Mary E Martin Talks To Bookbag About Alexander Wainwrght and Me

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Mary E Martin Talks To Bookbag About Alexander Wainwrght and Me

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Summary: Sue has followed the life of Alexander Wainwright since Mary E Martin first wrote about him in The Drawing Lesson. She was delighted when Mary told her how Alexander Wainwright first came about.
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External links: Author's website


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It was a long, circuitous route to find Alexander Wainwright and his Trilogy of Remembrance. Before that trilogy, I was inspired by my many years of law practice to write The Osgoode Trilogy, starring lawyer Harry Jenkins — about murder, fraud, love and forgiveness in the darkened corridors of power and the law.

The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the shadows and glitter of the art world, was borne of a challenge to me from another author to write something other than what was rather dismissively called a murder mystery. So what else could be more exciting than murder, fraud, mystery and suspense?

Oddly, I first thought of the romance genre. I say oddly because after creating the kind of mayhem that can beset a lawyer in practice, romance was the last thing on my mind. But I, not one to shirk the tossing down of the gauntlet, decided to try.

The first attempt at a story began on the Orient Express where a man and woman met — Richard and Daphne. Do you think I may have subconsciously been straying back to murder mystery, thinking of Agatha Christie?

I scarcely remember much about the story and where it was going except that it literally ran out of steam after about thirty pages. If I, as the writer, were bored, what about the poor reader? I didn't abandon the project entirely — just diverted it onto another track. It had many versions but finally it grew into a story entitled Fleeting Moments. Although Alexander was not the leading man, he certainly had an influential role.

But where does Alexander Wainwright fit in? It was hard to find him, but one day he simply walked into my life. As I sat at my computer hoping for inspiration for Richard and Daphne (still waiting patiently on the train) something very strange happened. Just over my left shoulder, I sensed a presence. I never actually saw this presence but I knew he wore some sort of a cloak or Edwardian garb and a broad brimmed hat. (Yes, seriously!) He had a deep, gravely voice and an interestingly worn but kindly face. Immediately, I knew he was a famous British landscape artist, Alexander Wainwright, my new protagonist for the trilogy. But, it took a long time to get to know this character and find out what he wanted to do. In fact, he made various appearances in different guises.

In one of his first incarnations, (in that long short story, I mentioned, Fleeting Moments) he was the outsider — the stranger arriving in town to transform the lives of the inhabitants. He was the one who entered the lives of Richard and Daphne (still on the train) and brought them together. It had become obvious that such a task was beyond my small powers as an author. The impetus for the story came from this magician-like character, who moved in mysterious ways to affect the lives of others.

But Alexander was not content for long with such a secondary role. He wanted and demanded Daphne for himself. That developed over time and many drafts of what I realized was an actual novel entitled The Drawing Lesson. Despite his slow start, Alex began to dominate the stage in subtle (and not so subtle) ways. When he stepped out of the shadows, poor Richard was left off at the next train station.

More to discover! Once I was certain he was Britain's finest landscape painter, I began to learn more about his art. Alexander's landscapes are renowned for their light, which create visions of the beyond infused with a sense of the divine. You might think of the famous British painter, J.M.W. Turner who searched for light which he felt had a spiritual aspect. Above, you can see his watercolour Yarmouth at the Harbour's Mouth which will be on the cover of Night Crossing. I love the soft, subtle light and colour. For me, it evokes that sixth sensing of the moment just before something happens — possibly something physically or psychologically inexplicable and that is what the tension in the story is all about.

Throughout the trilogy, Alexander is always in search of his muse, his inspiration — his light. These searches take him from London to Paris, the south of France, St. Petersburg, New York and Toronto and into the lives of those he meets.

Throughout the trilogy, the story is told by Alex's art dealer James Helmsworth — a down to earth English gentleman who, primarily concerned with commerce, still has a keen artistic aesthetic and a longing to see the world as Alex does. He was chosen partly for this role to give credence to some of the more improbable events in Alex's life. Through Alex's travels, James introduces us to Rinaldo, the conceptual artist, who lives a life in vivid contrast to Alex's. No two artists could be farther apart in their work and their lives.

You will meet Peter, a brilliant novelist and winner of The Man Booker Prize. He suffers greatly under a cruel father just like Henri in Night Crossing. Then there is the charming Jonathan Pryde, whose mansion in the south of France provides respite and care for once brilliant intellectuals who have lost their mental capacities but — not their human decency. At the foot of the mansion stands a bunker in which Pryde carries out his other activities.

But the character I have come to love most is Miss Maureen Trump in Night Crossing. Her love is so powerful it seems to transcend life and death! Oh — and keep your eye out for Daphne, the one on the train with Richard. With Richard gone, she becomes more and more important to Alexander as the trilogy progresses.

How did I know it would be a trilogy as I was just starting the first novel? Well — I didn't really, but it had something to do with the main character. When you meet a person sometimes you just know you are going to be long lasting friends. It doesn't happen often but there's a certainty you just feel in your bones. I think it's like that. A character appears and is so intriguing to the writer that it's going to be a long relationship with lots of depth and common ground. A psychologist might say that this is a part of yourself which you want or need to explore.

My inspiration for the trilogy is certainly founded in my own love of the arts and the creative process. I have always been fascinated by any and all of the arts — literature, film, painting and sculpture — and, in particular, the creative process. How does the impetus to create — to make something from nothing — come about? That's a theme Alex explores in Night Crossing. Although he doesn't come up with any definitive answers, the fun lies in the asking.

In The Drawing Lesson, a big question is — whether we live in a random world where life is just a meaningless dance of molecules or whether the universe is filled with mysterious, guiding forces we don't yet understand. In The Fate of Pryde, Alex asks — how the very worst and the very best of humankind can simultaneously thrive in one human breast? And so, Night Crossing is filled with questions too. One in particular occupies Alex. How can an artist answer the demands of his daemon or muse and still have real love in his life? An academic question? Not for all the workaholics out there! But just like Alexander, I am struck by the sense that there is something lying beyond this physical world which somehow ties it all together. I could not tell you what it is or how it got there, but a great part of the trilogy is my own personal search for this ineffable beyond.

On a personal note, my life has been punctuated with numerous very strange happenstances which range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Some would call it synchronicity.

For example, once when I was writing my first novel, Conduct in Question, the first in The Osgoode Trilogy, I was at the dining room table working on a scene in which the 'bad guy' the Florist, was marching down a staircase to murder a young boy. But that teenager had soaked the stair carpet with gasoline and was planning to set a match to it to stop the killer from attacking him. But would that cause an explosion or just a fire? As I sat pondering the question and wondering where I could find an answer, (this was before easy access to the internet) a knock came at the door. Who should be there but two men from the fire department wanting to do an inspection. I could not believe my luck! The answer? It would blow up real good ma'am.

Years later, I was consumed with one of those life questions to which I could find no answer. I happened to be on tour of Greece at the time and, having broken off from the group, I remained seated before the Oracle of Delphi. Just as I was intently asking for some answer, from behind me, I heard a woman's voice loud and clear — The order has changed. You must go on. I was stunned! Yes — that might be an ambiguous answer (oracles often are) but it rang true. But where did it come from? Out from behind some massive rocks came a woman with a dozen or more people behind her. She was a tour guide and she had been quoting the Oracle who had been asked a question many centuries ago and that was her answer.

For many years, these kinds of events have built up. I had to find out how such incredible happenstances could occur. This led me to a study (on a very 'lay' level) of physics. I say 'lay' because I have no scientific background to speak of. It also drew me to Carl Jung's writings, who often wrote about dreams and synchronicity. Actually the Swiss psychiatrist, Jung, spent much time with several mathematicians and physicists such as Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli discussing whether the human psyche was related to the quantum world of physics.

Through reading in these areas, I came to understand that the solidity of the physical world is really an illusion and that there are other forces operating outside of time and space. Many people will simply dismiss these events as quirky happenstances, but I think some of them may be significant.

I have to side with Alex when he says that the world is governed by mysterious forces we don't yet understand. Consequently, these kinds of questions lie at the root of the trilogy and drive the plot. That is why Alexander has his very own nemesis, Rinaldo, the conceptual artist to argue with. No two people could be farther apart in nature, temperament, world views and their art.

Of course, every writer finds his or her inspiration in a myriad of places in this amazing world. And every writer finds some way to court the muse—on a daily basis—with varying success!

Please visit my website where you can explore all my work. Before Night Crossing becomes available you might like to read The Drawing Lesson and The Fate of Pryde which are available at all online bookstores. To start, just click here.