Seduction and Betrayal in Pre-War China

Seduction and Betrayal in Pre-War China

The Dancing Girl and the Turtle by Karen Kao: Linen Press, 2017

‘The rain has stopped and the street gleams like the barrel of a rifle.’

Shanghai, 1937. During the opulent days before the Second World War, 18-year-old Anyi travels to the city determined to make her fortune. Raped and left for dead on the journey, this is the story of her battle for survival in a culture where all a woman has is her fragile reputation.

As an intelligent young lady from wealthy parents, Anyi has always been frustrated by polite society’s stifling attitudes towards women. Deeply traumatised by the vicious attack, she is taken in by her aunt and uncle who, despite their initial kindness, rush to arrange her marriage before what they consider to be her shameful secret is revealed.

‘No-one must know. It never happened, you see, because you are a good girl from a good family. Something like that doesn’t happen to people like us’.

lp-tdgtt-cover9-crop-1

Referred to from the beginning as ‘the broken girl’, Anyi defiantly reinvents herself as a glamorous siren able to wrap men around her little finger. Captivatingly beautiful, she inspires lust and jealousy in equal measure. Against the odds, she becomes a successful dancer earning enough money to live independently. In the dazzling world of the dancehalls, she is worshipped by diplomats and playboys alike as she embraces her new lavish and amoral celebrity lifestyle.

‘We, the dancing girls, are the gazelles who draw the predators out of the high grass. The whores are the dead meat to be flung to the lions.’

But in secret she is plagued by visions of the soldiers who violated her and at night their ghosts line her bedroom wall. In a desperate attempt to block out the memories, she seeks release by allowing paying men to abuse her. At times a painful read featuring unflinching references to physical and emotional cruelty, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is a sensitive portrayal of the devastating impact one incident can have on a woman’s life.

‘Why didn’t they just leave me to the dogs?’

It is also a brutally honest account of the seedier side of Shanghai as the flashbulbs of the paparazzi thinly veil the opium-addled, oppressive courtesan culture flourishing beneath the surface. Anyi’s most powerful customer, the charming Japanese diplomat Mr Tanikazi, finds her eagerness to satisfy his particular taste for violence irresistible. Political tensions mount in the buildup to the Japanese invasion as the world teeters on the edge of war. Secret desires overflow into real life as people’s public and private faces are threatened with exposure.

‘The city amazed and disgusted him. Perversion was available on any street corner of Shanghai’.

The story is narrated by multiple characters and everyone from family members to the downtrodden servants is given a voice. The human need for intimacy and understanding is apparent on every page and the reader is offered a vivid picture of events from different points of view. Progressive attitudes collide with old customs in a world tentatively embracing modernity yet still steeped in tradition. Gripping and complex, this challenging read provides an intensely detailed, often harrowing but ultimately sympathetic insight into a lost culture.

Click here to order Karen Kao’s The Dancing Girl and The Turtle direct from Linen Press.

About the Publisher

Linen Press is an independent publishing house founded by Lynn Michell and run ‘by women, for women’ that aims to promote talented female writers producing unique work in a range of genres about relatable issues that matter to women today. Michell explains: ‘I want to read beautifully crafted writing that speaks to women. I want to fall into a novel and not emerge until its ending’.

Review by Becky Danks

Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, dog lover, book reviewer, and occasional poet. She was recently shortlisted for the Verve Poetry Prize 2017. Follow her on Twitter @BeckyD123 or visit her website www.beckydanks.com.

What’s a Word?

What’s a Word?

Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams: Influx Press, 2017

‘what’s a sentence, really, if not time spent alone – ’

Eley Williams’ debut short story collection delights in the deliciousness of words – their taste on the tongue, their vertiginous proliferation of meaning, their resonant archaic hum.  Attrib. artfully weaves narrative textuality with metanarrative construction processes – the writer’s process of discovering and attributing layers of meaning to interesting and unusual words, or even mundane ones, becomes part of the narrative texture of these stories.  The reader is taken on a kaleidoscopic journey through language as these uncanny stories and bizarre situations shine a colourful spotlight onto a refracted mirror of contemporary life.

The title story, Attrib., focuses on the work of a Foley artist providing incidental sound details for an audio guide to accompany a major new display of the life and work of Michelangelo.  Following her through her ideas for sound effects to accompany the Creation of Eve, which include the use of a ‘day-old, tooth-stripped #34 Char Siu takeaway rib’, we are prompted to consider the word ‘rib’ as it sits within the larger body of ‘attribute’.  Then we might consider the proliferations of meaning depending on whether we take ‘attribute’ to be a verb or a noun – is Eve to be ‘ascribed to’ Adam, or he to her?  Or should we consider Adam to be the ‘cause’ of Eve?  Each of these meanings is suggested within Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary definition of ‘To Attribute’ as the book’s epigraph.  But what if we take attribute as a noun: a quality, feature or inherent part?  Does this make Eve a quality or feature of Adam?  Williams also casually drops a reference to ‘tributary’ – with all its constituent parts that bind it to the words ‘attribute’ and ‘rib’ – so we might question whether Eve is to be seen as a ‘tributary’ of Adam, either a minor part to Adam’s major, or the one who pays him tribute.  Consistent within this narrative is the repeated noun/verb ‘BAFFLES’, suggestive of the narrator’s response to the unequal treatment of Adam and Eve by the gallery commissioners, Michelangelo, God…

Attrib.

The stories in this collection draw inspiration from a wide range of characters and situations that are both singularly unique and intimately recognisable.  The catalogue and spotter’s guide to Rosette Manufacture, the synaesthete looking for a date or the rat trained to detect landmines would seem absurd but for Williams’ deeply human insight into her characters’ worlds into which she draws us through the weft and warp of her words.  The narrator of Smote begins, ‘To kiss you should not involve such fear of imprecision’ and continues to detail the nervous uncertainty around the giving of a kiss in a public place in front of Bridget Riley’s Movement in Squares – an image which perhaps informs the bold and striking cover design of the book – cascading into a breathless six-page stream without a single full stop.  The final denoument of this story contains the arresting phrases ‘and you stark me / and I am strobe-hearted’.

‘and you stark me / and I am strobe-hearted’

These are stories that are so repeatedly re-readable – for their humour, their humanity and their sheer revelry in the textual matter of the language from which they are made: the physical, pleasurable, palpable, enigmatic and unguent words and all they carry with them.  Eley Williams’ Attrib. is a book that I recommend to writers, readers, and anyone with a love of words and an affectionate soft-spot for the humans that are bound up with them.

Click here to buy Eley Williams’ Attrib. and other stories directly from Influx Press.

About the Publisher

Influx Press is an independent publisher committed to publishing innovative and challenging fiction, poetry and non-fiction from across the UK and beyond.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow, research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press, is a doctoral researcher in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster where she also teaches on the ‘Other Worlds’ module.   The Unfinished Dream, an experimental collection of words and images by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016.  @willowwriting

RofC Prize Rewards ‘Brilliant & Brave’ Fiction from the Small Presses

RofC Prize Rewards ‘Brilliant & Brave’ Fiction from the Small Presses

‘Small press fiction enables stories, characters and experimentation not found anywhere else in British publishing’ – Neil Griffiths, founder of the Republic of Consciousness Prize

Last night’s inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize award ceremony was held in the iconic setting of the University of Westminster’s Fyvie Hall, in conjunction with The Contemporary Small Press.  

The prize’s founder Neil Griffiths, who set up and crowdfunded the prize to reward ‘brilliant and brave literary fiction’ being published by small presses ‘who are willing to take risks’ in the UK and Ireland, hosted the evening and spoke about the work of contemporary independent publishers.  He said, ‘I’ve been accused of trying to overthrow the established order of the literary establishment’, and while he readily acknowledged the high quality books that are being published by big publishers, he affirmed that in his opinion ‘the best fiction currently being published in the UK and Ireland is with the small presses.’  He elaborated on this, saying that ‘small press fiction enables stories, characters and experimentation not found anywhere else in British publishing.’  Griffiths explained the awarding process for this year’s prize, saying that there would be one ‘Winner Winner’ and two runners-up: ‘not second and third’.

Winner of the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize for fiction from the small presses was Counternarratives by John Keene, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.  Unanimously voted the overall winner by all six judges, Counternarratives was considered a ‘once in  generation achievement for short form fiction’ and praised for the way that its ‘subject matter, formal inventiveness, multitude of voices, and seriousness of purpose transform a series of thematically linked stories into a complete work of art.’  Accepting the prize,  Jacques Testard from Fitzcarraldo confessed that ‘it’s not easy to publish this kind of fiction in the contemporary British climate’ – another example of the risk-taking innovation of small press publishers as testified by the quality of books selected for the prize.

Testard said: ‘We’re so thrilled that John Keene’s COUNTERNARRATIVES has been awarded the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize. First of all, it is a magnificent book and deserves the widest possible readership. The prize is so important for its focus on small presses — it’s tough, in this cultural climate, for risk-taking small presses to achieve visibility for our books. It’s also a unique prize on two other counts: it does not put limitations on what fiction can be in considering short stories, novels and translation together, unlike other prizes in Britain, and in fact it is the only prize which COUNTERNARRATIVES has been eligible for. Less important but remarkable nonetheless, it is a prize that rewards the publisher as well as the author — a welcome, refreshing reversal when many bigger prizes expect a financial contribution from a shortlisted publisher, big or small. Long may it continue.’

Counternarratives
Counternarratives by John Keene, Fitzcarraldo Editions.  Photograph by Sally-Shakti Willow

The two runners-up and winner were announced by The Guardian’s Literary Critic Nicholas Lezard who praised the ‘long and distinguished history of publishing by the small presses.’  The first runner-up to be declared was the novel Martin John by Anakana Schofield, published by And Other Stories about which the judges said, it ‘makes no judgment: it renders Martin John’s world with phenomenological honesty. It is a moral act.’  Joint runner-up was Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones, published by Tramp Press, described by the judges as a novel that ‘sets a new bar for fiction about a family. No other novel we’ve ever read portrays the lived experience of dying with such precision.’

A further category was created for Griffiths’ own criteria of Best First Novel, or ‘Surfeit of Multitudinous Energy’, awarded to writer Paul Stanbridge and publisher Galley Beggar Press for Paul’s novel, Forbidden Line.  Galley Beggar’s Sam Jordison collected the prize with Stanbridge.

Paul Stanbridge and Sam Jordison
Writer Paul Stanbridge and publisher Sam Jordison from Galley Beggar Press.  This photograph and the header image by Becky Danks

‘So much in the literary industry disadvantages small presses, and yet they are publishing the most interesting and innovative current fiction’ Dr Leigh Wilson, The Contemporary Small Press

The Contemporary Small Press’s Dr Leigh Wilson said, ‘We’re delighted to be involved in supporting the prize. So much in the literary industry disadvantages small presses, and yet they are publishing the most interesting and innovative current fiction.’  Organiser Neil Griffiths concluded: ‘I thought it was a wonderful evening. All the presses seemed mutually supportive, and I’m not sure that’s always the case at prize events. I think the key take-out is that small presses really appreciate the emotional support just as much as the chance to win some money’.

The prize was judged by: Sam Fisher of Burley Fisher Books in Hackney; Gary Perry at Foyles; Lyndsy Kirkman from Chapter One Books, Manchester; Gillian Robertson of Looking Glass books, Edinburgh, Marcus Wright and Neil Griffiths.

Congratulations to all the writers and publishers whose books were selected for the Republic of Consciousness Prize long- and short-lists.  

image (1)
The Contemporary Small Press’s Dr Leigh Wilson with prize founder Neil Griffiths.  Photograph by Georgina Colby

Article by Sally-Shakti Willow, Research Assistant for The Contemporary Small Press.

Photographs by Dr Georgina Colby, The Contemporary Small Press; Becky Danks reviewer for The Contemporary Small Press; Sally-Shakti Willow

A Generation of Renters Not Buyers

A Generation of Renters Not Buyers

Treats by Lara Williams: Freight Books, 2016 – Republic of Consciousness Prize short list*

Alazia is the fear that you are no longer able to change.

In this debut collection of short stories, Lara Williams beautifully captures relatable, disillusioned, yet wistfully hopeful characters, often on the cusp of adulthood, looking over the edge and hoping not to fall, but fly. These characters traipse through a daunting landscape of entangled relationships, problematic life choices, the “controlled explosions” and negotiations of love, and the harsh realities of what can only be described as “settling”– of letting go of childhood dreams and infinite possibilities – as one day university ends and suddenly “It Begins”; the unnerving stage in which one is left to flounder and learn how to paddle once more. On the other hand, many of the characters demonstrate a propensity for going against the grain in quiet protest at “settling”, with little daily rebellions against the unfair world of “morning people,” those who are careless, judge others, or want to place individuals in a box. The reader hears the screaming thoughts from minds not content with conformity nor a life already mapped out and ready for one to simply join the dots. These are the stories of the unsettled, trying to settle for a life not quite the way it was imagined.

Triumph over adversity, life felt like a series of small battles, of smaller wins, twisting and mutating, always, into something else.

treats_-270

“Treats” becomes a misleading, sceptical, almost mocking title, as these characters are often far from treating themselves or being treated right by others. The short story entitled “Treats” follows the musings of a woman “imagining the world fluent in a silent language of kindness”, a tender thought, but one that she seems forever excluded from, never receiving this kindness in return. She endearingly surprises others with little acts of anonymous kindness, like buying another’s cinema ticket or cup of coffee, and yet she lives in a world populated by those who are careless towards her. In the end she treats herself, a lesson we might all learn from – rather than expecting to be treated right by others, we should learn to treat ourselves right first.

Life, Ray had decided, was exchanging one type of chaos for another.

Williams’ female characters express the “gender melancholia” of a young generation, as Morag states, “We got that wrong,’ […] ‘we got food wrong. We got sex wrong. We’re the generation that got a lot of stuff wrong.’” A generation of desperate choices – “Pilates and Prozac?” – when “it feels like it is raining, everywhere, inside.” These characters live in quiet discontent as their minds dance around daydreams and thoughts that never reach the surface, let alone become communicated to others. Williams’ embeds beautiful poetic reflections amongst the mundane daily rituals of people trying to live. In an understated, often witty and subtle way, the female characters grapple with a thematic undercurrent of feminist issues and concerns, in which one character relays the question posed to her as she remembers how she would “say things to Dora, treat her in a certain way and you would ask, would I do this differently if she were a boy? The answer, invariably, was yes.” The conclusion is that “Girls grew up afraid”, particularly afraid of taking up space, and in the twenty-first century this is still the case. These stories are filled with small triumphs, as the characters indulge in reclaiming their space, mainly in private, and relishing the treats they find for themselves.

Throughout these twenty-one stories I hear the fragments of characters who are desperate to live and feel alive again, finding themselves in moments of questioning in which they reflect and realise that the life they have lived so far is not the one they wish to continue living. In “Here’s to You”, Williams amusingly captures the fed up, exasperated feeling one has when they have reached a suspiciously unsolid rock bottom, unsure as to whether there is further to fall or not. Aahna is attempting to piece her life back together, living at her mother’s after the break-up of her previous relationship and the gradual dissolution of her life. After an awkward, yet not entirely unsuccessful date, she finds herself pondering:

She didn’t know what she wanted and she never had; her wants extended everywhere, inside and out, up and down; an undulating blob of non-specific desire.

What the hell did she want? What did anyone?

She sighed the long sigh of a life of never quite being enough.

 And sometimes these characters, with a refreshing honesty and all too familiar state of mind, just have to hope that the phrase “Sling enough shit at the wall and something’s got to stick” is true. They all suffer from the dreaded state of “alazia” and wonder what is truly enough for them; always wanting more. If I had any complaint as a reader, it is that I too desire more – I want to know more about these characters and continue reading more; the stories connect intricately through their use of certain images, phrases and character traits, which makes this collection such an enriching read. The little treat of momentarily viewing these characters’ lives, like a fly on the wall, stayed with me, almost as a relief that I am not the only one who’s trying to figure things out and is still not quite there. I recommend treating yourself to this collection.

About the Publisher:

Freight Books is an independent publisher focused on high quality fiction for an English speaking readership, committed to publishing work by established writers, brilliant debuts, short story collections, forgotten classics, occasional novels-in-translation and, from time to time, poetry collections.

Review by Isabelle Coy-Dibley

Isabelle Coy-Dibley is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, where her research predominantly considers inscriptions of the female body within women’s experimental writing. 

 

*The Contemporary Small Press is celebrating the first ever Republic of Consciousness Prize for small presses by reviewing a range of titles from the long- and short-lists throughout early 2017.  The Republic of Consciousness Prize was established by writer Neil Griffiths to support and reward adventurous new fiction published by small presses in the UK and Ireland.  The judges have selected some of the most exciting and innovative new fiction to highlight through their long- and short-lists, demonstrating the breadth and depth of high-quality literary fiction currently being published by small and independent presses.  The winner will be announced at an award-ceremony held in conjunction with the Contemporary Small Press at the University of Westminster in March.

 

DIY: Start Your Own Journal, Press, or University

DIY: Start Your Own Journal, Press, or University

The Institute of Modern and Contemporary Culture and The Contemporary Small Press, University of Westminster invite you to a workshop:

DIY: Start Your Own Journal, Press, or University

Led by Professor Craig Saper, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Thursday 26 January 2017, 4-6pm

University of Westminster, The Boardroom, 309 Regent Street

Looking at a series of experiments in publishing scholarship, this workshop asks participants to propose venues and modes of presentation appropriate to the scholarly questions they seek to ask.

Admission is free, but please register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/diy-start-your-own-journal-press-or-university-tickets-30920013593

 

Based on Craig Saper’s research on Intimate Bureaucracies and on his co-founding Electric Press and Textshop Experiments, founding Roving Eye Press, and starting experimental venues for emerging forms of knowledge, like the online reading machine that simulates a modernist project from 1929, as well as participating in others’ experiments in publishing including Punctum Books and the media-making journal HyperRhiz, this workshop asks participants to propose venues and modes of presentation appropriate to the scholarly questions they seek to ask. Based on Craig Saper’s research on Intimate Bureaucracies and on his co-founding Electric Press and Textshop Experiments, founding Roving Eye Press, and building an online reading machine, the workshop asks us to consider publishing as scholarship not merely a conduit for research.

 

 

I unstitch [my] self

I unstitch [my] self

The Unfinished Dream: An Exercise in Awakening by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans: Sad Press, 2016

unfinished-dream-thumbnail

They are the same. Same words. Same books. Other tongues. Only meaning changes. With time. Broken narrative    out   of   bounds where is the meaning in [your] life now? Can you trace the line beginning to middle to end? How can I know [myself] without the story [of myself] to tell?

The collaboration between Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans has created a visceral and eclectic artist book that evokes a raw and provocative sense of textual and visual meaning. Willow’s experimental writing style powerfully plays with language, writing it anew as boundary-less and beyond the borders of constricting social constructs. Words drift and dangle from the pages, punctured by Evans’ illustrations or fractured by blank spaces filling the absence of words. The interlacing of imagery and text presents the reader with a tactile experience, where the pages are alive with the feelings, thoughts and senses they evoke.

The body is intertwined throughout the book, where the tenuous nature of subjectivity materialises upon each page. The narrative voice grapples with the sense of self found within words, fighting with the continual strain and clash of meanings one attaches to the body. The cultural, political, and social structures that enforce certain modes of being are torn apart as the narrator declares: “I give myself this new name to take [back] the power I never had.” One must bind, tie and lace the text with the body: “I must become [the body of] the text”. The body becomes the blank page waiting to absorb ink, boundary less, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I unstitch [my] self.” The body becomes open, as the only recourse one can take against the daily attacks on subjectivity. The style leaves space for words to breathe, to let in the world and fill one’s lungs with the breath of others, as an unbound self “open to the flow of things to come.” The voice resounds as a protest against those who act in someone else’s name without consent – an apt protest given the most recent events of Brexit and the Presidential election in the United States, and the hatred these have emboldened.

The poem, Straif, continues this sense of protest and how one must “insert into that space the steel edge of thorn tip scribing”. The space being that of the past and future, the in-between of “[your] page and [mine]”, which is a space ruptured from its timeline, re-written by the ink bleeding on a surface wounded by violence. Words must break the silence, must speak from this space created by violence. As “writereader” of this narrative, the words express the power one has to act and to write the story anew. This poem has also been published in an anthology, #NousSommesParis, which captures the responses to the November 2015 Paris attacks and the horror of this day. The pen lines scrawled haphazardly across each page capture the reckless, nonsensical nature of destruction, the wound of this event that stains each body affected, like the ink that stains each page with words. It poignantly grasps a sense of the collective loss, empathy and ways in which one must not sink to the levels of those who wish nothing but violence and hatred upon others. From this space, this rupture, must come change.

three-dream

There is a raw, earthy energy to Evans’ illustrations that incorporate imagery of stars, tree roots and varying symbols. The illustrations are evocative and cohesively interlace with each other; as the faint lines of a fractured face yet to be drawn completely on one page becomes a fully formed embodiment on a later page. Or the faint lines of an anatomically drawn heart and eye hint of their presence behind a solid moon, only to appear in sharp focus as the narrator reiterates notions of “[in]visible”, “[il]legible” words that fall on “[in]different” ears and lay mute and unseen. The cut and paste technique is similar to that of Kathy Acker, as photocopied notebook pages juxtapose pages left free of lines, barriers and rules where words become dismembered from each other and ultimately the sentence they belong to. The anarchy of the text – the use of spacing, shifts in form and style, as well as the break in punctuation and grammar – reflects the ruptured sense of self, of society, and yet through this perhaps a chance to change, to “overflow these pages” and find solidarity through being open to others. Ultimately, the artist book challenges the position of the “writereader”, emphasising how we are all both writer and reader of our own narratives and those we create together.

Section B: Writing, is set out in the style of a GCSE exam question, which beautifully articulates the think-less existence of present day culture; where there are so many voices that no-one is truly heard, drowned out by the noise of a system that cannot hear or see those who do not fit the sequences of a life lived only inside borders: “Facts is all they want”. If you are not coherent, structured, living the “right” way and doing the “right” things, following the stepping stones that life has laid out, planned in advance, then what becomes of you, when you have lost the “plot”?

Take this pill instead. It will mollify your dreams, dispossess you of desires. And it will keep you safely tightly numbly suffocatingly bound within these pages of your life. There is nothing outside this story.

Drugged and disillusioned, the narrator voices the absence of living, or of living in-between, on the borders of “plot” – the structured existence that strips the self of thinking for oneself. These pills, promising health, happiness and to make things better, instead turn the narrator’s world upside down, words stop, thoughts stop, breathing stops. Subjectivity stops. Pills numb the protest, create an absence of self, living “between my life and your world”. Ultimately, the self that lives beyond the “linear syntagmatic narrative” cannot be fixed by a pill, but must learn to think, feel, and write the self anew, even when that may be outside the “plot”.

The remaining words echo poignantly as the last page is turned to a moon borrowing the sun’s light to shine – we are always fractured with words, words that are not our own, but that we, as “writereader” of our own stories, transform. There is a thickness to the silence, as the fractured narrative always leaves something unbound and the surrealist imagery punctures the text as deeply as the ink that writes itself upon each page, boundary-less and unafraid to cut through the lines.

Click here to buy The Unfinished Dream directly from Sad Press.

About the Publisher:

Sad Press publishes poetry chapbooks by individual authors and collections of experimental writing.  Based in east Bristol, Sad Press was set up in 2009 and has published works by Tom Jenks, Jennifer Cooke, Lila Matsumoto, Verity Spott & Megan Allen, nick-e melville and others.

Review by Isabelle Coy-Dibley

Isabelle Coy-Dibley is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, where her research predominantly considers inscriptions of the female body within women’s experimental writing. 

 

Interview with Donatella Di Pietrantonio

Interview with Donatella Di Pietrantonio

Donatella Di Pietrantonio‘s new novel, Bella Mia, has recently been published in translation by Calisi Press.  Our reviewer Becky Danks posed some questions to Donatalla, whose answers have been translated by Calisi’s editor Franca Scurti Simpson.

CSP: What inspired you to write about the earthquake in L’Aquila in 2009?

DDP: I was motivated by the need to write a novel about pain, about loss, but also about the human ability to transform pain, reshape it without removing it, and use it as an opportunity for growth.

How did you approach the task of researching the subject? How long did it take and how did you go about it?

I did my research by visiting the historic centre of the town, always with friends who live in L’Aquila. They were also the most valuable source of information, particularly about the emotional experience of the people affected by the earthquake. In any case, I know the town well, I went to university there and I have maintained strong links with people and places after I left. The research into the book took about 18 months.

This is a book about recent events. Did you find it difficult to write about this subject as it is still so raw in people’s minds and residents are still displaced?

In a way, yes. I wrote carefully, fearful that my fiction would intrude and upset the sensitivities of those who have lived through the traumatic experience of the earthquake, those who had lost a loved one, those who had lost their home, their neighbourhood and their job.

In light of recent events, with further earthquakes occurring in Central Italy, what advice would you give to those people newly affected based on what you have learnt?

It is very difficult to give advice about this sort of thing, there is always the risk of being intrusive or simply banal, but it is important to encourage those who have been affected by tragedies of this type not to lose hope, to invest in their future, rebuild their lives around what is left, rather than focus on the past, on what has been lost.

Are any of the characters in the book based on real people? If so then how much is based on truth and how much is fiction? For example the central family and also the writer who is the only official resident of the Red Zone and the elderly man in the camp who telephones his dead wife every day.

The only real person in the novel is the old writer, a historian, to be correct, who the day after the earthquake refused to leave his home, which had been only minimally damaged, and continued to live, alone, in the deserted city centre. The other characters are all fictional but I believe they are consistent with their background, made so peculiar by the earthquake.

bella-mia

Your previous novel was about dementia and its impact on a mother-daughter relationship. What makes you choose to tackle such sensitive subjects?

I believe that pain is an inevitable part of our existence. It is also what allows us to give shape and highlight our human “essence”. For this reason it needs to be explored, talked about, so that we can get to know it and accept it. When we experience joy and happiness, we can simply be, but we have to learn to work on our pain.

 

How have you found the process of having your writing translated and what advice would you give to aspiring female Italian writers?

Holding in your hands your book translated into another language is very exciting, even when you don’t understand that language. It is an amazing feeling to realise that what you have written can leave you behind and travel much further than you can. My advice to young Italian female writers is to believe in themselves and to nurture themselves and their writing, by reading and experiencing life as much as they can.

Can you describe your writing routine?

I don’t write methodically and I don’t write at fixed times. I steal the time to write when the story forming inside me urges me to do so. I often write in bed, on my laptop, in positions that are uncomfortable and hurt my back. I am curious about and open to the world, to other people. With the earthquake in L’Aquila, I felt immediately involved, because the experience of pain and loss is universal, it affects us all. And I know and love the town, so I felt its wounds and those of its people, in particular.

How did you combine your job as a paediatric dentist with writing your books? Would you consider writing full time?

Dentist by day, writer by night! Actually, the best time for me to write is at dawn, when the house is immersed in silence and my rested thoughts are eager to find their way onto the page. There are times I think I would love to be able to write full time but I don’t think I could bear to be separated from my little patients.

 

Are you planning on writing a new book and if so, what will it be about?

Yes, I am finishing a new novel which will be published in Italy by Einaudi next February. It is again a novel about fundamental relationships, about mothering experiences, broken and then renewed and partially mended, and the traumatic effect of these on the children involved.

Bella Mia is available now from Calisi Press.