Vanessa Carnevale is an author and freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia, where she lives with her husband and two children. In her early twenties, Vanessa spent several years living in Florence, Italy, where she met her husband and discovered a love of travel and la dolce vita. She now considers Italy her second home. The Florentine Bridge is her first novel and and her second novel, The Memories That Make Us is due for release in March.
Vanessa will be my first Stories on Stage guest at Koorliny Arts Centre in late March, 2018 (you can book tickets here). I asked her some questions about her upcoming release, as well as her writing life and loved her answers!
Monique: Your second novel, The Memories That Make Us is about to be released. A story about memories we make and those that make us, this looks to be another tear-jerker like your first novel, The Florentine Bridge. Tell me a bit more about it.
Vanessa: In The Memories That Make Us we are introduced to Gracie, who, after an accident, can’t remember most of the elements of her past, including her deceased mother and the fiancé she is supposed to be marrying in three months’ time. The story follows Gracie’s journey of self-discovery and finding out who she is when everything she had is lost. In this book, readers will be able to immerse themselves into the botanical world of a flower farm, a setting I very much enjoyed researching.
Monique: What made you decide to write about memories about how they shape us?
Vanessa: In the early stages of cultivating an idea for a book, a question came to me. That question was: if I had my time over, would I live the same life twice? (The answer was yes, but I still found the question fascinating.)
I think that most of us at some point will look back on the major turning points in our lives and perhaps wonder how things might have turned out if we had made different decisions about our lives and the people we choose to live them with. Is it fate that dictates our lives or destiny? Or both?
And are we really meant to end up with who we end up with? I started wondering about these kinds of questions. So many of the decisions we make about our lives on a daily basis, and especially during the ‘big moments’ of our lives, are dependent on who we are today, and our memories play a big role in influencing who we are. I thought a great way to explore these questions would be to create a character who had no recollection of her past. Would she make the same decisions about her life? Would she follow the same career path? Would she fall in love with the same person again? You’ll have to meet Gracie to find out!
Monique: Your debut novel was received very well, with reviews such as ‘a rich love story’ and ‘I was transported to Tuscany’. So, how does it feel to be releasing your second novel? Are you suffering Second Novel Syndrome? What’s your emotional state like as release date nears?
Vanessa: Now that we are very close to release, I’m excited and trying to savour every moment. It’s a time when I feel truly blessed (lots of ‘pinch me’ moments) to be in this position. I’m really grateful that my work can be enjoyed by readers, so it’s a time where I get to reflect on that. I never take for granted the fact that a reader has taken the time (which is so precious) to read one of my books out of a vast sea of thousands of books to choose from. (Thank you readers!)
Release is a very busy time and it’s hard to keep on top of emails—there are interview questions to answer, and events to plan and prepare for, and it all takes a lot of time and energy. I love it though! Especially once the book comes out and readers start emailing me!
As far as Second Book Syndrome goes, I definitely think it’s a thing, and I say that because I did suffer from it! I had lots of moments of self-doubt while penning this book. I wrote The Florentine Bridge without any expectations or inhibition. This time, I knew there would be eyeballs on my work, and lots of them, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t let anyone down. Striving for one’s best is usually a good thing, but it can also be detrimental to the creative process. For me, it’s better to push those feelings aside until I have a fully completed draft and instead let my heart tell the story. There’s always room for a critical eye once it’s time to edit!
Monique: You’re also a life coach, you run retreats for writers, you created a magazine called Mindful Parenting, you co-hosted the Your Creative Life podcast … and you gave up a corporate career for that. What were some of your reasons for stepping away from corporate life?
Vanessa: It didn’t bring me joy. And I realised that I would be a much happier person if I could step away from it and continue to work, but work towards doing the things I loved. That’s when I started to focus more seriously on my writing and I am so very glad I listened to my heart because it’s not always easy to do that.
Monique: How did writing a novel flow from this lifestyle change?
Vanessa: I am much happier when I’m creating. I have more time to spend with my family and while writing is still work, it’s work I love and we all deserve to be doing work we love.
Monique: Would you change anything? Are you even more ambitious now?
Vanessa: I am ambitious, but I also like to live with a philosophy that leaves room for magic and whatever is meant to be. When it comes to writing and traditional publishing there is only so much we can control. So while I work very hard, and am very committed, I try to become aware of the point where I need to step away and allow life to take me where I’m supposed to be heading. When I’m working on a book, I always make a wish that my book will find a way to reach the right readers—ones who will enjoy the book. That takes a bit of pressure off, almost like giving some of the worry and expectation away and it’s quite freeing.
Monique: Describe yourself as a writer in three words.
Vanessa: Open. Curious. Dreamer.
Monique: Can you take us through a “typical” writing day?
Vanessa: I have set writing days and they begin once I drop the kids off to school. I try to vacuum and tidy up the kitchen before we leave, so when I walk through the door again, I can put the kettle on and go straight to the desk. I usually have a cup of tea or coffee and I normally light a candle. On those days I try to make sure I don’t schedule in any other appointments so I can focus solely on writing. If I get stuck or feel like the words aren’t flowing as well as they could be I step aside and try meditation or a walk around the garden.
Monique: How do you start a novel?
Vanessa: I’m starting to learn that every book is different. Usually I spend a lot of time letting the idea percolate, jotting down notes, questions, and familiarising myself with the characters. I don’t usually start writing unless I’ve written a 1-2 paragraph pitch (similar to what you’d see on the back cover) of the book which clearly shows the conflict and direction of the book.
Monique: What do you do when you’re having doubts about your writing? What happens when you get stuck?
Vanessa: Meditation is a really useful tool for me as it helps clear the mind. I will sometimes set a manuscript aside to allow myself time to think about the plot and characters some more, and that also helps. So does reading!
Monique: What has writing taught you about resilience?
Vanessa: Years ago when I was in my corporate job, someone told me ‘every no is one step closer to a yes’ and I’ve carried that with me ever since.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Vanessa: Self-doubt and procrastination. These two things usually go hand in hand and it almost always comes down to one thing. Fear. I’ve learnt that it’s normal to experience some self-doubt, so I acknowledge it and try to work with it as best I can!Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer? Vanessa: That it’s easy. That it doesn’t require hard work. Ha! Click To Tweet
Monique: What’s your top tip for someone new to writing?
Vanessa: Write from the heart and spend time allowing yourself to find your voice. And read as much as you can.
Monique: If you could only keep five memories from your life, what would they be?
Vanessa: In no particular order:
- Falling in love with my husband
- Being pregnant
- Seeing my children’s sweet little faces for the first time
- Feeling my mother’s love for me in one of her many, many embraces over my lifetime
- Listening to my grandmother sing me lullabies as a child
I love this question. The answers say a lot, don’t they? What matters most is love and our loved ones.