Alan from the Fiction Team chats to Stefania Hartley, our Writer Of The Week.
Stefania’s story, “The Heart Of A Wedding”, appears in our November 24 issue.
In “The Heart Of A Wedding”, the bride’s mother is rather overbearing. Do you find such a flawed character as the mother easy or difficult to write?
I find flawed characters the easiest to write and I love doing it. It’s a bit like watching a naughty classmate doing things you wouldn’t dare do, but might have fantasied about.
You have written a few Don Pericle stories for us, and his wisdom often saves the day. What do you enjoy most about these type of stories? Is it important to you to have a storytelling message attached to them?
I love writing Don Pericle’s stories because I’ve grown very fond of him now. The message is very important to me, but it must never be a crutch for a weak story. The story has to be able to run on its own legs.
A Don Pericle story usually starts with a wedding-related problem or a relationship flaw that I’ve seen in others or myself. If I think that it’s interesting enough, I give it to Don Pericle and tell him, “Now you deal with it.” Sometimes he can solve it immediately, at other times he can’t. Then I put the story aside and let the old man think about it until he comes up with a solution which makes everyone happy.
You are of Italian descent and write stories in both Italian and English. When writing in English, do you ever find the translation an issue?
That’s an interesting question, because I rarely translate: the stories are born in the language I’m writing in. Sometimes a turn of phrase or a word pops up in the wrong language, because there’s no direct translation and they are the perfect way to express what I want to say. For example, there are many more ways to walk in English than there are in Italian: stride, strut, flounce, prance, shuffle, scuttle, amble, saunter . . . They are all fantastic ways to describe what in Italian would need more than one word to describe.
Your writing often focuses on family, humour and food. Is this influenced by your upbringing?
Definitely. I grew up in Sicily, where family is everything, and food is the way love is exchanged within a family. When I was very small and reluctant to interrupt my games to have my lunch, my grandma would tell me funny stories to entertain me while I ate. They were made-up stories, adjusted to my tastes. I also watched a lot of Italian comedy on TV with my dad. I’m convinced that laughing and smiling are good for the heart and the soul.
Notebook and pencil or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?
Most stories start off as a scribble on a notebook (I keep notebooks everywhere) and then are born on my laptop. I’d love to have my own study but, for that, I’ll have to wait until my eldest goes to University. Until then, I’ll continue sharing a desk with my youngest daughter. Luckily, she’s very tidy and I find it very conducive to be surrounded by a pink carpet, teddy bears and calendars of cute bunnies. Sometimes I need to work after she’s back from school; then I use a little desk in the bedroom or the kitchen table, especially if I’m supervising the hobs at the same time. Some dinners have been burnt . . .
P.S. What’s your one top tip for an aspiring Writer Of The Week?
Read a lot, learn the craft (books, workshops, courses, there’s plenty to choose from) and develop a thick skin for rejections. I could barely speak English twenty years ago – so if I can do it, you can, too.
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