After reading Tinney Sue Heath’s  historical fiction novel, A Thing Done, set in 14th century Italy , I thought that it is curious and stimulating to get to know how people living in distant countries see your own. This is why I wanted to interview the author and ask her the reasons for her loving my country,  especially medieval Italy, so much. 

Giveaway! Read the interview, then take your chances to win one of the two e-book copies of A Thing Done. (see the rafflecopter form below the post)

First of all, welcome to Fly High,  Tinney, and for accepting to answer my questions.  I’d like to start asking you, what is the fascination of Dante's Italy to a person with such a different background? For us Italians it is compulsory to study Dante Alighieri and read his “Divina Commedia”  at high school. But you? How did you come to discover the greatest  Italian poet, his work and his Florence?
Thank you.  I'm delighted to be here.  Your question made me smile, because when I first learned about your blogs, I wondered what attracted an Italian to Jane Austen!  I first encountered Dante in high school.  In my case it was not because everyone studied his writings, but because I was fortunate enough to read them in a Great Books class I had chosen to take.  There I also read Boccaccio and Machiavelli.  I loved the art of the Italian Renaissance, and my tastes in opera and other classical music also tended toward the Italian, but it was Dante who focused my interest on pre-Renaissance Florence and Tuscany.  After all, it seems he put most of his neighbors in the Inferno, and he made 13th century Florence sound like such an interesting place.

Why a fool as the protagonist of your novel?
The fool is a historical character, recorded in the chronicles, though we know nothing about him beyond his original action.  I found myself wondering how all of these tumultuous struggles among the nobles would look to a man who was just trying to make a living, and how he would feel about his own role in the chaos that followed, however unwilling a part he played.

He is the protagonist but also the narrator of the story. Is  his perspective on facts special because of his job?
Yes, I think he is in a good position to tell this story.  A fool had to have a quick wit and be able to think on his feet, yet he would be so insignificant in the eyes of the nobles that they would tend to forget he was there, watching them.

Men and women in your book, men and women in the middle ages. What did you discover while researching about social roles?
I discovered that women of the lower social classes (like my character Ghisola, who spins wool for a living) had more freedom and mobility than the closely-guarded women of the upper class.  Certainly in the eyes of the law and of the church, men held most of the power in the 13th century.  Yet, looking at legal records, one sees example after example of strong-willed women stubbornly insisting on the rights they did have.  I don't think medieval women were particularly docile, nor were they completely without rights or power, but they did live in a society that didn't make things easy for them.

How did you work on the research for the historical context of your book? Did you travel or just used printed sources /the Net?
I did travel to Italy many times.  Of course it was all for research – never mind the art, the music, the food, the wine, the incredible beauty of your country.  All work, I assure you!  Two things that have been a huge help are that I can read Italian (better than I speak it, though I'm working on that), and that I have access to a good university library.  I do use the Net for certain things but mainly because many of the resources I used to get from the library for are now online.  The Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani is a good example – I was so pleased when I realized I could have it instantly available.

What is the appeal of writing historical fiction?
I think it's the heady combination of the strange and the familiar.  The past is in many ways so different from our own world, and those differences are endlessly fascinating.  Yet people are not so different.  They have the same strengths and weaknesses, the same needs and desires.  Thus, when we think about the way people lived in the past, it is not so hard to imagine ourselves living in those times.

What is instead the hardest task for a hist/fic writer?
It's either marketing your book – lots of writers are just no good at that – or getting it published in the first place, if it's something a little unusual.  (The most irritating thing, though, is that medieval chroniclers almost never named the women.  They were only listed as wives and daughters.  I just studied eight generations of a family's history, and there was only one woman named.  You can't even have eight generations with only one woman.  Drives me crazy!)

 How would you present your book to our readers? Let’s say in about 50 words (if you want to give  a longer synopsis, please feel free to do that)

In 13th century Florence, tensions simmer below the surface.  A jester's prank-for-hire spirals out of control, and the city reels on the brink of civil war.  A marriage offered to make peace results instead in an unforgivable insult and an outraged cry for revenge.  Trapped in the middle, can the jester save himself and those dear to him? 

 What do you like reading when not writing or reasearching for your books?
I read a lot of historical fiction set in many different time periods.  Dorothy Dunnett's historical novels are my favorites.  I also can't resist good fantasy, so I love the George R.R. Martin Game of Thrones series and everything by Guy Gavriel Kay.  And I read other contemporary authors, Ian McEwan, Neal Stephenson, and Margaret Atwood, for example.

What are you up to right now? Working at a new project?
I had been planning to base my next book on the life of Dante's wife, Gemma Donati.  But there's a generation in between A Thing Done and Dante, and the more I researched the Gemma Donati book, the more fascinating I found the time of her parents' generation.  So the next one is set in the 1260s, and it will involve several of the poets of that pre-Dante generation.

Thanks for being my guest and … see you in Italy sooner or later!
Thank you for hosting me, and yes, I hope to see you in Italy!

The Author

Tinney Sue Heath writes historical fiction centered on Dante's Italy.  When not writing, she's playing medieval and Renaissance music on a wide variety of instruments, ranging from shawms to portative organ.  She loves doing research (especially in situ), and she blogs regularly about historical fiction research.  She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, USA with her husband Tim, and she's gamely trying to become fluent in Italian.

Learn more at her website, her blog, or her Fireship Press author page.  

The Book - A Thing Done

Florence, 1216:  When Corrado the Jester's prank-for-hire goes wrong, a brawl erupts between two rival factions.  Florence reels on the brink of civil war.  One side makes the traditional offer of a marriage to restore peace, but that fragile peace crumbles under the pressure of a woman's interference, an unforgivable insult, and an outraged cry for revenge.

Corrado is pressed into unwilling service as messenger by both sides.  Sworn to secrecy, he watches in horror as the headstrong knight Buondelmonte violates every code of honor to possess the woman he wants, while another woman, rejected and enraged, schemes to destroy him. 

Corrado already knows too much for his own safety.  Will Buondelmonte's reckless act trigger a full-scale vendetta?  And if it does, will even Corrado's famous wit and ingenuity be enough to keep himself alive and protect those dear to him?


It was a fool that began it, but it took a woman to turn it murderous.
Pride and lust, spite, greed, and folly split Florence down the middle in that harsh spring.  By late March, when the Feast of the Incarnation gave birth to Christ's year 1216, the damage was done. Our city by then had rent herself into two warring parties.  She split, like a stone splits when the stonecutter drives his wedge into a crack and sunders the rock into jagged pieces, never to be whole again.Ask any Florentine how the rift began.  He'll tell you it started with a banquet, a fight, a man hurt.  A marriage offered to make peace.  A woman's interference, a betrayal--maybe more than one--and a cry for vengeance.  He'll tell you, in wonder, that the great strife began at that banquet with nothing more than a fool's jest.He might even tell you that the fool played his prank, collected his purse, and danced away, not caring what he had set in motion. He would be wrong.All that he's told you will be true until that last.  True, but incomplete.  There's nothing in his account of blackmail, nothing of secrets, nothing of the bitterness of a rejected woman.  Nothing of loyalty bought and sold.  And most of all, nothing of violent conflict coldly planned and set in motion for political gain.A fool began it; that much is true.  I should know, for I am that fool, fool by profession and more fool by my actions.  But before you judge me, know that the rift, like the crack in the stone, was already there.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Stephanie Hopkins said...

13th century Florence sounds like an exciting period and place to read about! Great interview!


Yves Fey said...

Sounds great! I did a romance set in the time of the Borgias and Savonarola, but know less about the earlier history.

Prue Batten said...

I've just finished reading A Thing Done and recommend it most highly to any hist.fict fan, especially those whose interest lies in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Her Fool is such an unusual protagonist living in the depths of the most intriguing history. She has perfected the knack of applying fact with such subtlety - that's the sign of a topnotch writer in my estimation.

PS: Tinney, I am a long time Dunnett fan. My icon!

Judith Starkston said...

I'll second what Prue said. Definitely recommend A Thing Done.

Tinney Heath said...

Thanks for your comments! Prue, thanks so much for your kind words, and Prue and Judith, thank you for recommending A Thing Done. Thanks, too, to Maria Grazia for her questions and for the opportunity to present my book here.

Literary Chanteuse said...

This sounds very intriguing. I have not read a lot of this time period set in italy so I'de love to read this!


maribea said...

I have always wished to be loved like Dante loved Beatrice...one glance and he dedicated his entire poetry to her...thanks for choosing Dante's Italy for your novel! I would really love to read it.

maribea said...

Dear all, I have just come back from some days off and I have discovered to my surprise that I won a copy!
Thank you Maria Grazia and Tinney! Can't wait to read it.