Welcome to my spot on the Mussolini’s Island blog tour! I’m over the moon to have an author Q&A with Sarah Day for you!
But first here is the book blurb:
Sarah Day’s MUSSOLINI’S ISLAND is a novel of sexuality and desire, of hidden passions and the secrets we keep locked within us. Based on the true story of the rounding up of a group of Sicilian gay men in 1939, this book is sure to appeal to readers of the Elena Ferrante novels, Anthony Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE or Virginia Baily’s EARLY ONE MORNING.
Francesco has a memory of his father from early childhood, a night when life for his family changed. From that night, he has vowed to protect his mother and to follow the words of his father: Non mollare. Never give up.
As Francesco is herded into a camp on the island of San Domino, he realises that someone must have handed a list of names to the fascist police. Locked in spartan dormitories, resentment and bitterness between the men grows each day.
Elena, an illiterate island girl, is drawn to the handsome Francesco. Sometimes, she is given a message to pass on. She’s not sure who they are from; she knows simply that Francesco is hiding something. When Elena discovers the truth about the group of prisoners, the fine line between love and hate pulls her towards an act that can only have terrible consequences for all.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your path to publication?
I work full time as a science communicator at the Geological Society, so fit writing in around that-not always easy! After I moved to London in 2007 I spent a lot of time going to writing classes, mainly at the brilliant City Lit, which comes highly recommended! So I had a few attempts at writing novels before finally securing an agent – the wonderful Juliet Mushens – in 2013. Mussolini’s Island was the second novel we submitted to publishers, and was accepted by Tinder Press in 2015. So like most writers, the path to publication wasn’t always a straightforward one – I learned a lot along the way!
Do you have any writing rituals?
None at all! I’m a bit wary of rituals, in case I find myself unable to keep them, so I try not to worry about where I am or what the set up is. I’ve written in coffee shops, in between gigs at festivals, at home in perfect solitude or on trains – the only thing I’ve found is I work better typing than handwriting. I think a lot of writers prefer the reverse, but I’m quite a speedy typist, and I like being able to put thoughts into words as soon as they come.
What was the inspiration behind Mussolini’s Island?
I’m fascinated by the line between fact and fiction, so I love finding true stories and imagining the spaces in between the certainties. I read about the true story behind Mussolini’s Island in a BBC article (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22856586 ), and was so surprised that what happened to the men imprisoned on San Domino wasn’t better known. What really peaked my interest, as well as the facts of what happened, were two things I discovered during some early research – that almost all of the prisoners came from one town, and that they all had knowledge of an unsolved murder which had happened, back in Catania. It was such a compelling set up – the huge injustice done to them, the wider social history, and the idea that they must have taken so many preexisting loves, hates, secrets and resentments to the island with them.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, always. It was in my mind as soon as I realized it was a real life job people did, I think. I grew up fascinated with studying science, so I remember when I was young worrying that that might somehow preclude a career as a writer – it seemed to me that all the writers I loved who went to university had taken English Literature degrees… Luckily I realized later on that there aren’t any rules!
If you could have written any other book what would it be?
The answer to this would change every week, I suspect! As I’m currently working on my second novel, I would love to have written Everland by Rebecca Hunt, which is an absolutely brilliant second book. It’s the story of three Antarctic explorers who follow in the footsteps of an expedition 100 years earlier, and seem to mysteriously repeat their experiences. It’s completely gripping – and as my background is in science, I would love to write something which weaves in that experience.
Do you have any advice for budding authors?
Follow your instincts! There’s so much advice out there about how to write for the market, what agents and editors are looking for, what genres are in and out – I’ve even seen ‘don’t write in the first person, the first person is dead’ as a genuine writing tip. It’s all worth thinking about, but the most important thing is whether you’re excited by a story, and can’t wait to see how it works on the page. Don’t force yourself to write something you’re not in love with – if you’re excited by a project, chances are readers will be too.
Oh, and try not to worry. I worry a lot, and it takes up so much time which could be spent writing.
Who are your favourite authors?
In terms of my writing heroes, I love Ali Smith for being so breathtakingly inventive. A lot of my terrible first attempts at novels are based on her style, which is obviously inimitable! (I met her once, and answered her ‘do you write novels too?’ question with an embarrassing sort of ‘hurrmmmm’ sound…) Margaret Atwood for being so brilliant in multiple genres, Conan Doyle (I have a lifelong devotion to Sherlock Holmes), Carol Shields, Beryl Bainbridge, Philip Pullman and I could go on and on….
How long did it take you to write Mussolini’s Island?
I wrote a very shaky first draft in about 4 months, which is extremely quick for me! Then I took a bit of thinking time, and spent about a year rewriting it.
Are you working on a new novel now?
Yes, although I’m too superstitious about it to say anything more at the moment!
In three words, can you describe Mussolini’s Island?
Tragic, defiant, true.
Thanks so much Sarah for your wonderful answers!
Sarah Day is a London based writer and science communicator. Her first novel, ‘Mussolini’s Island’, will be published in February 2017 by Tinder Press.
With a background in the history and philosophy of science, she has also written non fiction for publications including The Guardian, The Vagenda and the British Society for Literature and Science. She works as an Earth Science Communicator at the Geological Society of London.
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Huge thanks to Sarah Day for appearing on my blog and to Millie Seaward for my review copy and for including me on the blogtour!