October 4, 2011

Event: Gianrico Carofiglio in London

Hersilia Press @ 2:43 pm

On 26 September I attended the presentation of Gianrico Carofiglio’s Temporary Perfections at Foyle’s bookshop, brilliantly organised by Bitter Lemon Press.

Carofiglio is a former anti-mafia judge and now a member of the Senate, and was in conversation with Marcel Berlin and Paul Blezard. His books have been translated into 24 languages including Swahili, which Gianrico confirmed, with a smile on his face, he carefully reads and checks all!

The discussion kicked off with a question about building a relation of trust between the translator and the author. Gianrico commented that translators have different ways of working: some contact him via email or phone, but some never contacted him, which surely makes it more difficult to iron out any doubts and problems a translator might have.

Gianrico is the only Italian exponent of the “legal thriller” (he remarked that he had once been introduced as “one of the most important legal thriller writers”, saying it’s not difficult when there’s only one of them!), where the protagonist is not a cop or a detective. Marcel Berlin remarked that Italian fiction is usually very noir: how come Gianrico decided to write in this genre? When he started to write his first book, Involuntary Witness, he didn’t know it was going to be a thriller, he just wrote the story. Gianrico says that the same book can be read in different ways or from different points of view, for example at an event one reader commented that she read the book as a love story: and this is still fine, because there are many stories woven into the book.

Marcel said that on average there is more political content in Italian books, however Gianrico says he doesn’t write about what he’s too close to: in fiction you shouldn’t decide in advance what politics you’re going to write about. According to Margaret Atwood [paraphrasing Virginia Woolf], writing is like being in a dark room where the writer finds his or her way around it until the process comes to an end at the exit of the room itself.

Gianrico, like many writers, reinforced the idea of writing fiction as a necessity and says: “I know I have a story when I have a situation”. Writing a novel is also making a deal with the reader, with a promise at the beginning, which is as important as the end. However, starting to write is actually very scary, and that’s why he started so late (in his forties), but the piece of advice he would have for novice writers is “begin tonight”, don’t find excuses.

Marcel then asked about Italian noir more in general, since in his opinion it’s quite concentrated on corruption, on ‘gangsterland’: for example, non-Italian authors of books set in Italy, like Donna Leon and Michael Dibdin, who write books that are more detective stories, are they well known in Italy? Gianrico says that Leon doesn’t want to be translated in Italian, while Dibdin is not very well known.

Gianrico also says that the duties of a writer are to be honest and reduce the necessary suspension of disbelief to a minimum, do appropriate research and be accurate. So he writes what he likes to write about: people and characters. Every character has a back story, Gianrico says his writing is character-centred rather than plot centred: he uses the plot to talk about things he’s interested in. He likes writing ‘subplots’, what’s happening on the side of the main story. He says “It’s fun to write biographies of characters”.

Marcel and Paul then want to know how his books are received by Italian lawyers and Gianrico says they love them: he runs legal writing workshops and he says people come because of his fiction, not because of his legal writing! He is also asked often how autobiographical Guerrieri is: he admits initially he was saying Guerrieri wasn’t then realised this was creating a bit of an aura around him and, again with a smile on his face, “became much more flexible.”

Finally, Gianrico is asked what kind of books he likes to read: Lawrence Block, the early RJ Ellory, not so many Italian writers. Grisham, Connolly, Thurow he finds very plot-driven and with not enough depth to their characters.

Does he intend to carry on writing books on Guerrieri, asks Marcel: yes, although his next book is not in the Guerrieri series. Gianrico likes the idea of an “open mega-novel” where each book is like a chapter, he writes a new novel when something happens and something is changing. He reminds the atendees of the Lao Tze quote at the beginning of Involuntary Witness “What the caterpillar thinks is the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly”: this is what he’s interested in writing about. And he shares with Guerrieri the motto of “never feel too comfortable”.

August 26, 2011

St Hilda’s crime and mystery weekend

Hersilia Press @ 9:44 am

This year I attended the St Hilda’s conference for the second time. As last year, the papers were of excellent quality and very exciting: the theme was The Anatomy of Justice. The conference opened with Ayo Onatade who talked about her day job in the Royal Courts of Justice (which she doesn’t do enough of, but I understand it is not something you can discuss with everyone all the time!) and Val McDermid talking about how to make the law work for authors. This was followed by an interesting discussion which also included the recent rioting in London and the penalties handed out to those found guilty.

All speakers gave fascinating talks: some particularly interesting for me were Frances Fyfield’s paper which discussed unusual trials (of animals and objects) carried out in the Middle Ages, with excerpts from a documentary she did for the BBC World service (you can listen to it here), while Cath Staincliffe talked about the moral and practical difficulties involved in assisted dying – and left me with a big lump in my throat. Penny Evans discussed how women’s ‘nagging’ has been considered a provocation in some murder cases (thankfully that loophole has now been closed!) which was truly astounding.

An excellent and more detailed summary of the event is on the Shots blog. The event was a real success and I discovered more about a number of attending authors and books, including the guest of honour Professor Bernard Knight. Natasha Cooper did a brilliant job of chairing the conference and attendees were very friendly.

The conference was well organised and the speakers’ styles and topics were very diverse, giving the event a good variety of themes and approaches. The questions and discussions were thought-provoking and the environment not intimidating. I only wish there was a website for the conference and more ‘social networking’ presence which would make it easier for new people to get to know those who have been at the conference for a number of years.

Next year’s event will be held between 17 and 19 August and its theme is Stop, you’re killing me: humour in crime fiction. Contact Eileen.roberts@st-hildas.ox.ac.uk if you are interested in attending. I am already looking forward to it!

March 9, 2011

Jo Nesbø at the BBC World Book Club

Hersilia Press @ 10:55 am

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the recording of the BBC World Book Club talking about The Redbreast with Jo Nesbø a couple of days ago. It was a great and rare experience being able to share the discussion of a book with none other than its author.

The presenter, Harriett Gilbert, started with the question we all wanted to ask: what is the correct pronunciation of his own and his protagonist’s name? After establishing that the English and Norwegian pronunciations don’t sound anything like each other, it was agreed to use the ‘English’ version, which was a relief!

The discussion started with a very frank recollection of Jo’s youth when his father told him about his own role as a German supporter in the Second World War and his harrowing experiences, which shaped the background of the book, the first in the Harry Hole series which currently runs to eight with the latest The Leopard.

More questions from the audience in the room, as well as on the phone and by email, brought to light an extremely talented and multifarious personality: a former stockbroker, a musician and an undoubtedly talented writer all in one. We also learnt about the origin of the title, the real people behind Harry Hole, and the origin of the ‘apple’ instrument of torture described in his latest book, The Leopard.

Jo’s thoughts on writing were perhaps the most anticipated of the discussion: we talked about his occasional plot strands left hanging (reflecting real life, where there isn’t closure on everything), about when he started writing, when he realised that the book was becoming a series, and why Scandinavian crime is so popular.

Although Jo doesn’t like to know the personality of the storyteller (for example, he says he doesn’t read his friends’ books) as this ‘stands in the way of the story’, he wasn’t reluctant to tell us more about himself, his experiences of life and of writing The Redbreast: why the Northern European detectives seem to be all gloomy and depressed, what writers influenced him, and the process of working out the plot of the book.

He commented on the possible end of the series but didn’t give away anything to the fans: we’ll just have to keep our eyes peeled for the next book!

The programme will be broadcast on Saturday 2 April for BBC World Book Club. Don’t miss it!

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