HANSON — They say art imitates life and for Massachusetts-based author Mary Waters-Sayer, there is truth in that.
Speaking about her debut novel “The Blue Bath” at the Hanson Public Library on Friday, May 12, she told of how a portrait hanging in a London art gallery stopped her in her tracks one day — a scene, which is reflected in her book.
The New York native, who worked for 12 years in London and Paris as a corporate public relations specialist, set her novel in the two cities she loves.
Waters-Sayer gave a brief talk about her book, provided hints about two more books she is writing and read an excerpt from “The Blue Bath” before answering questions from her audience and signing purchased copies.
“Writing is something that’s done in such an isolation bubble that it’s really just a joy to talk to people,” Waters-Sayer said to open her remarks.
The book tells the story of American expatriot Kat Lind, living in London with her husband and young son. While attending an event at an art gallery, she is astonished to see her own face on the paintings — she had a past love affair with the artist, but had no idea he was still using her likeness as his muse.
Waters-Sayer said audiences are universally fascinated with the inspiration for the novel.
“As is true with many things, ‘The Blue Bath’ started from a very tiny spark,” she said. “I was living in London at the time, rushing to or from somewhere as you do, and I passed by an art gallery window. There was a singular picture —just one — in the window of a woman’s face and it just stopped me, utterly, in my tracks.”
Waters-Sayer said she kept on to her destination, but carried the recollection with her.
“The woman in the picture wasn’t quite so quick to let me go, and in the days and weeks that followed, I found myself thinking about her, wondering who she was and why she had her portrait painted,” she said. More than that, Waters-Sayer wondered what it was like to have one’s image examined so closely and what it’s like for an artist to examine a model with such intent.
The spark for her novel had been ignited.
“It struck me as a profoundly intimate process,” she said, adding every observer sees something different in art. “I was kind of taken with the whole subjective nature of perception and how that really shapes our reality.”
As the audience asked questions about her writing process, Waters-Sayer said she always loved books — from a child when she spent summers in a cottage with no TV or phone, but was near a “lovely little library.” She had long thought about writing a book and found the exercise a way to keep London and Paris with her after retuning to the States.
“It took my first winter in Massachusetts to actually cross the finish line and complete the book,” she said of her feeling of isolation in not knowing many people amid harsh weather. “I now know why there are so many fantastic authors who come from this part of the world.”
Reticent about discussing details of her new work, she would only say she is now working on more than one book — one “very serious” and the other on a lighter topic.
Not a painter herself, but a fan of painting, Waters-Sayer leaned on research and a visit to a London artist’s studio for information on the art to write her book.
Waters-Sayer also touched on the time-consuming effort to find an agent, and agreement with publishers on title and cover art for her book, a collaborative process she found valuable. She said a fellow writer had admonished her not to let her friends and family read it before publication because she might not believe their praise or take their critiques too close to heart.
She never returned to the London gallery that inspired “The Blue Bath,” and declined an offer from a friend to trace the painting that had so captivated her.
“I thought about it for a long time, but, the way I feel about it is she’s worth more to me lost than [she would be] found,” Waters-Sayer said. “I feel like, if I saw the portrait again, it would be different and I didn’t want that.”