First and foremost I must express my deep sadness with what people are going through in these terrible floods, in both Queensland and New South Wales. It breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes to hear of the terrible and devastating loss of life, and also the loss of homes and treasured possessions. My heart goes out to you all.
Today my wonderful guest is the fabulous author, Venero Armanno. I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of his most recent novel, Black Mountain, and found myself glued to every page, every word, every twist and turn. Christos Tsiolkas said it well...‘Black Mountain is an eerie and compelling read … Like the best of fiction, it remains with you long after you have finished.’
Welcome, Veny, it's fabulous to have you here today...
Where were you born, raised, schooled and what was the most mischievous thing you did when you were a child?
I was born in Brisbane and we lived in a little suburb called New Farm. It was quite a migrant enclave, a real "Little Sicily" around where we lived. My parents had both immigrated in the fifties. So I went to a Catholic primary school in the suburb, run by nuns, then when I was older I went to an all-boys Christian Brothers school. Hell on earth! Luckily I failed my year 11 and had to repeat - I got sent to a state school and that place was like heaven, at least to me. So I ended my schooling with two years of absolute happiness.
The most mischievous thing I even did as a kid, I think, was to ring random people on the telephone and tell them I was a DJ from a local radio station. I'd make them listen to a single I played on a portable record player and get them to guess the name of the song. When they did I told them they would soon receive a prize. I stopped doing this when one day I saw a very small article in the newspaper about people complaining to the radio station in question about prizes never received. I think I was about eight years old.
How long did it take you to get published and how did you feel when you were told you had a contract?
It took me a long time given that I wrote my first book when I was about nineteen and didn't get published until I was in my early thirties. In that time I wrote about a book a year - I've got at least ten unpublished novels squirelled away. And they are unpublishable. I did get close a few times: I was runner-up in the Vogel/Australian Literary Award for an unpublished novel in about 1984 or 1985, then a publisher was interested in a book of mine that we worked on together for about three years - before they finally decided not to go ahead. So when a first book was finally contracted I was really walking on air. I'd made a deal with myself that if this ever happened I would quit my job (I spent all of the 1980s working for a major IT company) so that week I did. Talk about a loss of security! But it was my dream and still is - to be a writer.
What time of the day/night do you prefer to write
and where do you like to write?
I'm better in the mornings, as early as possible, though that's hard to work out now that there's breakfast for my boy to get ready and the school run - not to mention I now have a full-time job as an academic at University of Queensland. So these days it's a matter of fitting the writing in around the demands of everything else. But that's okay, you can always make time. Sleep is so over-rated.
Can you tell us a bit about Black Mountain?
It's the story of a small boy who, in the early twentieth century, works as a slave in a Sicilian sulphur field and who has no memory of any life beyond this. Like the other boys around him he dreams of escape and of becoming the person he knows he wants to be. Or could be. His journey takes him from these hellish fields into the lives of the Sicilian landed aristocracy, then the heady days of Paris in the 1920s (where he meets his great love, a courtesan named Celeste). But there's more to this boy than meets the eye, and as he discovers who he really is, and what he is, he has to learn what it means to "be who you are".
Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Everywhere and nowhere. This story came to me while I was researching something else entirely - I'd never even heard of real slavery in Sicily, or that sulphur mines existed. I never really go looking for a story - I always seem to have a few ideas bubbling away. Right now I'm working on a new book but I've already got another one completed. I think if you're interested in people and the world, stories really offer themselves to you.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A friend of mine says you write like you travel. So if you're good with itineraries and plans, you're a plotter. If you just like to arrive somewhere and wander around, you tend to be a pantser. That's me, and that's how I approach writing. I find a start and wander around until the story becomes clearer
What are you writing now?
I don't like to talk about things that are on the way, but it's a novel about two older men who discover a young woman who looks exactly like the teenage girlfriend they lost many, many years back. It could be great; it could be garbage! I just hope it doesn't fall into the middling field called "mediocre". I prefer to fail on the grand scale, if need be.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
The writing is always fun. So is the researching. Revising, multiple drafts, edit - I like all of that. So really the only hard part is finding the time I really need to give an idea its best expression and exploration.
And what is the most enjoyable part?
Writing the book of course, and signing published copies for people!
Who is your favourite Australian?
My wife Nic.
What is your favourite Aussie saying?
He or she is "a sandwich short of a cut lunch".
Where would be your ideal place to holiday?
Probably any place that involves a beach and surf. We're blessed in this country, that's for sure.
It's been wonderful chatting with you today, Veny.
Looking forward to the next novel!
If you'd like to find out more about Veny here are some links….
Until next week, keep smiling and dreaming :)