On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters.

On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters.

For this week’s blog, I had the pleasure of speaking with the wonderful Jan Wallace Dickinson, author of the newly published The Sweet Hills of Florence. Here is what she has to say about characters, writing, and becoming an author.


How was the idea for your book planted?

Possibly even when I was child, listening to my parents talk. But later when I studied the history and literature I was enthralled. I had been going to do a Masters on Fenoglio, but then decided I didn’t need another degree, or rather, my sister said in her inimitable way, why the hell don’t you just write the thing in a way that might possibly be interesting!

Did you fall in love with any of your characters?

On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters. You are always a little in love with each of the characters. Certainly with Ben & Clara. But also a fondness for some of the minor characters. I loved the funny old characters, but then my editor, who is brutal, said to me, ‘Enough with all the little old men’! So I only left a few in! Enrico has something of my father about him. Delia & I share a bit of a world view. I admire Annabelle.

How long did it take you to write? Or do you think it’s a lifetime of researching that has come to fruition?

I wrote the book over a period of five years, then two years of getting to publication, so I have lived with this book for seven years. It is, in a sense, a lifetime of work, and someone said to me just today that this is the logical drawing together of all the threads of your interests over so many years.

On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters. What was your writing schedule, as in, how did you achieve the full stop?

I never quite know how to answer this. I definitely do not sit down for a set period of time each day. There is never a day, ever, when it is not in my mind. I fill my notebooks as I sit waiting for a train or fill my voice recorder as I drive. I write passages on planes and in airports. I send myself email notes while I wait for an appointment. But then … I take a week and I do NOT surface. I write eight hours a day, every day, and I do not leave the house. The thing I love most about writing is that you are never, for a moment, left without something wonderful to mull over, to roll around in your head, to think about. It’s the world of ideas that I love.

What tips would you have for aspiring writers?

Just do it. Most writers don’t become rich or famous, it’s just something we have to do. So many people tell me they would like to write a book, but when I ask them next, how it’s going, they say they haven’t done much. That’s not being a writer. I have always been a writer, ever since I was four years old. It’s only now that I am also an author. 

On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing in Florence? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together. Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

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