Mary E. Martin – The Drawing Lesson

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent novel, just published, is entitled The Drawing Lesson: The First in the Trilogy of Remembrance. This is my fourth novel and I’ve lots of work ahead of me in completing another trilogy. My first trilogy is entitled “The Osgoode Trilogy” which was inspired by my more than thirty years of law practice, here in Toronto, Canada. All three novels, in this first trilogy are set in the world of law, Conduct in Question, Final Paradox and A Trial of One.

Having completed three novels set in the legal world, I needed a change and so, I began with an new protagonist. Harry Jenkins is the lawyer, protagonist in the Osgoode Trilogy, and Alexander Wainwright is the protagonist in The Trilogy of Remembrance. The law has been exchanged for art! I think if a writer continues to write about the same character or same type of character over a number of novels, she or he risks the danger of boredom—not only for the author but the reader too.

The protagonist in The Drawing Lesson is Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter. He has a wonderful reputation. With magical light, he creates stunning visions of the beyond. His painting, The Hay Wagon, wins the Turner Prize. His nemesis, Rinaldo, a conceptual artist, seeks revenge. Alexander fears the loss of his muse. Seized with a vision, he paints ugly, misshapen, humanoid creatures on his canvas. Where is his muse? Alex searches from London to Venice and New York. Rinaldo waits to settle the score on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City. But Alexander’s real journey is within. Only by saving his tormentor not once, but twice, does he regain his artistic vision.

I’ve always been interested in the growth of the human spirit throughout a lifetime. In this trilogy, I plan to explore all the many ways Alexander and the other characters find to be human. I like to set the “big” questions for my characters to answer. In The Drawing Lesson, the fundamental question is what kind of world do we inhabit? Alexander sees the world as having a mysterious, secret order. His rival, Rinaldo, a conceptual artist, regards the world as random, chaotic and meaningless. In part, the novel is about the search to answers to such questions.

I’ve just completed the first draft of the next novel in the trilogy provisionally entitled, The Fate of Pryde. Here’s the question. Have you ever known a person who contains the very best and the very worst of humanity? When Alex finds a new patron, that is the question he must answer.

Tell us something about yourself.

I’ve always lived in Toronto, Canada, where I was born and grew up. Although I’ve travelled quite a bit and lived briefly elsewhere, Toronto is home for me. I graduated in History from the University of Toronto and then went to Queens University in Kingston, Ontario for my law degree. I married and began practicing in 1973 in a small firm in Toronto. It was my years of practice that got me writing. For years I listened to clients with their stories. I think this gave me a window on the world as I learned much about other peoples’ experience. And so, I began to write The Osgoode Trilogy—over a period of many years. I continued to practice and my husband and I also raised three children. So, at first, the only time for writing was really very early morning or very late night.

What inspired you to write this book?

Likely my life, my own interests and experiences inspired me to write this novel. I’ve always been extremely curious about the so-called “big” questions. Not that I expect to find any sure answers! It’s just fascinating to contemplate why “things” are the way they seem to be and how “things” work. Also, human nature is an endless source of fascination to me. I’ve always been very interested in art and so, Alexander Wainwright, the protagonist was born.

How did you choose the title?

The idea of a lesson or lessons seemed appropriate in the title. We all hope to learn something from life. On the cover is a painting entitled The Drawing Lesson. It’s by a Flemish artist Jan Steen who painted it in the early 1600’s. I think it gives a suggestion of the timeless nature of the questions raised.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

When I first started writing, I had an image in my mind of the publishing industry. It was a dark, Norman castle with a moat surrounding it. Drawbridge was always up. The poor author would attempt to toss his manuscript over the castle wall and even if he succeeded, he could die waiting for a reply. Sadly, my image of the traditional publishing world has not changed a lot over the years. However, there is a bright spot. There is such a thing as indie publishing. And while the author has to invest in his/her own work, I don’t think that is such a bad idea. In indie publishing the author retains the copyright in the work. And that gives you control over your destiny.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I think I always wanted to be a writer, but that is not very practical when you are young and need to earn some money to live. So, I became a lawyer. I now look at my years of law practice as my “research of life and human nature.” A great thing for a writer to have.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Only to write when I have something to write. Otherwise go and do something else.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

They usually just fly into my head. Once in awhile a name just doesn’t seem right for a character and so, I will change it.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I learned a great deal. Because I write to look for answers in life, I usually find some useful along the way. As far as publishing goes, I learned that the publishing landscape is in a state of upheaval, but it will eventually find its new form. I think that form will be some kind of collaboration between the indie and traditional worlds.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I don’t think I’d do much of anything differently. I don’t mean that to sound self satisfied. I just think that events tend to follow a certain course and on looking back, they seem to make sense, even if they didn’t at the time.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

Especially when I am writing, I don’t read much fiction unless it is by a particular author whom I like a lot. Usually, I read anything to do with psychology, lay man science about the cosmos. I am a great student to Carl Jung and the dream world.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

If you are a dedicated writer, you will not be able to stop. You have to write, just as you have to breathe.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

It’s the person who loves characters which will hopefully resonate with them…the person who likes to think about “big” issues. Certainly people interested in art, philosophy and mythology will like it. It’s a real exploration of human nature.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?