All in the mind ~ by Maressa Mortimer


I'm sure there's a very good reason why the guy at the back is drinking like that?

One question I’m often asked is, “How do you come up with your stories?” I don’t know what you say to that, but I don’t know! It’s somebody laughing in a cafe; a dodgy looking car passing us, or a van driving quietly down a little road. I don’t need very much to set off my imagination and usually, life turns out way more mundane than my mind thinks it ought to be.

For most of my books, I have made up the lot. They aren’t based on stories or things I have read or heard. I do have some visuals, though. For Sapphire Beach, I used the setting of one of our holidays in Crete, then adjusted it to suit my purpose. For Walled City I used the layout of a game map to visualise Elabi. A character will pop into my head, and I have learned to write down all I know about the characters. A scene might come to mind, or a few lines that I would like to include somehow. Then, for a few days or even weeks, my mind goes wild, spinning the character around in his new world, imagining things, and soon, a beginning will announce itself. So I sit down, and with a sigh, type, “Chapter 1”. The character starts and soon, I can imagine them doing things that I would not recommend, or they don’t seem to be very kind and I’m sure they’ll learn the hard way...

Why would you let a rabbit out, then simply take a picture like this?

Monday evening I was on a very interesting Zoom call about Art in writing. I’m not into art, because my mind goes in overdrive, and not everybody around me seems to appreciate that. I do try to behave, but some pictures just ask for an alternative explanation. We were shown a picture by a Dutch painter during the meeting, that had my mind racing off in all kinds of tangents. One of the other participants challenged us to write a story about that painting, and you know what? I just might!

I wouldn’t have thought of looking at art in that way, despite some famous books based on art. “Write what you know” can easily turn into, Write the way you know. As I’m very new to writing, that can be rather limiting. That’s why I enjoy writing groups, as there is so much experience to go around, and it challenges you in so many ways. Of course, the groups I belong to are filled with kind and encouraging people, which helps.

So here’s my two-penny worth of advice (I’m Dutch, we are experts at giving unsolicited advice, but we’re never offended if you don’t take it!). First, have coffee before looking at art. Unless coffee doesn’t calm you down, in which case you might be better off with tea. Second, make sure that your friends are tactful and kind, but expert enough about writing to feel comfortable coming up with helpful hints. And lastly, using art, whether that is paintings, music or other forms, can help you to come up with some brilliant ideas. Like the Dutch painting. I’m sure the creepy looking guy was either the new husband or a matchmaker for young rich girls.

Do you have a favourite painting that is just looking like a book ready to be written down?

Maressa Mortimer is Dutch but lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, England with her husband and four (adopted) children. Maressa is a homeschool mum as well as a pastor’s wife, so her writing has to be done in the evening when peace and quiet descend on the house once more. She loves writing Christian fiction, as it’s a great way to explore faith in daily life.

Her debut novel, Sapphire Beach, was published December 2019, and her first self published novel, Walled City, came out in December 2020, followed by Viking Ferry, a novella. Beyond the Hills is the second book in the Elabi Chronicles, and will be released on June 18th 2021. All Maressa’s books are available from her website, or local bookshops.


Ruth Leigh said…
I love looking at paintings and working out what everyone's doing. This is right up my street. I'm a big fan of Singer Sargent and his paintings benefit from a good long stare. Many of them would give inspiration for a novel, I would think. Having a coffee now. A particularly good one. You'd approve.
Yes, I think a painting is like a first paragraph or a blurb... Enjoy your coffee, in Dutch it's called a dish of comfort!
Umberto Tosi said…
Very inspiring to know that you take inspiration from paintings - natural, I imagine, from your land of masterpieces. Several years ago, I started a historical magic realist novel based upon George Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." The large tableau makes its home here at the Chicago Art Institute, where I've seen, and pondered it often.
Thank you, yes, I certainly will have to start looking at paintings! It sounds nice to have a magic realist novel based on a painting! So intriguing!

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