Author: Lisa Clifford

How Photography Can Help Improve Your Writing

Look through your lens before picking up your pen. In Matthew Ferrara’s words, here’s how he uses photography to help flesh out characters and scene setting, and to jumpstart his creativity when he’s feeling stuck. His class on how to Connect the Arts will be at 16:30 on June 5!

As a writer, one of the most important things we do is “set a scene.” The places where our stories unfold are as important as our characters and their actions. Developing interesting and heart-felt scenes is hard work: It’s more than describing the features of a room or buildings on a street. Helping readers get a sense of detail, dimension, sounds and light challenges us to see the picture very clearly in our heads first. Then the words can flow across the page. One way I help myself do this dovetails with my other passion – photography – to visualize real scenes I’ll turn into places for my stories and articles.

As a photographer, each photo is like a dozen opening paragraphs compressed into a few inches of space. Just like an opening chapter, I have to compose each shot as I take it; frame the moment; highlight the action and draw the reader into the action. My camera is like a drafting tool. If I’m going to open a story in the countryside, I drive out to a place near my house and take my camera for a walk. I’ll capture different times of the day, try different angles and play with the light. Sometimes I’ll spot something I almost overlooked, like an odd rock formation or a camouflaged bird in a tree. Those surprises encourage me later to vary my starting points for setting a scene.

Other times, I spend the day photographing people on the street. Catching a waitress in a café or a clever street performer helps me save glimpses of character traits for future stories. A unique smile or a strange piece of clothing journeys from my camera to characters on the page. I’ve learned to “always be on the lookout” for a scene, some action or clever ray of light that can catch my reader’s attention. When I draft articles and need new ideas, I sit with my computer and flip through photos until something jumps out at me. If I get stuck describing a place or a person or even a plate of food, I look back through my shots to give my brain a gentle jolt of creativity.

Connecting different forms of creativity – photography, dancing, painting, cooking – to our writing is a powerful way to think of new ways to compose scenes. Every art form has unique perspectives and powerful ways of using places, people, sights and sounds, just like a writer does. To make my stories come alive, I often start by looking through my lens, before picking up my pen.

Florence at sunset

How to create interesting characters, Part 2.

How to create interesting charactersContinuing our look at character building, here is the second part of my series on how to create interesting characters. These two paragraphs were written by Martyn Bedford, our 2017 Art of Writing teacher. It’s wonderful advice.

It’s important that your character develops in the course of the story. By the end they should be different (either practically or emotionally) than they were at the outset. This can be subtle or dramatic but the lead character needs to have changed in some way. If they end the narrative as they began it, unaltered by what happens along the way, there is no story.

To be ‘real’, a character needs to be particularized not generalized – by that, I mean they must not be stereotyped, but individual and unique. Paint him or her in small details rather than broad brushstrokes.

How to create interesting charactersIn other news:

Emma Fraser, our Art of Writing manuscript assessor, tells us that Bloodhound Books are opening up for submissions on March 10th. This could be a great ‘in’ if you are working on something with suspense.

And why are publishers still coming out with hardbacks first?

Lastly, the link below is a nice Infographic from Global English Editing and the Expert Editor.

On the writing routines of 20 famous writers. I enjoyed it because am always struggling with my own writing routine!

How to create interesting characters

The key to creating interesting characters.

Last year I grew as a writer. All thanks to Martyn Bedford. This special, kind and giving English gentleman walked me through some marvelous moments in character building and on creating interesting characters. Martyn Bedford was our main teacher at the Art of Writing last June. His teaching techniques were sublime. Not only do we LOVE Martyn’s books, we also love that he is a Creative Writing teacher who actually writes. So much easier to trust a teacher who does what they teach.

Here are some of Martyn’s valuable words of wisdom on creating interesting characters.

For me, character is the key to any piece of fiction. It is more important than plot, because if we aren’t interested in the character(s) we won’t be interested in what they do or in what happens to them.

Drama is human, not inanimate.

So give them desires, fears, attitudes, emotions. Ask yourself: What motivates my protagonist? Who is she/he? What does she/he want and why?

Become an actor playing the part of that character. In each scene, get inside their head, or put yourself in their position, and let that inform how they speak, think, behave, feel. Take us inside your character’s thoughts, let us see through her/his eyes.

Wherever possible, instead of telling the reader about your character, show her/his inaction and dialogue. Let us see for ourselves what she/he is like.

Be sure to make your hero or heroine central to the plot – the story’s driving force, its beating heart. And take care that she/he is active rather than passive. In other words, don’t make the main character little more than a window on the story or a piece of driftwood floating on the tide of other character’s actions.

Martyn Bedford:

This year Jane Corry will be our Art of Writing teacher, in Florence, from June 3-8.

This is Jane’s second time with the Art of Writing because we adore how she teaches us to infuse suspense into all our projects. Let’s face it, nowadays if you don’t hook your reader quickly, your readers won’t want to turn the page. No matter what you are writing, a family history, historical fiction, a romantic comedy or your own memoir, engaging your readers immediately is more essential than ever.

More on Martyn’s character building tips next week. And all the very best to you from a freezing Florence. It snowed in the mountains around Florence yesterday. Very conducive to writing.

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Writers often ask me where they should start their story. They have the idea in their heads. Scenes, thoughts or characters whirl in their imaginations. That’s where you should start writing. With whatever it is that is tugging at your mind.

This point is clearer, in an old Blog post recently found by a reader: Start with a fragment. John then sent a series of questions. I have outlined them here for this week’s Blog. I hope this helps!

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

I wonder about your research methods, and how much, if at all, they vary for non-fiction or fiction. Do you scout sites/locations, just as film crews do?

With my Creative Non-Fiction books I always scout the real location. Though what ends up on the page may vary greatly from the original site, I find it necessary to go to the location.

Was sketching the only way you could recreate an appropriate scene? I expect that you have also used many images, both your own photos, and those available on the web, to provide colour, texture and detail to stimulate your imagination, but are there any of the old mezzadria farmhouses still preserved in a state that reflects the early 20th century?

When I sketched the old Tuscan farmhouse setting for Death in the Mountains I needed to understand the feel of the living room and kitchen. If I know what it looks like in my imagination, readers will too. I won’t get confused, so my readers won’t get confused. Stories often play out in kitchens and living rooms. So we must know exactly their dimensions and building materials. Knowing those elements gives us sight, sound, smell and touch. If I know what the floor is made from, I can imagine the sound of footsteps, or creaking wooden floor boards. The sounds of children playing on floor boards etc.

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Do you ‘walk through’ your rooms/scenes, in or out of character, to get the feel of the setting and to capture ‘their’ reactions? I guess I’m trying to see how you visualise what you are creating.

Yes, when I’m writing, I am inside my head so much that I don’t even see my office, I see my site or location. My characters walk. How many steps does it take? When Artemio was attacked in his barn, he crawled to the house. How far away was the barn to the house? He fell against the front door. How? What exactly did his body do? How did Bruna drag him in, a woman on her own? How did Felice and Bruna drag him up the stairs? How close was the door to the stairs? You have to totally immerse yourself physically and mentally in the scene’s action, understand everything about it. Only then you can describe it. You have to feel it happening.

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Does it in any way approach being an observer, describing settings, even ‘recording’ conversations?

Yes, I record conversations and interviews all the time. Try to get the nuance of voices, dialect, sayings, odd phraseology. Tone too – gravelly, high pitched. Voices reveal so much and later, when I’m transcribing I can find so much more description.

Thanks so much John! Don’t hesitate to write back, everyone, with any thoughts or questions.

I hope others are as interested in your answers as I am. Thanks again for sharing aspects of your writing process with us.


Pester an agent night!

Don’t know about you, but when I meet a literary agent my questions bubble up like an overfilled glass of champagne (yep, I’ll consume champagne even as a metaphor).

When Washington Literary agent, Deborah Grosvenor, told me she’d be popping through Florence in May, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to give you the chance to ask Deborah anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to know about publishing.

How often do you get the chance to sit and chat with the woman who discovered Tom Clancy? The former editor who accepted the manuscript The Hunt for Red October, after it had been turned down by numerous other publishers?

The Art of Writing will gather old friends and new for an evening on:

Publishing Your Book in Today’s Literary World.

An Evening with Deborah Grosvenor.

May 18,
At 18:00,
Palazzo San Niccolò,
Via San Niccolò 79.

An Art of Writing Event

So looking forward to seeing you there!

Lisa Clifford

The Grosvenor Literary Agency is a full-service boutique agency representing writers across a variety of subjects. The agency’s emphasis is on strong, serious, interesting nonfiction. We also represent quality fiction on a selective basis. Agency clients have received numerous awards and honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, the MacArthur Fellowship, the Lincoln Prize, the Thurber Prize for America Humor, the National Endowment for the Arts grants, the Nieman Fellowship, the Alicia Patterson Fellowship, the Council on Foreign Affairs Arthur F. Ross Award, The Charles Bronfman Prize, and the Grawemeyer Award. Client writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vogue, “O,” Best American Travel Writing and a range of other publications.


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

Answering a reader’s questions.

I like it when readers ask questions. It feels as though the core of what I’ve written has touched a heart, in a special way. When John Hingston read Death in the Mountains, he very kindly wrote to me in Italy with a series of questions. I felt you’d enjoy his thoughts too. It helps writers persevere with their work when they read what and how other writers handle their creative work.

Do you need to love words to be a writer? Are you primarily an entertainer or a communicator?
Yes, I think a writer has to love words. You need to turn words over, to make sure they perfectly express what you are trying to say. A writer has to communicate uniquely, in their own voice and invent different ways of expressing emotions. I’ve always been a communicator as I started my career as a journalist. Communicating is a huge part of journalism. Now I think I am primarily an entertainer. In fact, when my publisher asked me whether I was ready to leave non-fiction and move into fiction he asked me just one question. ‘Are you ready to move into the world of entertainment?’

Does your purpose change with the project/book you’re engaged in creating? 
Yes, stories morph and move as you write. You start with an idea, then it generally changes or takes shape. Ideas strike as you write. That’s why it’s important to keep writing, even if you’re not sure how the story will finish. It’s only when you are writing that ideas can flow.

Do you constantly have your audience in mind or do you give yourself some rope to range about, and then pick things over during editing?
I usually have an audience in mind. Almost all my readers love Italy in some way. So my name has, over the years, become synonymous with Italy, Tuscany and Florence. I always pick things over when editing, over and over and over. But generally most of my readers enjoy ‘armchair travel in Italy.’

Do you distinguish between writing for yourself and writing for others? 
Yes and no. I always write what is important to me at that moment of my life. I couldn’t write The Promise now. I couldn’t write Death in the Mountains now, or Naples, A Way of Love. I am ready to write a contemporary, fiction, thriller set in Florence that has a deeper message about inter-cultural marriage. I am writing it for myself but I would hate to think it would bore people.

Do you start with a big idea or a phrase that sounds good?
I start with a huge idea. And it has to sound good (at least to me). I always try to write the opening with a big bang. Start with action. It helps me drive the narrative and the story as I go. If I don’t’ like the story it won’t get written so it’s imperative that the writer is in love with their story, or it won’t sustain them for 80,000 words.

Can/do you compose at the keyboard or is the computer more a tool for assembling and editing the sections as they acquire form?
Usually, I write daily in long form on the computer. Though I tend to hand write when I need to think more deeply and find personal or distinctive phrases. I also tend to edit on hard copy in a café. I print off what I’ve written and read it like I would any book in a café. If it holds me, I know I am onto something. I do my best writing up at our old family farm, completely undisturbed, totally absorbed in my characters and the story.

Finally, have you looked back at your fb account where you asked tourists/travellers for feedback on their love of Italy? Has it turned up anything interesting or provocative?
Yes, for Rome (I live in Florence so Rome is not my stomping ground) I’ve been given some wonderful tips.

How soon before your next book is published?
I hope to finish this first draft by November or so. June, July, August will be frantic with The Art of Writing and my children on summer holidays. So my word count will diminish. I want to go to Hong Kong to see my mother in July and I will take my 17 year old son Leo. I would like him to spend some time with his grandmother. I’ll take my new book with me and work on it there. This story will take many drafts. So if I am happy with it by early next year, it would be out late next year. Normally I submit my manuscript in May and it is released just before Christmas.

Thanks John, for sending me these questions. I’ve enjoyed thinking about the answers.

If you would like to write with questions, don’t hesitate.

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

The Adventure Continues! Meet Matthew Ferrara, the new man behind the Art of Writing.

Meet Matthew FerraraMESSAGE FROM LISA; It’s such a pleasure to introduce you to my friend and now business partner, Matthew Ferrara. Together we are planning the most exciting writers retreat in Florence, as The Art of Writing moves from the mountains of Tuscany to the heart of the renaissance. Here, in his words, Matthew talks about what writing means to him:

As a philosopher and keynote speaker, you might say I’m in the business of words. Whether it’s on stage, on social media or in articles, the right words at the right time make a big difference in the lives of readers, listeners and followers. It’s the responsibility that comes with having a voice that can reach so many – or just one person – which every writer must develop, earn and respect. So it’s with great excitement that in 2018 I now have the opportunity to add that voice to The Art of Writing Retreats in Tuscany. 

Nearly five years ago I attended my first Art of Writing retreat, hosted in the hills outside Tuscany, by the accomplished journalist and author Lisa Clifford. It was a week to disconnect from the daily hustle and develop my skills as a wordsmith. It turned out to be a pivotal moment in my writing style, as I wrote about in “Italian Bus Drivers” at the end of the week: 

Meet Matthew Ferrara‘To rest is to restore: not just energy, but a sense of normalcy. What you find is that, while resting, your “non-technical” qualities re-emerge. Imagination, memory, enthusiasm. Not just copy, paste, or send. As we rebalance ourselves, opportunities emerge. We gladly explore new neighbourhoods, food, ideas. Growth, in all its forms, is exercised by rest. It should really be practiced daily.

But rest is a hard place to reach. Perhaps that’s why there are Italian bus drivers, who are the worst in the world. Ask the stomachs in the back seat. Rarely has a driver been good enough to uncoil the round, rolling roads of an Italian hilltop for his passengers. Instead, his driving exaggerates everything we hope to take a break from – the frenzied hurry of our chaotically-connected modern existence.’

That piece wasn’t just a reflection on what it means to attend a writers retreat or take a week-long creativity vacation. It was a lesson for me in what being a master of words could do every day. In a world where the pace often seems like an Italian bus careening down the hill, we can use words to help others and ourselves take a break. To write so that others may immerse themselves in the magic of our words and emerge renewed. That’s the gift that works for writer and reader alike.

Meet Matthew Ferrara

From that lesson, I would return to the Art of Writing multiple times over the years, ultimately leading to the opportunity to become a partner in the project this year. It’s the chance for me to make words worthwhile every day as we seek other writers around the world to come rest, recharge and write with us for a week. 

Therein lies one more lesson in the magic of words: The writers retreat. The word isn’t about removing oneself from the world, to somehow separate from what’s holding us back. Rather, it’s about learning to re-treat yourself to the restorative power of creative writing. That’s what I hope we’ll continue to do at the Art of Writing. Help others build their competence and confidence so that they, too, can turn writing into a treat they’ll love every day.

Meet Matthew Ferrara

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

Ever wonder how writers keep track of their chapters, as their books start to gather momentum? How do writers organise their drafts? How do they manage their hard copies? Should you keep everything you print off?

For me, it’s the magic of a simple coat rack. This is how I build my books. I hang the chapters in chronological order, starting at the right hand side of the coat rack.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

Watching that coat rack fill up with chapters and fragments is fabulous! It is enormously satisfying to see those sheets of paper pile up as I edit hard copies. This is the fourth book I have written using this method. I bought this coat rack at the Santo Spirito market years ago. It was originally attached to the corridor walls of a nearby primary school.

By the time I’ve finished this novel there will be about 200,000 words hanging along this coat rack. The average contract for a novel is for 80,000 words. But after I’ve ‘killed my darlings’ (deleted what I thought was precious) and tossed unusable drafts, there will be at least 200,000 words of text hanging along that rack.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

My office is on the top floor of my house in Florence. Under the rafters. So this couch keeps me sane when reading through either my own drafts or text from the writers I mentor through the Art of Writing.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

As the winter months enclose us here in Italy, I look forward to keeping in touch with you. Sorry I’ve been out of touch but am going into my ‘cave’ (office) to hibernate and write now, so you can expect to hear quite a lot from me.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

What’s your system? How do you keep your chapters in order? Do you print them off and have a filing system that could give us an organisational idea?

Thank you too to Birgitte Brondsted at the Dusty Green Olive who wrote this lovely story on me and my office a while ago. Check it out here.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

It wasn’t Harvey Weinstein who abused me but a well-known Florentine fashion manufacturer.

As the world points its collective finger at the culture of silence around one of Hollywood’s most prominent producers, my mind goes back to the Florence modelling scene of the 1980’s. There was a sexual predator just like Harvey Weinstein in Florence, yet no one protected or warned young models. I believe many people knew Franco Susini was molesting young girls, but the model agency (now out of business) still sent me to see him.

In those days girls were trying to get jobs modelling his clothes on the runway. How many people knew he was abusing young, innocent, often foreign girls in his office? Many. How come you only find out about dangerous, abusive reputations after the abuse? Because rather than protect you, people would rather protect themselves.

I wrote about Susini’s disgusting behavior in The Promise. I ridiculed him, changed his name and infused comedy into the scene. I knew if I didn’t inject some laughs into this seriously disturbing scene, it would have been too serious for people to read. But it was no laughing matter. I was a 17 year old naive, trusting and above all, powerless girl. My heart went out to those women, trying to talk seriously with Weinstein about acting, only to be molested. We have to stop this silence. Susini made me feel like an idiot. Just like Weinstein – same modus operandi, different man.

From The Promise, a cut and paste of the Susini story from my original draft.

He led the way down a hallway and into a dressing room. In a brusque, business-like manner he asked how much experience I’d had.

“Not much, though I’ve been around models all my life because my mother has model agencies in Australia. I’ve also done several model courses.”

“No, no, courses dey make you stiff. Dey are no good, no good at all. You will now forget all dat dey teach you,” he scoffed with a voice that dripped thick with Italian accent. He glanced around the dressing room and went to a rack full of hanging garments. He seemed to know exactly which dress he wanted because he rummaged with quick, determined purpose.

“I need to see you in an evening gown, ‘ere put dis on”. It was a long silky number, shiny slate grey, sleeveless with a deep neckline, plunging back and slits up to the waist. After he left the room, I examined the dress. It felt shimmery and slippery in my hands. I held it up by what I hoped were the shoulders in an effort to work out whether the front was the back, or maybe the back was the front. It didn’t seem to be a dress, but rather the top half of a cocktail outfit. Had he forgotten to give me the pants, as surely my underpants will show? The slits were so high they reached the top of my hipbones, so what was a girl to do about the sides of her panties showing?

I slipped off my Fiorucci gold threaded pink gingham, my Berlei trainer bra and pulled the sheath (for want of a better word) over my head.

I’d never worn anything like it in my life and puffed with pleasure when I saw that the fall of the garment was superb, it draped well on my long, thin body. On one hand I felt elegant and mature.

But it also made me feel exposed and uncomfortable with so much flesh showing. The grey shimmered and shone in an uninterrupted flow till it hit my waist, where the sides parted to reveal my underpants. Like white lightening they flashed every time I moved.

Any good aspiring model knows that a panty line wrecks the look of a garment so I was sure to wear my full brief cottontails. It just wouldn’t do to have a pair of bikini briefs create the rubber band affect by pinching the fat at my hips. My trusty Bonds Cottontails had half an inch of thick banding around the leg, a solid cotton gusset and a waist that almost reached my ribs. But there was no way I could hitch those cottontails higher than the slits in that dress. I wrestled and writhed and wiggled and tried to get those underpants a little further up my bottom so they wouldn’t show. No success. Those cottontails were like cast-iron around my hips.

As I tried to figure out a way out of this unprofessional predicament, Mr Susini strode unannounced back into the dressing room.

“Now model it for me” he said with a commanding wave of his hand.

No problem. I’d seen this done a thousand times and knew just what to do. Stride down here, little half turn there, make sure the feet always look pretty, the head doesn’t bob, a perfectly executed full turn with hands on hips to show how the dress moves in motion.

“You aren’t wearing a dong”.

“A what?”

“A dong. A DONG!” He said aggressively, like I didn’t understand English. He pointed his finger at the region of my cottontails. I stopped mid-glide and felt my brains scramble in confusion till I remembered that Italians often can’t pronounce the “th” so say “d” instead. If so, he meant thong. If so, he meant, in Australian, G-String. If so, my cottontails had blown it. My big opportunity at making it in the big time sabotaged by Bonds.

I was disappointed and he sensed it.

In a softer tone “all the good models wear dongs. But let’s work on anoder technique”. Mr Susini walked over to a full-length mirror and like a patient schoolteacher with a slow but potentially good student, explained to me that he wanted to unveil my hidden sexuality. He had developed his very own personal model training process aimed at revealing the sensual side of my nature. His series of exercises would help me become one of those sexy models that strutted the catwalks of Milan. He settled his serious brown eyes on mine and told me to stand in front of the mirror. I did what I was told.

“Do you know what an orgasm is?”

Now here was my shot at modelling with the big boys and already I’d botched badly. Something as simple as a bad choice of underwear had almost wrecked my burgeoning career. Not wanting to confirm his suspicions that I was a provincial girl with convent modesty, I said of course I knew what an orgasm was.

“OK, den touch yourself in the mirror like you’re going to have an orgasm”. There’s a moment in one-on-one conversations when people connect and know that an understanding has been reached. It can be a moment of recognition, agreement or perception of the other’s intentions. This wasn’t that moment. I had no idea what he was talking about so I stood there blankly and rubbed my arms.

“Come on, you must be sexy, feel sexy. Touch your breasts.”

I ran my hands numbly across my chest, touched my neck with my fingertips, then opened my palms and ran my hands down my hips.

Though I did what he asked, I felt disconnected from my body, like someone else was at the controls and I was just a robot. I could hear a phone ringing in an office somewhere down the corridor but no one was there to answer it. The neon light above us buzzed monotonously as we stood silently in its hard white light. My senses were alert, but my movements were mechanical.

“But you don’t look like you’re about to have an orgasm.”

Something was wrong and I couldn’t figure out what.

I was far too well-mannered and in awe of this man’s power to reject his teaching methods. I barely understood the concept of ‘exploiting an innocent young girl’ and just didn’t think of myself as green. I thought I had enough worldly experience behind me to identify a tricky situation. I respected Mr Susini because he was a successful fashion manufacturer. He’d taken time out at the end of a busy day to try and teach me how to model like the supermodels in Milan and initially I was grateful. But a sick feeling of discomfort was growing in my stomach. I had trusted him implicitly, because he was Lauren’s friend, but I now felt invaded, compromised. I was also acutely embarrassed because he was persuasive in a matter of fact professional way that made me feel like I was the one acting improperly. The force of his authority seemed unquestionable so the strength of spirit to rebuff this man was slow.

I looked in the mirror, saw the reflection of his face peering over my shoulder, the look of barely disguised lust in his eyes and everything fell into place. My stranger danger alarm bells exploded and I stepped away from the mirror. We looked at each other – this was the moment of understanding. After hours, no staff, no interruptions. He had wanted to get me alone.

“I’d like to model the dress again properly.” Not knowing what else to say or how to escape the mirror, parading seemed the only way to get away from his hands. But his eyebrows narrowed and his expression showed determination, he knew that he wasn’t yet finished with me.

“Come here, let me guide your hands. You must feel sexy to be a model. I will show you.” He took my shoulders, stood behind me and angled me towards the mirror. With his hands covering mine he rubbed my palms over my body. Fear robbed me of strength, I couldn’t resist, I felt powerless and utterly unable to physically fight back. He had the power and I had to be submissive. But I wasn’t a willing puppet and he could feel that. My hands were limp and my body motionless. Mr Susini could see that this little modelling technique was not working. I was far from turned on.

“Bah, we try somding else”, he said impatiently. “Put your clodes back on. Come into my office drew dis door,” he said pointing to a door that I hadn’t noticed off the side of the dressing room.

When he strode from the room, I almost fell prostrate on the floor with relief. Snatching up my dress, I ripped off Mr Susini’s silver sheath and threw it over the back of a chair. Like a snake, it slithered onto the floor and I didn’t bother to pick it up. Pulling my gingham on over my head and buckling up my shoes my mind raced. Bloody hell, I bet he’s moving on to Plan B.

“Maybe I should go now,” I said timidly opening the door afraid of what I’d find. But he was fully clothed, in front of his big mahogany desk, jauntily leaning back with his arms folded. He flicked his wrist and motioned for me to stand in front of him.

“We dry anoder ding. I am master of meditation. I will go into a trance. I do not know where I am when in dis trance, I do not even know who I am wid. And I CANNOT remember what ‘appens. You can touch me; feel me all over, anywhere you like. When you finish, clap your hands dree times and I will come out of de trance. Dis exercise will make you feel like a beautiful model. Den when you are finished we will talk about your modelling career.” He then proceeded to close his eyes, lean back further against his desk and hum.

He has got to be kidding I thought as he ohm-ed his way into a self-induced state of make-believe oblivion. He really expects me to believe this crap? The ridiculousness of the scene and his farcical behaviour was bringing out an angry scepticism in my attitude. But I was also too scared to turn on my heels and run. He still had the authority, the power and I was still his junior, in his office. So I stood in front of him and sent him powerful thought messages, “you are such a thoroughly demented, desperate old man.” and “you make me sick, you kinky old scum bag.” I sent him all the thoughts that I would never, ever have had the courage to actually say. I wanted the messages to smash into his pretend transcendental plane, so that he would know of the disappointment and humiliation that he’d made me suffer. We stood there face to face, his aftershave nauseatingly strong, for about sixty seconds and I never lifted a finger to touch him. When I clapped my hands three times he shook his head as though he was clearing cobwebs, looked at me and said, “I don’t dink you ‘ave a future in modelling.”

I flew down the steps and out onto the pavement beside the Arno River. He was right, I would never have a future in modelling.

Like a rape victim that feels guilty, as though she brought the attack on herself, I never told anyone about Franco Susini. I was too embarrassed to vocalise what had happened. I spent my time wandering the streets of Florence, exploring the piazzas and markets, mostly checking out the picnic food that could be eaten on my bed.


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Don’t go to the opening of Harrods in Florence.

If you’re planning on going to the highly anticipated opening of Harrods in Florence next week, don’t. It’s not on. Not only is it not on, Harrods in Florence doesn’t exist and won’t exist.

The idea that Harrods would establish a store in Florence had traction about a year ago when several digital mags ran stories claiming that Qatar Holding was apparently interested in Florence Real Estate. No ‘sources’ were supplied in any of the Harrods articles.

Then a flurry of dedicated Facebook pages by various Florentine travel companies opened. The travel/tourism companies created a fictional Harrods Grand Opening and subsequently generated excellent promotion and Search Engine Optimization.

Don’t go to the opening of Harrods in Florence.

But there is no Grand Harrods Opening on September 30th at 4pm. On one ‘Harrods’ Facebook page almost 6K people have RSVP’ed even though no address is supplied. 27K are ‘interested’ in attending. On another shonky Harrods Facebook page apparently 3.7K people are going to attend the Grand Opening and another 29K are interested.

After seven phone calls and several emails to the London Harrods Press Office to verify a proposed Harrods, PR Manager Denise Higgins has confirmed there was a lot of fake news going around Florence.

I suppose that’s what I have found so fascinating. How fast and far the gossip spread in Florence that Harrods was going to open. How the expat and tourist community became so excited over a big British department store. The alleged opening of Harrods seemed to strike  a chord in everyone.

Don’t go to the opening of Harrods in Florence.

Expats who live in Florence were thrilled to have a Harrods in town. Woohoo! Finally, good tea without having to go to England to get it! Lamb sausages too! As the only kind of sausages available in Italy are pork (and very, very fatty pork) the idea of a caramelized onion lamb sausage had most Florentine Anglo Saxon expats in ecstasy. A steak pie? Bring it!

Yet, regular visitors and Italiaphiles were outraged at the very thought of Harrods opening in Florence. A Food Hall? Yet another erosion of Italian culture! Don’t let them do it, many said. Harrods is like McDonald’s, they will consume and destroy Italy’s traditional cuisine. Yet, Eataly and countless other Italian food shops flourish in London and throughout the UK. Can’t we have an English Food Hall here? It’ll take more than Harrods to destroy the Italian obsession with good food, and slow food.

Don’t go to the opening of Harrods in Florence.

As far as Italians go, it seems that few local Florentines had heard the gossip, or fake news. The false information is spreading a little now, but mostly Italians had no idea.

A further Florentine Real Estate update. The chatter flew that Harrods was considering an Apple store location in Piazza della Repubblica. Nope, not true. Or down the side of the Hard Rock Café in Via dei Corsi. Nope, not true either – the big fit-out in Via dei Corsi will be Zara Home, not Harrods.

I was duped by this scam too. It seems a possible Harrods in Florence did not leave anyone without an opinion. What is everyone afraid of?

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