Weaving a painting into the story

In my novel freely inspired by Vincent Van Gogh – Bursting with Life! – what could be more natural than to weave paintings into the tissue of the story. In the extract below, the painting is from Van Gogh himself. The colourful photo above is a part of the cover of the novel and was painted by Henri, my two-year-old grandson.

The risk of integrating well-known external elements in a story is that they could slow or halt the flow. That is why I have mostly opted for passing glimpses, although occasionally the narrative gallops noisily through the heart of an oil painting. At the same time, without being blatantly obvious, the re-worked ‘quote’ has to be recognisable or at least feel vaguely familiar. Of course, writing about someone whose battle with life is a work of art driving him to the limits of folly, makes integrating paintings, sculptures and installations all the easier.

Extract from Bursting with Life!

(…) A long silence followed. He thought back over the performance she’d given. If she didn’t go to school and had no adult watching over her, where had she picked up the trick with those high-pitched whistles? “How did you learn that with the …?”

“Overtones,” she suggested. When he looked perplexed, she added. “That’s what we call those high notes.”

“Did you discover them on your own?”

“I like to play around with sounds,” she said. “Having this place helps a lot. There’s so much echo. I could easily have stumbled on them alone, but in fact it was a tramp I met that showed me.”

“A tramp?” he said, surprised. He hadn’t seen a tramp in years. Either they were a disappearing race or the police were doing a good job of keeping them off the streets. If he’d seen one, talking to the person would have been the last thing he’d have done. “Aren’t they unpredictable and dangerous?”

“It’s you or I that are unpredictable,” she replied. “And possibly dangerous.”

He was about to object, but she had a point. He could do some unacceptable things when the madness took him and being violent was one of them. He remembered drawing a weird picture for the woodwork teacher. It was meant to depict his bedroom, but everything came out at odd angles. The floor sloped forwards as if on its knees crawling to meet him while the walls leaned away, repelled by the sight of him. Even the chairs were slinking off, unhappy with the over-sized bed. When the teacher had rejected his work, Vint had snapped all the pencils in woodwork. Alarmed, the teacher sent him to the school nurse in case he was running a fever. (…)

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