One of the best things about getting involved in the online writing community is the lovely people you meet – and Vanessa Carnevale is one of the loveliest.
What first put Vanessa on my radar was her excellent podcast – Your Creative Life – which is a must-listen for any aspiring writer. Then, earlier this year came the truly wonderful news that Vanessa had secured a two book deal with Harlequin.
If you like your love stories to include exotic destinations, delicious food, and fine art, then you are going to love The Florentine Bridge. This is the story of Mia, a young Australian woman who ventures to Tuscany to put her cancer behind her and re-discover la dolce vita. Of course she finds it thanks to the wonderful people she encounters, one of them being the handsome mechanic, Luca!
It truly is a joy to have Vanessa on the blog…
The Florentine Bridge is unashamedly romantic, yet I understand you never set out to write a love story?
When I sat down to write The Florentine Bridge, I honestly didn’t know what story I wanted to tell, but I knew I wanted to use an Italian setting for my book. I lived and worked in Florence in my early twenties, having met my husband over there and during that time I kept a lot of notes about life in Italy. I referred to those before I started writing the book and that brought back a lot of memories about what it was like to live in a foreign country.
Mia’s story simply unfolded on the page. I didn’t give it a lot of thought but just trusted what came through and before I knew it I was writing about a young Australian woman who had been through a life-changing illness that influenced her art and changed her perspective on life but wanted to find a way back to herself.
Luca appeared early on in the story, almost out of nowhere, which did surprise me, but his personality and presence came through so strongly, I knew I had to follow the story with him in it!
The book has huge emotional highs and lows. How did you ‘go there’ during the writing? Did you draw upon personal experience of illness?
The book does take you on a rollercoaster of emotions. While I didn’t draw on personal experience of this illness, I was able to draw on what it might feel like to be dealing with the same kinds of fears and uncertainties Mia is.
I cried while writing the flashback scenes between Mia and her parents, as well as some of the other scenes, and I think this comes with really immersing myself deeply into the characters’ point of view, and placing myself into the scene, imagining what it might truly be like to be experiencing what the character is going through.
Do you have an artistic background, as your main character does?
I don’t have an artistic background but I do love art, and have always been particularly fascinated by Renaissance art. Having lived in Florence, I came to appreciate the history of the city, of which art forms an integral part. Mia’s character, and the character of Signor Fiorelli in the book, were actually inspired by an elderly Florentine painter in Florence, who, shortly after I met him, gave me an oil painting along with a poem he’d written for me. It’s one of the most treasured gifts I have. It felt natural to create an artistic character who would appreciate all of these things. Mia sees the world through the eyes of an artist which gave me a wonderful lens to really hone in on the setting from a visual perspective. I did spend time experimenting with watercolour while I wrote the book, too.
The trickiest part of getting published seems to be securing an agent. What do you think was the key to securing yours?
I think we would need to ask my agent what she thinks, but from conversations we’ve had I think it was a combination of a well crafted query letter and the initial chapters. At that point, I don’t think the platform came into play, especially being a fiction author. I think there’s a lot to be said for spending time polishing your query letter. I spent a lot of time getting mine just right. My advice would be to do some research on effective query letters and have someone critique yours for you. Also, do ensure you’re following querying guidelines to the letter and try to spend some time researching agents so you are reaching out to ones that could be a good fit for you as this is a relationship that ideally will be for the long term.
I think there’s a school of thought that believes romance novels have to be written to a certain formula. Is that your experience?
The Florentine Bridge is a love story that has a bittersweet ending, which could have easily not have gone that way (I actually rewrote the ending three times) and while it’s hugely romantic, the story has a strong focus on Mia’s own personal struggles and her journey towards overcoming her fears and finding a way back to herself and her relationship with her art which also lends itself to a great book club read, hence the discussion points included in the book.
Admittedly, I wasn’t aware of any formulas surrounding romance writing. I’m not a huge romance reader, but for me personally, some of the most beautiful love stories are ones that are timeless stories of enduring love, that show us just how deeply and fully we can love another person. As a reader, I love when stories move me and I continue thinking about the characters for days after I turn the last page, and that’s what I try to achieve as an author, too.
From drafting to publication, what’s been the most challenging part of the process? And what’s been the most enjoyable?
Finding the time to write and feeling like there is never enough time to write has been one of my biggest struggles this year. I’m hoping I can make some changes in 2017 that will help create a bit more balance in my writing life.
I’ve tried to enjoy every step along the way but I think the day I finally saw the cover was definitely a highlight. That’s when it all started to feel a bit more real!
You are well known in the Australian writing world for your wonderful podcast ‘Your Creative Life’, which you began before you had secured your two-book deal with Harlequin. It feels, in a way, that through the podcast you were somehow manifesting your dreams. Is that how you feel?
It’s so nice that you feel this way. Maybe in a way I was! I hadn’t thought of it that way. What I will say is, that it’s often very hard to put yourself out there before you know where your writing career is heading in terms of publication if you are trying to secure that traditional offer of publication because your future is in someone else’s hands in a way. In saying that, I just focused on my love of writing, and connection with others and was led by that. I had decided to run a writing retreat before I was offered a contract and had also led workshops. I think it’s important for writers to know that they can contribute beautifully to the writing community regardless of where they are in their careers. There’s always someone out there who might need to hear what you have to say.
Who are your writing influences? Why?
I try to read fairly widely, so I don’t know about any particular writing influences. Books that have stood out to me over the years have been Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and of course, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
I know you’re now drafting your second book. Any hints on what it’s about?
I’ve just sent this off to my publisher! My second novel is set on a flower farm, and involved lots of research about gardening and flowers. It explores the role our memories play in our lives, the healing power of nature, the role of fate vs destiny by exploring whether we would live the same life twice if we had our time over.
It brings me joy. I love playing with language and following a story and its characters to see where it might lead. And it’s lots of fun!
Thank you Vanessa. And all the best with the book!
Thanks so much for having me, Cassie, and thank you for your wonderful blog.
For more information on The Florentine Bridge, visit Harlequin Books.
&Review copy supplied by the publisher