Tag Archives: Michelle Lovric

The #3 profile – Michelle Lovric

I expect I’ve left it too late to get Michelle Lovric to be my godmother… Sigh. Anyway, here she is, my profile #3, and as you can see Michelle has a great profile. And she looks relaxed, for someone embroiled in writing three novels, and working, and answering stupid witchy questions.

Michelle Lovric

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

None. I was amazingly lucky. I took six weeks off my work as a book packager to go to Venice and write Carnevale, my first novel. I got an agent in a month and a deal with Virago a month later.

Best place for inspiration?

You’re all going to yawn hugely, but, yes, Venice.

My part of London is also inspiring: I live in gritty Bankside, in the shadow of the Shard.

I also like to write anywhere there’s a chance of the sun on my face, or a cup of good coffee. In both cases, Italy is more likely. But recently I had both at Chartwell and Nymans.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I have used the initials M.R. Lovric, when publishers thought it might be better if my gender was ambiguous. Given my shape, that was not something that was going to remain in question if a journalist or a reader ever met me.

So, with the increasing demand for authors to put ourselves about, I have re-acquired my first name.

Of course I’d rather be called Mimosina Dolcezza, or Amneris D’Ago, or Temistocle Molin, or Ermintrudina Fava, like some of my characters … but my parents had other ideas. In fact, I was named after a black poodle.

What would you never write about?

I honestly can’t think of anything I would baulk at. It is the way you write it that counts. I’ve done child sacrifice and cat cruelty in The Fate in the Box … and cat sacrifice and child cruelty in The Mourning Emporium, come to think of it. So long as there is redemption, there can be evil.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

The great eccentrics of this world always gravitate towards writers, even if you’re just sitting on a bus. I think they have a homing instinct. But you also meet people who are dedicated to their trades and who are only to happy to see a writer come to share their passion with a wider audience, especially when that involves children. So I’ve met an interesting casts of real characters while writing each piece of fiction.

With The Fate in the Box, I’ve really enjoyed meeting Margherita Fusco, a curator at The Natural History Museum in Venice. She’s one of the nicest and happiest people I’ve ever met. She grew up by the museum as a child, went to school nearby, loved visiting it, and now works there herself, and still lives in the vicinity, working at what she loves. It was she who told me that the fearsome gorilla killed in the Congo in 1929 has a hairless belly because of all the generations of children who have stroked it.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

None, really, because I tend to put them through hell.

That’s what a story is about. One makes characters uniquely equipped to deal with uniquely awful things. And then the awful things happen.

However, I endowed Amneris, the girl in The Fate in the Box, with a skill in maths I’d love to have. And then I turn her into a human sacrifice.

See what I mean?

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Most of my adult books have been optioned for films at one time or another, but one learns not to expect anything more than a mild ego massage and a small cheque to result. The kind of books I write would require casts of thousands, costly costumes, special effects because of all the magic, a lot of latex for the creaturing etc. Teaching cats to talk and fly would be quite expensive and time-consuming, I imagine. So I don’t see much hope for a film of my books, unless animated.

Of course I would like a film made because it would bring my characters to life. Whether they would still be my characters at the end of the process is another question. One would need to have the clout of J.K. (Rowling) to have one’s oeuvre treated with the cherishing respect one would like.

That said, I am enchanted that a very nice company called VooDooDog currently have an option on making a picturesque animation of The Undrowned Child.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

I have been a reluctant eventer, as I prefer to be in a darkened room, writing. But I’ve done a few, and I’m going to do more. The funniest thing that happened to me at an event was when a boy bought a book and told me to keep the change.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can truly cook. I am a devoted aunt and godmother. I give great themed parties, the latest being a Victorian Gothic party for my god-daughter. Apart from everything you’d expect by way of skulls, crows and blood to drink, I took the girls, fully gothed up, out into the darkening streets bearing candles, and they stood silently and motionlessly in front of diners in the local restaurants, scaring the hell out of them.

Candlelit procession on brick wall

But it is more that I am lacking in skills. I can’t sing, knit, ride a bicycle. So it’s just as well that Venice is my favourite place. Not much call for bicycles.

Michelle Lovric, San Giorgio

Speaking of film treatments, someone wanted to animate one of my books and their treatment introduced a new character, a mouse on a motorcycle. I had to explain to the disbelieving American producer that this would not work in Venice.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia!

Love men with goaty legs. Love cruel witches. Love big cats.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

I have my favourite Swede all ready: my role model through my life, the late Swedish publisher Solveig Nellinge, who was my friend and mentor for years. I used to spend a couple of weeks at her publishing company, Trevi, every February, working and devouring semlor, delightful light buns with cream and marzipan inside.  Trevi had a lovely tradition of meeting in their beautiful dining room every morning by candlelight, with coffee and cake, to discuss the important things happening that day. Trevi translated many of the twentieth century’s great women authors, including Doris Lessing, into Swedish. I learned a great deal about being a human being as well as a publisher from Solveig, who tucked me under her wing like a cygnet. She was wildly intelligent, gracious, kind, loved cats, good manners, sharp wit. I even wear Solveig’s perfume still. It is called Antilope by Weil, and it is very surprising… and works very quickly.

Solveig Nellinge left with Doris Lessing right

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

By genre. Which, to hear recent gossip from the London Book Fair, should now include ‘Hot Dragon Sex’. I don’t have any Hot Dragon Sex yet, though I’m sure it’s better than Fifty Shades of Grey. So I have a poetry cabinet, sections for letters, biographies, novels worth keeping and my particular interests, the history of medicine and drugs,

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Ros Asquith’s Letters from an Alien Schoolboy.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Writing. If I didn’t write, I would probably explode. There’s still a lot pent up inside. Have to go now and do a bit more …

Thank you for asking me, Bookwitch!

You’re welcome, Michelle. I’m so pleased to find you are not only slightly crazy, but that you have picked a good Swede. Thank you too for all those fantastic photos.

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The Fate in the Box

To me it feels like Michelle Lovric’s children’s books are getting better and better. I really, really liked The Fate in the Box, which is set in the same fantasy Venice as her previous books, but a little earlier.

It’s 1783 and a child is about to be sacrificed. As prologues go, this was a good one. In only a few short pages you get to know and like – love, even – Amneris, and you can just feel that something momentous is going to happen. But you can’t guess what.

The ghastly Irishman Fogfinger has taken over Venice and everyone is scared. Automata do everything for the rich, while the poor get poorer. And hungrier. There is much going on that people don’t understand, but Amneris and her friends Tockle and Biri end up being thrown in at the deep end, in more ways than one.

They are brave and friendly and resourceful, like any good fictional heroes should be. They even befriend the rather dreadful Latenia, who is rich and spoilt, and too fat to be sacrificed.

Michelle Lovric, Fate in the Box

And what about the crocodile that reputedly eats children? Or the strange goings-on in the families of Tockle and Amneris? Talking – and flying – cats seems quite a normal thing, once you get used to this version of Venice. Its statues are not always as stony as they appear.

Things get worse before they can get better. There is an underground movement against Fogfinger, but what can they do?

This is just so exciting! And the clever Michelle adds lots of real natural history as well as facts about Venice to her fantasy plot, so there is a risk that the reader gets a worthwhile education.

Go on! Take that risk!

Venezia città di lettori

For how much longer will Venice remain a city of readers? The bookshops of Venice are closing at an ever faster rate. Something needs to be done, and thankfully some people are acting on it. That’s not to say they will be successful, but I do hope so.

Venice, city of readers

I myself know very little about Venice, but am fortunate enough to have got to know a whole bunch of ‘Venetian fans’ among my favourite authors. Michelle Lovric who lives in Venice for part of the year, is active in the campaign to save the city’s bookshops. Here is what she wrote on The History Girls blog the other day.

There is a facebook group you can join. Obviously. It has lots of photos from the launch of the campaign on Friday.

Mappa librerie

Above you can see a map of bookshops, and it looks to me as if the column on the left lists closed shops, the middle are those in danger and on the right those still open. Hopefully for much longer, but it sounds worrying.

It appears to be not just bad times, but as though Venice treats its shop owners a little too strictly. A large fine for one non-approved poster for a book event? That’s a bit much. If you’re already on your knees, that’s all it takes.

Suggestions for improving the situation include giving bookshops lower than market rents, which has already been done in other cities. There is the Robin Hood style suggestion that organisations and property owners who do well should come to the aid of struggling bookshops.

You can follow the UK supporters on Twitter on #VeniceCityofReaders.

On changing your mind as often as you change your underwear – Michelle Lovric

We are five today! Well, Bookwitch is. Her alter ego needs more fives for a full description. Michelle Lovric, on the other hand, is young and beautiful, although slightly older than five. I’m very grateful to have her call in here today to chat about her new book. What Michelle is about to tell us will help in the appreciation of Talina in the Tower.

Here she is, ready to enlighten us about things connected to underwear, making my day extra special.

Michelle Lovric (c) Marianne Taylor

“Sometimes writing a novel is all about changing your mind – or someone else’s mind. It’s a traditional device of romantic novels to have the heroine desperate for the wrong man (generally a handsome but shallow bounder). So the happy ending consists of her losing him, but finding what – or more usually whom – she really needed and wanted all along, and could have had, if she’d not been blinded by the one fault in her own character that the story arc requires her to overcome. Think of Emma and her Mr Knightley, to whose husbandly attractions she remains resolutely immune until she’s been humbled and has learned to desist from meddling disastrously in the lives of others. She then proceeds to ‘earn’ him through the pain of personal transformation.

In writing for children, the whole solution cannot be found in the familiar Austen trope of humiliation, revelation, emotional rescue and marriage. So instead we put our children through hoops that will lead them into temptation, aggravation, desperation and any number of other ‘ations’.

The solution, generally more interesting than marriage, lies in their overcoming a weakness, a blindness or an adversity imposed from the outside.

Michelle Lovric, Talina in the Tower

In Talina in the Tower, I set my young heroine just such a conundrum. Talina is a keen cook and amateur magician. But she’s also a fiery girl, easily distracted, who rarely thinks before she speaks. A mishap in the kitchen, arising from precisely this combination of traits, puts her under a shape-shifting spell. Her dilemma is that she starts to assume the physical characteristics of whomever or whatever is making her lose her temper.

You’d think, ‘Simple. She must just keep calm, then.’ But Talina is the most impudent girl in Venice, famous for her campaigns and her pranks. Keeping serene and reasonable is a formidable challenge for her. At the beginning of the book, she fails every time.

And so a rat who annoys her soon points out that she’s grown a hairless pink tail. Captured by a hungry vulture, Talina grows a pair of wings, and so on.

Not only must Talina save Venice from the Ravageurs, ferocious hyena-like creatures, but she must also save herself from turning into a Ravageur. This is especially hard because the Lord of the Ravageurs is, to paraphrase a BBC reporter, ‘like Jeremy Clarkson, but without the crippling self-doubt’. Grignan is a bully and a sneerer – two of the qualities that Talina can least tolerate in a human, let alone in a creature with terrible table manners who has kidnapped her parents and is terrorizing the city she loves.

I suppose that the lesson Talina learns in the book is to save her anger for the things that justify it. She learns to focus her emotions on worthier things, to brush aside casual insults and to rise above what is irritating but essentially unimportant

In a sense, she learns to be ‘grown up’. But as a writer, this posed another dilemma. Did I want my Talina turned into a prim and priggish little Stepford heroine? No. So I had to leave her still with a sting in her tail, and a lot to say. She had to change her mind about things, and change in some ways, but she had to remain true to the girl who captures the readers’ interest early in the book with her entertainingly extreme behaviour. I refuse to use the ‘journey’ word, but I needed Talina’s character to have its own story arc, parallel to but separate from the plot. The problem (almost geometrical in construction) was that the point where the character arc finished had to be a high point too.

I think I found a solution. But I imagine this is something faced by many writers for children. How do we refine our characters without flattening them? How do we choreograph their emotional progress across the stage of our book? In exciting but confusing leaps or carefully measured steps?

Penny Dolan, A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E.

One book I’ve read recently is a masterclass in this issue of accelerating maturity in child protagonists: Penny Dolan’s A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E. Mouse undergoes a series of picturesque and picaresque Victorian trials. Each experience changes him. But none of his reactions are stereotypical. His ‘inappropriate’ outbursts bring his character into the present – he is a child modern children can understand. He finishes the book as himself, but with dignity and agency he’s earned himself along the way. He’s done this by changing his mind – by letting slip misbegotten certainties, by reassuring himself about groundless doubts, by stabilizing his ideas in the quicksand of experience.

Rat, from Talina in the Tower

So when my rat Altopone reproaches Talina, saying, ‘Hope you change your underwear as often as you change your mind’, he means it as a compliment. It is only by changing our minds that we grow up.”

I’ll have to think about this. Underwear. Minds. I like to believe I know exactly who I am, and what’s right. Mr Knightley, here I come! (But first some birthday cake, courtesy of Talina. Spell-free.)

Talina in the Tower

Or ‘twenty-two’ things to do to a tea towel. That could be by magic or in more traditional ways. The tea towels in Michelle Lovric’s new book are both useful and quite obedient. And that tells you a little about what kind of story Talina in the Tower is.

There’s lots of magic and plenty of adventure. Talina is another feisty young heroine, rather like Teodora from The Undrowned Child, except she lives in Venice over thirty years before Teodora, at a time when there’s another horrible threat to this beautiful city.

The reader will recognise many of the characters in Talina either as a younger version of someone from Teodora’s time, or as someone bearing the same surname as one of the later characters. It’s nice with the continuity, and in an odd way it’s reassuring to know that they didn’t live ‘happily ever after,’ because we already know more trouble happens.

Talina’s parents, and many other Venetians, disappear and some disgusting wolf/hyena-like creatures can be seen at night, but only by children. Talina and her cat Drusilla get taken in by Talina’s distinctly unlovely guardian, who lives in a tower. That’s until the day something quite unexpected happens to Talina, and nothing is ever the same again.

There are cats, and rats, and all care about their Venice. Together they work to save it, along with those tea towels.

Michelle Lovric, Talina in the Tower

As usual in Michelle’s books there’s lots of food, although not all of it terribly appetising. This is an exciting tale of courage and friendship and love for your family. I think Talina in the Tower might be even better than the other two novels. Or I might think so because it’s my most recently read book. The beautiful cover is purple. That always helps.

The second day

Here we are again. How did you get on yesterday? Did you have to queue for the toilets? No, I didn’t, either. Nor did I wear Lucy Coats’s pyjamas all day. (Not even part of the day, I’ll have you know.)

What did I do? I watched Mary Hoffman and Anne Rooney drink coffee. (It’s the personal touch that makes festivals such fun.) I watched Lucy Coats reading to three dogs.

And Sam Mills was interviewed by Tyger Drew (whoever he might be), and then she interviewed him back. I’m unsure of what Sam said to make Tyger want to poke his eye out, but there you are.

Tyger Drew and Sam Mills, ABBA festival

I entered competitions to win things. I never do, but then I seem to own most of the books on offer, so I’m best to let others, more needy than myself, win.

And here’s today’s programme for the ABBA online blog festival.

ABBA festival Sunday

I’ve got all my books ready to be signed today. It has to work!

And at least they aren’t starting too frightfully early. I might make it down to the kitchen for 10.30.

Orion’s party

Lucy Coats

The first to arrive and the last to go, is how Lucy Coats described herself last night. I have to take her word for it as Daughter and I took slight detour en route for the October Gallery (I have to admit here that it was my fault and Daughter would have made a better job of it) and arrived when things were in – if not full – then some sort of swing. And we didn’t outstay our welcome (at least I hope we didn’t) so weren’t there to witness Lucy washing up at the end.

Orion's party at the October Gallery

Lots of Orion’s very lovely and our favourite authors were there. Lucy, as I said. Caroline Lawrence, who by now will be feeling she has to put up with us every week. Nice to see Mr Lawrence again. Liz Kessler, fresh from ‘research’ along the coast of Norway. The Michelles, Lovric and Paver, and Annabel Pitcher, Angela McAllister and Viv French. I was introduced to Lauren St John, whose book I was reading on the train, getting me into a very St Ivesey mood. Daughter has obviously been around the literary world too long, seeing as she was clinging to the fire escape throwing names about; ‘there’s Francesca Simon, and that’s Tony Ross!’. Right on both counts.

Michelle Lovric and Annabel Pitcher

Boss Fiona Kennedy made a speech, praising her writers. Nina Douglas and Kate Christer had worked hard to organise things, and the October gallery, complete with bones and ‘dead babies’, not to mention glittery paintings was a good place for a party. The weather helped. We were all out in the courtyard in the mild and sunny evening. London at its best.

Caroline Lawrence

Francesca Simon

The courtyard

Among the ‘non-authors’ present were the other Stockport blogger, Wondrous Reads (we’ll have to stop meeting like this, Jenny), Geraldine Brennan (about whom I had a strange but nice dream last week), Julia Eccleshare, Ted Smart, Catherine Clarke, and I am sure I have left out lots of worthy people, but I’ll stop now before I turn into Hello Magazine again. (Better class of people, but too many lists of human beings clutching champagne glasses, if you know what I mean?)

I have a dreadful suspicion that in among everyone in the photos there will lurk someone with a dark secret, or someone committing a crime or an indiscretion or something. If you find anything like that, don’t tell me. I was the one in the flower pot. I noticed a dreadful smell and realised the pot was a geranium pot and I had disturbed the leaves. I hate the smell of geraniums!