What to Leave Out?

When writing non-fiction, or indeed historical fiction, the temptation is to cram as much of your research as possible into the book. Firm discipline needs to be applied to fiction as you are not writing a textbook and explicit information-dumping must be avoided. In non-fiction the need for such discipline may relax because you are writing a textbook. When completing my archaeology books, I endeavoured to include as much detail as possible by use of tables and appendices. This was because I wanted the book to be the final word on the subject and did not require my readers to delve into museum archives to obtain the complete picture – especially as experience showed those archives are hard to get into and can indeed be lost.

When composing A Brush With Life, I had to contend with the great volume of work that Peter Le Vasseur had produced during sixty years as a working artist. Given the publisher set a limit on the number of illustrations that could be included, a drastic form of triage needed to be applied, meaning that most of his works do not appear in the book.

First to go were the early pictures for which we did not even have a decent image or a title (above left). The emphasis of the book was on Peter’s later works so this was an easy decision. No family photographs survived to illustrate his early years either. Next to be cut were the works from the 1960s that only existed as snaps in black and white (Girl With a Flute 1967). Sufficient colour images survived to illustrate Peter’s artistic development during that period.

Originals no longer existed of some of the commercial works from the 1970s, and we were unsure about copyright for items such the History of Cinema illustrations for Sunday Times Magazine, so these could not be included despite their importance to the narrative (Way Out West, 1970).  

Peter has produced a large amount of art depicting Guernsey scenes, pieces for commercial sale and pure wildlife illustrations. None were central to the story and most were sold into private hands long ago. Treated in the same way were the many illustrations Peter painted for stamps, Christmas cards and Linda Le Vasseur’s charity children’s books. A sample of his book cover illustrations had to suffice.

Circus and clown themes peppered Le Vassuer works from the mid-1960s to 1980s (Clown and Balloons, 1985). In discussion, Peter was emphatic that he had moved on from many of the ideas he once experimented with and these works added little to the story.

Finally came the task of choosing the ‘best’ of Peter’s art from post-1975 when environmental and ecological subjects became the focus of his work. A number of ideas were repeated in successive works, so only a representative member of a series such as Nuclear Ark were chosen (Nuclear Ark 2, 1970s). Some pictures were ruled out because the surviving images were not of publication quality or were close to themes in works already chosen (Evil Eye 2019).

You may ask whether this means there is scope for a second book, and my answer would be not immediately. However, the field is still open for a researcher to diligently seek out the Le Vasseur pop-fantasy artworks that were sold in London from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, obtain high quality colour images and write a retrospective appraisal. It would be a time-consuming task, but a wholly different book would emerge.

A Brush With Life: the Art of Peter Le Vasseur, Published by Lutterworth Press is now on sale from Amazon, the Lutterworth website and local bookshops. Image At head of story; detail from Bulldozed 2018.

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