I was very pleased to be sent a copy of Luca Di Fulvio’s ‘The Girl Who Reached for the Stars’ published as an ebook by Bastei on October 26th 2015. It was such an unusual book that I asked if Luca would be prepared to be interviewed for my blog and luckily he agreed.
Welcome Luca, and thank you for agreeing to answer some questions.
Ciao Linda, happy to be here.
Firstly, please could you tell readers a little bit about yourself ?
It took me a while to decide which road to take, but I always knew I wanted to do something creative. I got a place at the Accademia d’Arte Drammatica and went into acting. But directors couldn’t stand me because I was always trying to change my lines. ‘Stop pissing me off and write your own play!’ a director once shouted at me. And that’s how I came to write my first piece for theatre, an adaptation of Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kroger. I finally knew what I wanted to do. But it took me ten years to get my first book published (a resounding flop).
For those who don’t know your writing how would you sum it up?
I like to make up stories like the ones my grandmother told me when I was a little boy. Stories that made me dream. That enthralled me and made me care for the characters. Stories that scared me, made me smile. My grandmother’s words made me ‘see’ what she was describing. And I too try to make readers see what I’m describing, because I’m a very visual person.
What are your writing routines? Do you plan meticulously or do you let the story evolve as you write?
I’m exactly halfway between the two. In the early stages, a suggestion of something, an image or an atmosphere begins to emerge. Then I start to give it a shape and work out a rough outline. But after that, while I’m writing, I listen to my characters in the same way I like to listen to my friends. Heart and instinct come before mind and the structure of the story. It couldn’t work any other way. You can’t convey emotion using only your mind and a story structure.
I know you write many different genres and under different pseudonyms. Which do you prefer and why?
Trying out different genres was just one of the paths I went down in order to find the right road for myself. I was like a hunting dog in a wood, following one scent, then losing trace of it and following another instead. These experiences contributed to making me a better writer; I learned something from all of them. But I was still looking for the thing that would really suit me. So much so that when I found what I wanted to write (The Boy who Granted Dreams), I had no qualms about giving up the commercial thriller-writing route that had been earning me a good living in Italy. I only used a pseudonym once, for a children’s book. At the time I was writing very violent thrillers and I could imagine mothers (understandably) being put off buying a book of mine for their kids.
‘The Girl Who Reached for the Stars’ is set in 16th century Venice. How did you research the era and ensure the details were authentic?
My family comes from Venice. I used to play ball in Campo del Ghetto as a little boy. It’s a world I’ve always felt ‘at home’ with. Even so, of course I had to do a lot of research. I only went to the history books for street names, which have obviously changed, and to find out about the bye-laws that affected the Ghetto. Otherwise, I mostly looked at first-hand accounts of ordinary people’s daily life at the time. The kind of fiction I’m interested in is about the foot soldiers, and not the generals.
Why did you choose this period of history and if you were to set the story in today’s world, how do you think it might have changed, if at all?
I chose the precise moment in time when the Ghetto was created; that is, the moment when, on the pretext of religious differences, it was decided that one man was worth more than another. These trumped up excuses were used as a cloak to hide the true economic and commercial reasons for the move. There was little value placed on the lives of individuals, resulting in huge suffering. In that sense, you could say it’s not that different from today’s world. ‘Political correctness’ might cause us to put on a hypocritical façade, but at heart much remains the same.
You don’t shy away from the unpleasant elements of setting. How does it make you feel as you write those parts of your novels?
I write stories in which the characters are fighting for ideals and often succeed (even if, since Biblical times, it’s always been difficult to imagine David winning again against Goliath). To make up for this incorrigible optimism of mine, I try to be very honest with my readers and not to hide from them the terrible experiences and situations that are part of the worlds I write about. All things considered, maybe we ought to appreciate the world we live in a bit more.
Your writing really appeals to all the senses from the vibrant colours of clothing, through the sound of oars in the water, to the putrid scent of dog faeces. How important is it to you to write in such a layered way and do you think having a theatrical background helps you to write in this cinematic style?
Have you ever read a novel written before the Lumiere brothers and thought, ‘Wow, this reads like a film!’? I have. I think cinema – which I’m a big fan of – learned to tell stories from our own senses, and from our capacity to literally ‘see’ images forming out of a simple printed page. We readers have always used our heads to create what we now know as cinema. People probably used to say, ‘It was as if I was in that scene, seeing it, like in a dream!’
(Photo courtesy of Olivier Favre)
There’s a real sense of passion behind the story. How much of it reflects you as a person and how much of Mercurio is based on you?
Not only am I a passionate man, but I firmly believe that without feeling (and sharing) emotions, we’re slightly incomplete human beings. For this reason, the fact is I could never write without hoping to inject a bit of passion into my words. As for Mercurio, though, I have to say I’m nothing like him. I’m a much more ordinary person. But isn’t that the wonderful thing about writing? Imagining being a bit of a hero?
Of all the themes (like prejudice, dishonesty, greed, love and retribution) present in ‘The Girl Who Reached for the Stars’ which would you like the reader most to remember and why?
Two of them, for sure: love and prejudice. If we allowed ourselves to love and be loved, and overcame our prejudices, we would easily become better human beings. The absence of love demeans the heart. Prejudice demeans the intelligence. And the heart and the brain are the two organs I like best.
What are you writing next and when can we expect to read it?
At the moment I’m writing a story I’m really excited about, set in Buenos Aires in the early 1900s. It must have been an incredible world to live in. Records show there were around two million people living in Buenos Aires at the time (of whom a million were Italian). And at least seventy per cent of them were men. Almost all the emigrants were men, in any case. Can you imagine? A world made up entirely of men, and you’d see them dancing the tango together while waiting their turn at one of the dozens and dozens of brothels. So that’s the basic setup, and against that backdrop, I’m telling the story of two women in this male-dominated world.
Thank you so much for answering my questions. Your answers were really fascinating.
The Girl Who Reached For The Stars by Luca Di Fulvio is out now, price £3.99 in eBook, published by Bastei Entertainment and available here in the UK or here in the US. You can follow Bastei books on Twitter.