From the author of the internationally bestselling ‘A Vintage Affair‘ comes ‘The Very Picture of You‘. The novel is about a portrait painter, Ella and the extraordinary things that her sitters reveal about themselves to her in the special space that is a studio sitting. From an elderly widow, to a handsome politician, and a beautiful French woman, to Ella’s own, very complicated mother, her subjects all have stories to confide, secrets to reveal – and lies to tell…
‘Ella…? El-la?’ My mother’s voice floats up the stairs as I sit hunched over my sketchpad, my hand moving rapidly across the cartridge paper. ‘Where are you?’ Gripping the pencil I make the nose a little more defined then shade in the eyebrows. ‘Could you answer me?’ Now for the hair. Fringe? Swept back? I can’t remember. ‘Gabri-el-la?’ And I know I can’t ask. ‘Are you in your room, darling?’ As I hear my mother’s light, ascending tread I stroke a soft fringe across the forehead, smudge it to add thickness, then swiftly darken the jaw. As I appraise the drawing I tell myself that it’s a good likeness. At least I think it is. How can I know? His face is now so indistinct that perhaps I only ever saw it in a dream. I close my eyes, and it isn’t a dream. I can see him. It’s a bright day and I’m walking along and I can feel the warmth rising from the pavement and the sun on my face, and his big, dry-feeling hand enclosing mine. I can hear the slap of my sandals and the click-clack of my mother’s heels and I can see her white skirt with its sprigs of red flowers.
He’s smiling down at me. ‘Ready, Ella?’ As his fingers tighten around mine I feel a rush of happiness. ‘Here we go. One, two, three…’ My tummy turns over as I’m lifted. ‘Wheeeeeee… !’ they both sing as I sail through the air. ‘One, two, three – and up she goes! Wheeeeeeeeee… !’ I hear them laugh as I land.
‘More!’ I stamp. ‘More! More!’
‘Okay. Let’s do a big one.’ He grips my hand again.
‘Right then. One, two, three and… u-u-u-u-u-p!’
My head goes back and the blue dome of the sky swings above me, like a bell. But as I fall back to earth, I feel his fingers slip away and when I turn and look for him, he’s gone…
‘There you are,’ Mum is saying from my bedroom doorway. As I glance up at her I quickly slide my hand over the sketch. ‘Would you go and play with Chloë? She’s in the Wendy house.’
‘I’m… doing something.’
‘I’m too old for the Wendy house – I’m eleven.’
‘I know darling, but it would help me if you could entertain your little sister for a while, and she loves you to play with her…’ As my mother tucks a strand of white-blonde hair behind one ear I think how pale and fragile-looking she is, like porcelain. ‘And I’d rather you were outside on such a warm day.’ I will her to go back downstairs; instead, to my alarm, she is walking towards me, her eyes on the pad. I quickly flip the page over to a fresh sheet. ‘So you’re drawing?’ My mother’s voice is, as usual, soft and low. ‘Can I see?’ She holds out her hand.
‘No… not now.’ I wish I’d torn out the sketch before she came in.
‘You never show me your pictures. Let me have a look, Ella.’ She reaches for the pad.
‘It’s… private, Mum – don’t…’
But she is already turning over the spiral-bound sheets. ‘What a lovely foxglove,’ she murmurs. ‘And these ivy leaves are perfect – so glossy; and that’s an excellent one of the church. The stained glass must have been tricky but you’ve done it brilliantly.’ My mother shakes her head in wonderment then gives me a smile; but as she turns to the next page her face clouds.
Through the open window I can hear a plane, its distant roar like the tearing of paper.
‘It’s a study,’ I explain. ‘For a portrait.’ My pulse is racing.
‘Well…’ Mum nods. ‘It’s… very good.’ Her hand trembles as she closes the book. ‘I had no idea that you could draw so well.’ She puts it back on the table. ‘You really… capture things,’ she adds quietly. A muscle at the corner of her mouth flexes but then she smiles again. ‘So…’ She claps her hands. ‘I’ll play with Chloë if you’re busy, then we’ll all watch the royal wedding. I’ve put the TV on so that we don’t miss the start. You could draw Fergie’s dress.’
I shrug. ‘Maybe…’
Isabel Wolff studied English at Cambridge and was a BBC broadcaster before becoming a writer full time. Her nine novels are characterized by their blend of pathos and humour, and have been bestsellers worldwide. Isabel lives in London’s Notting Hill with her family. For more information about her please visit her website, www.isabelwolff.com and her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Isabel-Wolff/52343073960
Isabel is giving away 3 copies of The Very Picture of You to random commenters. To enter the contest, leave a meaningful comment and be sure to include your email address so we have a way to contact you. The winners will be chosen on Sunday, October 9… and it’s open internationally.