Thursday, 16 February 2012

Michelle Lovric - Child’s Eye View – Talina in the Tower - Blog Tour Post

There’s a story about a Victorian child who, on beholding St Mark’s miraculous basilica for the first time, asked her Mamma, ‘Can people really look at this every day, or is it just for Sundays?’

That little girl saw Venice with clearer eyes than most adults. And she had expressed her wonderment with the best and simplest kind of verbal magic – without resort to ‘poetic’ words, painfully stretched metaphor or purple prose, all of which are writing crimes Venice seems to provoke in many. This month I have started to read no less than three new novels set in Venice, and thrown all of them down the palazzo stairs after 30 pages. They were stale. They were boring. They were claggy with info-dumping. And they in no way expressed Venice as well as that Victorian child, who framed her wonder in terms of her everyday life, but in a surprising and feeling way. 

And there’s a delightful Irish tale about a little girl who also refused to succumb to metaphor: in English as We Speak it in Ireland (1910), little Kitty, running in from the dairy with her eyes starting out of her head, says to her mother, who is talking to a neighbour in the kitchen, ‘Oh, Mother, Mother, I saw a terrible thing in the cream!’

‘Ah, never mind, child,’ says the mother, suspecting the truth and anxious to hush it up. ‘It’s nothing but the grace of God.’ 

Kitty replies, ‘Oh but Mother, sure the grace of God hasn't a long tail.’

Children are natural aphorists, natural joke-mongers, fresh-tongued juxtaposers of the fantastic and the prosaic. Now that I write about Venice for children, I worry if I can be as good a writer as these possibly apocryphal Victorian children. I worry about my point of view, its angle, its authenticity, and most of all, its freshness. I throw open the same question to the readers of this blog, many of whom are also writers. 

Are we writers for children just basically overgrown children ourselves – hoarier, wrinklier, sadder and more experienced children who somehow retain the child’s fresh vision and humour, uncorrupted by bitterness? Or we perhaps retain just enough of it to recapture in our books? 

Or are we cynical, conniving craftsmen and women, no better than those marketing types who configure supermarket shelves with the sweeties and potato crisps at a child’s eye level? Do we manufacture false freshness, like candles with labels professing to create the smell of an open window in spring – in order to mask an inner mouldiness?

Recently I had a chance to wet-test my ideas on these matters. A child-reader of mine came to Venice. Since she wrote her first charming fan email, she has become my regular reader of manuscripts, and what a good eye she has!  She picks up logical disconnects and time-lapses; she is perfectly honest about where her attention lags; she puts ticks where she laughed. I know she is honest, and not too shy to tell me my mistakes, and that is a very valuable gift. She recently checked out the manuscript for my latest book, Talina in the Tower.


So when I heard she was coming to Venice, I decided that I would take her on a tour of all the places in the books of mine that she has read: The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium and now Talina. I wanted to thank her for her help, but I also wanted to see how her vision of the places differed from mine. 

It was a bestially hot August day, so as a special treat, I organised the lovely Sebastiano to take us in his sleek water taxi. Cowering from the sun under parasols shaped like oriental pavilions, we visited Signor Rioba, the redoubtable talking statue, and slipped into the church of SS Giovanni e Paolo to see the tomb of Marcantonio Bragadin and its gruesome painting of his flaying by the Turks. cruised around the House of the Spirits, the home of my mermaids in The Undrowned Child, and saw the island of San Michele, where the real parents of my heroine, Teo, are buried in a secret grave. We went past the garden that once held the magnificent palazzo of my villain, Bajamonte Tiepolo. It was razed to the ground after the failure of his conspiracy to murder the Doge. We looked at the square of San Zan Degola, where the Butcher Biasio sold stew made of children he’d kidnapped. 

My young friend remembered everything from the books, and expressed no surprise whatsoever about this heat-shimmered sequence of so many things that sometimes sound too magical to be true, even as I write them. It had taken me many years of living in Venice to distil the disparate parts into a story. I had struggled to retrieve, balance, concoct, recook and combine Venice’s historical facts and their relics in a convincing appearance of easeful naturalness. Yet my young friend took it all in her stride, embracing the imagined and the real with equal enthusiasm.

That was the difference between the real child and me. She still has what I’ve lost and must work hard to recreate: a simple acceptance of the simply marvellous. 

She’s still seeing the grace of God’s long tail in the cream, and San Marco’s Basilica every day, not just Sundays.

Her new novel, Talina in the Tower, is published on February 2nd 2012, by Orion 
Children’s Books.

Talina in the Tower is set about thirty years earlier than the adventures of Teo and Renzo, the heroine and hero of The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium. So the story concerns a whole new cast of characters (though two old friends will appear, in their younger days, of course). And one major character is still the same: the floating city of Venice - magical, beautiful and mysterious as ever - but now facing an enemy quite unlike any she has ever seen before.

 Web site page:

Thank you to Michelle for stopping by on her amazing blog tour and writing a fantastic post  for us today. I am sure that everyone will find it as fascinating as I did; it certainly makes you want to delve right in and read Michelle's brilliant books. 

Thank you to Louise for both arranging and organising this blog tour.

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