Questions of identity, strong female characters and family relationships are common to all my books…
Water Will Find its Way
Water Will Find its Way is self-published on Amazon in 2012. An exploration of family bonds and identity among three generations of women displaced by war, it begs you to understand how changing fortunes can make people do things they find unsavoury. It tells of the importance of saving from oblivion, with music as the redemptive link to three women’s quest to recover their origins.
The story was inspired by a friend’s grandmother who is Armenian. She was abandoned in an orphanage when the Turks began the massacres at the outbreak of WW1. I was fascinated by her and wanted to highlight the plight of women post-war.
SICILAN LESSONS is set in 1978 in the heart of provincial Sicily, where outdated codes of practice still hold sway. A teenage boy struggling to recover from his mother’s murder unwittingly finds himself a tour guide for an American girl who has inherited a house nearby. Their burgeoning relationship enables him to face his father and overcome the very real limits of life in the port town, while he shows the American girl that she has inherited not only a family legacy but also the patrimony of an island with all its startling beauty and buried frustrations.
Running a restaurant during my first years in Sicily made me privy to all sorts of secrets which have found their way in some shape or form into the book. The most important lesson I learnt was this: in Sicily, nothing is as it seems…
Here’s the first page of VIA MONTECASTRO, as I’ve called Sicilian Lessons in Italian.
Lezione n1: Non ti fidare mai della versione ufficiale.
Escono da casa per guardarla. Il vecchietto Menico posa il sedile che sta intrecciando, dice al fratello che c’è un evento per strada. Dalla tasca esce fuori u marranzanu, con quel dung dung dung annunciatore da scacciapensieri. I tre Re Magi, le sorelle zitelle che vivono al numero 20, corrono via dalla casetta con la massima velocità delle loro sei gambe. La cosa migliore: la ragazza sembra essere completamente inconsapevole dei suoi ammiratori.
All’improvviso, mi chiama. Mi chiede se conoscevo le persone che vivevano al numero 21. Io, Vincenzo Tesoriero! Non si rende conto che nessuno mi parla più? È da quattro anni che nessuno mi rivolge la parola con questa spontaneità, che non ho voglia di parlare con nessuno di niente. Ma non sono tutti i giorni che uno trova una bella turista per strada, al meno non in un paese come Milazzo. E ancora meno su Via Montecastro, una strada rovinata dalle buche ed abitato da indesiderati come mio padre.
“Sono sicuro che ho visto il nonno,” gli ho detto al rientrare a casa per pranzo.
Non appena ho visto la figura tozza di mio nonno al porto dei pescatori, ho saltato addosso la bicicletta e ho pedalato per casa come se la mia vita ci dipendesse.
Mio padre si congelò per un istante – ma non per quanto ho detto. Il proprio fatto che gli parlavo avrà sconvolto il vecchio bastardo.
Grugnìì, senza girarsi dal lavandino. “Dove l’hai visto?”
“Quindi era lui?”
Mio padre posò il pesce che stava pulendo, e si asciugò il naso sul dorso della mano.
“Come mai è uscito?” Insistì.
Le curve spalle pelose di mio padre distesero verso alto la canottiera bianca sporca nel suo gesto prediletto di comunicazione: l’alzata di spalle.
“Buon comportamento. Raccomandazione. Non so di preciso, non l’ho ancora visto.”
Ancora non mi aveva guardato agli occhi.
“Buon comportamento? Raccomandazione?” Sputì. “Ma com’è possibile?”
Mio padre sobbalzò sotto la furia che mi uscìì dalla bocca. Non gli stavo così vicino da anni, così vicino da sentire l’odore pesante di alcool e sigarette sul suo alito.
“Come cazzo è possible?” Ripetì, sfidandolo a guardarmi agli occhi, a riconoscere l’irriconoscibile.
Come al solito, silenzio. Riprese in mano la spigola e continuò – sciuk-sciuk – a togliere la squama.
Io feci sbattere la porta e mi presi la bicicletta.
LANGUAGE GAMES is about the limits we live by and the role language plays in the construction of identity. It came out of the thorny Brexit debate surrounding the border question in the north of Ireland, something I felt very strongly about, as the border defined my childhood.
Language Games opens like this:
Learning the Ropes
The rope was like silk in my hands and slidin so fast it burned.
“Get a grip, girl,” Black Oak roared.
I grabbed the rope with my two hands, and it wasn’t like silk then, it was wood, stickin splinters into my palms that mammy would pull out later by the fire. The boat flipped over a wave and I squared my legs to the boards, fixed my eye on the O’Malley castle on the island beyond. Behind me, at our home tower of Belclare, they’d be sweepin out the hearth, milkin the cows, turnin the sheep out to graze on our land all across the barony of Murrisk.
But none of that mattered right now. I was in the waters of my ancestors, ours for a thousand years at least, and my father Dubhdara O’Malley – Black Oak – had decided it was time for me to know them, because my brother Donal was only good for playin the pipes and rhymin words with the bards.
“Learn to handle the ropes, my daughter, and no one will be the boss of you,” Black Oak said, twistin one rope over the other into a knot so fast I thought my eyes had deceived me. He undid the knot just as quickly and handed me the ropes to copy him.
The fish we caught in our waters were the best: cod, ling, pollack, skate, mackerel. That mornin the water was choppy with a westerly wind and Black Oak had me baitin lobster creels and droppin them overboard. I was so intent on my task that I didn’t notice my ankle was caught in a coil of rope until I was knocked off balance.
Winded, knees to the floor, I’d be hauled overboard if I didn’t act quickly.
“Black Oak!” I yelled.
He didn’t move but was watching me, sprung as a cat on the prowl.
The rope gathered momentum. I hooked my foot under the bench to jam my body against the side of the boat. Grabbin the knife from my belt I hacked at the rope, tough as leather with salt and damp. The blade slipped, and slipped again.
“Concentrate!” roared Black Oak.
Teeth clenched, I sucked in air. Holdin my breath I applied the flint to the cord at an angle, worked it with desperate precision. Finally, the fibres gave, the rope shredded.
As the last ring of the coil slithered overboard, I fell back on the bench.
“We lost the lobster pots, Black Oak,” I panted, stickin the knife back in my belt.
“But you saved your life,” he replied, tersely, and I saw the tension ebb from each sinew of muscle in his forearm, the release of his jaw.
Black Oak lunged forward and gripped my shoulders: “Daughter, you made the right decision.”
When your father has this much faith in you, you do not doubt yourself. You do. And all who watch you know that you are queen.