Wednesday, 9 May 2012

"The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy" is here!

I am rather delighted to welcome Catherine McNamara to the blog, to talk about her novel, just out, all new and lovely! I love this bloggy thing - you get to meet and natter with writers from all over. Catherine lives in Italy and that inspired the novel. We decided to have a natter via email, and I started by zapping straight into the rather obvious issue of ageism in the world of publishing.  Strikes me that our age shouldn't matter. But it seems to...and we can do not a lot about it.

 I am beginning to recognise ageism in the system. Are you, and if so, how does it look?
Catherine, at the London launch
In my twenties I wrongly assumed I would be a feted literary novelist after I did well in a major Australian competition, but then I went to Africa as a young diplomatic wife and had babies! At that stage I didn’t realise how much editing and determination were required to follow through with a book, and sort of left off. This was also pre-internet, years ago, when any sort of isolation hit hard. When I came back to writing as a forty-year-old woman it used to chafe that I would no longer be the next-bright-thing, and I was quick to realise that the market does court young beautiful men or women with a gifted stage presence rather than mothers – goodness anything but mothers!
It is possible to suffer the effects of ageism and feel jaded and left aside, but I believe in turning things around in a big way. Women while under-represented in all areas of literature are still the greatest readers and buyers of books. Women possess different receptors, women blog more, women belong to book clubs. Women are more agile communicators and used to operating on the diverse levels that reflect our multi-layered lives – motherhood, academia, literature, gossiping, shoes, politics. Sure there are lots of lovely lasses and lads out there with fresh young coming-of-age books, but we have lived longer, dug deeper, honed our skills.   

Anything but mothers? How about grandmothers? heavens. I ought to be in my bath chair knitting and drooling. Not writing novels.  Hee!  Ahem. On with the questions. You have this great book out, just, with Indigo Dreams.  A collection of short stories on the chocks too. Congratulations. And I read on your blog that you write both commercial and literary work. How does that happen? How do you know what a piece of work is going to be when you are just setting out?
Thank you! I’ve been publishing short stories on and off for years, mainly because I love the pace and cadences of a short story, and a novel requires commitment and completely different wiring. Everything I have written except ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ has been ‘serious’ if you like, whereas when I thought of the title and the first line of this unashamed ladies’ book, I really wondered what would come next and just ran with it. I sat in my chicken shed with green tea and my laptop for four or five months and the story just became crazier and crazier, as many of my frustrations with Italy came to the surface. I so much wicked fun with my characters. Short story writing, however, comes from a different place and involves a different sort of story-weaving. The trigger is still there but I feel a driving pressure, with the resolving of the story’s issues paramount and looming ahead.
With DLC I enjoyed the idea of making people laugh though it felt very unnatural at first. I never imagined I would be writing comedy and had to understand what I was trying to achieve. We all thrive on laughter – and in Italy there is just too much subject matter to ignore – and yet as the book came out in a hilarious flow (there are passages that still make me smirk) I had to overcome a feeling of uncertainty in leaving off with ‘literary’ writing and entering the ‘mature ladies’ chicklit’ category, even though I’ve been told it’s not exactly this. I think for a minute I thought it might be easier to publish a women’s commercial book rather than the unwieldy literary novel I had been peddling (or worse, a book of short stories) but it proved to be an incredibly competitive field with thousands of excellent books out there.
You are living in Italy - which sounds wonderful (to those of us stuck in English villages looking out at the grey sky, not an Italian in sight) - How did this come about at the start? What have you learned? Is it as you imagined it would be? And what are the best and worst things about being displaced, speaking from a writer's perspective?
Pic from Catherine, specially for us!
I was married to an Italian economist for many years so Italy has been in my life for a long stretch. I grew up in Australia, came to Paris, then disappeared to Africa for over a decade. I came back to Italy to raise kids in the countryside where I had a house. Writing in isolation can quickly lead to depression, although for me the internet has provided new reference points and allowed me access to others in the same boat, instant information, networking possibilities, publishing contacts. Sometimes I wish I had a writing group but I realise I am also quite solitary. I love the divide between speaking Italian and writing in English. And yet now that I my novel has been released I find that I am restricted in organising readings and promotional events, so – turning this around – I have decided to tap into the substantial expat market in Europe (international bookshops in Milan/Florence/Rome) and I’ll be catching a few cheap flights to the UK this summer. I was able to organise my book launch by phone, a festival appearance via email, and possibly a trip to Indonesia next year for a joint Australian-Indonesian festival!

A lot of my book is about taking the mickey out of Italian women who age so uncomfortably (read Botox) and often have short bald partners. The nation is like a Fellini film set! And yet in the country here I have great cherry trees and am surrounded by vineyards and villas. Even the foggy winter has its charm and we have the Dolomites up the highway for skiing.
Ha! Sounds great fun. So, what are you working on now?
Currently I am working on promoting ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Italy’ in the UK, and am preparing for launches in the US and Australia. I’ve waited a long time to have a novel published so am throwing myself every which way and enjoying every moment.
I do miss the thrill of writing a new story and feel like an internet hustler most days, but until I understand what goes on with book promotion I’ll keep trying. In the near future I have to begin editing the short stories and this will be pure joy – my dream has always been to publish a book of short stories!
Thank you Vanessa for having me here and the best of luck with your work! Catherine

My pleasure - and peeps can find out a lot about you and the book by reading this  post from your blog. And here is a link to  the novel's Amazon page.  Good luck with the book - enjoy the ride!

CATHERINE MCNAMARA grew up in Sydney and studied visual communication and African and Asian modern history before moving to Paris. She worked in pre-war Mogadishu and later lived nine years in Accra, Ghana, where she ended up running a bar and traditional art gallery. She moved to northern Italy several years ago, where her jobs have included translating welding manuals and modelling shoes. She has impressive collections of African sculpture and Italian heels.

Her book ‘Pelt and Other Stories’ will be published by IDP in 2013.

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