Wednesday 23 October 2019

Author Profile and Interview with Fiorella de Maria

Author Profile and Interview with Fiorella de Maria 

Fiorella de Maria AKA Fiorella Nash instantly became one of my favorite authors, after I finished reading a first book. After finishing that first one by her I purchased all that were in print, and worked towards tracking down the others. I have now read 7 of 10 and have greatly appreciated them all. She was born of Maltese parents in Italy, and her Maltese heritage and culture comes through in many of her novels. The more of her works I read the more I felt she was a Maltese James Joyce. She has written one biography of a saint, several novels and one other non-fiction work. She has both a BA and MA in literature. And she recently took some time to answer 20 questions for the readers here at Book Reviews and More. So in her own words Fiorella:

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How are you nurturing that dream?

I have wanted to be a writer since I was about seven, but I would pay good money not to see anything I wrote as a child! Everything I wrote at the time was some kind of reflection of whatever I was reading – the Narnia stories, Alice in Wonderland, the Magic Faraway Tree. At boarding school, I told bedtime stories to my friends to relax them or cheer them up. I feel very privileged now to do a job I love so much and to be able to write every day. 

2. Who were some of the biggest supporters of your writing?

I think my parents had rather conflicting feelings about me pursuing writing as a career, since it is such a hard way to earn a living, but they were always very supportive and I had some fantastic English teachers, who really encouraged me. When I was around eleven, I was very unhappy at school and my academic standards were slipping. I had this teacher called Mr. Quest and he really encouraged me to take more risks with my writing and just to let my imagination run riot. I feel like I owe his early intervention into my education not only for giving me the hope that I could be a writer but for pulling me out of a downward spiral in my studies. 

3. What authors influenced your writing style and format?

Gosh, that’s a big question! Well, I suppose a lot of the writers who influenced me as a teenager have had an impact on my writing style (see below)). I have also very much reacted against the current trend in period drama to create characters who are basically modern men and women in period costume. Huge efforts are made to get the fine details right – the hair styles, the patterns on teacups – but the attitudes of the characters never fit the time in which they are supposed to be living. A gritty 1920s police constable will give a weeping homosexual a hug and say it’s all fine, it’s all about love and happiness, isn’t it? A Georgian housemaid will start ranting about her lack of educational opportunities. I’ve always felt that we have no right to patronize the past like this. When I write a historical novel, I try as far as possible to make the characters psychologically plausible and period-appropriate, even if it is challenging to readers at times. 

4. What books are currently in progress for you? Writing, researching, planning or even just ideas that you would like to work on?

I have finally started writing a book I have been promising my children for ages!  I don’t normally write YA novels but I am making an exception for them. I am also researching a novel set in Italy and have another couple of ideas on file. I like, if possible, to have one book at the final edit stage, to be writing another and to have a third at the research stage.  

5. Could you see yourself writing more lives of saints? Your volume on Robert Southwell part of the CTS Saints of the Isles series, is one of the best in the series. 

Thank you! Unfortunately, that book is now out of print (understandably, CTS can only have a certain number of titles ‘live’ at any one time and have to give new authors a chance) However, I have just completed a YA book about the life of Maximilian Kolbe and I would love to have the opportunity to write more. There is something amazing about getting to know a great saint like that, they leave a mark on your soul. Since researching the Maximillian Kolbe book, I have found myself thinking a lot about the incredible sacrifice he made and the life of holiness that led him to that moment.

6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?

I don’t really have a particular process. An idea will come to me and start taking root in my imagination. If it persists, I will start sketching out the major characters and the central plot, but apart from my crime fiction series, I never write out detailed plans for my novels. I usually write the first chapter and the climactic chapter (not necessarily the last chapter) so that I will have some idea in my mind as to where the story is going. Beyond that, I like to be part of the adventure the reader enjoys, of not knowing quite how the plot will develop. I nearly always have to rewrite the climactic scene, because the story will progress in a way I did not entirely intend. For example, in 'Fr William’s Daughter', I initially envisaged that the traitor would break down and apologise when uncovered by the heroine, but as the character developed, it became obvious to me that this was psychologically implausible and I had to rewrite the scene without him showing any remorse whatsoever. With crime, it is always different because a plan is necessary to ensure that the clues are revealed in the correct order. 

7. Do you use a playlist when writing? If so certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?

I don’t have specific music that I listen to when writing, it depends very much on what I am working on. For example, when I wrote 'We’ll Never Tell Them', I wanted to immerse myself as much as possible in the world of the First World War and that included listening to First World War songs practically on a loop. I don’t usually listen to music as I’m writing but if I am struggling to get going with a piece of writing or need a bit of assistance with the mood/atmosphere, I will usually listen to something appropriate. 

8. One of the greatest strengths in your books are the characters, they are so solid and believable. The characters you create, are they reflections of people you know, composites of different people you know or entirely your creations?

I might get sued for answering this question! Inevitably I think, writers always draw on people they know for their writing. I rarely base a character completely on a living person because I don’t think it’s very fair on the person, even if the character is positive, but real people always inspire my characters. For example, the QC in Do No Harm was inspired by a professor from my Cambridge days. Sometimes a person will simply give me an idea for a character trait. My son is autistic and I probably wouldn’t have thought to create an autistic protagonist for my latest book if it hadn’t been for my son.

9. Which of your characters if your favourite and why?

Oh dear, that’s like asking the name of my favourite child! I have to admit, I have particular affection for Judy and probably enjoyed creating and developing her character more than any of the others. It was partly because her autism makes her both vulnerable and quirky at the same time and I felt that I got closer to my son writing the book, just trying to learn more about the way his mind works and what makes him tick. I also enjoyed recreating the world of 1940 and the whole community of the boarding school – the teachers, the pupils, the Matron. 

10. I once heard Madeleine L'Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated, "Meg just finished her PhD." Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it?

Oh yes, I think that is very common among writers. I was once confiding to a friend that I was very worried about Warda because something absolutely horrible was about to happen to her and I felt a bit responsible. She said, ‘sweetheart, could we get a handle on this? You don’t have to worry about little Warda’s safety, because she doesn’t exist! She is real only in your twisted little mind!” In a way, it is absolutely crazy getting so emotionally involved with fictional characters, but if they are not completely real to the writer, they will not be convincing to the reader either. So much of the success of a story hinges on the characters, how convincing they are and how much they touch a reader’s emotions. No reader is going to keep turning the pages for a two-dimensional caricature or even a believable character who is completely unrelatable. 

11. If you could have any of your characters as a guest for a dinner party, whom would you invite and why?

Some of the more polite ones probably! The ones who would be most likely to get along with one another and not cause a scene – Lily and Dr Hampton, Fr Gabriel but only with Brother Gerard to keep him on his toes, Maria because I think she would start some interesting conversations, no one from Poor Banished Children, the dinner party would turn into a therapy session….perhaps Kristjana as she appears in two of my novels and would get on well with Maria. 

12. Is it possible that your two older out of print tiles, The Cassandra Curse and Father William's Daughter, might be republished as eBooks?

That depends on the publisher. Those novels were published by a different publisher to the rest of my books and – to date – they have expressed no interested in an e-edition. 

13. Are there any plans for translated editions of your book? I am asking for a friend who would dearly love to read your works in Spanish. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have much control over translations, it all hinges upon whether a foreign language publisher decides to buy the rights to a particular book. Poor Banished Children has been translated into Polish and a Brazilian publisher recently got in touch with me about producing a Portuguese edition of Abolition of Woman, but the whole process is quite haphazard. 

14. You have books published under the names: Fiorella Sultana De Maria, Fiorella De Maria, and Fiorella Nash. Are there any other names you have published under that I have missed? (I want to make sure I track all your books down to read and review.)

No, the reason I have published under three names is that I was not married when I published my CTS booklet, hence why I use the surname Sultana De Maria. When I published 'The Cassandra Curse', the publisher somewhat awkwardly asked if I would mind shortening my name to make it easier for readers and I became Fiorella De Maria. When I married and became Fiorella Nash, I kept writing under the name of Fiorella De Maria because that was by then the name I was known by. However, when I published my non-fiction work Abolition of Woman, I was advised to use my married name as that is the name I am best known by in bioethics circles. 

15. Many contemporary authors are a brand unto themselves, with webpages, Instagram, Facebook pages, Twitter and more. And yet your Web presence is very limited. Is there a reason for this?

I have to admit that I’m quite shy and find self-promotion difficult. I don’t do Twitter because I find it such a hellhole when it comes to online abuse, but I am on Facebook and Goodreads, I have an author page on the Ignatius Press website and my books are listed on Amazon. My publisher has just coaxed me onto another online site called BookBub and I am about to launch a book on Audible. I really feel that audiobooks are the way ahead, more and more people are engaging with literature through platforms like Audible and I want to have a presence there.

16. What were some of your favorite authors in your teen years who helped shape you?

I was (and am) an avid reader, so I was shaped by quite a few very fine writers. Solzhenitsyn made a huge impression on me as a teenager. I remember reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and longing to be able to write so vividly and movingly. I admired his deceptively simple and effortless style and his passionate desire to expose the horrors of the Soviet system to the West. Tennyson’s poetry expressed much of my own confusion and uncertainty as a teenager. I read the majority of Graham Greene’s novels (no surprises there, I suspect) and was very much influenced by his storytelling. There are many more, Salman Rushdie (though I never did get round to reading the infamous Satanic Verses), Virginia Woolf…I thought very hard about becoming a playwright when I was a teenager and I read hundreds of plays as well as novels, but I have only just written my first full-length play for publication.  Reading plays will certainly have helped in terms of writing naturalistic dialogue, which many writers find difficult.

17. What are some of your favourite books and authors now?

I am planning a book set in wartime Italy and have read many novels set during the same period over the past year. The two that stood out for me were 'A Thread of Grace' and 'Beneath a Scarlet Sky', both I gather, based on true stories. At the other end of the spectrum in terms of seriousness, I fell in love with Elizabeth Edmonson’s Selchester mysteries. They are light-hearted, entertaining reads, but tragically, the author died before completing the third book and her son decided against expanding the series himself. 

18. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?

Higher education should be part of an intellectual journey lasting a lifetime – a significant part but only one part. Should it teach us to think? Certainly. It should teach one to think, to take intellectual risks, to learn to analyse and absorb information, to recognize and challenge the status quo, to be an intellectual rebel in the genuine sense of the word. And those lessons when learnt at University, should form part of one’s learning across the decades. I am still studying and learning, I will not stop until the day I die. 

19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?

I think I’d want some inspiring and also some humorous books to read whilst waiting for my rescue ship to arrive, so, in no particular order and subject to change…

1) Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning
2) Francis de Salle’s Devout Life
3) The Bible
4) Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables
5) Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
6) P.G.Wodehouse The Jeeves Collection (the entire series would keep me laughing for a while)
7) John Mortimer The Rumpole Omnibus (his style has had me laughing explosively on the train, much to the alarm of other passengers)
8) H.E. Bates The Darling Buds of May
9) Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows (It’s my children’s favourite book and will always remind me of them)
10) Am I allowed to say, a massive pad of paper and a big box of pens so that I could work on a book or two to pass the time? 

20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists particularly those looking to have their art reflect their faith?

First and foremost, be a storyteller, be a compelling artist. If you set out to promote the Faith you will write propaganda and propaganda does not make for good art or literature. Be the finest artist or writer you can be, write engaging stories, create flesh-and-blood characters and taut plots. If you live your life within the Catholic moral universe, the beauty of the Faith will permeate everything you create. Writing is a solitary activity, but you are not alone. When you write, you do so as part of a fine literary tradition. 

Thank you Fiorella for taking some time to answer the questions.  If you have not read any of her works you owe it to yourself to do so. All seven that I have read have garnered 5/5 stars and have already been placed back in my to be read pile to be reread again.

Books by Fiorella De Maria:
The Cassandra Curse
Father William's Daughter
Poor Banished Children
Do No Harm
We'll Never Tell Them
A Most Dangerous Innocence
I Am Margaret The Play

Father Gabriel Mysteries:
The Sleeping Witness
The Vanishing Woman
See No Evil

Death of a Scholar

Skaters Series:
The Second Skater of the Apocalypse

Robert Southwell – CTS Saints of the Isles

Books as Fiorella Nash:
The Abolition of Woman: How Radical Feminism Is Betraying Women

Author Profile and Interview with Fiorella de Maria.

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