of language and scene setting.
Some authors deliberately plant ‘red herrings’ in their novels, especially so if a mystery is involved. Did you write in some of your characters to throw out particular challenges to the reader?
I think Jacob is the principal conundrum in the book. He believes that there are answers hidden within the configurations and pigments of a painting, but the labyrinth of his own tangled mind is the puzzle he is trying to solve. You may even find yourself asking whether Jacob might be a red herring.. But that’s for you to decide.. Though for me, Red Herrings are for the sea.
Some parts of the novel have a weird levity about them; other areas are deadly serious - as when Jacob is increasingly obsessed with changes to the measurement of the painting. What was your intention when you added the bizarre touches of humour?
Pit black humour runs throughout the book, and I think that may be my Scottish genes at work. I wanted Jacob’s tale to border on the absurd and the surreal, and the humour is designed to add to the sense of disorientation and other-worldliness, but also help reflect what’s going on inside Jacob’s mind and how he is responding and interpreting events and situations going on around him.
I was very interested in the Art appreciation aspects of the novel and loved the descriptive elements in your writing. Did you look at the complex structure of a Velasquez painting and think - I can write a story about that? Or did you chose the era and style of painting after beginning the first draft?
The novel began as a one page story and was based on an incident I observed on a trip to El Prado Museum, Madrid. A very odd looking Margritte-like man began laying out long lines of thread on the floor in front of Velazquez’s most famous painting Las Meninas. But within a couple of minutes, two burly security guards man-handled him out of the gallery. This very strange moment stuck in my head and I hurriedly scribbled down a flash story. My scribbles lay in a drawer for a couple of years but that strange wee man wouldn’t leave me alone, and soon a back and forward story began to roll out in my head. So Velazquez and Baroque art were central characters from the start.When I investigated the painting, the art and the lives of the great court painters and sculptors of the Baroque period in more detail, I began to understand and sympathise with the man’s motives and bizarre behaviour that day in El Prado. The next stage was to find a name. And once I had that, my central character was born. PBN was always about Jacob’s journey and if I’d spotted him in the Goya room or with a Picasso, then my book may have been completely different.
I know you continue to write flash fiction, but are you also writing another novel at present?
I’ve started work on a second novel. It’s in the planning/draft stages. It’s about a washed-up writer living in a tumble down caravan in the middle of nowhere who is bequeathed a beautiful house by a deceased fan..... then all hell breaks loose….and before you ask, it’s not autobiographical!
I've really enjoyed your answers, Tom! Thank you for coming to visit Monday Moments.
Read on to find out more about Tom.
Read on to find out more about Tom.
Tom Gillespie grew up in a small town just outside Glasgow. After completing a Masters in English at Glasgow University, he spent the next ten years pursuing a musical career as a singer/songwriter, playing, recording and touring the UK and Europe with his band. He now lives in Bath with his wife, daughter and hyper-neurotic cat, where he works at the University as an academic English lecturer.
Tom writes long and short fiction. A number of his stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies and online collections including Fear: An Anthology of Horror and Terror published by Crooked Cat Books, and East of the Web (www.eastoftheweb.com). He is also a regular contributor to fridayflash.org.
Tom’s writing has been described as terse, minimalist, hyper- realistic and ambiguous, where layers of meaning are conveyed using a concise and economical style.
Painting By Numbers has been nominated for The People’s Book Prize, a major UK literary award. To vote for Tom’s book, please click on the link below
Please click on 'My Promotions and Book Reviews Blog' now and read an excellent excerpt from Painting By Numbers.