Today I have a very special edition of A Life in Books. I am very excited and honoured to welcome one of my favourite authors Marina Fiorato to my blog. I recently reviewed her latest book Crimson & Bone which is a brilliant. If you missed my review I have included it at the end of this post.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I am half-Venetian. I was born in Salford in Greater Manchester and
raised in the Yorkshire Dales. I am a history graduate of Durham, Oxford
and the University of Venice. At uni I specialised in the
study of Shakespeareʼs plays as a historical source. After
University I studied illustration (I still illustrate my books) and worked as a bit-part actress to put myself through art college. I designed tour visuals for rock bands including U2 and the Rolling Stones. I was married on the Grand Canal in Venice and live in North London with my husband, (film director Sacha Bennett) my son and my daughter.
1. What was you favourite book from childhood?
I have to cheat here and say there are seven – it’s The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I loved the idea of new worlds created by a pen but somehow found Narnia so much more accessible than Middle Earth. With Narnia I got the feeling that a book cover was a door into a new world, and as I got older I realised that’s true of every book. Now I’m reading the series to my own kids and I’m so happy to be revisiting them.
2. What type of books did you read as a teenager?
By the time I was a teen I’d become interested in history so my staples then were stories of strong women in historical contexts. I loved Katherine by Anya Seton, which is the story of John of Gaunt’s mistress Katherine Swynford, but my all time favourite was Shield of Three Lions by Pamela Kaufman, about a young baroness who goes on the Third Crusade with Richard the Lionheart.
3. When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?
I loved Persuasion by Jane Austen, (which I did for A level) and still do. In some ways it’s the most obscure (and possibly the least filmed) of the Austen canon but I love it for that. I like the idea of love lost and regained, and how love is sometimes a matter of timing – what was wrong in your twenties might be right in your thirties. Which brings me to my favourite set text ever (not a book though!) which is Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice and Benedick had an unsuccessful youthful romance, then got together again when they were older, just like Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot. I loved Much Ado so much that when I became a writer I wrote the prequel to the play, my novel Beatrice and Benedick.
4. What is your favourite classic book?
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. It’s got everything: adventure, imprisonment, rags-to-riches, redemption, revenge. I really think it is as close to the perfect novel as anyone’s going to get.
5. What would you consider to be one of the best books you have had over the last 5 years?
Gosh. That’s a tough one. I’m lucky enough to get given a lot of books to read because people ask me for cover quotes, which is lovely. Sometimes I don’t get the time to read them but one I’m very glad I did was Jakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon. It tells the story of the little-known holocaust of the Romany people through the prism of a young Romany boy trying to escape the Nazis. It’s devastating, beautifully written and unforgettable.
6. What book to you think you should read but never get round to?
The Bible. A few years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to read it, as I thought I really should read the world’s most-read book. I put it on my phone and I read a verse or two when I can, but I’m still chewing through it! The Old Testament can be pretty hard going but then you will come upon a beautiful phrase or saying and go ‘That’s where that came from!’
7. What do you consider to be your favourite book ?
This is such a tricky question, but if I had to choose one I’d say Maia, by Richard Adams (the author of Watership Down). I tell anyone who will listen that it was the precursor to Game of Thrones. It’s a wonderful book, over a thousand pages long, the story of a slave girl caught up in a tussle between seven different kingdoms. Very few people have read Maia and when I find someone who has it’s like meeting a long-lost friend.
8. Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?
The Bible! But I’m determined to do it. Unfortunately I already know how it ends.
9. If you were stranded on a desert Island which 2 books would you want to have with you?
Maia so I could bring a whole new world with me. And The Count of Monte Cristo because Edmond Dantes might give me an idea of how to get off the island.
10. Kindle or Book?
Real books in my house. Kindle in my suitcase.
Thank you very much! It’s been a pleasure to answer your questions. Love Marina x
London, January 1st 1853 Annie Stride is standing on the parapet of Waterloo Bridge in desperation, in exactly the same place her best friend Mary-Jane committed suicide a few months earlier. She is a penniless, homeless, prostitute who is also pregnant, she sees death as her only choice. Just as she is about to throw herself into the icy, dark water of the Thames a hand reaches out to stop her; Francis Maybrick Gill, a pre-Raphaelite artist.
Francis takes Annie back to his house where her makes her his model and muse for his paintings, and in doing so makes her beauty famous throughout London Society. Annie is elevated from prostitute to a lady able to mix in polite society. From the pre-Raphaelite’s of London to the Renaissance masters in Florence and Venice, just how long can Annie’s past stay in the past, and will there be a price to pay for this new life.
Marina Fiorato is one of my favourite historical novelists. Her books regularly combine my favourite subjects; history, art and Italy all of which are part of Crimson & Bone. This book has a slightly darker, more gothic feel to it than her previous novels. To stay with an art metaphor this novel is like a Caravaggio painting; the light and focus draw your eye to the main characters but the darkness surrounding them is always threatening to encroach on them.
The plot is similar to Pygmalion in that Frances Maybrick Gill takes Annie and raises her up in society by teaching her how to behave, speak and act like a lady. As a character Frances seems the hero of this book in his saving Annie from her death and giving her a chance at a better life, but there is something that makes you feel uncomfortable, that he is not all that he seems.
Annie has a hard start to life, begging and stealing from when she was a child, but she hasn’t let it destroy her spirit. After her brush with death we see that her heart is in the right place and there is a warmth and gentleness to her character that evolves during the book. She also shows an aptitude for learning and is a willing student is her progression form prostitute to lady. It is from Annie’s perspective that the story is told, her progression in life and her feelings for Frances. As well as Annie, Mary Jane who was Annie’s best friend, opens each chapter telling her story leading up to her death.
Marina Fiorato’s writing is beautifully lyrical in her use of language. The prose flows seamlessly which makes it pleasurable and easy to read. Her descriptive writing of London, Florence and Venice is captivating, you are transported back to the mid nineteenth century with its sights, sounds and smells. I also enjoyed her evocation of the art works, both pre-Raphaelite and Renaissance. Through language she brought the paintings to life which isn’t easy, which enriched the reading experience. If you are interested you can of course look up the paintings on the Internet, but remember Francis Maybrick Gill is a fictional character although his subject matter was commonly painted by other artists.
The Crimson & Bone is an erudite and exquisite read. Full of detail with a plot that will keep you engaged from the first page to the last. This is historical fiction at its best.