The Art of Writing

A Writers Retreat in Tuscany

Category: Life in Italy (page 1 of 4)

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.

 

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 lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.One of the glorious things about living in Florence is meeting the most interesting people. I meet travelers, inventors, creators, inspirers, reporters and sometimes I meet someone who
is all of those things. Like Girl in Florence, Georgette Jupe. I am lucky enough to officially announce that Girl in Florence, Georgette Jupe, will join us for the September 10-16 Art of
Writing retreat.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.It’s a treat to announce this because it means that not only will our September writers have the opportunity to meet one of the loveliest girls but also to chat, drink, dine, bushwalk and generally hang out with Georgette too. She has much to tell us, Georgette. Every time I meet up with her I learn so much. Love that! Don’t you? When you chat with someone and find that you are learning and growing? Am feeling particularly blessed about this amazing group of women (and men!) that will join me this year in Casentino.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.Who would have thought? All those years ago, when I was 17 years old and a barmaid at the Red Garter in Florence. Who could possibly have known that gorgeous Florentine medical student would become my husband and the father of my two gorgeous babies? That 38 years and four books later, I’d still be here!

Life is a surprise. You never know what your journey is going to be.

I am eternally grateful to Florence and all that she has given me. And thanks to you too for being on this journey with me.

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 lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Is Italy for everyone? Getting past the honeymoon phase in a new country.

Such a fun week, being featured in Locals I Love by my favorite Girl in Florence, Georgette Jupe. Hearing again from women around the globe who’ve fallen in love with Italians and are in long distance love dilemmas reminded me of writing The Promise. Though that period of my life was a tortuous time of indecision, it was also a long phase of deep romantic love. So I have no regrets about moving to Italy for love.

I was a starry eyed 17 year old Aussie traveler when I first met my Italian husband. However, for 18 years I went back and forth from Sydney to Florence before I was convinced I should stay in Florence. And ever since, during my subsequent 20 year marriage, I have felt a many-colored range of emotions.

When you fall in love with an Italian, in Italy, there are so many special and unique moments. I’ve always maintained that Italian men love differently to Australian men (as a generalization). Italian men love fully, uncompromisingly and often unconditionally.

But I know many bicultural couples that haven’t made it. The relationship between the one who leaves home (often but not always the woman) and the one who stays home collapses for many reasons – some of which I have outlined in Locals I Love. But going deeper, bicultural couples often don’t make it because of resentment. Bitterness over his one dimensional view of her is often why the relationship can’t survive. He can only see her as the person he knows here in Italy. He can’t see her as the daughter of a mother. Or the sister of a man. Often he cannot see that his girlfriend was never able to reach her full potential because she left opportunities behind in her home land. He can only see her in the here and now.

For success, your Italian has to really see your history. He must understand, respect and acknowledge your past, your traditions and your family so that they are a part of your present.

Most importantly, he has to hold your hand tightly when, as time goes by, you begin to lose the people you never had enough time with, because ultimately you chose him over them.

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 lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Let food carry your story forward.

Let food carry your story forward.When food is beautiful, drab, compelling or repulsive we can and should include it in our stories.

Food can carry a story forward. Not only the actual food, but the process of eating it, dining around it and/or sharing a meal. Food used in a social sense can reveal much about people’s relationships with each other. When you include a meal in your story, the possibilities are endless.

Enjoying or rejecting food and the company sharing it can be the focus point a scene needs. Writers needs scenes in which to reveal… and scoffing, or quaffing, can give us just the ambience and atmosphere we need.

Let food carry your story forward.Think about how often you’ve seen meal times in movies used to show how a family or friends relate. Or how often you’ve read a book where the pivotal scene was over the dinner table.

Here, Ruth Reichl in her book Tender at the Bone, talks about going for her first coffee in Italy. It’s not a food scene, but one written so evocatively that it made me think about how often coffee is now used as a scene setter for the story telling.

The scent of beans was so powerful we could smell it from two blocks away, the aroma growing stronger as we got closer to the cafe. It was a rich and appealing scent, and it pulled us onward and through the door. Inside, burlap sacks of coffee beans were stacked everywhere and the smell of coffee was so intense it made me giddy. Thin men lounged against a long bar, drinking tiny cups of espresso. The coffee was smooth and satisfying, a single gulp of pure caffeine that lingered on the palate and reverberated behind the eyes. I felt lightheaded.

What a great way to set up a pivotal scene – through coffee!

Let food carry your story forward.

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 lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it’s finished.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.Yet another rewrite. My fifth and I’m told to expect more.

So I am working on a new book, as you know. It’s a novel – my first actually as my last four books were either creative non-fiction or non-fiction. The pages before me are fourth draft. The first draft was in third person and that didn’t feel right. The second draft became first person. I rewrote the third draft because the story needed big character changes and improvements. The text then needed a fourth draft to make it fit into a tight ‘thriller’ genre with a big suspense emphasis. This need to restructure the fourth time became screamingly obvious after a reread as I wanted to follow the rule ‘the story should turn about every four to six pages.’ Nowadays, if you want to sell, and sell well, you basically have to follow that rule.  

Now, after having shown it to a good friend who is also a top New York literary agent, the advice is that my new book needs, yet again, another draft. This will be my 5th draft and now the book will be in third person (again).

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.

Whining about rewrites will do no good. We write, that’s what we do. Again and again and again, changing, recrafting, improving, omitting, and adding. Part of being a writer is knowing that rewriting is compulsory. If you don’t want to rewrite – then get out of the game now. If you think what you’ve written is perfect and doesn’t need rewriting, you’ll never be published.

A dear friend of mine, on a three book deal with Little Brown, is on her TENTH rewrite. I have nothing to complain about.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.The more you rewrite, the faster you become at writing. I am a slow writer (no surprises there, you’ve only been waiting for this new book for about three years, or more) and I need to be faster. The only way I am going to write faster is by writing more. I need to rewrite, write faster and ultimately write better, without fear of the text being crappy. I can edit the bad bits out later. Right now I have to rewrite, then write more and faster.

Everyone has to rewrite, there is no way around it.

I totally do NOT buy into this (a tip I found on the internet) attitude:

Eventually, redrafting will just spoil the novel – there is a danger that the story you set out to write ends up so ‘surgically’ enhanced that it no longer resembles the original story – the intrinsic core of the story has been lost.

Rewrite after rewrite; edit your book until it's finished.I do not agree with this advice because fundamentally I am a journalist, accustomed to being questioned, subjected to Fact Finders, sub-editors and finicky editors who know what story they want and how it should be crafted. I bow to their expertise. I trust those with more experience than me. I humbly accept advice though do not automatically take it. If I see what they mean, I accept their advice.

But I know, after being in this game for my entire life, that I must rewrite. Again.

I agree with Michael Crichton, ‘good books are not written. Good books are rewritten.’

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 lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.

I am enormously fortunate to live a life rich with pickings for my writing. Scene ideas for my novel are never far away because for an Australian girl, everything I live here in Tuscany is unusual and interesting.

Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.Last weekend I went up to cousin Vanni’s farm in Casentino, the mountains of Eastern Tuscany. We made sausages, pancetta, capocollo, capaccia, salami, ribs, pork fillet, prosciutto and cotecchino. We spent the day making these ‘salumi’ using every part of half a pig. The process we used has not changed for millennia, apart from the meat grinder – a mincer that in the old days was cranked by hand.

Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.So here’s the tip: in every story something happens. Writers are always looking out for how and where a certain plot event can happen or evolve. I plan to use our ‘salumi’ making scene as an occasion where action takes place. While making our sausages, I took notes, but not your typical notes. My records center on the senses. What we smelt, heard, tasted and the scene’s atmosphere. These are the nuances we forget when we finally have time to sit down and write the scene we witnessed, sometimes even years beforehand.

Here are some of my notes as an example:

  • Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.The smell of wine, vinegar, spices, cinnamon, raw garlic.
  • Cognac like tea drizzled
  • Red wine bubbles with garlic in an ancient pot on the austere stove-top
  • Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.Silence punctuated by steel tubs being rinsed
  • The men hum
  • Bay leaves crackle
  • Fennel sticks and fennel seeds
  • Air is pungent, thick with these smells
  • The men work quietly, humming or breathing heavily through their noses as they work with their tube of sausage, twisting and knotting it into four finger lengths.
  • The women chatter in the kitchen as they pull pasta, mash potatoes with conserve and cinnamon.

This is just a simple example of what you can draw from, later, when you’re ready to write your scene. Can you do this too? Do you do this? Write the smells and sounds to keep ready for when you’re ready to structure your action scene?

Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.

Why every writer should join a writers group.

There are no excuses anymore. By joining my little writers group in Florence I must write, must edit and must listen to my fellow writer’s thoughts and advice. Why didn’t I do this earlier?

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.My writers group lets me know what is not clicking. So often we think our readers will understand, that they will ‘get’ what we’ve written. But my writers group lets me know that, actually, they didn’t pick up the thread because I wasn’t clear enough, or didn’t explain enough. Yes, it’s a little daunting, scary, being picked apart but it’s so good for your work! Your writing group sees where you can extrapolate. They let you know whether your story is engaging or not. My last question to my fellow writers this week was ‘do you want to know more?’ and that, as a writer, is what we are aiming for, no? Are you hooking your readers? Are they bored? Overwhelmed? Disinterested?

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.I must say, I had put off joining any kind of writers group for years. It’s my first time. Funny, huh, after four books and finally on my fifth that I now know I need fresh takes, readers, second opinions. Probably because this is my first Fiction book, while the others were all Creative Non-Fiction. I cannot recommend sharing with a writers group highly enough. Especially if you are embarking on a new form of writing, like I am.

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.Am I being narcissistic also adding that the thought of plagiarism within writers groups also scared me? I had heard of writers sharing their work, only to have ideas copied, concepts imitated and phrases plagiarized. But I flattered myself. Their work is fantastic! Who did I think I was? They’re amazing! My work is paltry compared to theirs.

Check your library or local arts group for any writers that meet up. Start a Google Docs Sharing session so you can all post your work, and pick the month to upload your work.

Go on, do yourself a favor and force yourself to diarize, write, share and enjoy writing with other people. Regularly!

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.

This Valentine’s Day, turn the love back onto yourself: nurture the artist within.

This Valentine's, turn the love back onto yourself: nurture the artist within.I love Valentine’s Day. I love the flowers, the sentiment and the message behind a day dedicated to love. Romantic love. However this February 14 I would suggest that you turn that love back onto yourself. It’s been such a crazy year, with international news making many of us depressed, emotional and anxious. It’s a weird time in the world. So why not, in 2017, on the day of romantic love, nurture the artist within and give yourself a present?

This Valentine's, turn the love back onto yourself: nurture the artist within.As one of my favourite creative teachers, Julia Cameron, says: ‘Do something for yourself that you normally wouldn’t do. In order to have a real relationship with our creativity we must take the time and care to cultivate it.’

So nurture the artist within! Your special treat can be something as simple as an hour in a café, with a pen and paper, making a list of all the things you’d like to do this year. Maybe make a list of all the things you’d like to do or achieve in your lifetime. Knowing that if you are a part of this Blog, you are a creative, here are some creative gift ideas to give to yourself on Valentine’s Day this year:

This Valentine's, turn the love back onto yourself: nurture the artist within.Buy yourself a lovely new notebook, one that you always thought was too expensive for yourself.

Buy yourself some sweet little pot plants for your windowsill or garden.

Get those pots of rosemary, sage and basil – even if it’s just because they smell nice!

This Valentine's, turn the love back onto yourself: nurture the artist within.Buy some inexpensive water colours or sepia water colour pens and take the time to draw or paint some pages in your notebook, while you listen to your favourite music.

Get that special bottle of wine, special coffee or special tea – your favourite, not your child, mother or spouse’s favourite!

Buy a ticket to your favourite band, show, production or play.

This Valentine's, turn the love back onto yourself: nurture the artist within.Make or buy your favourite sauce, relish or jam.

Go for a walk to your favourite museum or art gallery, or browse your favourite shop.

Make a date with yourself to go to some different flea markets or foreign food shop.

Buy a new novel.

This Valentine’s Day stay cultured, stay calm and stay happy on the inside. Above all, remember YOU don’t need a Valentine. You have YOU! And you are special.

This Valentine's, turn the love back onto yourself: nurture the artist within.

New Year’s Resolutions; Finding, and making, time to write.

New Year's Resolutions; Finding, and making, time to write.With Christmas and New Year over I see all the Writing Blogs, writing sites, podcasts and publisher’s social media platforms going crazy about New Year’s writing resolutions. I wish I could join in! After all these years writing you’d think I’d be first in line with encouraging tips and tricks as to how to make 2017 the year of quality text or how to have more productive time etc, etc, etc. Others are screaming; Resolve to Write More! Start Editing Now! Land that deal in 2017! But I’m not. 

New Year's Resolutions; Finding, and making, time to write.I seem to be imploring the universe for time to write, then when I do carve out some time I sit in front of the computer distracted by emails, admin, The Art of Writing, social media and a whole lot of other stuff that doesn’t help me increase the word count on my book.

Surely, I can’t be alone in this vortex of grasping at air, trying to shop for food, cook food, clean up Christmas decorations, send invoices, chase invoices, tend to urgent tax, hunt down errant bills and the other boring mundanities of life?

IsNew Year's Resolutions; Finding, and making, time to write. anyone else being sucked into such a humdrum everyday routine that their creative impulse is left trampled like a mat at their front door?

I was writing. The book was flowing and really happening, moving forward. Then came Christmas and New Year and now I can’t seem to get into the swing of it.

One thing is for sure. I am not giving up. Next week will be better.

New Year's Resolutions; Finding, and making, time to write.

Interviewing Nonna on Immaculate Conception Day. Going deeper.

Interviewing Nonna on Immaculate Conception Day. Going deeper.It was a Public Holiday in Italy yesterday and the family came over to lunch. Nonna had her cannellini beans on the boil all morning. She boiled them with a bunch of salvia, an onion, salt and three garlic cloves. We had them for lunch, ladled across a thick piece of toast that had been scraped with garlic. We drizzled our dishes with ‘olio nuovo,’ the new, fresh olive oil just picked and pressed last month.

I took advantage of having Nonna here and interviewed her. There is much she remembers about life in the old days, when she was raised on a Tuscan farm without electricity, gas or plumbing and I wanted to probe deeper. Many of her memories have been woven into The Promise and Death in the Mountains but recently she’s started to tell different stories of her past. It’s as though some new part of her brain is alight. She’s telling tales I’ve never heard, accounts and feelings that are new. Maybe it’s because she’s getting older and frailer, but not a meal goes by without her telling a story that I haven’t heard before. It’s as if these memories and her need to tell them to us is ‘piu forte di lei,’ – stronger than her. She has to tell.

Interviewing Nonna on Immaculate Conception Day. Going deeper.So I bought a book called Nonno Raccontami – Tell Me About It, Grandpa. I bought the book in Puglia last year and have finally decided to fill it this year, because it’s an empty book. It’s a book specifically printed to record your Nonno and Nonna’s memories. Such a sweet idea. Each page is almost blank apart from questions, like:

When did you meet Nonno? Where? How? Did you fall in love with him on sight? What was it about him that you fell in love with?

What work did you do? What work did you want to do, dream of doing? Were you given the opportunity to follow a career?

What year did you start school? How old were you? Where? How did you get to school? What did you enjoy learning most? Were there both boys and girls in your class? Who were they? How long was your school day? Did you have lunch there? School on a Saturday?

Some answers I already knew but there are many, many more that I didn’t know. I was so looking forward to a cup of tea and deeper discussions with Nonna, so that we could explore this book together.

Perhaps next week I’ll share some of her answers with you.

Interviewing Nonna on Immaculate Conception Day. Going deeper.

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