Today on the blog, I’m delighted to welcome Francesca Scanacapra, talking to us about the importance of reading, and how that fits with her book, Paradiso…
Italy, 1937. In a tiny village in rural Lombardy, Graziella Ponti is born into a loving family.
Though they are not rich and life is full of challenges, they are content and safe, surrounded by the tightly-knit community of Pieve Santa Clara.
But when the shadow of World War Two falls across the village with the arrival of Nazi soldiers, nothing in young Graziella’s life will ever be the same again.
Paradiso is Graziella’s story. It charts her loves, losses and triumphs as she grows up in post-war Italy, a country in transformation, freed from the shackles of dictatorship yet still gripped by the restraints of the Catholic church.
Paradiso is inspired by true stories told to Francesca Scanacapra by her Italian family and set in locations where she spent much of her childhood. It is a deeply affecting novel which sheds light on the complexity and trauma of Italy’s past and weaves it into the epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live in extraordinary times.
This stunning historical read is perfect for fans of Dinah Jeffries, Rhys Bowen, Victoria Hislop, Angela Petch and Heather Morris.
In the process of writing the first two novels of the Paradiso series; Paradiso, and its sequel, Return to Paradiso, I have learned many things. One of the most important is not to do with writing, but with reading – not the kind of reading I used to do, which involved settling down on the sofa with a good book and a cup of tea and getting lost in the story – I’m talking about reading for the purpose of writing.
As I began to work on Paradiso, a process which involved squeezing as much writing around my day job and family commitments as was possible, I sacrificed all my reading time. This was a big mistake. Writing without reading is like starting your day without breakfast, then skipping lunch. You can still make it through the day, but it will probably be more of a struggle than it needs to be. You’ll have a far better and more productive time if you’re well-fed.
There are currently twenty-two books stacked on the table beside my writing space, and none of them are there by accident. These books are my literary nourishment. The majority, fourteen to be precise, are by Alberto Moravia, one of Italy’s best known 20th century authors.
I first encountered Moravia when I studied his Racconti Romani (Roman Tales) for A-level Italian, but at the time I was too caught up in trying to pass exams to appreciate fully the brilliance of his writing. I can’t recall exactly what made me want to re-read it almost thirty years later – perhaps it was the realisation that my novel was stagnating. But purchasing that stained, well-thumbed 1962 edition of Roman Tales on Ebay turned out to be the best 59p I’d spent for a long time.
Reading Moravia as a budding author was a high-dose vitamin shot for my writing, and not just thanks to Moravia’s masterful narrative skills and perceptive character observations. His books were contemporary literature of their time and capture the essence of early 20th century Italy – the very period I was writing about. They made me explore the political undercurrents and look more deeply into the class system, the social norms, morals and expectations of ordinary Italians – ordinary Italians such as my grandparents, whose lives had inspired the Paradiso novels in the first place.
By the time I had finished devouring Roman Tales, my writing had taken off with a new energy and I had purchased several more novels and short story collections by Moravia; as well as more works by Italian authors of the same period, such as Giovanni Guareschi and Italo Calvino, whose books have also provided essential sustenance.
I have now read all of the twenty-two books stacked on the table. Some of them I have read partly, or entirely, more than once. Reading them, as I had hoped, has been a feast of inspiration.
Since learning this valuable lesson, I make a point of setting aside reading time; but it’s not all about marathon reading sessions and exhaustive note-taking. If ever my writing feels stuck, or laboured, I pick up one of my Moravias, one of my Guareschis, or one of my Calvinos; open it at random and trust in a bit of bibliomancy. Almost without fail, I come across something helpful. It can take as little as a character’s mannerism, a single word, or short, descriptive phrase to light the spark. I like to think of this as a little inspirational snack.
Now, as readers settle down on their sofas with their cups of tea and copies of the Paradiso novels and prepare to get lost in the stories, I send special thanks to all the authors whose writing has helped to shape mine. Thank you, Signor Guareschi. Thank you, Signor Calvino. But most of all, thank you, Signor Alberto Moravia.
Francesca Scanacapra was born in Italy to an English mother and Italian father, and her childhood was spent living between England and Italy. Her adult life has been somewhat nomadic and she has pursued an eclectic mixture of career paths, including working as a technical translator between Italian, English, Spanish and French, a gym owner in Spain, an estate agent in France, a property developer in France and Senegal, and a teacher. Francesca lives in Dorset and currently works as a builder with her husband. She has two children.