Monday, 16 May 2016

FLORENCE AFTERS

The river Arno from Ponte S. Trinita
I got back yesterday from my trip to Florence for the inaugural Publishing Day run by Florence Writers, an English-language writing group based at St Mark's English Church on Via Maggio, one bridge down from the Ponte Vecchio. It was my first time in the city and I felt instantly comfortable there, the way you do in some places. I often think how you settle in a new place is to do with mood and I was relaxed arriving, so was instantly well disposed.

My gorgeous, enormous bedroom
Ponte Vecchio at dusk
I was met off the airport bus from Pisa by Mundy Walsh, an Irish writer, and admin of St Mark's, who organised the event. She brought me to the lovely apartment above the church that I was to share with another panelist for the weekend.


I took my 30 year old copy of A Room With a View with me to read. It's a while since I've read it and probably ten years since I watched the film as I only had it on VHS but, oh, oh, oh, it was as fresh and fabulous as ever. I adore E.M. Forster's work and I enjoy this particular novel's reliance on coincidence and overlap, its swipes at snobbishness, and its glorification of art and love. (It wasn't Forster's fave of his books, he considered it 'thin'.) The book is vivid in my memory, so it was comforting to revisit, but I also found it really crisp and funny, as if I was coming at it for the first time. I started to very deliberately slow down my reading so that I would get to spend longer with Lucy, George, Mr Beebe et al. (I want to embark on a major Forster fest now.)

Botticelli's Birth of Venus
I had all day Friday to myself before Saturday's day-long event, so of course I was out and about first thing. I went to the Uffizi Gallery to see the Botticellis (in my novel Miss Emily, Emily Dickinson compares her beloved sis-in-law Susan to Venus on her scallop).



And I also got to see, for the first time, some brilliant Bronzinos. I particularly loved one of a jolly Medici baby and one of a serious young girl with a book.

Dante outside Santa Croce
Santa Croce
After that I went to Santa Croce (€8 to get in!!) as Lucy and the Emersons go there in A Room With a View, and it is vast, and many-tombed, and impressive. (But we shouldn't have to pay into churches.)

San Lorenzo market
Florence was busy, as you can imagine, and also wet - thunderstorms on and off all day. But I dodged a major one by having lunch in the San Lorenzo food market, and another by stopping for hazelnut gelato and what passes for tea on the continent (Lipton's, of course). All the shop and café workers were friendly and patient with my lack of Italian. Lovely, welcoming people.

The Duomo
I stumbled on the Duomo (glorious!), and spent all day just wandering and marvelling at the endless churches, the noticable lack of tack for sale, the beautiful side streets, the dhal-coloured Arno, the ancient uniformity of all that sandy stone.


That evening another of the Publishing Day panelists, Harper Collins UK editor Martha Ashby, arrived and we, guided by Mundy and Lori Hetherington - another organiser of the day - adjourned to nearby Caffè degli Artigiani for aperitivo - pre-dinner drinks and snacks. I had my first taste of Aperol Spritz, a gorgeous mix of bitter orange liquer, prosecco and soda water.

Sweetie fuel for our day :)
Kimberley, Martha and Lori
Saturday was work and we had three panels one after the other in the morning in a beautiful room above the church. Martha, myself and two US-based literary agents: Kimberley Cameron and Andrea Cirillo. We talked variously about how to sub your work, what the agent-author relationship is, the use of personal experience in writing, using social media, and how writers can earn. Fuelled by sweeties and water we were ably chaired by three separate writers/editors: Jalina Mhyana, Lisa Clifford and Helen Farrell.
Jalina waiting to begin
We then had ten minute one-to-one sessions with the participants and in the afternoon I hosted an Ask the Author event for all the participants. The writers were a very literate, well-read, knowledgable group and we had some fun and frank discussions about what writers can truly expect out in the literary world, in terms of advances, treatment etc. 


The work of Clet Abraham, graffiti artist
Lee Foust, Mundy Walsh and Kelsey Clifton at Santo Spirito
Mundy Walsh of St Mark's and Florence Writers
Mundy et al laid on a lovely buffet lunch of salads, cheese, bread and strawberries, with salami for the meat-eaters. I went for a swift walk around the Santo Spirito district at lunch time, for the air and headspace, stopping at a local gelateria for a tiramisu.

We had further one-to-ones in the afternoon and later The Florence Writers hosted a prosecco reception for us to wind down after a busy day. Back to Caffè degli Artigiani on Piazza della Passera after that for our aperitivo, with Mundy and American writers Lee Foust and Kelsey C. I loved listening to their stories about how they all ended up in Florence, their knowledge of the language, how often they get home, the things they miss, the things they love in Italy etc. I went home to bed at a sensible hour (sensiblish) as I had an early start for Pisa in the morning and my flight. (I saw the leaning tower from the plane!)

It was a brilliant publishing/writing event, very well organised, which I really appreciate. I met so many great writers with wonderful stories to tell and I was in awe of their spirit, living in this place and learning the language and writing through it all. I loved my time in Florence and was wishing I had more of it, of course. But I will, most definitely be going back.

Street performers
More from Clet
Pinocchio's now a boy...

16 comments:

Lori Hetherington said...

Great post, Nuala! I especially enjoyed reading about your impressions of Florence and how you passed your time outside of the Saturday event. It was a pleasure to have you participate and we hope you'll come back to Florence again in the future.
best,
Lori Hetherington

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Thanks, Lori. (Oops, I will fix my spelling of your name in the post.) I sincerely hope I will be back to Florence. You did a great job Saturday, ta. N x

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Thanks, Lori. (Oops, I will fix my spelling of your name in the post.) I sincerely hope I will be back to Florence. You did a great job Saturday, ta. N x

Jalina Mhyana said...

Wonderful observations & comments! We hope to see you again - until then, I'll be immersing myself in Miss Emily & hopefully some short stories too! - Jalina

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Jalina, it was a pleasure to meet you, thanks for great moderating & chats x

Janice Graham said...

Nuala, what a lovely post about the event. I count myself lucky to have had so much of your time at the aperitivo. Do come back soon!

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Thanks a million, Janice, I so enjoyed talking to you. Soon again, I hope. I am thoroughly enjoying your Bronte book x

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Thanks a million, Janice, I so enjoyed talking to you. Soon again, I hope. I am thoroughly enjoying your Bronte book x

Lee Foust said...

Nuala, you really made the event on Saturday for me and it is always sobering to see Florence from a new point of view. I actually begin to appreciate the city again when I get a out of my curmudgeon self. Ha! Thanks for the shout out of the Florence writers. (Kelsey's last name is Clifton, just fyi.)

Libby Cataldi said...

You are wonderful and we all learned much from you. You inspired me with your wit, dedication and talent. I'm glad our paths crossed and I hope they cross again. Un abbraccio forte. Libby

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Great to meet you, Lee. We're allowed be grumpy about the places we live as long as we see the good from time to time, I reckon. Safe travels, have a great summer. N x ps will adjust K's name pronto, ta.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Great to meet you, Lee. We're allowed be grumpy about the places we live as long as we see the good from time to time, I reckon. Safe travels, have a great summer. N x ps will adjust K's name pronto, ta.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Libby!! I loved meeting you and talking to you, you are a wonder. Big hugs to you. Hope we meet again x

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Libby!! I loved meeting you and talking to you, you are a wonder. Big hugs to you. Hope we meet again x

Lynn Cole said...

Nuala, it was such a pleasure to meet you and hear your wisdom. You are truly a special soul and I cannot wait to read Miss Emily! Florence is here when you're ready to come back!!

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Very sweet of you, Lynn. I am plotting my return. Great to meet you x