The beginning of Autumn in Sicily can be abrupt. The gradual changes from one season to the next are now a thing of the past, there are no more slightly shortening days or time for the leaves to go from greens, yellows, warm rusty reds or browns, now the fall begins with heavy rains and cool nights, whenever the gods decide.
One day you are sunbathing on the beach and the next you are pulling on your cardigan and sheltering under an umbrella. The first rains are capricious, sometimes drizzling, then pelting, blurring the mountains and threatening with ash coloured clouds and distant thunder drones, initially succumbing to the afternoon sun and the Scirocco.
The heavy breath of the Scirocco is a lethargic exhale held in cupped hands, a stifling African wind which saps energy, tickling the skin without any relief or pleasure.
This corrupted zephyr, fed by ancient Aeolus the keeper of the winds, ravages the land and utters its curse without any mercy. In the summer it whips up the thermometer, in September it teases as it ushers in the rains, in the winter it tries to deceive people into shedding their skins too soon. First, there is the flotsam and jetsam of the winds and then the storm begins.
October in Sicily means many things to the Sicilian’s table from fruits like fichi d’india, hazelnuts, mushrooms and grapes. Late ripening in this years season also means a tardy gathering of tomatoes, eggplants (aubergines), capsicums, chilli peppers and other summer fairs.
The insanity of August is easily washed away as Sicily gets back into its daily routine, children go back to school, freshly bronzed public servants are well and truly lazing in their offices and the everyday grind begins.
A new season is always a new beginning, it changes the sensations and assures as we are moving forward despite our want to stand still.
Autumn is like sipping a fine Nero d’Avola, smooth and deeply satisfying with a warm and fruity aftertaste that makes you wish more.
I was recently asked via twitter about what there is to be done in September in Sicily. The truth is just as many things as you can do at any time of the year, it probably is a good month to visit the island as the holiday ‘high season’ is well and truly over and if the weather holds it is so much more pleasant compared to the stifling heat of August. Feel free to do all the same things as you would in the summer but perhaps with cooler weather and less confusion.
If it is still warm you could have the beach to yourself, even if you will find many of the small bars and restaurants will close up after the summer. This is easily resolved with a trip to the supermarket where you can buy a bread roll with whatever your heart desires, perhaps a selection of cheeses, a beer or a small bottle of wine, what more can you ask for than a five-star picnic at the beach?
The choice of beaches in Sicily is really endless, heck it’s an island which means 360º of coastline. From Mondello beach in the north with it’s white sandy beaches near the Capo Gallo Nature reserve, in the south the Scala dei Turchi or ‘the Turkish steps’ rock formation near Realmonte in the province of Agrigento it is a little out-of-the-way but it is worth it, the Riserva Naturale Belice-Menfi with its beach and dune area in the province of Trapani in western Sicily and snorkeling or swimming through the rocky inlets near Acitrezza’s Isole dei Ciclopi below Catania on the eastern coast.
For those who are interested in trekking, wildlife and archeological sites, September is a perfect time of the year to visit the likes of the Etna regional park, Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples and the Zingaro Natural reserve. The hunting season starts in mid September so don’t be alarmed if you hear gunshots, hunting is prohibited in parks and reserves so you are perfectly safe.
If the weather gets all stormy on you there are plenty of indoor activities to keep you busy from museums, wine tasting and eating. There are still plenty of festa’s and sagras (food and religious festivals) to experience the best thing to do is keep an eye out in the local press. Sicily in September is famous for wild mushrooms (particularly porcini) and fichi d’india fruit which are widely consumed throughout the year, the refreshing rains perforate their prickly cactus exterior adding flavor to their pip filled flesh.
I’m generally allergic to archeological and ceramic museums as it’s easy to overload on them in Sicily, there are literally hundreds of these types of museums here.
Some wonderfully fascinating museums which spark my interest include: The Museo Interdisciplinare Regionale Agostino Pepoli di Trapani with many elements grouped together it gives you a general taste of Sicily’s history and art from coral jewelry, religious artifacts to ancient Greek bronze sculptures.
If you are tired of medieval churches the Galleria di Arte Moderno (Palermo) gives you a selection of artwork from the Neoclassical and Romantic periods, it also hosts regular exhibitions of contemporary Sicilian artists.
The Museo Regionale di Palazzo Abatellis (Palermo) has some of Sicily’s most famous artworks, sculptures, ceramics, decorative arts and jewelry including works from Antonello da Messina and Antonello Gagini.
The Museo Regionale di Palazzo D’Aumale at Terrasini, Palermo offers a variety of Sicilian archeology, natural science and includes a collection dedicated to the once common and elaborately decorated Sicilian cart.
I think if you are going to visit Sicily you need to experience the dying art of Sicilian marionette puppets which once proliferated the island in the period before modern cinema as a form of popular entertainment and told stories of epic battles and heroes from Sicilian history. You can even adopt a puppet and help it’s restoration at The Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino.
So far from being an end to the summer, autumn in Sicily is the beginning to a new season filled with ever more feasts and experiences.
After spending 6 weeks on Australia’s East Coast, I couldn’t leave without getting a taste of the West Coast as well. With only 3 months in Australia (relatively speaking), I can’t do it all (even though I want to), so I had to pick and choose. Australia is a gigantic country with so many exquisite destinations. I decided that I would spend most of my time on the East Coast, since most of my dream bucket list destinations are on the East including the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsundays, Fraser Island, Magnetic Island, Noosa Everglades, Sydney, and beyond. Although Eastern Australia is my focus on this first trip (I am hoping for more future trips), I decided to see other regions as well. Although I won’t have the same amount of time to explore the West Coast and South Eastern Australia I thought I should still get a taste.
Ten days in Western Australia doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but if planned correctly you can see quite a bit. As a hyperactive traveler I like to stay busy throughout most of my journey. Planning things to do in each destination that I visit is exciting for me. The more I can squeeze in the more excited I get to go and explore. I still try to make sure that I have some time to relax every few days, but generally speaking I stay quite busy bopping around each place of venture.
I didn’t know what to expect when I flew from Cairns to Perth. After spending so much time in Eastern Australia I think I was expecting to see a similar landscape. How much different can the West really be?The beaches can’t be that different can they? Boy was I in for a pleasant surprise when I landed in Perth. Western Australia has an entirely different look and feel. It’s refreshing to be able to travel within one country, yet get different experiences in each region of the country.
The dryer, Mediterranean-like temperature was a gift from heaven. The cities are slightly more spread out with more natural unspoiled views in between. Very few hotels line the sunset and turquoise coast as many do in Eastern Australia. The rough coast rests along the surprisingly crystal clear turquoise waters. The desert-like terrain greets the sand dunes along the beach with welcoming arms. A change of scenery was exactly what I needed to recharge my vagabond heart.
Although I don’t have to worry about deadly jelly fish in the ocean like I do on the East Coast. I now have to worry about encounters with deadly sharks (yes, that would include the Great White Shark among others) and snakes. While swimming at Conto beach outside of Margaret River, just shortly after my friend and I got out of the water all of the surfers were quickly swimming to shore and flagging down other surfers to get out of the water. I asked one of them if there was a shark and he responded casually with “yes, a big one“. Oh my goodness, and I was just in the water with a shark! To be in a beautiful destination means that there are risks to be taken to enjoy the environment. Knowing these risks I continually tempt fate by exploring more and more in Australia. Am I crazy?
10 Busy Days on the West Coast: Fly into Perth
Sculptures by the Sea Art Display
Sunset Coast (beaches South of Perth)- Scarborough Beach, Brighton Beach
Turquoise Coast (beaches North of Perth)-Mullaloo Beach
Surfers Point & Southside
Conto Beach (we had to get out of the water because of the shark in the area)
Fly to South East Australia: Melbourne
Bucket List Adventures on the West- See wild kangaroos for the first time
Bodyboarding at Redgate Beach
Spelunking in Giant’s Cave
Indian Ocean Beaches
Drink Australian wine at an Australian winery
Hamelin Bay to see the wild dolphins
Have you been to Western Australia or recently started planning your Western Ozzie adventure? I’d love to hear from you to know what you have done and plan to do!
About our most pleasant guest blogger:
Jessica from Turquoise Compass is a teacher at heart, but her true passion is traveling (especially to turquoise beaches), adventure, and trying new things. She has been to 17 countries and she is ready to see more. She has completed over a hundred items on her bucket and encourages others to live life to the fullest, while taking advantage of every opportunity that comes. As you can tell, this hyperactive traveler loves visiting beautiful turquoise destinations.
Thanks so much to Jess for this delightful guest post and her great ideas for visiting my home Australian state of W.A. It makes me feel a little closer to home and some of the places she mentioned, I still haven’t visited yet!
Next up on the Blogging Around the World bandwagon is a delightful chit chat with Joanna from Multifarious Meanderings who enlightens us about family, humor, life and misadventures in the Hérault region of France.
Joanna says on her about page that: Multifarious Meanderings is simply an opportunity for her to write up and share a few moments in life, the odds and sods, the bits and bobs, without any ambition other than to enjoy writing and interact with other bloggers who share the blogging bug.
I think she’s being too modest! M.M is witty, sharp, hilarious, observant, truthful and filled with joie de vivre all at the same time. I was happy to have some of these qualities visit my blog even if only for a brief interview. So let me introduce you to this great ‘bloggess.’
Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in France? Where exactly are you living?
Yes and no. I consider myself a true expat in so far that I still obsessively squirrel away any British produce that crosses my path – imagine Gollum with a tin of baked beans. On the other hand, I feel very much at home here, having spent most of my adult life in France. When I go home to Britain I scare people off because I get too close, talk too loud and keep prodding them and squeezing them like fruit at the village market. I live in a small village in the Hérault valley in the South of France.
How would you describe France to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?
Coo, this one is hard. It’d take me an entire blog post to cover. (MM scratches head and reaches for bottle of rosé). Hmm. Adjectives. France is feisty. Sunny. Snowy. Spacious. Multicultural. Delicious. Passionate. Sometimes opinionated. Sensitive. Complicated. Proud. Historic. Beautiful. A tad precious at times, but endearingly so.
I haven’t had any bad experiences here – as a general rule of thumb, if you do your best to learn the language and adapt to French living, the French will reward your efforts. As in any country, you have a number of people who hate difference – but don’t let that put you off. If you want to read more of my ramblings about living with the French, I wrote three articles on Expats Blog that describe working and living in France.
Name five things I should see and do in France?
1)Visit the Alsace region, in the East of France, and discover fabulous scenery, scrummy food, and people with a big heart and real pride for their roots.
2) Fill in a French income tax form. If you come through the experience without crying, pulling your hair out by the roots or going mad, you are fit for life in France.
3) Check out the huge parties the French have for the 14th of July.
4) Christmas food – the closest you’ll ever get to a five-star restaurant meal without even leaving the house.
5) Treat yourself to a huge motorway traffic jam in the middle of summer, caused by demonstrating lorry drivers, and surprise yourself with the impressive stock of 100% French rude gestures and bad language you have learned since you arrived with your good behaviour so many years ago.
What should I defiantly taste/eat in France?
Defiantly? Nothing, unless you fancy being booted out of the restaurant by an angry cuistot. But you should definitely taste EVERYTHING. Starting with Munster cheese, the Rottweiler of the cheese plate (don’t let the smell put you off; its bark is worse than its bite). The galette des rois is a must – a sweet pie served for epiphany, made of flaky pastry filled with an almond – butter cream. Gratin dauphinois – the most moreish potato bake ever (and yes, I know that ‘most moreish’ isn’t English. It’s MM –ish). Saucisson, jambon cru and crunchy baguette pulled out of a picnic bag on the top of a hillside, shared in good company and washed down with some Châteauneuf du Pape red wine. Hungry yet?
Tell us about your perfect/average day in your part of the world?
Pain au chocolat and coffee at the bottom of the garden in my PJ’s on a Sunday morning, after a balmy night listening to the nurse toads and owls partying outside. Then a walk with Smelly Dog and Candide the Canon in the vineyards, lunch in the garden with PF and the tadpoles, a siesta, baking a cake with Little My, then reading a book in the bath, bread and cheese in front of a Pixar cartoon, then blogging, reading or writing in bed. Parfait.
If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?
At the bottom of my garden, with a chilled bottle of rosé and a truckload of peanuts (I’m a peanut addict. There, I said it.)
You are a foreigner now living full-time in France, is there a terrible culture shock or do you find your expat culture has something in common with your new adopted home?
No problems at all, bar seeing the French dunk their baguette and jam in their bowl of coffee and watching the butter melt all over the surface like an oil slick. Yuck. I’ll never get used to it.
Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?
Yes, sometimes. I get over it by Skyping my family whilst downing a G&T or three. Generally it happens at ‘key’ family moments, like Christmas and birthdays, or when my LLS (Littlest Little Sister) posts on Facebook that she’s having a bacon butty then going to the pub for a pint, a game of pool and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. The worst time was when my grandmother died, and I wasn’t at home to cuddle my Dad – I got myself a plane ticket home, and got in hot water because I turned up at the airport with my son’s toy pistol in my handbag.
What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in France?
Most rewarding high point? Ho de hum. Everything is good about my life here. I’d say that the most fabulous feeling was to be accepted and welcomed, particularly by PF’s Grandmother, who at first would have preferred to gouge her own eyes out with a blunt spatula than see the family DNA diluted with foreign stock. Being elected as the first non-French town councillor in our previous home town was a magic experience, too. Low? When a little old lady at the bus stop elbowed me in my very pregnant belly in her hurry to shove past me and get the last remaining seat on the bus. But that could have happened anywhere… and given the speed at which she ran, at least it proved that the French health system works well.
Do you think the world is becoming a smaller place?
Only if you let it.
What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?
I chose to live in France because I was intrigued by it as a teenager, then fell for the place hook, line and sinker. I don’t think expats have the same reasons for living away from home – some do it for professional reasons and live the experience very much as expatriates, some start off like that and fall in love with the country they went to, some go to the ends of the earth because they have fallen in love, others need to get away from their routine and try something new. What’s important is to be happy.
Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?
Not really, because I was only interested in French at school, so I put all my energy into learning to speak French rather than mastering less important, boring things like maths, geography and science. I regularly make mistakes when I have drunk too much rosé, but the tadpoles (my “Frenglish” offspring) correct me immediately. I also confused my apples and potatoes once, hence describing the most unusual toffee apple ever to a wide-eyed French audience.
Advice? Forget the evening courses, DIY French CD’s and text books, and get stuck in. Get out and about with your workmates, invite your neighbour around for a coffee, and stick at it. The French will reward your bravery with encouragement and will correct your French to help you along.
The French are infamous for defending their language, perhaps you can tell us about how you cope with this linguistic French snobbery?
I think that it’s more a question of pride than snobbery – the French have a beautiful language and as a grammar fiend in my own language, I wholeheartedly approve of their belief that it should be treated with respect. I have a nasty habit of taking pictures of the spelling mistakes I come across, proving that many French people mistreat their language. My kids quake in their boots every time I find one in case I tell someone off. The most recent example was today – a solicitor who mistyped the verb ‘determine’ in her email, and informed me that she was going to ‘terminate’ my husband instead.
You also blog in French, do you get many French readers, how challenging is this for you?
The French blog is still a baby – it’s doddling along. I don’t get the feeling that blogging is as popular in France – it seems to be a more personal project for many in comparison with the busy blogging community I have seen on the English-speaking platform. I mainly have French readers, many of whom are expats themselves. I enjoy reading their blogs too, and love seeing how those who live in Britain experience expat life in my own country.
What led you to the world of blogging?
My lovely big sister. I love writing, and I was frustrated to leave it on my hard disk. Big Sis told me about WordPress, and I will never forget how I had my heart in my mouth when I pressed that ‘publish’ button for the first time just over two years ago.
How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …
A big sweetie jar full of all sorts of fun jumble from MM’s life – if you’re looking for grown-up, serious stuff, you’re in the wrong place. Multifarious Meanderings is a humorous hotchpotch of parental palavers, run-ins with the evil Queen CERFA (aka the French administration), eternal mysteries of life such as the LSD (lost sock dimension), my hate – hate relationship with the sadistically smug Wondeure Woomane, my inability to become a Febreze Fairy, and the trials and tribulations of being a peanut addict. Learn how to embrace your inner bitch, deal with recalcitrant bathroom plumbing and get teenagers to adopt a Nike approach with the housework (i.e. ‘just do it’). There is also some serious stuff about Herr Hormone and his Henchmen, hunting down snakes in your home, the migration of the lesser spotted boob, and how to deal with cougars chatting up your husband at the bus stop.
Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?
Not really. Opinions have differed at times, but the people who comment are generally all intelligent grown-ups who know how to behave. Those who don’t are what I call bad fairies, and they generally manage to shoot themselves in the foot and nose-drive into blogger’s purgatory without any help from anyone else. I moderate all the comments on my blog to avoid any nasty surprises, because a blog should be a pleasant place to hang out, not a boxing ring.
What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors/subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?
I rarely visit my stats page (although I do admit I’m a sucker for reading the spam). I blog because I love writing, I love reading, and I never tire of the magic equation by which blogging + nice humans =friendship. That’s all. Now, about my book… just kidding. For now.
You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?
I don’t think I’m really in a position to hand out advice, but for what it’s worth:
‘Be yourself – everyone else is already taken.’ (Oscar Wilde). Your posts are unique –believe in yourself. Aim for quality, not quantity. When people comment, answer, and welcome first-timers who knock on your virtual door – there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve gatecrashed a private party. Never judge the success of your blog in terms of whether you’ve been Freshly Pressed, or the number of likes or followers you have – a blog may have thousands of followers, but the proof of the pudding comes from the followers who actually comment on a regular basis. If someone, somewhere is happy to see your post pop up in their reader as they eat their breakfast, then you have succeeded.
How important are weekly writing challenges and collaborations for you and your blog?
If I see a challenge that strikes my fancy, I’ll go for it, but I’m a gob on a stick, so I rarely need prompting to talk. I do enjoy interacting with other bloggers who set up cool projects like this one, too.
Do you think ‘virtual friendship’ really exists? You mentioned in a recent post, that the blogging community is a helpful presence for you, it’s certainly a new phenomenon, how suspicious or open should a new blogger be?
It most definitely does. I feel like I’m rolling into the local pub for an evening out with the regulars when I blog, and that’s what it’s all about. When my Father-in-Law died recently, I put a note on the blog to inform everyone that I’d be offline for a while. The ensuing support and concern, both on the blog and even by email, was not only touching, but humbling.
I am careful not to put too much ‘sensitive’ information on line. I use pseudonyms for my family, and I don’t put photos of my family on the blog – you never know who could download that photo of your five-year-old in the tub, or how they could use it, whether or not you have copyrighted it. I follow my gut feelings for contact with people – just like in real life, you should never take sweeties from strangers.
You liberally use Playmobile toys to illustrate your posts, what’s the inspiration behind this idea?
I’m just a big kid (MM grins and runs off to find her toy chest). I love playing with Playmobils, and I think that a Playmo photo illustrates a post well, particularly if it’s original and contradicts the social ideals that are depicted on the boxes. Like Prince Charming hoovering the floor and looking after the kids whilst his erstwhile Princess, now an Evil Queen in a fleece and tracksuit bottoms, drinks tea with her friend on the couch. This actually winds children up – I was told off by a friend’s three-year-old son when I sent the Princesses mum up the ladder in a pair of dungarees and Birkenstock sandals to save her daughter from a life of drudgery with Prince Charming. As far as I know, the poor lass is still there.
Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.
Definitely. Peter Pan – a great guide to a place I’d love to visit, Never Never Land.
So what’s coming up on Multifarious Meanderings that we can look forward to …
‘If I told you that, I would have to kill you’, as some super spy said in some film or other. No, seriously: I have absolutely no idea. I don’t plan anything; I couldn’t organise a shopoholics meeting at Harvey Nick’s Christmas sale. Generally, a random idea floats to the surface when I’m doing something, and I immediately start scribbling it down, then wake up what feels like five minutes later in a huge pile of washing, with an indignant husband glaring at me and the tadpoles baying for food.
Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?
Apart from yours? Lots. I regularly read great blogs written by blogging pals in the Middle East, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Italy, the U.K.,Costa Rica, Germany, France, the U.S., Canada… and many other places. Check out my blogroll!
Thanks ever so much to Joanne for running amuck on my blog, which may never be the same, but in a good way. I think we all need little more Playmobil in our lives to bring out the inner child which has been repressed for too long.
For future reference I will try to avoid using phrases like joie de vivre and stop trying to invent new words to express talented female bloggers (blogess doesn’t really exist) in a vain attempt to impress my guests.
Venero Armanno’s trio of Sicilian themed novels written by the son of Sicilian migrants is a powerful dedication to Sicily.
The volcano is a novel of emotion, passion and fire set in the shadowlands around Etna and tells us of the epic journey of Emilio Aquila. The book takes us back and forth from Sicily to Brisbane Australia through Emilio’s own precise and vivid memories.
Firehead is a wonderfully sensual, passionate story about Sicilian migrants to Australia and a young man’s obsession over the disappearance of his neighbour, the read headed Firehead of the title.
While The Black Mountain tells the story of a boy sold into slavery to work in the sulphur mines of 1940’s Caltanissetta, deep in the rugged almost savage centre of the island.
These Sicilian themed novels by Venero Armanno, are a homage to the Sicily of post world war two and a generation of migrants who dispersed themselves all around the world.
In the words of Armanno himself, each of these books are, in their own way, about family and love, the effects of the migrant experience on first and second generation migrants and the search for the self.
I was lucky to speak to Venero Armanno about his work and creative process.
How would you describe your writing style and novels to someone who has never read your work?
Trying to describe my work is one of the hardest things to answer—I’m glad some critics will do it for me.
It would be far easier if I worked in something easily identifiable, such as genre fiction: “I’m a crime writer, and my books investigate the dark psyche of people in the underbelly of Chicago.” I’ve often wished I could say something as straightforward as that.
In reality, my books are probably a blend of literary and commercial fiction; they tend to be page-turners while having a fair amount of depth (one hopes). People say the books are sensual and emotional. I’ve written a lot about the migrant experience, however, that’s far from my only main theme. Mostly I’m interested in ideas of what it is to be alive, what it is to love, what it is to hope for better things…
Do you have a certain method when you are working on a novel? Is it mostly research and then creativity? For example, how did something like the Volcano come about?
This varies from novel to novel, so there’s no one set answer, though my overall answer would be my method is to write without thinking too much… grasp an idea and run with it, wherever it leads. Over-thinking stifles just about everything. You can’t be over-thinking very much if you force yourself to write 1000 words a day or so. In the end, you just have to let it all flow out.
With The Volcano, I had a basic idea, but it started out as a screenplay, which grew into a three-part epic. When I really looked at that roughly 600 pages of screenplay, about twenty pages were good. So I started again from scratch. Mostly I researched as I wrote. – that is, when I came to places where I needed more information, I went and found it. That research led to other things that could go into the book… there were multiple drafting, believe me.
Do you mind being labelled as an Italo-Australian writer? What does it actually mean to you and for your writing to be classified as such?
I don’t mind and I don’t think it makes any difference one way or the other. I doubt my readership is primarily Italo-Australian, or even particularly ethnic. I think more was made of this in the first part of my career… Around the early 1990s, I remember some newspaper articles equating my writing to Paul Keating’s view of a much more multi-cultural Australia, but that was a long time ago.
You also work in the screenplay genre, how does this fit in with being a novelist, does it influence your style?
No, they feel like two completely different worlds, to be honest. “A screenplay is a blueprint for a work of art that doesn’t yet exist.” – one of my favourite quotes about the form. A book is in itself the work of art (or whatever). I really dislike the spare type of fiction prose that seems to emulate the form of screenwriting; my writing is a little more lush and sensual. People say I write like a European/Italian/Latino – and that’s how I like it. With screenplays we’re always thinking more visually and externally; with fiction, what I love is the ability to play with, and live in the interior world. So I don’t much see the two types of genres intersecting… at least not for me.
What advice would you give to an unpublished novelist?
“If you aren’t writing, you’re not serious. What would you say to a kid who wants to play guitar in a band and be a rock star, but never bothers to pick up a guitar and learn/play?”
Then, ask yourself why you want to do this. If it’s for money and fame, go do something else. If it’s because you genuinely love books and have been a reader all your life, then fantastic – try to be the best writer you can. That means to write a lot, every day, damn the consequences and try not to be a people-pleaser. Aim for the middle to long-term, not the short-term. Even if you solely concentrate on short stories, be aware that the road is long and that positive vibes are few and far between. Can you go several years without someone giving you some affirmation that what you’re doing is worthwhile? Can you deal with failure after failure? Because that’s what it will be like. So you have to do this for yourself, and for the sheer joy of writing. The rest is totally secondary, or irrelevant.
Give us a blurb about your most recent publication?
Okay, this is the official one:
‘Black Mountain is an eerie and compelling read … Like the best of fiction, it remains with you long after you have finished.’ Christos Tsiolkas
Beginning in the sulphur mines of Sicily over a century ago, Black Mountain takes you on a journey through time and back again.
When a boy sold into slavery finds the courage to escape his brutal life, he is saved by a mysterious stranger, who raises the boy as his own. Renamed Cesare Montenero after Sicily’s own ‘black mountain’, Mount Etna, the boy grows up to discover that his rescue was no accident, that his physical strength is unnatural, and that he has more in common with his saviour than he could have imagined. And when he meets the enigmatic Celeste, he suspects for the first time that he may not be alone.
Based on factual events and ranging through Italy, Paris and the rural fringes of coastal Australia, Black Mountain is a haunting exploration of what it means to be human.
What are you working on at this moment?
I’ve been redrafting a new book called CRYSTAL GIRL, and that work’s done for now (I think), so it’s off with publishers and agents. I’ve been working on something very different since then, a very large novel called WOLF HOUSE. Let’s just say it involves a girl with powers she doesn’t quite understand, a haunted house, Sicilian witches and, well, some very wolfish feelings… I am absolutely loving writing this book. In fact, right now it has gone off for a long run on its own; I feel like I’m just there for the ride.
How are you connected to Sicily? Do you visit Sicily often?
My family went back to live in Sicily for six months when I was at a very impressionable age (nine), so I’ve always felt very connected to the place. My parents, in Australia, lived a very Sicilian lifestyle too, if I can put it that way. So that increased the connection. I don’t have a lot of families left there so I haven’t been back in a while, but I’m very keen to take my young family.
Tell us about your other ‘Sicilian’ themed books …
These would be The Lonely Hunter and its sequel Romeo of the Underworld, Firehead, and The Volcano.
Each of these, in their own way, is about family and love, the effects of the migrant experience on first and second generation migrants, and the search for the self.
Black Mountain is your most recently published novel, tell us more about this, how did you discover this amazing setting and story?
I first came across the history of small boys forced to work in the Sicilian sulphur mines, in unthinkable conditions, during my research into The Volcano. It was such a powerful history that I felt I should use it for a book on its own, and not in some other work. I also wanted a little more time to read and talk to anyone who might have had first or second-hand experience with this slavery. I’m glad I waited quite a few years before attempting Black Mountain – I have to say, I’m thrilled with how it turned out.
Do you have a favourite Sicilian author/work?
I like the old stuff. Just recently I finished rereading some wonderful books: Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini; Little Novels of Sicily by Giovanni Verga; The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia; Night’s Eyes by Gesualdo Bufalino. Of course, you can’t go past Il Gattopardo! I also love Cesare Pavese, even though he’s not Sicilian. And my wife gave me a new, first-time novelist’s book On Earth As It Is In Heaven, by Davide Ennia (he’s from Palermo). It looks great.
But right now I’ve started reading a lot of Japanese literature…
Are you a blog reader at all? I know you have one but I get the impression you aren’t a fan.
Yeah, it’s a funny thing. Writers like being locked away in a room, then they’re expected to be public in some way. I like my privacy and I don’t need people to know what I think on an hour by hour basis! Or day by day, month by month, year by year…
My publishers encouraged me to develop my own blog site and Facebook page, so finally, I did. I think in three years I have managed to write two and a half blogs – honestly, I couldn’t care less. My energy should go into novels anyway. I’ve since updated my blog site so it just gives a bit of information for any reader that might be curious about my work. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, or even distant… I’m just not the type who needs to express blog-style thoughts. I have full novels to do that, after all.
I don’t follow blogs by people whose work I enjoy, either. There’s more fun in mystery. I come from that generation where you didn’t have access to artists and writers, and so (maybe) their work spoke more acutely.
A million thanks to Venero Armanno for finding the time to answer my questions.
Armanno’s writing style is sensuous, lyric and heart-achingly beautiful to read. He has written numerous novels and is a respected and experienced academic.
His latest book Burning Down is a thrilling journey into the world of boxing and organised crime in Brisbane is also available through the Book Depository and has been nominated for the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards. Read more about this book on Armanno’s blog here
As you know every Christmas I experience away from my family and friends is always tinged with guilt and melancholy. Even if the blessings of my children and new friends distract me from dwelling on negativity. Such is the life of an expat.
I don’t particularly want any gifts for Christmas, I was writing to you to let you know how I’m going to make sure you pass on my love onto everyone.
This year has been wonderful thanks to my blogging, I’ve had numerous compliments and have met several people on similar journeys to mine which has helped me to feel less isolated and has encouraged me to continue my writing in all its forms. I’ve finished my first book and I’m well into a second which will be a collection of essays and I have many new ideas.
Dearest St Nick I ask you to give everyone I’ve met this year a warm embrace and thank them for their kind words. As for my wonderfully open and loving family I give them my love as always. And for you Santa, I pray everyone remembers Christmas should be about giving of themselves and not giving to others.
I’ve always been a scribbler, I must have filled up hundreds of notebooks with notes, drawings and random thoughts.
I love stationary stores and I’m always buying gorgeous writing paper, leather bound journals, diary’s of all shapes and sizes.
Over the past year though I’ve become obsessed by the little black notebook, particularly the Moleskine variety.
The little black book fits perfectly into a handbag or a coat pocket and can be whipped out whenever an idea or image strikes me.
I have three little black’s going right now. One is my Moleskine from last year which is pretty much finished, then I have a Charlie Brown Peanut’s themed diary which I am using for my new novella writing project and finally a simple bird cover for random daily notes. I’ve limited myself well as I usually have many books going at the same time.
I love blank pages, the feel of the high quality cream colored pages in between my fingers. The beautiful pages of Moleskines come alive with black felt tip pen scribbling on them, it makes me feel terribly writerly like Proust scrawling notes all over the place (I doubt he would have been limited to the small version like I am though!)
Above all I adore the anonymity of the little black book, nobody knows what you are doing, it could be a simple diary or sketch book, it’s up to me to transform it into what ever I want it to be.
I could be a secret agent or a biting satirist whatever my imagination beholds in a particular moment. Simply remarkable!
Ok, I know it’s a bit pithy but I think we are all writers in the way we create our own narratives and lives. The the endless dialogues we have each day, our own internal monologue and interactions are all pieces of writing.
As life progresses it gives us different masks to wear which allows us to create the different parts of our journey: son/daughter, student, sister/brother, girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, lover, parent, professional, in-law, grandparent … our roles are endless.
The experiences we choose in life dictate the richness of our own unique narrative. The business of writing as a profession takes the natural ability we all have to a different level documenting and crafting each word on the page, whether it be on the virtual ‘page’ of a computer screen or scribbling in a notebook.
I love new ideas and writing helps me to explore different areas which in turn stimulate other interests and move me into other directions. It’s an addiction which gives me an appetite to understand this world. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of asking questions.
Sicily has become an extensive part of my story, it is a piece of my family’s history and speaks to me so eloquently.
Moving to Sicily has been a challenge and I struggle everyday with the culture shock, but realistically it is a fantastic place to be a writer. Stories literally come up to you and introduce themselves, others slap you in the face or make friends with you doing a casual conversation. The slower paced life is conducive to reflection and the writerly life sits well with this place. In fact the island has produced many famous writers, who are an inspiration to me. Pirandello, Verga, De Roberto, Brancanti and Quasimodo are my favourites.