Today I’m pleased to welcome Kate Furnivall, whose books include The Russian Concubine. Kate is here to discuss her latest novel; The Italian Wife, published by Sphere on 7 May 2015.
Hi, it’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Tell us a little about THE ITALIAN WIFE.
THE ITALIAN WIFE is about creating something new and strong out of something that has been damaged. The book opens with Isabella Berotti being shot by an unknown marksman in a Milan marketplace in 1932, and dying. Her father, a doctor, resuscitates her and she survives, but at a cost. She is damaged. She limps. She is frightened to trust people. She becomes an architect, as if she can build herself a new and better life.
At the same time Mussolini is constructing five new towns on the drained Pontine Marshes in order to show Italians a better way to live. But he enforces it with a brutal Fascist regime, and when Isabella is swept into caring for an abandoned child, she comes into conflict with the state’s power and corruption.
She meets and falls in love with photographer Roberto Falco, but can she trust him? Can she trust anyone? Betrayal, courage and hidden secrets make this a complex and passionate tale.
Where did the inspiration come from for the book?
The inspiration came from Italy itself. I was beguiled by the story of the extraordinary undertaking of Mussolini draining the mosquito-infested swamps of the Pontine Marshes. It was a breathtaking feat and it attracted attention from all over the world in the 1930s. But I couldn’t help wondering what it must have
been like for those hundreds of families who were uprooted from the north and transplanted as farmers on to the black barren land of the Pontine Plain.
It sparked something in me. The enticing concept of starting afresh with a blank page intrigues us all – and that’s what both Isabella and Mussolini were doing. But it was never going to be easy, was it? It turned out to bring a torrent of problems with it and an outcome that no one expected.
What is the best and worst thing about being a writer?
The best thing? There are lots of ‘best things’ about being a writer. Publication day, the champers, the generous comradeship of other writers, the ability to hang out in my PJs all day, finding a good title, writing The End, and the pleasure of knowing when your words have touched someone’s heart. Just last weekend at my book signing someone said to me, “Your book got me through my operation in hospital”. Wonderful to hear. But best of the best is when I look up from my pad or screen and realise that hours have passed without my being aware of it. The joy when the words flow is right up there with man walking on the moon!
The worst thing? Deadlines. They are my worst nightmare. I am in a race against the ever-ticking clock. Aaargh!
Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?
Oh yes, my aim is to be a plan, plan writer. Notice I say “my aim” is to be one. That’s what I’d love – to have everything worked out beforehand and then just canter through the scenes with everything falling into place with ease. I wish!
No, I start out with no more than a bare-bones skeleton of a story and a general, though worryingly vague, idea of how it will unfold. I make sure I know the ending before I start, so that at least I know where I’m heading, even if I am flummoxed about how to get there. Characters can become obstinate and back themselves into all sorts of weird situations from which I have to extract them, muttering under my breath. The actual writing of a novel takes me about ten months from start to finish – I begin slowly and only really speed up when I can smell the Deadline flames coming close. That’s when my brain kicks into panic mode and the words start to fly out. Next time, I’ll plan … for sure!
What do you do when you’re not writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I sleep. When I’m writing, my mind insists on spending much of the night wrestling the next scene to the ground, so by the end of a book I could easily be mistaken for a zombie – and often am! I like to walk. Lonely empty places. On Dartmoor, on deserted beaches and windblown clifftops. While I’m writing I can hardly bear to watch television, but when a book is finished I can laze for hours in front of old black & white films on a rainy afternoon. Or a quick game of tennis and, oh yes, a night out with mates too, that’s good for numbing the pain!
If you could read only one book for the rest of your life, which book would it be?
I can’t imagine life without LOADS of books. But if you twist my arm really hard, I’ll choose two: Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With The Wind’ for the pure escapist delight of travelling through life with Scarlett O’Hara at my side. And
secondly the wonderful ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ for its exquisite beauty and its complex layers of thought.
I like to end my Q&As with the same question, so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
That’s interesting. I think the question I would like to consider is this :- Does inspiration run out eventually for an author?
This is a subject little talked about. Too scary. Something authors don’t like to think about – like alzheimers or a brain-freeze in the middle of a speech. Will there come a day when I have nothing to say? Will I burn out?
If I am being strictly honest – which I try to avoid when it comes to this question – I think the answer is yes. Authors do burn out. We all know novelists who have produced a heap of great books and then have petered out. Lost the plot, so to speak. And this is one of the joys in moving my stories from country to country, because every book brings with it an exciting new place and new moment of history for me to explore. A whole different world comes to inspire me. THE ITALIAN WIFE is my first book set in Italy and I hope my love for that country burns bright in it.
Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.
It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.
About the book
The breathtaking new historical novel from Kate Furnivall — set in 1930s Italy, before the dawn of the Second World War
Italy, 1932 — Mussolini’s Italy is growing from strength to strength, but at what cost?
One bright autumn morning, architect Isabella Berotti sits at a café in the vibrant centre of Bellina, when a woman she’s never met asks her to watch her ten-year-old daughter, just for a moment. Reluctantly, Isabella agrees — and then watches in horror as the woman climbs to the top of the town’s clock tower and steps over the edge.
This tragic encounter draws vivid memories to the surface, forcing Isabella to probe deeper into the secrets of her own past as she tries to protect the young girl from the authorities. Together with charismatic photographer Roberto Falco, Isabella is about to discover that secrets run deeper, and are more dangerous, than either of them could have possibly imagined . . .
From the glittering marble piazzas to the picturesque hillside villages and winding streets of Rome, Kate Furnivall’s epic new novel will take you on an breathtaking journey of intrigue, romance and betrayal.