I’m delighted to welcome Linda Lappin on the 1st anniversary of the Kindle publication of her novel The Etruscan. Welcome, Linda.
I read The Etruscan on my Kindle so it was a different experience to reading it in paperback or hardback. Perhaps I could begin our chat by asking you about your experience in publishing The Etruscan and your thoughts about reading paper books and electronic books.
As a reader, I love ebooks and reading on my kindle, especially when traveling. As a writer, I find ebook self publishing a wonderful creative tool and an opportunity to reach readers and build readership. The Etruscan was originally published by Wynkin deWorde, a small independent house in Ireland in 2004 in an edition of 1000 copies, about 100 new copies of which are still floating around on the internet. Through kindle though, it has reached many, many more readers, which is of course gratifying for a writer, so I’d say Kindle and other ebook systems really help build readership. At the same time, the huge number of ebooks being published every day means that it is hard for a book to keep afloat and find its readers. That’s why blogs like yours, and Mel Ulm’s The reading life, just to name two, are so important, since the old channels of printed book reviews and bookstore events seem to be drying up. Blogs like yours help readers connect with books and writers they might not otherwise know about, so I would like to thank you for the opportunity of meeting your readers through this interview.
You’re most welcome. What strikes me the most about The Etruscan is the sense of place. Cities and landscapes are evoked wonderfully throughout the novel and I was wondering about your connection to and inspiration from London, for example, and also (of course!) Italy. In particular, the pictures of rural Italy versus the urban London.
Most of my fiction springs from my connection to the soul of places which particularly attract me. I lived in Bloomsbury for a few months when I was 20, and the impressions I received of the city have remained with me, overlaid with later visits and of course impressions gained from my favorite writers and films. The descriptions of Italy and especially of the Etruscan places I describe in The Etruscan evolved through a slightly different process, slowly crystalizing over years. I have spent literally hours and in some case years wandering the woods of Tuscany and exploring the Etruscan ruins of Tuscia, so I had a great deal of time to familiarize myself not only with the overall landscape, but also with many details relating to the nature and culture of the place. I think of The Etruscan as a sort of deep map of the area, a layered representation of its genius loci.
I love the idea of a deep map. Moving on from place in general, I was also struck with the attention to detail and importance of buildings for you and your characters. For example, I just love the phrase you use to describe the house where Harriet is in Italy “a house where time is not.” Tell me about the role houses play in The Etruscan.
Harriet’s house is based on a real house which I rented in an old formerly Etruscan village and is one of the principle influences which led me to write The Etruscan. I have written about that experience elsewhere. Houses are of course a major symbol of selfhood, and Harriet’s house in a way is Harriet. Come to think of it, also in my other two novels houses are important. In Katherine’s Wish, about the life of Katherine Mansfield, the novel is divided into sections according to her changing places of residence and my latest, Signatures in Stone, is set in a sixteenth century villa attached to the Monster Park of Bomarzo, a baroque sculpture garden of pagan gods and bizarre monsters, and both villa and garden are essential to the plot. I am very intrigued by traditional gothic forms in fiction, in which both houses and landscapes and other spatial imagery represent inner aspects of the characters.
There is, of course, something dream-like (and Jung-like!) about how these entities and space can represent our characters’ inner lives. Harriet is a very passionate character who seems to be both of her time and very much beyond her time. She seemed to me to be almost modern in her sureness of interests; a woman who knows what she wants. Tell me a little about the conception of Harriet as a character and how she developed as you wrote the novel. Was her character and narrative planned or did it evolve?
My favorite period in literature is the early twentieth century and I spent many years teaching and studying early modernist texts, by writers such as Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, Henry James, E.M. Forster, T.S. Eliot, Jean Rhys, Ford Maddox Ford, and Katherine Mansfield, and other lesser known figures like Vernon Lee or Mary Butts, who inspired in part the heroine of my latest novel Signatures in Stone. So Harriet emerges partly from a composite of literary characters of independent women of the 1920s who were much closer to us than you might think– but she is also based on two real friends of mine. Her character developed as I discovered her while writing the diary, the central narrative of the book.
How fascinatating! Some great writers as influence in there. Now keeping with Harriet – I really enjoyed the nuts and bolts of the action in the narrative contained in her notebook. It is here that the reader really understands her – almost outside her social circle and those constraints – tell me about the weaving of Harriet’s narrative, the role of photography and the real history of the time/area.
As far as the history of the era. The Etruscan is fairly faithful in its description of characters, settings, customs of the area in that era, especially with regards to English travelers to Italy and their experiences. In the kindle edition I changed a couple of names from the original edition since I feared some people might not like the description of the village or of the station at Castelnuovo. The political reality of Italy on the eve of Fascism in the period is only vaguely suggested. It is a bit more developed in my new novel, Signatures in Stone, also set in the 20s. As far as the diary goes. That is the part I wrote first, and then I had the task of inserting it into the action as other characters discover and read the different sections and ending with a page which isn’t the last page of the diary itself, but a page torn from the middle when Harriet finishes recounting her dream. But that page could also be interpreted as Harriet’s final reunion with the count at the end of her life, so in a way it is the last page. The effect I wanted to create was to leave it up to the reader to decide whether the count deserves Harriet’s love or not, and whether or not to consider Harriet’s diary as a record of her real experience or something she made up….
As for photography – there is also a Buddhist element in the story regarding the illusory nature of our experience and Harriet’s profession as a photographer is connected to that. The photographic exhibition I mention of fairly realistic photographs of fairies in gardens actually refers to an exhibition I saw once in London.
There is a lovely layering effect there, Linda. Finally, could you answer a few brief fun questions:
Name your three favourite female writers. Can I give four names? Shirley Hazzard, Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.
What books are on your bedside table now? A History of Paris in the 1920s by Vincent Cronin, part of research for a new writing project and a memoir The Other Side of the Tiber by Wallis Wilde Menozzi, a contemporary writer I admire greatly, and on my kindle screenplay Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay of A Room with a View.
What’s next for you in terms of writing? Projects: a lot is going on. I have recently completed a memoir about living in an old house in the Tuscan woods called Postcards of a Tuscan Interior and also a creative writing book containing essays and exercises: The Writer’s Guide to Conjuring the Soul of Place. Also two new novels in the works, an esoteric adventure novel The Brotherhood of Miguel, set in Rome, and a sequel to Signatures in Stone, entitled Melusine set in Bolsena and dealing with…mermaids! I am also editing a collection of early stories to bring out on kindle entitled The Marble Foot and other Early Stories. Lastly, I am writing a screenplay of The Etruscan, an adventure unto itself!
When is your next public reading? Next public reading I just recently gave a reading at Feltrinelli International in Rome and am now organizing for a venue in Fiesole, near Florence and another in Rome through the Lazio Chamber of Commerce, dates and places to be announced on my website.
Thanks, Linda, for such engaging and informative answers.