I’m delighted to welcome Kate Furnivall to One More Page today to chat about her latest novel, The Italian Wife. Kate was born in Wales and studied English at London University. She worked in publishing and then moved to TV advertising, where she met her husband. In 2000, Kate decided to write her mother’s extraordinary story of growing up in Russia, China and India, and this became The Russian Concubine, which was a New York Times bestseller. All her books since then have had an exotic setting and Kate has travelled widely for her research. She now has two sons and lives with her husband in a cottage by the sea in Devon. Welcome Kate!
Great to be here today. Thanks for inviting me.
Your new novel, The Italian Wife, has just been released. Please could you tell us a little about it and your inspiration for it?
I have been extremely interested in architecture ever since my son and his wife became architects. So I was drawn to the idea of a young woman, damaged by her past, building a new life for herself as she builds a new town, the two inextricably intertwined.
Isabella Berotti is an architect who is part of the team building a town for Mussolini in 1932. Her life changes when she agrees to look after an unknown child for a few minutes and the mother throws herself off the top of a tower that Isabella has designed. Why did she do it? And what is her connection to Isabella? This is the start of a search for the truth behind a web of secrets and lies. Isabella turns for help to photographer Roberto Falco, and together they are caught up in a complex story of intrigue and danger.
My inspiration for the story came from Mussolini’s remarkable decision to drain the Pontine Marshes and build his towns on it. I was fascinated to explore what it would be like to be a cog in that huge Fascist undertaking, as Isabella is, finding a new path for her life as she does so.
Please could you introduce your leading lady, Isabella Berotti, by summing her up in five words?
The novel is set in beautiful Italy and particularly the Agro Pontino near Rome. Did you visit as part of your research and do you have a favourite place in Italy?
Wild horses would not have kept me away from going to see in person what is left of Mussolini’s five new towns. I knew they had suffered severe damage during World War II, but I was desperate to see for myself what remained. When I arrived there, it warmed my heart to see that much of the grandiose architectural style that Mussolini insisted upon remains, and I was impressed by the way the post-war reconstruction uses many of the same techniques. In an odd way it made me feel that Isabella’s work – even though fictional – had left its mark.
I loved my stay in Latina, but the place that totally stole my heart lies further along the coast – beautiful Sorrento. It is one of the wonders of Italy.
For me the best way to get the feel of a place is to read as many biographies as I can get my hands on about the lives of people who lived there. So I began with a stack of books on Mussolini and ended up feeling that I knew him intimately – his ruthlessness, his charm, his ego, his lust for power and his passionate desire to turn Italy into a modern industrialised nation. So I felt able to write a scene where he visits Isabella’s architectural office and another where he asks her to dance. But I also trawled through hours of film footage that Mussolini ordered to be made by LUCE Films covering the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes. This was invaluable. But it was my visit to Latina that brought it all together in sharp focus.
The most surprising fact I discovered was that Mussolini brought 125,000 workmen into the malarial swamp to dig the canals and burn the forest. 125,000! Can you imagine the logistics of that? They were poorly fed, paid a pittance and kept in barbed wire camps where thousands died of malaria. I was deeply shocked by this.
What drew you to historical fiction as a genre and have you or would you like to write in other genres in the future?
I have always read historical fiction – I love the window it gives into the past. But I was only drawn to write about it when I learned late in life that my grandmother was a White Russian who fled to China after the Russian revolution in 1917. I was entranced by her story, dived into a year of research and at the end of it wrote The Russian Concubine. From that moment, I was hooked. As for writing in a different genre, I never say never. My stories are becoming more focused on mystery and intrigue, so maybe Crime is beckoning …..
The Italian Wife is your eighth novel and previous books span a number of time periods and exotic locations. If you could travel to any time and place, where and to what period would you go?
Ancient Egypt. I want to talk to the builders and mathematicians to understand how they built those gigantic inch-perfect pyramids with their bare hands. Architecture again, you see. I am a glutton for it.
And finally …. What can we expect next from Kate Furnivall?
Well, keep it quiet ……but I am in Italy again. A different time, a different place. But here’s a clue – I’m drinking limoncello!
Thank you Kate and happy travels!
The Italian Wife is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Sphere.
Finf out more about Kate and her novels at: www.katefurnivall.com