Today I’m delighted to welcome author Victoria Blake to One More Page on the final stop of her Titan’s Boatman blog tour. Victoria was brought up in The Queen’s College, Oxford and went to university in the same city, studying history at Lady Margaret Hall. She has worked in law, publishing and book selling and is also the author of the Sam Falconer crime series. Welcome Victoria!
The trigger for the book was my love of Titian’s painting The Man with the Blue Sleeve. When I’m between books I tend to get a bit restless and I went for a wander in The National Gallery and stood in front of him for a long time and realized I always ended up in front of him when I was in a certain restless frame of mind. He’s such a sexy, sardonic rogue. Then I noticed how young Titian was when he painted him – about twenty. That was the start of the book for me.
What drew you to Renaissance Venice and Titian and how did you go about the historical parts of the research?
It was the painting really that began it all. To be perfectly honest although I could have named Titian I knew next to nothing about him before beginning the book but our family had a strong emotional connection to Italy. My father, the historian Robert Blake had a great love of Italy. He had been a POW during the second world war in the south of Italy, had escaped and then been looked after by Italians before making his way through the mountains and back to the allied troops. I don’t think he ever forgot being looked after in that way. It was a very dangerous thing for Italians to do at the time. So when I was child we went to Italy for holidays and Venice was one of the first places I went abroad. It made an indelible impression on me. So there was this combination of factors that came together. For the research I read everything I could get my hands on. Particularly useful were the letters of Pietro Aretino. He was a poet, pornographer, blackmailer and great friends with Titian. He was absolutely clear that Titian was a genius and told everyone. His letters are hugely entertaining. He writes to friends thanking them for sending him salad. He writes to his gondolier advising him not to marry. He even writes letters on the dangers of eating mushrooms. He adored Venice and I loved his letters. I also read Sheila Hale’s fantastic biography of Titian. For research on courtesans I read Margaret Rosenthal’s book The Honest Courtesan about Veronica Franco and I also read Franco’s poetry.
During your research for the book what was the most surprising fact you uncovered?
I think that there was an actual term ‘muneghini’ that was used to describe those young male patricians who visited nuns for sex. The term means ‘frequenters of nuns.’ According to the Renaissance diaries of Marin Sanudo at any rate! That was extremely surprising. And also that there was an episode in 1514 when the nuns of the Convent of San Zacaria got together and stoned the authorities who wanted to interfere with the way their nunnery was run. I loved the idea of mutinous nuns!
Who was your favourite character to write?
I had a real fondness for Tullia, the courtesan. I loved her courage, her sense of humour and her essential good heartedness. I wanted her to not just survive but thrive as well. Apart from her the character I was most involved with was the boatman, Sebastiano. I heard his voice incredibly vividly in my head from the very beginning. I had a very strong visceral impression of him and he tops and tails the book.
If you could travel to any time or place in history where would you go and why?
Ask me that tomorrow and I’d come out with a different answer but today … I’ve got a stone age axe head that my grandfather, who was a Norfolk farmer, picked up in his fields. I’d like to go back to the moment when the axe head had just been created and take a look at the man who had carved it and was holding it in his hands.
Apart from The Man with the Blue Sleeve, I love the portrait he did of Aretino. It’s in Florence in the Galleria Palatina. Aretino wears this very splendid orange, velvet gown and has a magnificent beard. He looks like he’s going to jump out of the canvas at you and demand the most recent gossip. You get a real sense of his physical strength as well as his strength of character. For anyone wanting to read about Titian I recommend Sheila Hale’s biography and also Titian: The Last Days by Mark Hudson – that’s a fantastic, highly readable, fascinating book.
And finally … what can we expect next from Victoria Blake?
My next book is a novel about one of the first female war correspondents who goes and reports from the Spanish Civil War. I find female war correspondents fascinating and have watched with a huge amount of respect and admiration over the years fantastic women like Kate Adie, Lyse Doucet, Lindsay Hilsum and Orla Guerin. How do they go into those incredibly dangerous places, hold it all together, report back coherently and then come home without being destroyed by it all? I think they are remarkable people. It’s been interesting reading the obituaries of the war correspondent Clare Hollingworth who has just died at the age of 105. She reported the ‘scoop of the century’ – that the Second World War had started.
Thank you Victoria.
Titan’s Boatman is out now in Hardback and ebook formats from Black and White Publishing.
Find out more about Victoria and her writing at: https://victoriablakewriter.wordpress.com/