Okay my Finders, today, an interview with Catherine McNamara, a Finder and writer who lives in Italy and who has just released her super fun book:
Why Italy? Did you come to Italy to live ‘La Dolce Vita’?
I came to live in Veneto, north-eastern Italy, in 2002 after nine years in West Africa. I owned a house there with my first husband who is Italian. I was freshly separated, with four smallish kids, and moved into a damp and freezing farmhouse on the foggy plains. It was about as far from the ‘La Dolce Vita’ as I am from Brad Pitt in his underwear at this moment.
Your novel ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ speaks about a forty-plus English divorcée who follows a neighbour to Milan, a neighbour who found love on a singles trip to Macchu Pichu. Why bring Macchu Pichu into it?
In fact Macchu Pichu has nothing to do with it. It is where my protagonist’s neighbour supposedly finds LOVE AFTER FORTY with a Milanese solicitor who whisks her off to Italy to her new stylish life. The novel begins when Marilyn Wade – my protagonist and divorcée – flees to Milan in this woman’s wake, hoping to be blessed with some of her spectacular good luck. But Marilyn discovers that sexy glamorous Milan is as unfeeling as a Prada bag, with vicious botoxed women and streets full of mile-high models, immigrants and remarkable men in suits.
You’ve been writing and publishing short stories on and off for years, why commercial women’s fiction, why this woman’s story?
I’ve published a lot of short stories but not had any luck with literary novels. It’s such a hard slog. The idea for DLC popped up one summer when a friend suggested I write something set in Italy, something funny. I pooh-poohed the thought until one hot August morning, driving from her town to mine, I suddenly felt a first sentence and the thread of a novel. I wrote in the chicken shed until the end of the summer.
Why this woman?
Marilyn is the opposite from me – she is curvy and passive. I am more of a soldier-on type of gal who knows what she wants. But Marilyn arose after seeing the pressure that forty-plus women often put themselves under: to look good (with shocking artificial results) and display family harmony (when most mothers of teens are badgered and exhausted). I dislike the way the forty-plus woman has to pretend she is something she is not, and how her growing older is viewed with a sense of deterioration and loss. Marilyn’s adventures are sexual, sensual and (apart from that young agronomist) age-appropriate.
Do you think it is possible to write both commercial and literary fiction?
I don’t really think too much before I write. There’s never been any big plan. This book came into being of its own accord, and was a great laugh to write down. I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun as I had thinking up Marilyn’s next chapter in Italy. It was very soothing to utilise so many irritating and hilarious aspects of contemporary Italy (small bald man game show host/Amazonian girl flipping cards) and to include the migrants who are now a part of modern Italian society.
For me, literary fiction comes from a different place. A slower and more tempered voice inside. But it is still story-telling, still a channel to the reader.
Marilyn, your protagonist, has a challenging time learning the Italian language and discovers a very effective study technique with her young agronomist lover. Do you think you can ever feel at home in a foreign language, in a foreign culture?
Marilyn’s language learning techniques are the oldest in the book (while not being book-based at all). Some say it is the only way to learn a language. As for feeling at home in a country where my Italian ex no longer lives and I am the sole Anglophone parent, I do. I know I am perceived as a foreigner, especially in the countryside where I live, but that has never stopped me having political views or expectations for my kids, or an understanding of how to behave. (They don’t always laugh at my jokes – or me at theirs.) Once you speak the language well, I think you can feel just as inside or outside of your skin as you might in your country of origin.
Tell us about your path to publication. Has it been close to what you expected? What next?
After I wrote DLC I put it aside and went back to short story writing, publishing a few pieces. Initially I thought DLC would be embraced by the publishing world but I quickly learned that competition in the commercial women’s fiction field was just as vigorous as anywhere else. I had an agent interested, but she asked that the sex be toned down, and said she was uncertain how to market it. I let the project lag then summoned the energy to do a total rewrite, a 5-in-the-morning stretch. I sent it to an independent publisher whose interview on a writing site was inspiring and earnest, following their submission procedure. I was expecting the usual rejection. I won’t tell you how many Camparis I threw back the day the acceptance email came through.
The editing process has been long and thorough. A lot of my insane language has been untangled through months of work with an editor who, though he was far from my target market, still paid the book many compliments.
Next year, my publisher Indigo Dreams Publishing UK will be producing my first short story collection, ‘Pelt and Other Stories’. This is something I never thought would happen – a book of my own short stories – and is extremely important to me.
Favourite Italian drink? Prosecco or caffè corretto? And does George Clooney really have a walk-on in your book?
This is a hard one. Currently as the temperature is warming and I am in a festive mood, I’d say I would prefer a good, chilled prosecco. And yes, Mr. Clooney does graze shoulders with a mischievous character in the book.
Cat’s book is available here (you know you want one):
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, moved to Paris to study French, and ended up in Ghana running a bar. She now lives in Italy and works as a translator for a WWI Ecomuseum in Asiago. Her women’s commercial novel ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ will be published by Indigo Dreams Publishing UK in April 2012. Her short story collection ‘Pelt and Other Stories’ will be out in 2013. She has also published a children’s book ‘Nii Kwei’s Day’, set in Ghana.