I am writing a fictionalised account of the Lorenzo and Catterina Capelin family from the beginning of their involvement in the Nouvelle France scheme to the final disastrous outcome.
In writing a set of characters based on fact but created in fiction I have become deeply engaged in research, trying to understand a life as lived by a peasant family in Italy over 120 years ago.
I am being drawn into the world of the 19th century. Food, family, history, politics, geography, culture, religion - each page of my manuscript demands another layer of information.
I have googled myself to a standstill; I have bought cookbooks containing traditional recipes from the Veneto region; I have discovered R. L. Stevenson's first person story of 19th Century transatlantic travel in steerage class ("The Amateur Immigrant"); I have walked the streets of local villages via Google Earth; I have put myself in the shoes of an eight year old boy experiencing Christmas and Ephiphany celebrations in his home village in 1880 - no Santa Claus, no presents on Christmas morning; but fasting and religious observation followed a week later by huge bonfires and pagan rituals on a combined Winter Solstice and Ephiphany celebration (Jan 6), with presents delivered by an aged witch-like character, La Befana, who searches year after year for the location of baby Jesus. She is said to have rejected an offer from the Three Wise Men to accompany them on their journey. She was too busy! She now seeks out each household hoping to find the place where Jesus resides. She covers all possibilities by leaving offerings at every house with a child in case that might be the one.
This is my first work of fiction. At first I was frustrated by the distractions of the research process and was guided by the advice of my writing mentor "beware research which doesn't result in writing". But as I progress I am loving it. I never studied history at school or university and, as a late starter, I am revelling in this new venture into lives beyond mine.
I've always read and I've always, in travelling, chosen a book about the history of the country I am visiting to read while on my journey (Barcelona -Robert Hughes; How the Irish Saved Civilization - Thomas Cahill; Walking the Camino - Tony Kevin; Europe East & West - Norman Davies; and later this year when I visit Berlin, Stasiland - Anna Funder) but they only serve as introductions with limited insights into culture.
In the case of Lorenzo, I have followed this research for the past 18 months and expect a further 18 months immersed in this chase.
Research is great but its limitation is that it's paper based. I need to walk the streets of the villages where my characters lived and breathed. To that end I am planning two adventures in the next 18 month period. The first will be to Italy and the second to Papua New Guinea.