• Lilac Mills

The Horse’s Arse Blog Tour

I'm delighted to take part in The Horse's Arse Blog Tour. Ms Gascoigne very kindly gave me an ARC (review below) and I can thoroughly recommend it. But before that, a word from the author herself - take it away, Laura!

The Horse’s Arse, a busman’s holiday book

As a visual arts writer and part-time painter, my whole life is a bit of a busman’s holiday. When I’m not writing about art I’m painting, and when I’m not doing either I’m visiting exhibitions or propping up artist friends who need encouragement. So you’d think the last thing I wanted to write a novel about was art, but you’d be wrong.

There are obvious advantages to writing about what you know. It’s not that it allows you to cut out the research stage, which - from my past experience of writing a novel (unpublished) - is the fun bit. It’s that when you know your way around a subject you’re less likely to go off at a tangent and create a scenario and/or characters that are unconvincing to those in the know. (Believe me, there are always plenty of know-alls waiting to catch you out if you get things wrong.) So one big advantage of sticking to your field is that you start from solid foundations that will support the plot. What you mustn’t do is let the facts get in the way of a good story. You have to detach yourself from them enough for the story to take off and develop in interesting and unpredictable directions. Unpredictability is key. The whole fun of writing a novel, for me, was not knowing what was going to happen. With The Horse’s Arse the plot developed in fits and starts and, as it did, the characters put on flesh. Knowing your subject provides you with a cast of readymade characters, but if you stick too closely to them the fun goes out of it. As a satirical novel, The Horse’s Arse features a supporting cast of minor art world characters who will be instantly recognisable to those in the know, but the principal characters who move the plot forward were an unknown quantity even to the author. Some of the characters in my novel completely surprised me. The artist hero was, I admit, based on a particular person, but his wheeler-dealer son who started out with a minor role became a key player and ended by rescuing the situation. I hadn’t seen this coming myself.

The disadvantages? Well, they depend on your job. If you have a day job you can’t wait to get away from and writing is your main form of release, then you’ll obviously want to escape into another world. Even so, when it comes to creating characters, you can only work with familiar material and you may find people from work invading your new world. When writing a novel, there is no clear line of separation between the world you know and the world you invent. A successful story will be a fusion of the two.

In the case of The Horse’s Arse, I had a particular motive for writing about the world I work in. The art world is a law unto itself. For a market turning over more than $60bn a year it is shockingly unregulated, riddled with corruption and fraudulent practices that would never be tolerated in any other business. This stuff gets written about in specialist art journals but - except when a fake old master is sold to museum for tens of millions - it almost never makes it into the popular press. One of my motives in writing the book was to create a story that would expose this underworld to the general public. People will read about things in fiction that they would never bother with in a factual account. So I’ve woven into the story a lot of information about how the art world actually works and tried to sugar the pill with a thriller plot. I hope it helps the medicine go down and that readers come out at the end knowing more about the art business than they did at the beginning.

Laura Gascoigne

The Horse's Arse

Blurb Patrick Phelan is an ageing artist who has never made it big but who somehow manages to live on air in a North London suburb. When not running art classes for amateurs, Patrick wrestles in the shed at the bottom of his garden with his life’s work: a series of visionary canvases of The Seven Seals. When his wheeler-dealer son Marty turns up with a commission from a rich client for some copies of paintings by modern masters, Phelan reluctantly agrees; it means money for his ex-wife Moira. However the deal with Marty is, typically, not what it seems. What follows is a complex chain of events involving fakery, fraud, kidnapping, murder, the Russian Mafia and a cast of dubious art world characters. A contemporary spin on Joyce Cary’s classic satire The Horse’s Mouth, The Horse’s Arse by Laura Gascoigne is a crime thriller-cum-comic-fable that poses the serious question: where does art go from here?

Review More literary and quite a bit more high-brow (which doesn't mean to say I didn't enjoy it - I did!) than my usual reads, the art references in this novel were fascinating. The author clearly knows her stuff. The humour in this is so dry it would make the Sahara weep. Loved the crane and pterodocatyl analogy. Author brings everything back to color, I clung noise eg "cadmium orange clang of cowbells" - The narration seemed to be one step removed in places but this simply added to the author's writing style, and when she does get into the characters' heads their voices are quite distinct. I was fascinated thought the whole novel and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's different and quirky and intelligent and very well written. If you are looking for more than a quick easy read, then this is most definitely for you.

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