RESOURCES FOR THE PRESS AND FOR READERS CURIOUS TO GAIN MORE INSIGHT INTO THAT SUMMER IN PUGLIA
Book launch events:
- Oxford Literary Festival, Friday 23 March 2018, 4 pm to 5 pm – the interviewer was Oxford University lecturer and Il Sole 24 Ore contributor Teresa Franco. An account and images of the event can be found here and here.
- Waterstones Kensington, Tuesday 27 March 2018, 6 pm to 7:30 pm – details here. The interviewer was award-winning writer Rachel Seiffert (A Boy In Winter, The Dark Room, The Walk Home). An account and images of the event can be found here.
- Italian Cultural Institute, London, Monday 16 April 2018, 7 pm to 8:30 pm – details here and here. The interviewer was the acclaimed journalist and presenter Rosie Goldsmith. An account and images of the event can be found here.
Praise for That Summer in Puglia:
- ‘This is an enchanting slow burn of a novel; a notable debut. Vescina’s voice is admirably clear, her descriptions lucid, and her characters are human to the core.’ – Rachel Seiffert
- ‘Very beautiful, surprising and evocative.’ – Simonetta Agnello Hornby
- ‘That Summer in Puglia is rich in insights into human emotions. It’s the tale of the disastrous course even a great love can take if bitterness is allowed to prevail and chances of forgiveness are rejected, but also of the miracles it can work if profoundly experienced and expressed. Valeria Vescina’s style has the fluidity of the great European novelists. Her characterisations are at once vivid and poetic, and the plot ever-surprising. Finally, here is the discovery through literature of Puglia, with its remarkable synthesis of Mediterranean history and cultures – and how appropriate, as this is, deep down, Greek tragedy.’ – Edoardo Winspeare
For reviews and other media coverage of That Summer in Puglia, click here.
Brief overview of That Summer in Puglia
Amazon profile of That Summer in Puglia
Author photographs: in colour and black & white, below. For higher-pixel versions, please contact Booked PR or the author
Publisher: That Summer in Puglia is released by Eyewear Publishing, the independent literary press. Highlights of its recent output include the acclaimed The Collected Poems of Terence Tiller and The Boy From Aleppo Who Painted the War. It’s the publisher of Sadie and the Sadists by the great contemporary poet Paul Muldoon, whose numerous achievements and awards include the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the T.S.Eliot Prize.
Frequently asked questions:
- What is That Summer in Puglia about?
Tommaso has escaped discovery for thirty years – but a young private investigator, Will, has tracked him down in London. Tommaso asks him to pretend never to have found him. To persuade Will, he recounts the story of his life and of his great love, Anna. In the process, he becomes aware of the consequences of unresolved grief and of the power of compassion. That Summer in Puglia is a tale of loss and of the power of love in its many forms.
The Southern Italian region of Puglia provides an ideal setting: its layers of history are integral to the story. Tommaso’s increasingly vivid memories of its sensuous colours, aromas and tastes, and of how it felt to love and be loved, and to grieve, eventually overwhelm and transform the discomforting tone with which he at first tries to keep Will at a distance.
- What are the novel’s themes?
In one of my favourite books of literary criticism, The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist, Orhan Pamuk says that ‘Often the centre emerges as the novel is written’. This was my experience with That Summer in Puglia. I started drafting a story, and trusted that I’d gradually discover what I cared most deeply to communicate. The themes and the connections between them surfaced as the plot and character sketches became a narrative. The entire process was thus partly intuitive, partly analytical – what Pamuk calls being ‘the naïve and the sentimental novelist’.
The main theme of That Summer in Puglia is the timeless value of compassion – not ‘pity’, but the ‘feeling with’ suggested by its Latin root – towards others and oneself. Other themes feature prominently: the perils of unresolved grief; the power of love in its many forms; the importance of dialogue and mildness; the lifelong nature of the task of ‘Know(ing) thyself’. However, compassion is notable for playing a vital role in them all.
It’s one of the strands running through every form of love: from a stranger’s kindness, to the affection of parents and children; from profound friendship, to romantic love, and all the way to the concept of agápē. I hope that as you read That Summer in Puglia you’ll find yourself moving from judging Tommaso to really caring for him, and that his tale will remind you of something marvellous: that not just in fiction, but everywhere around us, acts of love great and small can transform lives.
In the story, unpredictable combinations of factors impact the characters’ internal worlds, relationships and actions. In the process, a theme closely related to compassion is explored: the need to test the goodness of any action by asking whether love for fellow human beings would enjoin us to take it. As philosophers have cautioned since ancient times, certainty of one’s own virtue can too easily slide into self-righteousness.
This is where the theme of the importance of dialogue and mildness comes in – we live in times where the need for them at societal level is more evident than ever, but it starts at a personal and inter-personal one. Open-mindedness and compassion facilitate enormously the task of accepting, transcending or synthesing the contradictions of human existence – what E.M. Forster described as ‘connecting the fragments’ – and, in the process, make for a more peaceful world. The Delphic maxim ‘Know thyself’ relates in obvious ways to this cluster of interdependent themes.
- Can you talk about key stylistic choices you made in this novel?
Throughout the writing of That Summer in Puglia, I aimed for lightness of touch. Here you’ll find a blog post about why and how I pursued a reading experience suffused with lightness and warmth.
Amongst other things, it was important to weave history into the story with lightness, in order to gradually reveal its weight on the characters’ lives. The invitation to speak at the Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre on Fiction and History reflects the centrality of this aspect.
Another key decision was that of narrative form: That Summer in Puglia uses dramatic monologue. Why did I opt for it? The answer is here.
- What is your connection with Puglia? And with the UK?
I was born and brought up in Puglia, where my family of origin still lives. I’ve spent the summer holidays there with them every year, though I’ve resided abroad for a long time. My secondary education in fact took place in Switzerland in a bilingual German and English school, with French our foreign language. I then came to the UK for my undergraduate degree in International Studies, which included a German component and time in Germany. Therafter I lived and worked in London for years, and received two Master’s degrees by University of London colleges. During my career in management, I held strategy, marketing and organisational behaviour roles, where my languages were helpful. I moved back to Switzerland in 2020 but remain very involved with all things literary in the UK.
Elements of various European literary traditions have flowed into my writing. That is hardly surprising for someone who hasn’t simply read books from different cultures and linguistic areas, but who absorbed them since childhood in their own contexts: they naturally ‘decanted’ and blended. So the form of That Summer in Puglia will be utterly familiar to English-language readers, though it also incorporates layers of other European traditions. This occurred naturally, as the characters face universal challenges in settings I could describe authentically.
Being both deeply integrated in the UK and rooted in Italy makes me aware of their cultural nuances – these often reveal similarities beneath the apparent differences, as you’ll see in That Summer in Puglia. I also hope that the novel will help readers discover the cultural richness and huge variety within Southern Italy: the geography of its constituent regions shaped their history and their present. In Puglia, traces of the past surface in unexpected ways: in the art of its early, Hellenised Illyrian settlers; in the remains of Roman cities; in Byzantine paintings and Norman churches; in citadels built on hilltops to withstand attack from the sea; in Emperor Frederic II’s castles; in the palaces, fortifications and churches built under the Anjou, the Aragonese, the Venetians and the Spanish; in its cuisine; and, of course, in its inhabitants.
- What was your journey to becoming a published author?
I’ve been asked to answer the question of how I effected the change from a job in management to that of writing novels. The first thing to say is that there wasn’t a time when I didn’t enjoy writing; the second, that the path to publishing a novel was long; the third, that the degree of continuity between my previous career and a novelist’s might surprise you; and finally, that we all hold the potential for several directions in our lives, but that a given choice may become more obvious or feasible at a later stage.
My first career involved a great deal of writing: on my Master in Management degree, I specialised in strategy and organisational behaviour, and my jobs called on these two disciplines. Their intersection requires genuine interest in people, and a mixture of structured thinking and creative problem-solving, all of which are helpful when writing a novel, too. My work experience turned out to be also a rich source of insights into human existence.
The arts are a constant in my life. My mother is an art historian and my father directed a gallery of twentieth-century art, so our home was a busy harbour for painters, sculptors, poets, novelists, historians, actors, composers… Some of my earliest memories are of sitting down with books of old-master paintings. Aside from writing, I especially loved music – I’ve never stopped studying it.
My journey as a novelist has gone hand in hand with commitment to the value of the arts and humanities, as I feel strongly that they nourish us as individuals and societies: their economic impact may defy easy measurement, but that on everyone’s well-being and happiness is immense.
I did an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths (University of London), whose Faculty boasts superb authors. Their teaching, feedback and encouragement were invaluable. I learnt much from fellow-students, too; a few of us formed a highly supportive writing group which still meets regularly. My activity as a critic includes literary and opera reviews for the European Literature Network (and its magazine The Riveter), Seen And Heard International and the School of Advanced Study’s Talking Humanities. I’ve been involved since 2013 with First Story, a charity which transforms lives through writing. I’m also a director and trustee of the Hampstead Arts Festival of music and words, whose literary programme I curate. I’ve taught creative writing lectures and workshops for two universities, three London boroughs, St Paul’s Girls’ School and NAWE 2016 and 2018 (the annual conferences of the National Association of Writers in Education). For a post specifically about the transition to writing as a second career, see here.
My second novel, which I’m currently researching, will be set in Southern Italy in the late 1500s. It will explore the challenges facing women’s lives from an angle that I hope will cut through the centuries.