Jen: What inspired you to write Cooking for Picasso, a book about Pablo Picasso and his mysterious life in the French Riviera in the 1930’s?
Camille: I spend a lot of time on the French Riviera, and when I researched the area I discovered a little-known fact. In 1936, with his personal life in turmoil and unable to paint anymore, Pablo Picasso secretly slipped out of Paris and, using another name to remain anonymous, he rented a villa in the South of France. No one really knows what happened to him during this mysterious interlude—but it enabled him to pick up his brush and begin painting again.
As I delved into the artwork that Picasso created during this interval, I learned another intriguing detail: he’d made a pair of paintings of a dark-haired, unidentified woman. People still wonder today—who was she? I knew she’d be my heroine. And since she was unknown, I was free to invent a fictional character. I imagined a village girl, Ondine, who has ambitions to create through cooking.
Jen: How does seventeen-year-old Ondine’s encounter with Picasso whet her appetite for adventure?
Camille: In watching Picasso, my heroine Ondine learns that creativity is liberating. Until now she’s been under the thumb of her parents, who own the local café. But once she starts cooking for Picasso, Ondine also learns to take her work more seriously, and to become unafraid to take risks in order to produce something original. Also, she meets more famous artists, like Matisse and Cocteau!
Jen: Years later, what sparks Ondine’s granddaughter Céline to search out the truth concerning the relationship between the famous artist and her grandmother?
Camille: Ondine eventually has a daughter, Julie, who goes in a completely different direction. So, when Julie has a daughter of her own, Céline, she raises her in America and puts the past behind them. Céline has never met her French grandmother Ondine and knows very little about her—until one Christmas Eve when Julie takes Céline aside and confides in her. Céline, who is in her thirties now, has a strong, naturally loving bond with her mother and longs to protect her. Finally, it really becomes a matter of life and death for Céline to go to France and resolve certain issues. She can only do this by retracing her grandmother Ondine’s footsteps to learn more about what happened when Ondine and Picasso crossed paths.
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Jen: How are Ondine and Céline similar in respect to their desire to follow their heart in Cooking for Picasso?
Camille: They are both independent women who are unafraid to follow their own star. They both can see the dangers of relying too completely on men—no matter how rich or powerful those men are! And so there’s a very natural way that Ondine’s and Céline’s storylines reverberate off each other—just when you think you know the whole story, you learn something new. I wanted the novel to reveal these secrets in much the way it works when you’re sitting around the kitchen table cooking with your mother or grandmother, and suddenly you hear old stories in a completely different light. But Céline must travel in order to collect the bits and pieces of the puzzle, and along the way, her life is enriched by the assortment of characters whose help she needs. It isn’t easy for her to ask other people for help, but that’s all part of the learning process of life, too.
Jen: How does Céline’s love of culture, art, and cuisine bring her closer to her grandmother?
Camille: Céline is a good soul, empathetic and responsive to others, so she appreciates the things that make life worth living. She’s a freelance makeup artist who uses her brushes and pots of paint to reveal the human face in a highly creative way. But she’s not much of a cook, so when she signs up for a cooking class with a temperamental chef in France, she finds it deeply and personally challenging, to say the least! Yet in exploring her grandmother’s culture and cuisine, she comes to understand Ondine on a deeper level.
Jen: Are you currently at work on your next project? If so, what may you share with our readers?
Camille: As the French would say, naturellement! I am always scribbling away notes for new books at any given hour of the day or night. And I especially like to unearth historical incidents that aren’t generally well-known, which I’ve just done for my next book. So, stay tuned! In fact, your readers can visit me at my website to send me direct messages, and to see pictures of the things and places that inspired me to write Cooking for Picasso. So you are all welcome to come aboard at www.camilleaubray.com .
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