Welcome and thank you, Elisabeth. My first question is influenced by my living very near the area of Italy you’ve chosen as your setting, ... how comes that an Australian authoress writes a novel set in Ancient Etruria in the 5th century BC?
First of all I want to thank you for asking me to be a guest on your blog considering I don’t write historical fiction set in Regency or Victorian times (although I enjoy reading it very much.) As for being an Australian writer with a book set in early Italy, I think ancient Rome captures the imagination of so many people all over the world. I studied classics at school and university and fell in love with classical literature and ancient history. Over ten years ago I discovered the world of Etruria and became an immediate Etruscophile.
Did you study a lot or did you travel a lot to prepare yourself to write the historical background of your story?
I would love to say that I spent years travelling through Tuscany and Lazio to research Etruscan history. Instead I spent over ten years studying Etruria and early Rome through ancient and modern sources. The great thing was that when I finally was able to travel to Italy I found that the beautiful landscape around the site of the ancient Etruscan city of Veii (where part of the book is set) was exactly as I’d imagined. It was a moment of deep happiness for me.
The ancient war between Rome and Veii is ancient history very little known to many Italians too. What was there in that decadent Etruscan world that fascinated you?
The Wedding Shroud is set in the late C5th BC when Athens was a leading light for its democracy, philosophy, literature and art, and where the nascent Republican Rome was still scrapping with its Latin neighbours for supremacy in Italy. In that time women were possessions of men. In Athens they were cloistered into women’s quarters, and in Rome they were second class citizens restricted to household duties. Roman women rarely dined with their men and could be killed with impunity by the husbands and fathers for adultery or for drinking wine. When they died, they were placed in a man’s tomb, and were not commemorated.
And with that in mind, I discovered a photograph of a C6thBC sarcophagus of a life size man and woman reclining on their bed in a tender embrace. I was blown away! I had to know who these people were and what kind of society would depict both a man and a woman in such a sensuous pose.
The answer led me to the Etruscans, a race that had lived in Italy from before archaic times and were situated in the area we now know as Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria but whose influence spread from the Po Valley in the north and down to Campania in the south. It also had trading interests that extended across the Mediterranean from France to northern Africa.
The Etruscans were as enlightened as the Athenians but there was one major difference – they afforded independence, education and sexual freedom to women, and as a result, were considered wicked and corrupt by the rest of the ancient world.
I wanted to write about these amazing people who had long been the enemy of Rome. And that’s when I discovered the little known story of the war between Rome and Etruscan Veii. These cities were located only twelve miles apart across the Tiber, and it intrigued me that just by crossing a strip of water you could move from what was the equivalent of the Dark Ages into something similar to the Renaissance. So I created Caecilia, a young Roman girl who is married to an Etruscan man from Veii to seal a truce. And she travels to Veii and is tempted by all the freedoms I’ve mentioned while also discovering a mystical religion that gives her the chance to delay her destiny.
Caecilia, the protagonist of your book, shares the destiny of many a woman in ancient times. She’s married to a man she doesn’t love, well, she doesn’t even know. Even worse , a man from an opposing world, completely different from hers. What kind of heroine is she? How does she cope with her difficult married life?
Caecilia travels from an austere, intolerant and self righteous culture into a hedonistic society that slowly seduces her with pleasure and independence while forcing her to grapple with conflicting moralities, especially when she discovers there are darker aspects to her husband and his people. At first Caecilia is very resistant to change and keeps comparing the Etruscans unfavorably to Romans, but as she discovers the freedoms that are offered her, she slowly comes to the realization that life isn’t as black and white as she thought and that Roman religion may not be the only way to worship the gods. She is a very strong character who has to overcome the constant fear of being held a hostage to war. In doing she learns there is a difference between merely enduring and adapting in order to survive – and even to thrive.
Is your novel just an adventurous tale in an ancient exotic setting or do you analyze any theme in particular?
The Wedding Shroud explores themes of sexuality in the ancient world, tolerance vs prejudice, destiny vs self determination and also examines the different lives of women who lived in ancient Greece, Rome and Etruria.
You are a solicitor, a lawyer. At present you run a consultancy business advising companies on corporate governance. How did you cope with writing being so fully engaged with another demanding profession?
I started writing twenty years ago when I first had my two sons. I wrote another novel that didn’t get published, and then started writing The Wedding Shroud. It took me four years to write the first version, and then, after numerous rejections I set about rewriting it with a different voice, style and altered plot. Six years later it was accepted for publication after many, many edits. I knew I had to be disciplined if I wanted to finish the book. The way I achieved this was by always setting a time, date and place in my diary to write. I started off writing 2 - 4 hours a week by hiring young local kids to babysit my kids. As my boys grew older, I was able to fit more time to write into my week. Juggling a career, family (and a neurotic dog) is always a challenge but writing is my passion. It is my way of escaping the stresses of the everyday world and so I always make sure I keep the appointment in my diary. I guess it’s a case of ‘from little things big things grow.’
Is your The Wedding Shroud going to be translated ? An Italian version would be interesting.
I’d love my novel to be translated into Italian! I would need to find an Italian publisher though. I think it would be amazing to have my story read by the people who live in a place I’ve imagined for such a long time.
What kind of reader are you? What kind of books do you like reading?
I am quite ecletic in my reading, but of course I love historical fiction about any era such as those written currently by Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Dunant and Phillipa Gregory. I particularly liked Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia (that’s why I was so excited when she agreed to endorse my book!) I also think Margaret Atwood is fantastic. Another favourite novelist of mine is DH Lawrence. (He was a mad Etruscophile too.) My all time idol, though, is Mary Renault who wrote novels set in Classical Greece. Her book, Fire from Heaven, was one of the ‘lost’ 1970 Mann Booker Prize novels.
Are you working on another novel at the moment?
Yes, I’m very excited that my publisher, Murdoch Books, has asked me to write the sequel to The Wedding Shroud. I’m already onto chapter 5. I have to increase my work rate though. The book is planned to be released in early 2012 - so I don’t have ten years to write this one!
If you could time travel, what historical period and where would you like to live? Would you set your next novel in that era?
That’s an interesting question. I’d like to return to classical times (C5th – C4th BC) but whenever I think of whether I’d like to go back to that period I’m always conscious that it would be hard to live as a woman there because of the lack of equality. So I guess I’d be happy to be a ‘time tourist’ but not actually live in ancient times. Of course Etruria, Rome and Troy would be the first places on my itinerary – and will also be the settings for any other books I write. As for living in Tuscany or Lazio now – well let me just check if my passport is up to date….
We understand that you are fond of history and ancient times, but what’s your relationship with the Net, technology, the mass –media? Do you think the Internet , especially, can help a writer or more distract him/her from her activity?
I’ve always found the internet incredibly useful as a research tool provided I remember that I need to double check most of the information I read. I’ve only just discovered Facebook and Twitter and can’t believe how the world opens up to you by using them. I find it incredible that you contacted me in Australia all the way from Italy just because of a mutual love of historical fiction. I already have a website and hope to start up my own blog soon. I was also very excited to create a book trailer about the novel which is on youtube and vimeo. One of my friends even composed special ‘Etruscan’ flute music to accompany it. All this social media can be a bit distracting though. It’s very ‘more-ish’!
If you’ve had a look at my blog/s before accepting being interviewed by me, you must have noticed what my main interests are. Let’s see we share any of them...
Jane Eyre has to be one of my all time favourite novels, and of course I love Jane Austen (that’s why I followed you in the first place.) Funnily enough I’m also a fan of CS Forester and the ‘Hornblower’ series – it depicts Napoleonic times so vividly (although it is a little light on romance!)
In Australia, period dramas are called ‘bonnet’ dramas by the less enlightened among us. A lot of these series are screened on Sunday nights here and the three males in my house know that this time is sacrosanct! Little Dorrit was aired recently. And Lost in Austen. Loved them!
I am particularly fond of Japanese wood block prints as well as paintings by Vermeer and Renoir. The series Desperate Romantics also piqued my interest in the Pre Raphaelites. Of course, and sorry to be boring, my great love is Etruscan art which shows the fantastic world of these people in flamboyant murals depicting lovers, dancers, flutists, banquets, Dionysian revels as well as terrible scenes of demons, monsters and bloodshed. Their art shows their love of legends, beauty and mysticism and is a rich vein of inspiration for me. My book trailer shows examples of it view it on utube or on my website.
Having read your blog, I have to admit that I was one of those middle aged women who fell for Richard Armitage when I first saw him in North and South. And as for Spooks, I might sound callous but Adam Carter’s startling exit was forgotten as soon as I saw Lucas North.
Now, thanking you for being my kind guest , I invite you to convince our readers to buy / read your novel, The Wedding Shroud, with less than 50 words.
The Wedding Shroud will take you on a journey to a mystical, decadent world of pleasures and dark secrets as you read how the young Caecilia is tempted to forsake Rome by her husband and the Etruscan people while two enemy cities stand poised on the brink of war.
You can buy The Wedding Shroud online at retailers such as www.booktopia.com.au, www.dymocks.com.au, www.fishpond.com.au, www.qbd.com.au or any other Australian online booksellers you can google up.
Thanks a lot, Elisabeth. I wish you and your novel great success!
Now, readers and friends, it's your turn. Leave your comments or questions and don't forget to add your e-mail address. Two of you will win a copy of THE WEDDING SHROUD! The giveaway is open worldwide and will end next Sunday October 31st.