Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
I’m Kate Zarrelli, a pen name of Katherine Mezzacappa when writing for eXtasy Devine Destinies. I’m 57 and don’t mind telling people that. I think I scrub up quite well.
Fiona: Where are you from?
Despite my surnames real and assumed, I was born in Carrickfergus, just north of Belfast, but as a family we left Ireland because of the Troubles and went to live in Edinburgh.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I went to school in Edinburgh, at a comprehensive which however used to be the girls’ school attended by Muriel Spark; she based Miss Jean Brodie on one of her teachers. I had a great English teacher, Miss Cuthbert, sadly long dead, but if I can write at all I owe it to her. After school I went to university in Norwich, then spent about a year in Wales making Lady Di style bridal gowns, then came back to Edinburgh to work for a while at the College of Art before going to Durham as a library assistant. I funded myself through a research degree, part-time, whilst I was there, before going to London to be the curator of a museum at Harrow School. I came back to Scotland to work for Edinburgh District Council in Human Resources, got a professional qualification at Napier University, and then spent some happy years with Ethicon in Human Resources. I met my husband in Edinburgh and our eldest son was born there, followed two years later by his brother in Canterbury, which is where I did my Masters in Creative Writing. In 2006 we moved to Italy so that the boys would grow up truly bilingual Irish-Italian nationals.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
In the last month I have signed a two book deal with Bonnier Zaffre for full-length historical fiction in their Memory Lane series. The Gypsy’s Bride is scheduled for publication in June 2020 with the sequel, A Girl called Harry, following a year later.I’ve another author name for these: Katie Hutton. Hutton’s my maiden name and Katie was what I was called before I went to the big school and started taking myself too seriously.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’d always wanted to write. It was my dream when I was a little girl. One of my many jobs was as a library assistant in Edinburgh public libraries every summer whilst a student. We never had to reshelve the romances. In every branch library there was a special display for them, their front covers foremost. I knew then that I wanted to write books people would want to read, and that would touch their hearts, or make them feel good. So I got going in the early 1990s and wrote the first draft of Tuscan Enchantment then, in my garden shed in Edinburgh (it was usually too cold to sit outside). I tried a well-known romance publisher then, but was turned down, so the book went into the drawer and was forgotten. Then last year the disk turned up, the file got converted, and as the fundamentals of the story looked good, I revised the book – and Devine Destinies loved it.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Two moments stand out. In September 2016 I got my first short story published in a magazine called Ireland’s Own in Wexford, and was paid for it. I was so proud at seeing my name in print! Maeve Binchy got her first break in that magazine so here’s hoping. I’ve written other fiction and non-fiction for them since. Then when I got the Bonnier Zaffre deal last month I found that when people asked me what my job was, for the first time I’d say ‘writer’, and I changed my professional on-line presence (like Linkedin) to reflect that.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Tuscan Enchantment is set in the Lunigiana area of northern Tuscany between the Apuan Alps and the Tyrhennian Sea. Before we moved to Italy we used to holiday there, and now we live there, in the county town. It’s not as well-known to tourists as the Chianti area, but in World War II apparently suffered proportionately the highest civilian casualties of anywhere in Europe. That history seeps into the book, as do the castles and villas of a local noble dynasty, the Malaspina family, who inspired the Quattromani family of the story.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I’m trying to remember. It always had that title. The setting was important, and Tuscany is a selling point, and anyone who is in love enters into a state of enchantment, especially in a landscape like that. I got a review on the Devine Destinies site that said reading the book was nearly as good as an Italian holiday.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
Tuscan Enchantment is a contemporary romance. Usually I write historical fiction, including historical erotica. Getting the right ‘voice’ is all important. If I’ve managed it, it’s because I read a lot of fiction from the time I am writing about, and if it’s more recent history I also watch newsreels, like those Pathé films they used to show before the main feature in cinemas.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Antonia the heroine is a librarian, and I have worked in libraries, but she is not based on me. The Quattromani villa and the castle Lorenzo rebuilds are both based on places in the Lunigiana. Giselle, the heroine’s nemesis, is based on someone I knew many years ago who was a complete pain. The rest really is imagination.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I travel both before and during my writing, but I don’t write the books in the places they are set in, as imagination has to take over from daily experience.We’ve had family breaks based on the fact that I needed to check out a location. I also do a vast amount of research, both for this contemporary romance and for my historical novels. I talk to all sorts of people. For example, I have just contacted the National Association of Retired Police Officers as I need to know some details about police procedure in the mid-1950s for another book.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Martine Long, who is also an eXtasy author. I completed a questionnaire and she worked to that. I think she’s done a fantastic job, though my mother-in-law wanted to know ‘why’s that man’s shirt unbuttoned?’
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Love conquers all, probably. Without it, what hope do we have? But I expect readers of romances know this already.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I love Julie Cohen’s novels, and her work has taken a really interesting turn lately. New writers I’ve liked include Elizabeth Woodcraft, HP Maskew, Marina Fiorato. I find it really difficult to come up with a favourite writer. The ones I go back and read again and again are some of the classics: Thomas Hardy, E.M. Forster, Daphne Du Maurier, Graham Greene and some vintage crime writers like Ngaio Marsh or Dorothy L. Sayers (they are also great for finding a vintage ‘voice’). A really delicious treat is Georgette Heyer. She never, ever disappoints.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
My dear friend Anne Booth who is a prolific children and YA author. She convinced me to do the MA in Creative Writing and though she is a very gentle person she finally gave me a talking to about me letting excuses getting in the way of writing. Ten years after the MA, in February 2016, she read me the riot act. Since then I’ve published 12 short stories and written three full-length novels, as well as revising Tuscan Enchantment.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes, though I’m not giving up the day job. Aside from the need for a regular income, I’d find it difficult to shut myself off from people going about normal non-writing lives. People and the things they say and do fuel writing. But writing is one of those activities that you must treat as a job (by going to it every day, not missing deadlines, taking it seriously) althoughyou have no guarantee that you’ll be paid regularly. Indeed, there will be things you write which will not be paid but you know they will build your CV. I think you absolutely have to think about your market. I’ve written gentle magazine stories, paranormal, historical erotica, sometimes to fit in with the demands of a competition. Having range I think improves your writing all round.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Probably not, and that’s not arrogance but because the book was so thoroughly revised for publication that it’s changed a good bit from the sometimes cringe-making rookie text I bashed out in that garden shed.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Loads, and that’s thanks to Devine Destinies editing process. They were so thorough, so professional, and had a clear house style, which whilst it sounds rigid actually was a really good discipline to work to.I’d made lots of blunders years ago that I wouldn’t have made subsequently, like too much head-hopping, omniscient narration etc. My editors at DD have made me into a better writer, in all that I write.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Oh, I wish! For Lorenzo, Luca Marinelli (google him. He’s to die for). For Antonia, maybe Daisy Ridley for her great smile and English rose looks.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Keep writing, every single day, including when you don’t want to and you think when you’re doing it that your writing stinks. Even if that were true, the next day you’ve got something to revise and polish, rather than nothing at all. When you think you’ve got your book ready, read it aloud. Sounds mad but you’ll really pick up on clangers, repetition and clunkiness. Then get someone to read it who will be helpfully critical (not your Mum). Pay for this if necessary (but be aware that these are shark-infested waters, though there are good people out there). Don’t rush into self-publishing or posting your short stories on-line as you may find that some mainstream publishers won’t look at anything that’s already been available elsewhere. If you do self-publish, make sure your work is properly copy-edited first (this shouldn’t be do-it-yourself. I’ve reviewed some self-published novels for the Historical Novels Review and poor editing has really let down some otherwise promising stories). Go nowhere near anyone, but anyone, who will charge you for publishing your book. Be easy to deal with when you get near agents or publishers. If they are suggesting changes, then think about why they are doing so.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I just hope you enjoy reading Tuscan Enchantment as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’ve got several books on the go at the moment and they’re all non-fiction, because I’m in research mode for a book set in the 1950s. I’m reading about National Service, and David Kynaston’s three social histories starting with Austerity Britain.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Apart from Carol and Roy in Primary 1, the books I remember from childhood were anything by Beatrix Potter, and later, Leon Garfield, Cynthia Harnett, Henry Treece, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Roger Lancelyn Green…
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
The last film to make me cry was Pilgrim Hill, set on a small dairy farm in County Kerry, made with a budget of under 20,000 euro. It’s a small masterpiece. Nothing makes me laugh as much as the Goon Show or Monty Python.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
A girl called Giulia Albizzi who was brought up in an orphanage in Florence from which she was taken to be a test bench for a prince who needed to prove his virility before making a dynastic marriage – a shocking #MeToo story from the 16th century. I’ve written a novel about her that I am currently revising.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I’m involved in a charity selling second-hand books. To relax, I really enjoy dressmaking though I don’t have much time for it now. I made my own two wedding dresses (it was the same man each time) and have made them for friends. Mostly now I buy good second-hand clothes, mainly from Oxfam online. I’ve had loads of compliments – and this is in style-conscious Italy.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I barely watch telly, but will regularly watch CSI (Las Vegas), not for the plots or the gore but for the relationships of a group of people working closely together and dependent on each other. The last film I saw was The Favourite. A bit OTT but Olivia Colman was marvellous.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
I love spaghetti all’arrabbiata, or with salmon and cream the way my husband cooks it. The colours I really like on me are autumn ones. I’d my colours done 20 years ago and it was the best fifty quid I ever spent. My favourite song of all time is probably Black’s ‘Wonderful Life’, or possibly The Animals’ ‘House of the Rising Sun.’ Classically, I love Vaughan-Williams’s ‘Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis’ and would like it played at my funeral, and anything by Schubert.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I might as well be dead is my immediate reaction. On reflection, I might grow vegetables and look after stray cats.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
Telling my two boys, and my husband, how much I love them. I’d advise the boys to spend the time they have with people who are worth it, not the self-seeking or the loudmouths. I’d like to go out hearing my cats purring (they say that your hearing is the last to go).
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
Name, date of birth, date of death. Very plain, as if I was a Quaker. On second thoughts, why have a headstone? I like the idea of a woodland burial.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
I’m rubbish at self-publicity so this is a work in progress. At the moment I can be found on https://www.facebook.com/katherinemezzacappafiction/