That Summer in Puglia blog tour: review by Cathy Johnson

“The emotional power of Tommaso’s story and the effortless, flowing writing of Valeria Vescina is what will stay with me about That Summer in Puglia.”

Thank you, Cathy Johnson, for your detailed, thoughtful review on the What Cathy Read Next book blog.

What Cathy Read Next...

That Summer in Puglia Blog Tour

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.


That Summer in PugliaAbout 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?

Format: Paperback (303 pp.)    Publisher:Eyewear Publishing
Published: 1st March 2018        Genre: Fiction, Romance

Purchase Links

View original post 797 more words

Video: review of That Summer in Puglia

Claire Lyons' blog picture

Today I had the wonderful surprise of a review of That Summer in Puglia by video. It comes from the fabulous literary blogger Claire Lyons and you can watch it on her website, Mrs. Average Evaluates, by clicking here.

Some excerpts from the video-review of the novel:

“So carefully written and incredibly evocative.”

“A very passionate book.”

“Shakespearean mix-ups and misunderstandings and lack of communication…”

“…and it’s about youth, and about parenting, and about loss… It’s a super book.”

“I’d love you to read this. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book.”

I’m grateful to Claire Lyons for her warm, powerful words.

 

Image credit:

Image courtesy of https://www.mrsaverageevaluates.co.uk/

 

Blog Tour and Review of That Summer in Puglia

A beautiful review of That Summer in Puglia. My thanks to reviewer Ann Marie of NYC-based Lit Wit Wine Dine for communicating with such clarity and warmth her perceptive reading of the novel.

Below are images of short extracts of the review. I encourage you to click here to access the full article on this excellent literary blog site.

 

Picture of Liwitwinedine extract 1

Picture of Liwitwinedine extract

And here is another invitation to read the full review on the Lit Wit Wine Dine blog.  

LitWitWineDine instagram post

Image credits:

Images courtesy of https://litwitwinedine.com/

 

Launch of ‘That Summer in Puglia’ at the Italian Cultural Institute, London

Valeria and Rosie
Valeria and Rosie

A presentation of That Summer in Puglia took place on 16 April in the elegant surroundings of the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square. The Institute is a governmental organisation dedicated to promoting knowledge of Italy’s language and culture and to encouraging cultural and scientific collaboration with England and Wales.

My interviewer was Rosie Goldsmith, the acclaimed journalist, presenter, literary critic, Chair of the EBRD Prize, and much more! I’m so grateful to Rosie for her perceptive, engaged and knowledgeable questions.

Our discussion was introduced by Marco Delogu, Director of the Institute, under whose stewardship the organisation has hosted an exciting line-up of events across the arts and sciences. Check out the Institute’s rich schedule of forthcoming and past events here. Guests on the Literature side of the programme have included Roberto Calasso, Sandro Veronesi, Domenico Starnone, Ali Smith, Elif Shafak, Ben Okri, Jhumpa Lahiri… to name but a few.

Todd Swift, Director of Eyewear Publishing, spoke briefly about That Summer in Puglia before leaving Rosie and me to discuss the book in detail. Our conversation touched on plot, characters, setting, themes and structure, but also on aspects of various literary traditions (English, yes, but also Italian, German and French) which have flowed into it because of my personal history.

Marco Delogu introducing Valeria and Rosie
Marco Delogu’s introduction
Todd Swift introducing Valeria and Rosie
Todd Swift’s introduction

Many of the questions from the public were focused on the cross-cultural aspects of the novel and on the writing process: why had Puglia inspired me? Why is it an ideal setting for this particular story? Where does my detailed knowledge of Ostuni stem from? Which language do I consider to be my “mother tongue” and why? Having grown up in various countries, what are my views on cultural identity? How long did it take me to develop the plot, and how did I go about it?

Meeting people after the talk was a real joy. It was lovely to discover the variety of emotional resonances the book has for different people. I had been prepared for the fact that each reader will respond to certain aspects of a story more than to others, but I hadn’t expected how warmly people would share profound reflections and anecdotes from their lives. I’m very grateful to them.

Valeria signing books
Signing books
Books display by The Italian Bookshop
Book display at the Institute by The Italian Bookshop

Image credits:

The photos ‘Valeria and Rosie’, ‘Signing books’ and ‘Book display at the Institute by The Italian Bookshop’ are courtesy of Rosie Goldsmith, and reproduced with kind permission.

Rights to the photos ‘Marco Delogu’s introduction’ and ‘Todd Swift’s introduction’ are my own.

 

 

Launch of ‘That Summer in Puglia’ at Waterstones, Kensington

Waterstones, Kensington, hosted the London launch of That Summer in Puglia on 27 March, just four days after the Oxford Literary Festival debut. The launch took the form of a conversation with award-winning author Rachel Seiffert (A Boy in Winter, The Dark Room, The Walk Home), after an introduction by Alexandra Payne, Managing Editor of Eyewear Publishing. I’m very grateful to Rachel for her support: one of my tutors on the Goldsmiths MA in Creative Writing, she saw the novel develop from its early stages.

Her interview centred on three extracts from That Summer in Puglia, to introduce the audience to the principal characters and their relationships as well as to the book’s style and themes. Our discussion flowed naturally from there. The public contributed questions, comments and personal experiences. The book is set in the southern Italian region of Puglia, but its themes are universal: the perils of unresolved grief; the importance of all forms of love; the relationship between love and virtue.

The Waterstones event being only the second on my schedule, it was heartening to spot in the audience a great number of familiar faces: friends, and Goldsmiths MA faculty and colleagues. I’m so grateful to them all for sustaining me during the process of writing the novel. The Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Cllr. Marie-Thérèse Rossi, and Cllrs. Addenbrooke and Pascall attended in their official capacity, as a gesture of civic gratitude: I was touched, as I’ve taught creative writing workshops at Kensington Central Library since 2013 on a pro bono basis, but hadn’t expected special thanks. I’m grateful also to Waterstones, and especially to its Kensington events manager, for the organisation and publicity. As a debut author, seeing the shop window filled with my books felt slightly surreal.

The next London presentation of That Summer in Puglia will be at the Italian Cultural Institute on 16 April at 7 pm. The interviewer will be Rosie Goldsmith, the acclaimed journalist, presenter, literary critic and Chair of the EBRD Prize.

Press enquiries: please email publicist Helen McCusker, Booked PR (tel: +44 (0) 7951 078388), or you may contact me here.

Foreign rights enquiries: please contact Eyewear Publishing.

Image credits:

All rights reserved.

 

Oxford Literary Festival debut of ‘That Summer in Puglia’

Valeria Vescina and Teresa Franco
Author Valeria Vescina and interviewer Teresa Franco

That Summer in Puglia had its debut at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival on 23 March. This was Italian Day, when the Festival – in co-operation with the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute – annually showcases Italian culture. My interviewer at St. Cross College was University of Oxford academic and Il Sole 24 Ore Arts & Culture contributor Teresa Franco – sensitive, knowledgeable and insightful. We were introduced by poet Todd Swift, Director of Eyewear Publishing. The audience was large, warm and engaging.

The day closed with a memorable Italian Gala Dinner at Lincoln College, hosted by the Director of the Festival, the College Rector and the Italian Embassy. The latter was represented by Minister Counselor Vincenzo Celeste and Head of Culture Federico Bianchi, both of whom had attended the launch of That Summer in Puglia, an honour for which I’m grateful. The Gala Dinner menu was devised by acclaimed chef and cookery writer Eleonora Galasso.

I wrote That Summer in Puglia in English, my literary mother tongue, but the story is set mostly in Puglia (southern Italy), where I was born and grew up. I was educated in Switzerland and the UK, and today live and work in London, but I’ve spent the holidays with family in my native region every year.

Puglia offered an ideal setting: its visible layers of history are integral to the story, a man’s excavation of his past. The region’s distinctive culture provided a framework for testing the characters and exploring the main themes: the role of all forms of love in human life; and the relationship between love and virtue.

I also hope the novel will help readers discover the cultural richness and variety within Southern Italy, by immersing them in an authentically Apulian atmosphere. In Puglia, traces of the past surface in unexpected ways: from the art of its early, Hellenised Illyrian settlers, to Byzantine paintings, Norman churches, and the palaces and fortifications built under the Anjou, the Aragonese, the Venetians and the Spanish. The region’s cuisine and inhabitants bear living testimony to the passage of all these cultures.

The moment of That Summer in Puglia’s debut is also one of gratitude for and to all those who have sustained me throughout the process of writing the novel: family, friends, colleagues, teachers… and the authors and publisher who have encouraged and championed my work. To you all, my deepest thanks. A book about the importance of all forms of love would not have been possible without you.

Press enquiries: please email publicist Helen McCusker, Booked PR (tel: +44 (0) 7951 078388), or you may contact me here.

Foreign rights enquiries: please contact Eyewear Publishing.

 

Image credits:

Julia Warszewski, all rights reserved.

 

Astonishingly modern 18th-century opera

piccinni-Aurelia
Barbara Massaro as Aurelia in Le Donne Vendicate

Recently I reviewed three operas for Seen And Heard International.  Two of them – one by Piccinni, the other by Vivaldi – date to the eighteenth century but are astonishingly modern in their questioning of gender stereotypes.  This is all the more striking, at a time when the gender pay gap at the BBC and a divisive memo by a Google employee about gender and diversity initiatives are making the headlines.

The two operas formed part of the engaged and engaging programming of the Festival della Valle d’Itria, one of Italy’s oldest opera festivals.  Located in Puglia and now in its forty-third edition, this year it adopted the theme ‘Love and Mars’ – not the more usual ‘Venus and Mars’ because one of the programme’s fils rouges was the querying of gender roles.  That querying was not an anachronistic re-interpreting of the relevant operas by their directors, but faithful to their texts and music.

The first of the two operas is Le Donne Vendicate (The Women’s Revenge) by Niccoló Piccinni (1728-1800), with a libretto derived from the Enlightenment playwright, Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793).  See review here.

S&HI Le Donne Vendicate 2The second is Orlando Furioso by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), with a libretto by Grazio Braccioli (1682-1752) based on the eponymous work by the Renaissance poet Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533).  See review here.

S&HI Orlando FuriosoBoth works are steeped in the experimentation and questioning of the Enlightenment (and, in Ariosto’s case, in that current of Renaissance humanism which sided with women in the Querelle des Femmes but lost out during the Counter Reformation), but periods of significant cultural ferment have, historically, alternated with others of retrenchment, resulting in historical discontinuities.

Both operas were born of a spirit of respect for the worth of all human beings, which by definition is irrespective of gender, social class, race or religion.  The Goldoni behind Le Donne Vendicate is representative of – whilst also being influential on – that aspect of his era.  In his oeuvre, morality rests not in time-honoured hierarchies, mores and tenets, but in a psychologically profounder sense of what is just, good and wise.  Meanwhile, the hero of Braccioli’s Orlando is Astolfo, whose blend of mildness and courage enable the overcoming of all manner of obstacles.  Maybe we should be rediscovering early operas more frequently, for the shock of the old to inform the new.

The third opera reviewed at the Festival della Valle d’Itria for Seen And Heard International is Margherita d’Anjou by Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864) with libretto by Felice Romani (1788-1865).  See review here.

S&HI Margherita d'Anjou

Image credits:

Photo of Barbara Massaro as Aurelia in Le Donne Vendicate, courtesy of Festival della Valle d’Itria.

Photos of the town of Martina Franca (home of the Festival della Valle d’Itria) by the author. All rights reserved.

Images of reviews of Le Donne Vendicate, Orlando Furioso and Margherita d’Anjou from Seen And Heard International website.

 

 

 

Lightness of thoughtfulness: why aspire to it?

There is such a thing as a lightness of thoughtfulness, just as we all know that there is a lightness of frivolity. In fact, thoughtful lightness can make frivolity seem dull and heavy.’ Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Throughout the writing of That Summer in Puglia, I aimed for lightness of touch as a contrast to the intensity of my protagonist’s narration and to the themes’ depth.  I am not suggesting that the pull of gravity characterising many outstanding novels is unwarranted, but that it is not a ‘must’ in order to tackle universal themes.  In fact, much great literature – from Cervantes and Sterne to Kafka – results from an author’s leap above reality to render it from a refreshing perspective.

‘Lightness’ can take many forms, being shaped by countless combinations of the elements of writing.  Calvino cites examples as diverse as the work of Ovid, Lucretius, Boccaccio, Emily Dickinson, Henry James…  Yes, the very Henry James who coined the phrase ‘solidity of specification’ to extol the virtues of realism in fiction.  So how does solidity square with lightness?  Well, not only it can, but I find that it’s when this challenge is most successfully met that the author shifts my perception of everyday life.  Gabriel Josipovici, in his outstanding The Teller and The Tale, makes the case for Muriel Spark’s ability to convey ‘the broad and humane vision of a Sophocles or a Shakespeare’ through ‘novels of incomparable lightness’.  He also cites the ‘plethora of tiny details’ in a paragraph from À La Recherche which puts half-known sensations into words, altering for ever how you think of a pillow: ‘I would lay my cheeks gently against the comfortable cheeks of my pillow, as plump and fresh as the cheeks of my childhood.’  To me, this too is an example of lightness – emerging out of material detail, no less than the more famous ‘madeleine moment’.  In Proust’s hands, it’s a kind of alchemy.

Sleeping Child by John Singer Sargent, The Met, Public Domain 50-130-141y

Sleeping Child, by John Singer Sargent

When I began writing the novel, I felt the need to suffuse it with lightness – but how to go about it?  Each story presents a unique set of challenges.  I trusted that I’d find answers to my question during the process of writing, which for me is a combination of the intuitive and the analytical – and therefore an exciting quest, as I don’t know exactly where it will lead even as I seek to steer my way.  My protagonist Tommaso is passionate about ancient classics – he becomes a tutor in Latin and ancient Greek.  Yet, for all his knowledge of Plato or Lucretius, he is incapable of absorbing and transmuting their teaching into practical wisdom – until he learns of a transformative act of compassion by the young woman he loved. Various people offer him chances of viewing others and events from a different perspective, but for a long time he is ‘stuck’, mired in heaviness, the legacy of unresolved grief. Tommaso thus presented me with a double challenge: he is a narrator whose classical points of reference wouldn’t necessarily be familiar to all readers; and I needed him to convey that for years he actually didn’t understand the essence of his beloved classics.

I decided that Tommaso’s mental images would draw on his classical points of reference, but that these would appear unobtrusively: his erudition should feel natural in view of his personal history, but it should not intrude on the reading experience.  For example, a sentence like ‘The owl, the brittle coins, and row upon row of my father’s tomes, looked on – my faithful guardian spirits,’ carries echoes of domestic lares and columbaria; whether readers recognise this or not is unimportant: what matters is that the sentence should still evoke the feelings and atmosphere of moments described elsewhere in the novel and which Tommaso is re-experiencing.  Similarly, his great love’s waist being ‘sculpted more delicately than in my waking dreams’ should work in its own right, even though the suggestion is that he unconsciously sees her as his Galatea come to life.  Where references are more explicit, such as his in-passing thoughts about Plato’s treatment of love, I have left it for the reader to decide what Tommaso may have grasped and what he may have missed.  Throughout, I sought to strike a balance between clarity and ambiguity so as to set readers free to fill in the blanks based on their own perspectives, everyone a unique person engaging with the characters.

Allusions to fairy tales fit within the same principle of lightness.  A local folktale which features in the novel is a reminder of the persistence of human ideals and limitations – of the humanness Tommaso struggles for a long time to accept in himself and others.  It also foreshadows events and feelings in his life.  And although the symbolism of the owl in the fairy tale could vary depending on iconographical settings, here it points to the value of wisdom: Puglia, where the story unfolds, was colonised by Greeks and Illyrians for centuries before their capitulation to Rome, but whether they called the goddess of wisdom Athena or Minerva, the owl was her attribute.

Tetradrachm Athens, 480-420 BC

Tetradrachm, Athens, 480-420 BC

Elements as disparate as humour and food also present possibilities for lightness of touch.  I introduced humour wherever possible, partly because it bridges the ‘extremes of despair and futility’ (Comte-Sponville), and partly for variety of tone.  I also gave prominence to memories of food, which convey an embodied knowledge of culture, identity, and relationships.  One of my future blog posts will be on Apulian recipes – four thousand years of history revealed by the region’s cuisine.

Artefacts were present even at the embryonic, instinctive stage of drafting That Summer in Puglia, and this I ascribe to their mnemonic resonances.  I then focused on artefacts in my quest for lightness.  The oil lamp and the casts of ancient coins in the novel drive forward the action, but they are also witnesses, recurring motifs and symbols of lost worlds (ancient and personal for Tommaso); they illuminate key themes by suggesting that people can be as fragile as plaster casts.  In summary, artefacts help define characters and relationships in ways we can all sense, without any need for the author to convey them pointedly through dialogue or musings.

The setting helped, though my choice of Puglia, where I was born, was intuitive.  Puglia offers a ‘framework’ which shapes and tests the characters; and the legacy of its disparate historical eras invites awareness not only of the ebb and flow of generations, but also of the possible happy bridging of different perspectives.  The fictional protagonists walk through the streets of Ostuni, where past and present collide and combine – and with them tradition and modernity, religion and secularism…

It’s impossible for authors to know the ways in which their work will be perceived – and there’ll be as many ways as there are readers.  I hope my pursuit of lightness will have created space for others to fill in with personal meaning.

Photo credits:

Sleeping Child by John Singer Sargent, 1872-73, The Met. Reproduced under CC License.

Owl standing right, head facing. Reverse of a silver tetradrachm from Athens, ca. 480–420 BC, Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.  Reproduced under CC License.