Riveting Reads: on Simonetta Agnello Hornby and Nicola Gardini
The European Literature Network champions international literature – if you aren’t already aware of its activity, do check out its website.
Every month, its Riveting Reviews section features reviews of (mainly) European literature – mostly of works recently translated into English. It also offers a Riveting Reads section, consisting of brief (only a few lines long) recommendations of a wider range of books, including fiction and non-fiction not yet available in English translation, as well as texts published years ago.
Following the publication of my debut novel, That Summer in Puglia, I’m regularly asked how I made the transition from a career in management to one in writing. The question may come from a reader at a book signing, or in a message via social media; those asking it typically work in a business role and tell me they’ve always loved to write.
This post is not an attempt at an exhaustive answer, which would defeat me. Instead, I hope it will provide some helpful points to consider. My reflections have been sparked by a recent event, the Sloan Summit at London Business School to celebrate 50 years of the Sloan MSc Programme there. At the Summit, leadership and change expert Alison Haig-Davies interviewed Gillian Keegan MP and me about our paths to career transformation. Although my fellow-speaker’s activity is not in the arts, the points below about self-knowledge, humility, serendipity, resilience and gratitude were vital to both of us, so I hope they’ll be valuable to others.
Career or vocation?
With writing, are we talking of a career at all? Most published writers do not earn enough from their books, for that to be their only activity. Many hold other jobs: as teachers and critics, for example, but also in very different areas. I write literary fiction, and for me that has the compelling nature of the vocation. I’m also a literary and opera reviewer, a creative-writing teacher, and a board member of an arts festival.
Consider what the true constants in your life are: the ones which feel ‘deeply you’. For me, these include a combination of artistic creativity and structured thinking, and a lifelong love of the arts. My roles in management involved mostly strategy and organisational behaviour work (both disciplines require more creative thinking than many realise, and lots of writing); and I grew up in a family steeped in the arts (my mother an art historian, my father an art dealer), so they always remained an active passion.
I’m one of countless people who have always read voraciously and ‘written well’. But I was conscious that there was much to learn, to be able to write novels: every profession takes years of study and practice. So, I started out by attending a no-pressure creative writing course once a week for some months. The feedback was encouraging and I continued drafting short stories and taking part in a writing group. Eventually, I had a portfolio of fiction, on the strength of which I was admitted to the Goldsmiths MA in Creative & Life Writing. I felt that an MA was the most effective way for me to move up the learning curve. At that point, I had no expectations about where it would lead – I embarked on it because I really loved writing stories and wanted to be able to communicate what I deeply care about to the best of my ability. I also trusted in the power of serendipity: you do your utmost to be good at what you’ve chosen, and when opportunities present themselves you’ll be ready to embrace them.
I accepted from the outset that it’s difficult to get traditionally published, and that rejections of my manuscript were to be expected, in the process of finding ‘a home’ for it – and that it was quite possible it wouldn’t. But even before then – in the course of writing the novel – I had to be open to others’ constructive criticism: being defensive about your work (whatever your field) doesn’t do much to improve it. I also assumed that writing the kind of literary novels I had in mind, and getting published, would take years – and it did.
The process I’ve described requires being sustained by others at different junctures and in a variety of ways. I’m sure that writers convinced of their own genius must exist somewhere – lucky them…! Most of us might instead give up along the way, were it not for the belief in us by those whose judgement we trust: in my case, a couple of friends well versed in literature and philosophy, tutors on the MA, fellow MA students… My writing group, composed of other Goldsmiths graduates, has been and is invaluable: we workshop our pieces in an atmosphere of mutual trust, and have become close friends. And what to say of the generosity of the writers and film director who endorsed the novel? And how about the friends and family whose support takes many forms? And the publisher who made the book ‘happen’? And the authors and journalists who compèred the debut events? This might give you a sense of how many people an author is grateful to and for…! At the same time, when you think about it, that holds true for most lives.
I hope the sharing of these thoughts will be helpful to you and to others you may know who are considering a new career – whether in writing or in other realms. To you all, my warmest wishes.
Images courtesy of Sloan Summit 2018 and Mike Pearce of Mike Pearce Photography. Reproduced with kind permission.
What a delight the blog tour of That Summer in Puglia has been! All authors are a little apprehensive about how their book will be received, and I was no exception: ‘Will the reviewers like my novel?’ ‘Will they care for the aspects which I care most deeply about?’ ‘Will the characters and the places transport them…?’ The answers, happily, were yes, yes, yes…
I’m grateful to those who hosted a stop on the tour and to their fellow bloggers who made the reviews travel far and fast. Literary bloggers give freely of their time. No-one can mandate their emotional engagement or their final verdict. Their chief motivation? Love of reading, writing, learning and sharing. I’d like to thank them by selecting extracts from their reviews. But first, my thanks to Aimee Coveney and Helen McCusker of Bookollective for organising the tour and to Eyewear for publishing the book.
I hope the quotes from the tour will give you a flavour of the novel. You can read additional reviews here.
Blackwell’s bookshelves at the Oxford Literary Festival
‘That Summer in Puglia’ on Blackwell’s Oxford Literary Festival display
Jo Park kicked off on 17 May by hosting an extract from That Summer in Puglia on her Over the Rainbow Book Blog. A stop with a different blogger followed each day until 27 May.
“I have an absolutely great recommendation for you today, one that will melt your heart. […] This is a stunningly beautiful story, made even more wonderful by having Tommaso as the narrator. […] I cried, I rejoiced, I held my breath – and they are just some of the ways That Summer in Puglia hit me.”
“Valeria Vescina writes beautifully. She creates an unbelievable sense of atmosphere and nostalgia. Her depictions of the landscape and architecture of Puglia have made me want to visit this region I’d heard little of but am now slightly obsessed with. […]
What I loved most about this book was that it was a very emotional read. Yes, it’s a love story but it’s so much more than a love story. It’s a reminder of how things can go so very wrong when we try so very hard to do right by those we love. It’s about communication and miscommunication and redemption. It’s about the expectations we have of our parents and those we have of our children. It’s about how we differ in our reactions to anger and grief. I could go on and on. In short, it’s about all of the things that make us fragile, vulnerable, human… […] A perfect book club choice. This book is an impressive debut and I’d certainly love to read more books by Valeria Vescina in the future.”
“I found this to be a totally absorbing debut and loved spending time with the character Tommaso as he recounted the story of his life and loves to a PI who has tracked him down 30 years later. […] The attention to detail was exquisite and the sights and sounds are brought vividly to life through the pages. It had a lovely gentle feel to it throughout and I can’t wait to read more from this author in the future.”
“It was Tommaso that stole my heart… Vescina’s writing is brimming full of emotion and tenderness.
The vibrancy of the town square, the winding backstreets, and Tommaso’s villa and its gardens, conjured up such vivid and vibrant images. I could almost smell the flowers in the beautiful gardens and my mouth watered at the descriptions of the amazing food cooked by Concetta. The whole setting was beautifully atmospheric and so befitting of this amazing love story…
I loved this novel. It had everything you want in a love story. It had passion, betrayal, grief, and loss but most of all it was about the capacity we have in all of us to forgive, to make amends and make the best of what life has to offer. […] A sumptuous, evocative and totally enthralling novel… It is just beautiful.”
“As intense as the heat of an Italian summer. […] As Tommaso and Anna roam the maze of narrow streets that make up the Old Town of Ostuni, taking delight in small things and shared places, there are beautiful descriptions of the ancient town, full of light and shade.
That Summer in Puglia provides a devastating portrait of how love can, in a moment, turn to hate if fuelled by insecurity, jealousy and an inability to trust. And how what often follows just as quickly is regret, guilt, despair and hopelessness. It also shows how a single action, even if done for what is thought are the right reasons, can have unintended and long-lasting consequences, but that sometimes there may be the opportunity to make reparation. The emotional power of Tommaso’s story and the effortless, flowing writing of Valeria Vescina are what will stay with me about That Summer in Puglia.”
“The beautiful descriptions transported me straight there, from the olive trees to the scent of the flowers. […] At its heart, That Summer in Puglia is a love story but it’s so much more than that. It’s a relatable character study full of complexities that oozes atmosphere.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The way we react to certain things in the heat of the moment can have a huge effect. It isn’t until later on, that we maybe think “I could have” or “I shouldn’t have”. As a nineteen year old boy, Tommaso makes some dubious decisions… Did he make the right choices? That’s up to you to find out when you read this novel.
With beautiful descriptions and well-developed rich characters, Valeria Vescina takes us on a moving journey through Tommaso’s life. That Summer in Puglia is a brilliantly written, poignant, thought-provoking character-driven story about young love, loss, grief, family and second chances. An absolutely wonderful debut.”
“It’s a tale touched with sadness and poignancy, tragedy and loss but also one of self-discovery and second chances… At first sight, it’s a simple tale of boy meets girl, but pull back those layers and it’s so much more – Puglia plays its role in being a mix of old and new, white architecture and old town – mixing two worlds which seem separate but which on closer inspection are very similar. The writing was very lyrical, like an ode to a time gone by, a memory – and of course this story is told by the one person who can tell it all as it happened, or at least how he thinks it all took place…”
The Book Trail also features an interview with me on its Authors on Location section. They’re creating an online guide to the real-life places in the novel, too.
I’m a hopeless romantic and I love to travel so I’m thrilled to have That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina on my TBR as I have a feeling it’s going to appeal to both aspects very effectively! Today I’m delighted to be celebrating That Summer in Puglia. by bringing you an interview with Valeria conducted by those lovely folk at Bookollective.
That Summer in Puglia is available for purchase directly from the publisher, Eyewear Books here and on Amazon.
That Summer in Puglia
Tommaso has escaped discovery for thirty years but a young private investigator, Will, has tracked him down. Tommaso asks him to pretend never to have found him. To persuade Will, Tommaso recounts the story of his life and his great love. In the process, he comes to recognise his true role in the events which unfolded, and the legacy of unresolved grief. Now he’s…
“With beautiful descriptions and well-developed rich characters, Valeria Vescina takes us on a moving journey through Tommaso’s life. That Summer in Puglia is a brilliantly written, poignant, thought-provoking character-driven story about young love, loss, grief, family and second chances. An absolutely wonderful debut.”
Thank you, Eva Merckx, for your amazing review of That Summer in Puglia!
It is my pleasure to welcome you all to my stop on the blog tour for That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina! My thanks to the publisher for my review copy and to Aimee at Bookollective for the invitation to join the tour!
Author : Valeria Vescina
Title : That Summer in Puglia
Pages : 303
Publisher : Eyewear Publishing
Publication date : March 12, 2018
Tommaso has escaped discovery for thirty years but a young private investigator, Will, has tracked him down. Tommaso asks him to pretend never to have found him. To persuade Will, Tommaso recounts the story of his life and his great love. In the process, he comes to recognise his true role in the events which unfolded, and the legacy of unresolved grief. Now he’s being presented with a second chance – but is he ready to pay the price it exacts?
I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina and sharing my review of this intense and powerful love story.
Thank you to Aimee at Bookollective for inviting me to join the tour.
About the Book
Tommaso has escaped discovery for thirty years but a young private investigator, Will, has tracked him down.
Tommaso asks him to pretend never to have found him. To persuade Will, Tommaso recounts the story of his life and his great love. In the process, he comes to recognise his true role in the events which unfolded, and the legacy of unresolved grief.
Now he’s being presented with a second chance – but is he ready to pay the price it exacts?
“As you can probably guess from my gushing review, I loved this novel. It had everything you want in a love story… but most of all, it was about the capacity we have in all of us to forgive, to make amends and make the best of what life has to offer. If you want a sumptuous, evocative and totally enthralling novel… then it has to be That Summer In Puglia. It is just beautiful.”
Thank you, Amanda Duncan, for your powerful words.
That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina Eyewear Publishing March 1st 2018
Tommaso has escaped discovery for thirty years but a young private investigator, Will, has tracked him down. Tommaso asks him to pretend never to have found him. To persuade Will, Tommaso recounts the story of his life and his great love. In the process, he comes to recognise his true role in the events which unfolded, and the legacy of unresolved grief. Now he’s being presented with a second chance – but is he ready to pay the price it exacts? That Summer In Puglia is a tale of love, loss, the perils of self-deception and the power of compassion. Puglia offers an ideal setting: its layers of history are integral to the story, itself an excavation of a man’s past; Tommaso’s increasingly vivid memories of its sensuous colours, aromas and tastes, and of how it felt…