My grandparents came to England at the turn of the 20th C., actually about 1890, and like so many other Italian immigrants, started out making and selling ice cream off barrows in the seaside towns of N.E. England. [The shops they later opened and which carried their name, are still there].
I, (now third generation), was born in London, but I can still vividly remember the first visits to my grandfather’s villa on the slopes of Monte Cassino. [He had prospered]. As a little boy used only to the soft leafy Thames-side suburbs, those visits remained indelibly imprinted on me — the intoxicating heat and light, the aniseed-sweet scent of wild fennel and crushed lemon mint on the rocky terraces around the house, the welcome islands of shade cast by the two bulbous old palm trees that snoozed meditatively in front of the villa, the glaring heat of the noonday sun, the insistent sawing rhythm of the cicadas. A favourite game of mine was to stand on a table under the pergola of translucent purple strawberry grapes, reach up for the bunches, eat the skins and spit out the slimy centres which I didn’t like, another game was to run past the ferocious chained guard dog that bounded after me, licking at my fleeing heels. Then at night — wonder of wonders — the myriad pulsing glow of fireflies in the darkened gardens, trying to catch them in my chubby little hands. Out of that same darkness would appear odd relatives, come for an evening gossip with my family and cousins, the chorus of “Buona Sera,” as they sat down outside in the glow of the single yellow insect-encrusted lightbulb, sipping coffee in the cool of the evening.
Later on, I was sent off to boarding school for a proper English education. But behind the games of cricket, the school blazers and the Latin grammars, another narrative was playing, like a hidden computer programme, (if such a thing had existed then), waiting to emerge many years later, those life-defining distant memories. And emerge they did. The urge to learn Italian and to immerse myself in Italian culture eventually took me to The University for Foreigners in Perugia. [I also have a B.A. in History of Art and History of Ideas from Kingston University, London].
Throughout my life, my connection with Italy has remained strong, and I have spent long periods living and working there. My novel, A Sense of Ancient Gods, emerged from that connection, starting with a boozy lunch many years ago in a Rome piazza with a friend of mine from school, and his father — an eminent Shakespeare scholar — who pointed me to a particular Lawrence episode which had an unexpected connection to me personally. [I won’t elaborate on this now as it forms part of an idea I’m working on for my next novel].
About three years ago, I started casually to scribble down some paragraphs and notes about the Lawrence story and the boozy lunch, meaning only to bring some order to my memories. But then something strange started to happen. The scribbling took on a life of its own, and out of this chrysalis, delicate wings started to unfold and stretch themselves into flight. Now, over two years later, I find myself with a novel length manuscript. The only thing is that my protagonist is one of the greatest English writers ever, D. H. Lawrence. I offer it up, or perhaps I should say, I offer myself up — Pace.