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Interview: Flavia Idà, author of The Iron and The Loom and The Names of Heaven

Flavia Ida

Where did you get the idea for the The Iron and the Loom?

I’m an inveterate daydreamer. It doesn’t take much for me to withdraw into my inner world, to the exclusion of everything else. I also love history and I grew up in Italy, which has more history that anybody knows what to do with it, you look around and there it is. So daydreaming about a favorite period of Italian history and writing a novel set in it for me was an inevitable combination.

Every author seems to have a different way of developing a story. Did you find that the story developed itself or did you have to do research to develop it?

Amazingly enough (i.e. I have no idea how that happened), I developed the story once and never touched it again. I went back to it only to polish the language in some places of the English version, and to translate it into Italian. Plot, characters and scenes were all set in stone from the start. The research was needed because it’s a historical novel, but that was great fun, not at all a chore.

Not every book flows smoothly as an author writes it. What portions of the book were hardest for you to get the way you wanted them?

No doubt the dialogues. 80% of the story is told in dialogues, so all the characters had to be fully fleshed out thru what they say rather than thru what they do. I also needed to make sure that the characters spoke in a way consistent with their gender, personality, social status, age and so on, and that each voice was distinctive. It was very much like writing a script, and it seems to have paid off, because the sentence most often used by reviewers is that reading the book is like watching a movie.

Where and when do you like to write?

As to where, I need to have solitude and total quiet. Even listening to music will distract me. While I was in college it was the campus library, perfect for concentration; now it’s my home, when no one’s home. TV off, phone off, and if necessary, earplugs. As to when, only when I get the impulse to write, which unfortunately means I’m at the mercy of an unquantifiable factor. I have no problem writing on a theme, but I’m miserable writing on a deadline.

Now that your book has reached print and is getting great reviews, have your ideas on being a writer changed?

They haven’t. I write because I feel the need to write. I think all writers will agree that it’s a need first and foremost, and that the need starts before seeking publication and reviews. I would have written with or without seeking publication and reviews, but if others appreciate what I write, that’s a fantastic bonus. The new thing for me is that, now that my books are out in the world, I’ve learned to grow a thick skin if some reviews are not what I was hoping for. Ye olde “You can’t please all of the readers all of the time.”

Do you find a difference in style between European and American writing?

I don’t find a difference. The languages change, of course, but the principles of effective writing apply to writers from all backgrounds, and you can find corresponding literary styles in all backgrounds.

What made you decide to become a writer?

It was not a decision but a spontaneous impulse. The same way someone feels an impulse to play a sport, so they start playing and then continue because it gives them personal satisfaction to play and because they want to play better and better. I just followed the impulse to write. It popped up in full force when I was a child, an indication that I had no choice in the matter, and it kept growing from there. For me writing is simply an addiction that manifests itself thru the need to turn thoughts into words. I don’t think there is anything special about being addicted to writing or to other forms of creative expression. Thankfully it’s the sort of addiction that doesn’t kill you.

Which characters were hardest for you to develop?

The male characters. For the female characters all I had to do was draw from my own experience, whereas trying to put yourself into the mind of the opposite gender, needless to say, is a very tricky endeavor. I think I did a good job, because so far I haven’t heard any criticism from males; it’s a minor source of pride for me to have been able to pull it off credibly.

How did you research the background?

The historical and cultural background had to be as accurate as possible. I studied in European universities and I also did research on my own. There are some parts I had to fill in with credible data, only because the sources for such a distant historical period are often incomplete or contradictory. But I tried my very best to avoid being taken to task by the Italians, who can be absolutely merciless when it comes to our history and culture.

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