Today we warmly welcome Vanessa Carnevale to Sunday Spotlight to talk about her latest novel, The Memories That Make Us.
When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?
For a long time before writing my first novel I felt like I had a book in me but didn’t quite know what to write. Before then, I had written nonfiction freelance articles, but had written very little fiction. There simply came a time when I could no longer ignore the intense urge to try writing a full-length adult novel, so I sat down one summer afternoon to do it, and I haven’t looked back since!
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I’m finding that every book is different, and it also depends on the level of research involved. I wrote the first draft of The Florentine Bridge in six weeks, and spent many months revising after that. The Memories That Make Us took me a little over a year to completely finish.
What authors and types of books do you love the most?
I mainly read a lot of contemporary and historical fiction. I like my contemporary fiction to move me. Some authors who without fail make me reach for the Kleenex are Karma Brown, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Colleen Oakley, Jojo Moyes, and Kristin Hannah. As far as historical fiction goes, I love books by Hazel Gaynor and Jennifer Robson. We also have some fabulously talented Australian authors who have become ‘auto-buys’ for me, and in that department there are too many to name!
What is your favourite childhood book? Did reading as a child have any bearing on your decision to become a writer?
I would probably say The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton. I devoured her books as a child and re-read them over and over. Thankfully I kept all my copies, so my children can now enjoy them. I consider myself first a reader, then a writer, so yes, reading as a child without a doubt, influenced my desire to become an author. That’s where my love of storytelling started.
What inspired your most recent book?
The idea for The Memories That Make Us began with a number of questions. If I had my time over, would I live the same life twice? Would I fall in love with the same person? Would I follow the same career path? And do we really end up with who we’re meant to end up with? Once I started trying to answer these questions, it occurred to me that one way to do this would be to have a character (Gracie) completely start over, with no recollection of her past. It was then I knew that setting the story on a flower farm could tie in nicely with this kind of story. Flowers are healing and research tells us they evoke positive emotion, so I felt like the flower theme could enhance the story and Gracie’s personal journey beautifully.
How much research did you do?
For The Memories That Make Us, I started out by reading a memoir about a woman who lost her memory and had to rebuild her life after it. She was married with children and couldn’t remember any of her family members, much like Gracie. She had to relearn so much, including some of the everyday tasks (like tying shoelaces) we take for granted. Once I had a handle on what things might be like for someone dealing with a rare brain injury like this, I was able to develop Gracie’s character without letting the medical challenges overshadow the story of self-discovery. I undertook a lot of research into the botanical side of things, including flower cultivation and the growing ‘slow-flower’ farming movement, as well as the link between flowers and positive emotion. This meant planting flowers, harvesting them, visiting flower farms and taking flower-arranging workshops. The upside of all this is that I now have an abundance of fresh flowers in my garden and in my home. Friends and family also benefit because the Carnevale’s are always giving away fresh bunches of blooms on a regular basis! It really is quite fascinating, observing the way people respond to receiving a fresh bouquet of flowers and I tried to capture that in the book.
Do you read your book reviews? Do you appreciate reader feedback and take it on board, even if it is negative? How do you deal with negative feedback after spending so much time writing your book?
Up until now, I have read reviews and I do that because I’m fascinated by reader’s impressions and I like knowing what resonates with them, what elements of my storytelling they enjoy, what characters they loved and why. I think it’s difficult to take reader feedback on from reviews, since the book, by that point is already written. I’m very receptive to feedback from my agent, editor and early readers. As far as negative feedback goes, it’s important for writers to try to not take it personally and focus on the readers that do enjoy their work.
How much planning do you do? Do you plan / plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?
It depends on the book. I’m not a huge plotter, so when I work with an outline, I leave wriggle room to let things evolve. I like to think that if I’m surprised by characters and plot points, then my readers will be too. I generally have an idea of major turning points of the story. I don’t always know my ending, even if I think I do! It often changes.
As far as the characters go, for the most part, I let them come to life on the page and getting to know them in this way is probably one of my favourite parts of the writing process. Sometimes characters will show up unannounced, and I don’t know why they have appeared but I feel like they have a bigger role to play. This was the case with eccentric Tilly (whom I adore) and endearing Charlie. I knew Tilly would play an important role in the story, only when she first appeared on the page, I wasn’t exactly sure what that would be. I just had to trust the writing. For me, this is the magical part of writing!
If you could go back in time for a year, which historical era would you choose to live in?
Probably the Edwardian era, because I love the hairstyles, fashion (especially the fashion!) and architecture from that period.
When did you discover the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge? Do you think the challenge has had any impact on the awareness and discoverability of Australian Women writers? Have you personally benefited in terms of exposure of your work to new readers?
I think the challenge is a brilliant initiative in supporting Australian Women writers and we are all so lucky to have such amazing readers willing to support us all. I absolutely have benefited and it’s something I’m very grateful for!
The Memories That Make Us
After an accident leaves Gracie with severe amnesia, she’s forced to decide: live a life that is made up of other people’s memories of who she was, or start a new life on her own. Leaving her fiancé Blake behind, she moves to the country where she takes on the task of reviving her late mother’s abandoned flower farm.
While attempting to restart a business with an uncertain future, she tries to decide whether to let Blake back into her life now that he’s a stranger. What she doesn’t count on is developing a deep connection with Flynn, a local vet who is her neighbour.
Forced to examine the person she has become, Gracie confronts the question: if you had your time over, would you live the same life twice?
Vanessa Carnevale is an author and freelance writer who has contributed to The Green Parent, The Huffington Post, Muse, and Italy magazine, among others. She is the author of The Florentine Bridge (MIRA) and The Memories That Make Us (Fiction HQ). She was a finalist in the Best New Author category for the AusRom Today Readers Choice Awards 2017. Vanessa is also the host of Your Beautiful Writing Life Retreats in Tuscany, Italy and Australia. She loves travel, tea, and flowers and often dreams of escaping to the country.