It’s Meet the Author Monday! Each week we meet a new author and get to know a little about them, their writing process, publishing experience, and tips for other writers. Today we’re talking to Francesca Scanacapra, author of Paradiso and Return to Paradiso (coming soon).
About Francesca Scanacapra:
Francesca Scanacapra was born in Italy to an English mother and Italian father, and her childhood was spent living between England and Italy. Her adult life has been somewhat nomadic and she has pursued an eclectic mixture of career paths, including working as a technical translator between Italian, English, Spanish and French, a gym owner in Spain, an estate agent in France, a property developer in France and Senegal, and a teacher. Francesca lives in Dorset and currently works as a builder with her husband. She has two children.
Italy, 1937. In a tiny village in rural Lombardy, Graziella Ponti is born into a loving family.
Though they are not rich and life is full of challenges, they are content and safe, surrounded by the tightly-knit community of Pieve Santa Clara.
But when the shadow of World War Two falls across the village with the arrival of Nazi soldiers, nothing in young Graziella’s life will ever be the same again.
Paradiso is Graziella’s story. It charts her loves, losses and triumphs as she grows up in post-war Italy, a country in transformation, freed from the shackles of dictatorship yet still gripped by the restraints of the Catholic church.
Paradiso is inspired by true stories told to Francesca Scanacapra by her Italian family and set in locations where she spent much of her childhood. It is a deeply affecting novel which sheds light on the complexity and trauma of Italy’s past and weaves it into the epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live in extraordinary times.
This stunning historical read is perfect for fans of Dinah Jeffries, Rhys Bowen, Victoria Hislop, Angela Petch and Heather Morris.
Author Interview with Francesca Scanacapra:
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- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
In general, I research as I write and as I come across things which require clarification, or detail. Much of my historical and psychological research is done online and I enjoy it very much as often I will come across information which spawns new ideas. The length of time I spend researching varies. It can be as brief as a quick glimpse of a Wikipedia page, or it can be far more involved.
With the first draft of Paradiso and its sequel, Return to Paradiso, I made the rookie error of including far too much of the historical research which I had undertaken in the novel, which interrupted the story. Learning that lesson hasn’t lessened the amount of research I do, but it has taught me to use it in a way which supports the story as opposed to obscuring it.
Reading early to mid 20th century Italian literature has also been a great help when it comes to research and getting a feel for the historical period. Novels and short stories by Alberto Moravia, Italo Calvino and Giovanni Guareschi, which were contemporary literature when they were written, give great insight into the attitudes, expectations and social norms of the time.
- What comes first, the plot or characters?
The plot versus characters question is a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma. For me so far it has been a combination of both. I have a lot of different themes and plot ideas simmering away in my head, and the same applies to characters. The alchemy starts to happen when they collide.
I would love to say that once those collisions occur I write a plan and stick to it, but that hasn’t happened so far. I do put a timeline together, which is essential as everything I have written takes place over a number of years, but apart from that I just start writing and trust that it will all come together. I don’t start the writing process at the beginning of the story. I dive in and write scenes which I’m ‘feeling’ in that moment and eventually they all link up. I like to think of a novel as growing organically. During the process different plot twists and connections emerge; some are worth keeping, others are scrapped. Characters turn up; some stay, some don’t. I put a lot of faith in serendipity.
- Where do you get your inspiration?
The short answer to that is – everywhere and anywhere. Inspiration can be found in the books I read and films I watch; in people I meet, or have met; in day-to-day life and in particular for the Paradiso Novels, from memories of my Italian grandparents and the stories of their lives.
For me, producing a novel isn’t limited to the time I spend in the physical act of writing. Whatever I’m in the process of creating occupies all the space in my head and I find myself processing everything I see and hear in terms of its usefulness for writing.
Is it an obsession? Yes, but hopefully a healthy one and certainly a fruitful one. I couldn’t write a novel unless I felt totally immersed in it.
- Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers?
Yes. I am currently in the process of finishing a novel entitled ‘A Tale of Familiar Strangers’. It is once again in the historical fiction genre and takes place in the same era as the Paradiso Novels, but it is darker and grittier. Set largely in Bologna’s orphanages and brothels, it is a story of tragic misunderstandings, forgiveness and redemption.
The novel explores the effects of separation between mothers and children from both perspectives. It was not until I was at least half way through writing it that I realised what a personal connection I had to this theme. I see very little of my mother as we live in different countries and the same applies to my two children, who have both moved overseas. The yearning for more than a video call transposed itself into my writing.
- Is writing your full-time career? Or would you like it to be?
For the moment I still have a day job. My career path has veered in many different directions and has ranged from legal and technical translation, to property development, to owning and running a leisure facility. For a time I also had an online clothing company. However, none of these professional activities have meant anything to me beyond a means to make a living. Writing is the only thing which fires my drive and my ambition and makes me want to improve, progress and be successful.
Four years ago I gave up teaching and translation in order to work with my husband, who is a builder; not because I saw it as a career move in itself, but because doing a manual job leaves my head clear to write. I have had many good ideas whilst mixing cement and laying patios. Nevertheless, I look forward, very hopefully, to the day that I can hang up my trowel and put away my shovel.