Friday 28 August 2009

The Gift of the Exceptional Mary D

My new novel The Woman Who Drew Buildings is dedicated thus:

‘For the exceptional and inspirational Mary Davies - painter, writer and healer.’

uSE Box

This novel has been in the making for five or six years, when the exceptional Mary D gave me a box of materials about her travels and experience in Poland in the 1980s.

Mary knew I was interested in the idiosyncrasies of letters, notebooks, images and ephemera that I used to inspire my novels. I was, she said, to use them as I wished. Travel Docs We had long talks about her experiences and the the dilemma of using them as inspiration, for what I knew would be - in fact -pure fiction.

It has taken me some years to develop my imaginative take on on all this material and all these ideas in order to allow the novel to emerge of its own volition. It became more fluid – easier - when my purely imagined characters got to grips with the material of their true to life inspiration.

The Woman Who Drew Buildings is the outcome of all these processes.

A taster for you:

The extract below describes the moment when Adam, the estranged son of Marie Matheve (who has problems of his own) comes upon just such a cache of materials as his mother lies in a coma in hospital:

… Adam’s eye moved to the wardrobe and the pile of boxes above it. Now this he could disturb. He climbed on the dressing stool and started to pull down the boxes. He worked swiftly and as he worked his spirit lifted. He started to drop the boxes so their contents spilled on the polished floor – books, notebooks, papers, brochures, travel documents, bundles of clothes, bright scarves, packets of photos, sheaves of drawings in a disorganised pile….

… he took a second bottle of wine from the fridge, took a new notebook from the pile in her bottom left desk drawer, came back and began to make a careful list of the things that had spilled out of the boxes. His face was burning with wine drunk too fast, his brain was racing, his hand was shaking, but one by one he listed the items from the brown cardboard box:

· Article in Esperantist magazine by Marie Mathéve, recounting her ‘Study In Poland.’

· A newspaper article about the visit of Marie Mathéve’s visit to Poland on a Siropotimist grant to consider buildings.

Mary Davies 007 8

· Photo of Marie and a younger (very pretty)woman leaning towards each other, making a triangle. On the back Marie has written; Jacinta Zielenska and me in the Cherzov flat.

· Small published book of drawings of Krakov marked Ex Libris D. Adama Zielenski` Paperback with a brown paper cover to protect it.

· Photographic slides, small and hard to see, with viewer,.

· Poland’s Progress edited by Michael Murray first pub 1944 this the third ed 1945

· Krakow by Edward Hartig 1964. Coffee table book.

· Poland by Irena and Jerzy Kostrowicki

Official 1981 guide to KrakowUse Window

· Official guide to Katowice

· Notebooks, many notebooks

· Two small red Sylvine notebooks still with their 30p price tag on. Marked Poland Diary 1981

· One Winfield exercise book marked Paris Diary 1985

· Daler Sketchbook full of Marie’s drawings eg: Cherrzov From My Bedroom; steelworks; estate with Tabac in foreground; old steelworks; coal mine looking towards Katowice; done in coloured markers, making her usual style brighter and bolder. But style is unmistakable.

· Spiral Bound Daler Sketchbook with more subtle drawings from Brittany, Paris Luxembourg gardens, View from my window 8th floor Rue de Rennes; Paris. Louvre 1985.


(Watch out for a later Post - The day when Mary D regressed me back in time...)


A Book Cover (2)If you fancy it, The Woman Who Drew Buildings (ISBN 978-0-7553-3380-6)

is published by Headline Book Publishing

and is available in all good bookshops.



  1. I love caches like Mary's. Such a wonderful prompt for imagination. My favourite ever (and saddest in a way) was a small cardboard case I found when we were cleaning up my grandfather's flat after his death. It contained sketchbooks, notes, letters and slides from his younger days in India. The items were a tantalising link to many of the vivid stories he used to tell.

  2. Dear Al
    Would you think of writing a fictional novel based on that tantalising cache and Grandpa's stories? Could you resist it? or meybe a vivid imagined memoir?

  3. I have often thought, with some embarrassment at the possible consequences, of what will become of the journals we write, filled with private thoughts. This sounds like a great book.
    Wendy I finally posted the award you sent, plus I have nominated you for another one, I do really enjoy reading your posts.

  4. Wendy I love this extract -it is just a wonderfully clever and evocative use of the list.

    From my reading of the early drafts of this novel and from our conversations I know that The Woman Who Drew Buildings is like Mary: exceptional and inspirational, rather like you!I look forward to its success.

    Many thanks for my blogging award! - I will be responding once my server problems are resolved and my head has properly returned from Spain

    Avril x

  5. Avril - Thank you for kind words and welcome back from Spain. I am wondering if it has left some poem lines in your head.

    Thank you for coming back - good to see you! You make a good point about people getting their hands (or minds)on our journals. However it was Mary's more or less objective observations, her meticulous eye for detail that were invaluable here, in giving me access to a time and a place in a way more useful than reading twenty books. (And I read many more!) If something of the grace and humour of her personality infuses the novel then that is an organic rather than a deliberate effect which gives me some pleasure.

  6. Hi Wendy,
    I have often thought of writing about my Grandparents(and for that matter about my more distant ancestors). My Grandfather was a wonderful storyteller, and he had so many colourful stories. He grew up in the Raj and was so much a product of that time, yet unlike so many British Indians (he was British yet he never saw Britain in his entire life) he did not leave in 1947.
    Using the case as a catalyst for the story is an interesting idea. Particularly as I deliberately did not mention a few small items from the case that are a wonderful kernel of a story on their own.
    Sorry for being mysterious but I don't want anyone else "stealing" that idea.



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