Vanessa Carnevale is an author and freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. In her early twenties, she spent several years living in Florence where she met her husband and discovered a love of travel and la dolce vita. She now considers Italy her second home. The Florentine Bridge is her first novel. (Interview by Leanne Francis)Interviewee A to Z
Where did you get your inspiration for your debut novel, The Florentine Bridge? Did the setting come to you first, or the characters or something else?
When I sat down to start writing The Florentine Bridge, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write but I did have the Italian setting in mind. In my early twenties, I lived and worked in Florence and it was around this time that I started dabbling with freelance writing and had my first article published. I started keeping notes about day to day life over there, just in case they might come in handy one day for a book. I had about ten thousand words saved and on the day I started writing The Florentine Bridge I called my mum and said, “You know that book I’ve been wanting to write for ages? I’m starting it today. Any chance you kept that file I sent you about life in Italy?” Within half an hour she sent me the document. Reading through it brought back a lot of memories about life in Italy. From there, Mia’s character came to me, along with her backstory, and away I went.
Did you set out to write a magical love story?
I never actually set out to write a love story. I didn’t think I was the kind of writer who would write a love story. But low and behold, Luca appeared early on in the book and his personality came through so strongly, that I knew that no matter how surprised I was that he turned up to disrupt my plans, he had a big role to play and was going to stay!
You obviously have a strong personal connection to Italy. Did your knowledge of Italy assist in writing the novel and is any of it from personal experience?
It absolutely did! Many of the places featured in the book are real places I’ve visited or have personal connections with. For example, La Fattoria di Maiano is owned by some dear friends of mine, I have friends that worked at La Loggia restaurant, and I lived in Impruneta for some time, also. The scenes and characters are entirely fictional except for one scene (no spoilers!) that involves a clove of garlic and a toothache. I witnessed that clove being used in that unusual way and couldn’t not use it! Also, the character Signor Fiorelli was inspired by an elderly Florentine painter I met shortly after I arrived in Tuscany. I’d only known him a week or so when he gave me a painting and a handwritten poem he wrote especially for me and to this day, that gift remains one of the most special ones I’ve ever received.
The book is filled with powerful emotion and centres very much on your two main characters, Mia and Luca. How did you create this level of emotion? Did it come naturally to you or did you have to work hard to achieve the connection between them?
I’m not sure that it was intentional. This was by and large how the characters appeared on the page, so I let them lead the way. It became clear early on that this was going to be a story about a rare and special kind of enduring love. I think Mia’s age, her fears, and what she was going through, lent itself somewhat naturally to these powerful emotions, too.
Without spoiling the story for anyone who hasn’t read it, can you tell us why you chose not to give Luca a full recovery? It’s what we were all hoping for!
I rewrote the ending for The Florentine Bridge three times. Ultimately, I think the book had to end in the way that it did to really bring home that notion of accepting life and what it throws at us no matter what while reaffirming that strong sense of timeless love.
What was the hardest part of writing the book?
The hardest scenes to write were the flashback scenes with Mia and her parents. Not only did I have to tap into what it might have been like for Mia to be going through what she did, but I’m a mother, and having to go to that place of putting myself in Julie and Adam’s shoes to imagine what it must have been like to be afraid of losing your daughter, of not knowing the outcome, was uncomfortable a writer. I cried myself through those scenes.
Can you tell us a little about your path to publication?
After I wrote and finished polishing the book, I started querying literary agents both here in Australia and in the US. That led to some requests to read the full manuscript and ultimately I ended up signing with an agent. From there, we received multiple offers to publish the book and I ended up signing a two-book deal with Harlequin Australia. Since then, we’ve also sold translation rights to Slovenia, and have a couple of other things in the works. It’s been fantastic seeing things unfold. I’m so grateful for it all!
Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your background.
My love of writing really started as a love of reading. I was always a voracious reader throughout school. I love libraries and bookstores - I feel at home in them and I always have a book on the go. I knew early on that I wanted to be a writer - I’ve always enjoyed playing with language, and love the thrill of taking an idea, crafting it into a story and seeing where it might lead.
You are very active in the writing community – you run a writing retreat, present at writing conferences and operate a podcast. You are generous with your time – what is it that motivates you to give back like this?
I think being a “people person” has a lot to do with it, but I also love helping others. I know how isolating writing can be, so being part of the community in these ways is a real pleasure. I think it comes naturally to me because it brings me joy.
Do you have a daily writing routine?
I try to write every day but that doesn’t always happen. I have set writing days though, that I try to protect very fiercely by blocking out any other appointments or commitments. If I’m on a deadline, I’ll get up very early to write because if I write at night I find it hard to fall asleep afterwards!
What five tips would you give to aspiring writers?
Read as often and you can, and as widely as you can.
Know that self-doubt is a normal part of the process.
Don’t take rejection personally, but be open to feedback.
Connect with like-minded writers for support and critique.
Don’t write the kinds of books you think you should write. Write the kind of books you’d like to read.
What are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, and a manuscript by a wonderful author friend of mine who writes historical fiction.
Are you able to tell us about your next project?
I’m very close to handing in my next book that looks at the role our memories play in our lives. It explores whether we would choose the same path for ourselves if we had our time over. It’s another love story, and this one is set on a flower farm. I’ve had a great time with the research for this one!