Thursday, 5 July 2012

Barbara Lambert's place

Barbara Lambert’s novel The Whirling Girl, set in Italy, tells a story of love and lies, of art and archaeology. It will be published by Cormorant Books in July. Her previous work includes A Message for Mr. Lazarus (2000) and The Allegra Series (1999). She has won the Danuta Gleed Award for Best First Collection of Short Fiction and the Malahat Review Novella Prize, and been a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Prize and the Journey Prize. Lambert has lived in Vancouver, Ottawa, Barbados, and Cortona, Italy. She now  lives in an orchard in the Okanagan Valley, where she is working on a novel closer to home. You can read more about Barbara here. Below, she writes about where she gets work done.

A hammock in Italy

How long does a novel take to be born? Sometimes much longer than any reasonable person might think. Ouch? All those dark nights in the garret, the pain, the angst? Ah, but here’s a guilty secret of the sort that writers tend to keep to themselves. In my case, at least, sweet afternoons in a hammock played a major part.

In the 1990’s I was lucky enough to spend nine months in an old mill house in Italy. Though in fact, those months were spread over a period of nine years.  On our first trip, it was May -- the hills riotous with wildflowers. And already, as we’d explored, a story had begun to settle around me: A botanical artist with a troubled past, who, in her paintings, would walk the fine line her discipline demanded between art and science, just as in her life she had always threaded between guilt and desire. 

I was involved in other work at the time, but her presence became insistent, recorded in snatches in the pages of my notebooks.  On each of those Italian visits -- sometimes for a month, once for three glorious months together -- mornings tended to be spent hiking the countryside, or exploring the Tuscan and Umbrian hill towns, or historic cities like Florence, Siena, Assisi, or (notebook in hand) wandering museums and Etruscan ruins -- expeditions almost always culminating in a long trattoria lunch. And then? 

In this civilized society where all commerce ceases during lunch and nothing reopens until after siesta time, what could be more essential than sleepily navigating back to the Molino where the hammock waited with its view of Cortona’s massive Etruscan walls, then settling into the gently swaying netting, taking out my notebook, my pen....And the hammock sways, and pen falls from the writer’s hand, and the dream takes over, vivid and seductive. Though never did that writer dream how many years it would take to bring that story to its final page. Or how many sweet hours of Tuscan dreaming would be available to her, still, in the pages of those travel journals.

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