Monday, 1 October 2012

When Women Come Together

When women come together things happen. Big things. Significant things. To paraphrase an expression shared by a writer colleague over the weekend, in turn paraphrased from Mrs. Margaret Thatcher at the height of her powers: When something has to be talked about, call a man. When something has to be done, call a woman.

Last week I took part in the ninth edition of the Women's Fiction Festival in Matera, in Basilicata in southern Italy. Founded by international translator, writing powerhouse and successful author Elizabeth Jennings, the Festival must first of all be described as the only one of its kind in Europe.

Most internationals will have seen stunning glimpses of the Unesco Heritage site borrowed by Mel Gibson in 'The Passion of Christ', but for Liz and many of the other people involved in the extensive organisation of the event, the dramatic setting has been casa dolce casa for decades. Add to this a keen understanding of the isolation of most writers, the current leaps and bounds of the publishing industry, and an ardent wish to bring experts face-to-face with both dilettantes and authors with numerous novels under their belts, and you have the ingredients that have spurred on Liz, Mariateresa, Maria Paola and Giovanni in their orchestration of this year's enriching experience.

Matera Centrale, Piazza Moro. I step out of the train station into a regular modern Italian square. Apartment blocks, bus stops, parking lots. I know my way as I was here two years ago. The flight down from Venice to Bari was bumpy so I am glad to have my feet on the ground. I begin dragging my trolley down a normal street until at the end of it the centuries fall away. Carved out of a porous local stone called tufo, tiers of houses and villas and arched terraces and knotted stony paths cling to a wide crevice in the land. No modern constructions, no traffic. Just a wide sky, cascading music practice from the central music conservatorium, and this warm stone panorama. Bliss!

By some quirk of the internet I have booked myself a huge apartment where I had expected a vaulted cave as most bed-and-breakfasts provide. I realise I will be living large. Marble, leather, gilt. A breakfast that ranges from potato foccacia to ricotta and chocolate cake. Bring it on! This porridge-eater with an empty family-ravaged fridge is not afraid!

Leggo di Gusto. A taste for reading - is perhaps one way of translating the Festival strapline for 2012. Food and wine experts are providing extra courses this year, and I know there are also pasta-making classes with a local expert. But the main event - Publishing is a Button - is what many writers are here to learn about. Digital publishing, digital rights, maximising Twitter, crowdsourcing, the importance of having an agent, self-publishing. Liz has assembled an impressive range of American, English and European speakers who keep the audience taking notes. Talks are in English and Italian, and offer glances at the publishing climate in different countries. Liz's expert translating colleagues also provide simultaneous translations from both languages - so that the vaulted ex-convent sala looks like something of a UN session!

The afternoon programme involves one-on-one appointments with international industry 'gatekeepers' - agents and publishers - to whom authors may pitch their projects. That means: ten minutes of trying not to ramble or shove your synopsis into a publisher's face or sweat too hard or go hoarse or lose your silly straw hat. I'm interested in finding European publishers for DLC before she flits off to the Frankfurt Book Fair. So many people have wailed Why isn't it published in Italian yet?.

On Saturday night I join a panel of two Italian authors (Paola Calvetti, 'Olivia' and Patrizia Violi 'Affari d'amore') and journalist Cinzia Leone in the stunning central piazza. Nervous, trying to hide behind my rich ruby Chanel lipstick, I gulp down some wonderful red wine beforehand. I wonder if Toni Morrison ever had to do that? Somehow, I manage to raise a few laughs in italiano. Did I really talk about whips and linguistics in the countryside? It's scary, what can happen between your brain tickling and that fuzzy-topped microphone. Fortunately, the town is dotted with bars to celebrate afterwards.

But python heels on cobbles, crooked steps and semi-darkness, and several more wonderful drinks... I think an angel took me home that night.

23 comments:

  1. Sounds like the kind of angel I love! Life can be so wonderful. And yes, don't we women just rock!
    However, I am feeling bereft. I finished your book last night (burning the candles til 3am in fact!). I loved it. And I want more!

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    1. Are you serious? YOU rock! You've brought a tear to my exhausted crinkled winey eyes. Bless you girl! Those angels are the best kind and I will try to provide you another volume xxcat

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    2. Now THERE'S a couple of ideas I am loving the sound of!! And I mean: another book from you and then Matera - in that order! Yx

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  2. I love Margaret Thatcher's quote about women getting things done. It seems like you are going full steam in Italy as both an expat and as an accomplieshed author. Kudos! What about visiting Venice and writing about a new romance there?

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    1. Thanks for visiting the blog Alina. Yes I've had requests for a sequel but I think Venice would be difficult to package. There's one chapter in DLC set in Venice, the 'romantic' one.

      As my sense of humour is rather crazy I'd love to do a sequel that is a little off-beat, requiring travel of course. Or, if not, there's always Paris from a kinky point of view? Any more suggestions?

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  3. Sounds like a fab time Cat. How cool that they had translators. And yes, if you are going to be in England, send me details and we can try to meet up again. Would be great.

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    1. Oh I will don't worry. Haven't booked my flight yet, just a conference for the 10th and some meetings. It will be great to hear what's happening with your WIP. Xcat

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  4. Your pictures and stories transport me. Thank you for taking me away from my mundane life... but for a moment.

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    1. It's weird MSB I kept seeing everyday things in this spectacular setting with your eyes. So you WERE there in a way. I couldn't photograph all the time, and didn't much, but I would have loved a day with a less crowded head and a better camera.

      Don't worry, I'm also back to total domesticity. But that was also the beauty of the gathering - so many of us juggle so much and it was wonderful to abandon ourselves to writing thoughts.

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  5. Sounds like a fantastic event - I love the idea of multicultural, multilingual exchange of ideas! Did you find some major differences in the publishing climate of Italy and UK or US? Would love to hear your thoughts on that - perhaps in a future blog post.

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    1. The event is perfect for those of us who straddle cultures or work in isolation or have specific industry questions to thrash out. It's also possible to pitch which is a blessing and good practice.

      There are massive differences between the publishing worlds of all three areas, at almost every level. I remember one American publisher made reference to a comment by an Italian agent who spoke of book displays in shop windows - she said she was incredulous, that those days are over. While thrilling possibilities were discussed, there were also some very chilling truths expressed, especially for old-fashioned book nerds like myself. Apparently last year marked a tipping point and ebooks now outsell print.

      Thanks for asking. These thoughts are certainly swimming in my head and I may well pursue with a future blog post.

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  6. Wow! Lipstick and whips in the countryside?! Man oh man, you are one hot mama. I so wish I could have been there in the audience, raising awkward questions about leather and Italian lessons.

    XO

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    1. That would have been fun! I'm sure you would have come up with some real kinky teasers.. xoxo

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  7. Haha! Who knew we’d find mutual admiration for the Iron Lady? Of course, a woman who was known throughout the world by this name begs respect from the rest of us, politics or not. : ) LOVED meeting you in Matera. I’m just sorry to have missed your interview, especially now that I know the content!

    And I’ve just wrapped up one book and now have your book on my bedside table. The title’s making my husband squirm and I’ve already promised to clutch it prominently to my chest the next time I get dragged to one of his work functions…

    Writing, reading, learning, mothering, forming deep friendships, AND doing it all while maneuvering Matera’s treacherous streets in vertiginous python heels are just some of the many reasons why we should be celebrating women writers and supporting one another on our journey. I agree that big things happen when we come together. And I can’t wait to do it again!

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    1. Well I must thank YOU for the comment. It's certainly a resounding one, and highly appropriate when one thinks of women in writing/publishing. I hope something concrete comes out of Matera for you. I'm feeling frazzled already and could do with another weekend away.

      That's why we must keep having our escape-hatch writing events and I must run off to Rome to see you ladies before winter..

      Thanks so much for buying the book and I hope it keeps your husband on his toes!

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  8. His infidelity was my worst nightmare come true but it was also a blessing in disguise.
    montana divorce

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    1. Yes these things happen! Best of luck with your new blessings

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  9. I don't know about the angel, but I do know you're living the good and adventurous life, Cat. I soak up these blog posts of yours right into my pores. For which I thank you.

    "By some quirk of the internet I have booked myself a huge apartment where I had expected a vaulted cave as most bed-and-breakfasts provide. I realise I will be living large." You are. You are. And I'm living vicariously through you, so keep on living so very very large. How awesome is this? My gosh.

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    1. Teri thank you! I just wish I had been able to photograph that room in a way that would do justice to the cool marble floors and the sweeping views outside. If you are in Europe next year around the end of September why not come along? There are one-on-one meetings with agents and editors and a wealth of information and good talk. They even have a brain-storming session in March where you can bring your current WIP to discuss - and it's held in a spa!!! I just have to find a way to convince myself I've deserved that one..

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  10. At the risk of sounding like I just swallowed a metric ton of sugar, I think that you're the angel. An inspiring, wonderful, golden angel who reminds me of all that life can be if you have the courage to sit down and write, and write, and write. x

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    1. But dearie you are already writing the most beautiful words full of angel dust yourself! How's that for sugar content?? Xcat

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    2. Enough to make me feel a little like crying!

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