Just in case you didn’t know already I absolutely looooooooved the historical based debut novel Mussolini’s Island by Sarah Day.
Having read it and reviewed it (Read HERE) I immediately thought, here is one writer I REALLY would love to join me for a chat!!
So I asked and I am delighted to say Sarah was only to happy to answer my questions which I am thrilled to share with you today.
So relax, grab a Lavazza and take a little trip to Italy…..
Sarah, I was reading, that as well as being a debut novelist, you also work as an Earth Science Communicator with the Geological Society of London. Can you share with us all what exactly this role entails? It sounds quite fascinating
Like most novelists – especially those starting out! – I fit writing around a day job.
I’ve always been fascinated by science, so science communication is a great way to combine an interest in science and writing. My job at the Geological Society is wide ranging, and involves writing press releases and news stories about our members and the research we publish in our books and journals, as well as managing our social media channels.
I also get involved in the Society’s outreach work, and attend various events such as the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival to talk to people about geology and science careers. It’s different every day, and brings me into contact with fascinating people who research everything from dinosaurs to renewable energy – a great source of ideas for writing!
From working with the sciences to writing your first mainstream novel, Mussolini’s Island, how did you manage the whole experience? Was it daunting or are you the type of person who can just take it all in their stride?
There are actually quite a few staff members at the Geological Society who pursue other creative interests outside of work – so it’s clearly a place to work which is compatible with that! I think all of us draw some inspiration from the place we work in and the people we meet. I’m also lucky to have some close friends at various stages of their own writing careers who’ve helped me navigate the process, which helps a huge amount.
Mussolini’s Island, written mainly with fictional characters, yet interspersed with real historical figures, has at it’s roots a true story. For those who have not yet picked up a copy of this remarkable book can you please share a little of the story?
The book is about a little known historical event which took place during the rise of fascism in Italy. In 1939, a group of men in Catania, Sicily, who were suspected of being gay, were arrested and transported to the island of San Domino in the Tremiti Islands – hundreds of miles away from their home town.
I was fascinated by this premise – that the State’s ‘solution’ to their presence in society was removing them completely, and pretending they didn’t exist. There were no outraged news stories the following morning in Catania, no protests – the men just vanished overnight. They were quite a mixture of ages and backgrounds, and I was interested in the idea of them being thrown together in this strange, tiny new place – they all knew each other, and must have taken all their complicated friendships, relationships, resentments and hostility with them.
And on top of all that, during my research I discovered that they also took with them the knowledge of a murder which had happened in Catania…
I read in an article by Isabel Costello about your journey to the Italian island of San Domino. That experience must have been mind-blowing and quite haunting for you. What was it really like to walk among the buildings where these wretched men were once housed?
I visited San Domino quite late in the research process, so by the time I went I knew a lot about what had happened there. It’s extraordinary, though, how much of a difference it makes to see somewhere with your own eyes.
The most haunting part of the trip was actually arriving on the boat from the mainland – the journey only takes an hour or so, and you can just about see the dot of San Domino before you even leave the port at Termoli, if you know where to look. So I remember staring at it on the horizon, getting bigger and bigger – it sort of loomed, by the time you got up close – and thinking about what it must have been like to be those men, with no idea what was waiting for them. When we got to the islands and the boat moved up close, you got a sense of how sheer and ruthless the cliffs were and it felt genuinely frightening – I had expected it to be beautiful and picturesque and remote, and perhaps it would have been without my research agenda – but I was really struck by how intimidating it was.
That was the end of that feeling though – as soon as I met some of the islanders and was shown around, I felt so welcomed it was hard to find anything intimidating!
I did see inside the prison buildings, but one is now a very friendly hotel, and the other a residential home – the couple who live there were wonderful. So it was hard to find it particularly haunting, to be honest!
What it did leave me wondering was, how did the villagers react to the prisoners in 1939 – I wonder if they were friendly, and whether that strange contradiction I felt was also experienced by the prisoners.
Mussolini’s Island would make a truly fascinating movie, with a soundtrack to rival Il Postino and a photographic feast for the eyes, with the most stunning backdrop of the Italian coastline. See where I’m going with this? Can I go and buy my cinema tickets yet?
Of course, I agree! It would certainly make a very beautiful film – there were actually film makers on San Domino while I was there, and I can see why they would be drawn to the location – it’s such a stunning, strange landscape.
There have been a few enquiries about film rights, but nothing definite to report, I’m afraid!
Some time back you were shortlisted for the London Fringe Festival Short Story competition. Did you always write or is this something that has crept up on you as you got older?
It’s always been there for me – I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t dreaming of writing a book. I had many, many failed attempts before this one!
Are there any specific literary influences that have determined the course of your writing?
Probably too many to list!
Growing up I was very influenced by fantasy writers – Tolkein, Ursula Le Guin, Philip Pullman, to list a few. I think because they showed me that there are absolutely no limits to the worlds you can imagine and make real.
I remember the first time I read Lord of the Rings being absolutely stunned by the scale of what you can conjure up, just using language. I spent a lot of time trying to write my own, extremely derivative fantasy novels!
I’m also fascinated by writers who experiment with prose style – there have been many disastrous attempts to imitate Ali Smith, for example! And, I imagine like most historical writers, Margaret Atwood is a huge influence.
I once wrote a short story for an exhibition that also featured a Great Auk she had knitted, which felt like the ultimate claim to fame.
Tinder Press bought up the world rights to Mussolini’s Island. It must be so exciting to wake up one day and to receive news like that!!! How many countries is the book currently available in and has it yet been translated into other languages?
Like most debut writers, there were many, many twists and turns before Tinder Press bought the book – so yes, it was wonderful and amazing and surprising when it finally happened. I was at work when my agent phoned – I remember trying to fake an entirely normal, calm conversation in front of my colleagues, and failing utterly.
There haven’t been any translations so far, but I am told there are people buying the book in Australia, which feels very strange and wonderful!
As a HUGE fan of this book and your beautiful prose, I have to ask what’s next for Sarah Day? Can we expect a second novel anytime soon in the future?
Thank you! I am busying away with another book, so hopefully there will be more soon!
Thank you Sarah so much for *dropping* by. I am already looking forward to your next book and of course the movie!!!!!
To find out more about Sarah and ‘Mussolini’s Island’, please do continue to read…
Francesco has a memory of his father from early childhood, a night when life for his family changed: their name, their story, their living place. From that night, he has vowed to protect his mother and to follow the words of his father: Non mollare. Never give up.
When Francesco is rounded up with a group of young men and herded into a camp on the island of San Domino, he realises that someone has handed a list of names to the fascist police; everyone is suspicious of one another. His former lover Emilio is constantly agitating for revolution. His old friend Gio jealously watches their relationship rekindle. Locked in spartan dormitories, resentment and bitterness between the men grows each day.
Elena, a young and illiterate island girl on the cusp of womanhood, is drawn to the handsome Francesco yet fails to understand why her family try to keep her away from him. By day, she makes and floats her paper birds, willing them to fly from the island, just as she wants to herself. Sometimes, she is given a message to pass on. She’s not sure who they are from; she knows simply that Francesco is hiding something. When Elena discovers the truth about the group of prisoners, the fine line between love and hate pulls her towards an act that can only have terrible consequences for all.
Purchase Link ~ Mussolini’s Island
Sarah Day is a London based writer and science communicator. Her first novel, ‘Mussolini’s Island’, was published in February 2017 by Tinder Press.
With a background in the history and philosophy of science, she has also written non fiction for publications including The Guardian, The Vagenda and the British Society for Literature and Science.
She works as an Earth Science Communicator at the Geological Society of London.
Website : Sarah Day
Twitter : @geowriter