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Why do you write in your genre? What draws you to it?
The Last great race is historical fiction based upon real events which seem too strange to be true, and characters who seem larger than life. What drew me to this genre and story is that fiction couldn't come close to the events and people in this real-life story. However I don't want to be constrained by genre, with my first novel being crime and my second novel being a dark mystery. I have another historical fiction story I want to tell, and then I will see what comes next.
What research is required?
The story of Achille Varzi is well known some of us who follow motor sport. At the peak of his career he may have been the highest paid sportsman in the world, and certainly he was one of the top two or three racing drivers of his era. Fortunately for me I speak and read Italian. I bought a biography of Achille Varzi written in Italian and I also bought the memoirs of Tonino Brivio, who was a fellow racing driver and a friend of Varzi. Both of these books helped me with what really happened to Varzi, and told me a lot about the two women in his life, Norma Colombo and Ilse Pietsch. I understood Achille's attraction for Ilse who was quite beautiful and probably more worldly than her age, but Norma was quite different. I eventually thought of a common ground between Achille Varzi, the deep-thinking introvert and Norma Colombo, the free-wheeling extrovert. They didn't love each other but they did have a strong attraction that lasted many years.
There are a number of websites which outline motor racing in the 1930s, subsequently regarded as a golden era of the sport, and I used those websites to gather information about the cars, the circuits and the races, and incorporated that information into my story where appropriate. I also used online resources to map the path towards World War Two, and used that in the story. My World War Two sequence is set in Naples, Italy, and I bought the memoirs of a British secret service agent who was stationed there when the allies took control of that city. I used online resources to map out the many air raids on Naples, and to describe the way that life in that city slowly ground to a halt. The organised crime gangs of Naples, the Camorra, came to the fore when the Allies moved in and their role had to be explained. And finally I used the Internet to map out the four-day uprising where the locals of Naples drove the German army out of the city. During World War Two many millions were taken away in cattle trucks never to be seen again, but the inhabitants of Naples stole rifles and fought the German army to prevent that happening to them. I thought that was interesting.
There is a lot in The Last Great Race and the story covers a lot of ground. The story is so strange in parts that there was little need to embellish what really happened. My task was to convert those many facts into a flowing story with broad appeal, to tell a tale that seems too unbelievable to be true, only it is.
Name one thing you learned from your hero/heroine.
The one thing I learned from Achille Varzi was never to let pride consume you, because that can end badly.
Do you have any odd or interesting writing quirks, habits or superstitions?
I don't follow the usual rule of writing something every day, rather I prefer to write when I feel creative. When I'm at a loss for what comes next I take a long walk, and by the time I get home I have the solution to my problem.
Are you a plotter or pantser?
I am a plotter, but I also like to let the story and particularly the characters take their own courses within my broad, plot outline.
Look to your right – what’s sitting there?
Anything new coming up from you? What?
I'm staying with historical fiction in Italy while I work on a story set in 15th Century Venice, based on a major scandal which happened in 1428. That scandal is intertwined with sub-plots around the discrimination of gay men at the time, and the discrimination of women at the time. This story can be read for what it is, but I hope that it will encourage readers to think about the long history of discrimination, inequality, and especially domestic violence.
Do you have a question for our readers?
If any of your readers have an interesting tale they think may be worth telling, then go to my blog and send me an email about it. I am always on the lookout for good ideas.
Only war intervenes, and Paul and his wife Pia leave Achille to spy for the British at the naval base in Naples. Paul and Pia endure hundreds of Allied air-raids, they join the partisans who fought off the German army until the Allies could rescue them, and then they survive in a near-ruined city as best they can.
By 1946 Italy is still shattered but life is returning to normal, and no more normal is Achille Varzi winning the Grand Prix of Italy that year. Over the next two seasons Achille Varzi scores more successes, until he makes his only ever driving mistake and is killed in Switzerland in 1948. Even though he died too young, Paul and Pia know that Achille Varzi would never have lived in his life in any other way.
Enjoy an excerpt:
“Achille crashed,” she said and drank some more. “I have never seen anything like it. He was the only driver taking the banked curve at the end of the straight flat-out. Each lap I heard the exhaust note of his car never wavering as he took that curve with his typical, stylish precision. And then on lap fourteen a sudden gust of wind came in from the desert, blowing dust and debris. I held my hat and glanced at the Englishman nearby, just as the wind caught the front of Achille's car and lifted the front wheels from the track. The car rose higher and higher like an aeroplane, flying away from the track until the rear of the car hit the ground and then the front, and it rolled over and over with the most terrible noise. Over and over until it stopped on its wheels in the middle of an orchard. There were Arab men dressed in robes and they ran to the car. I was on the wrong side of the circuit and checked that nobody was coming before I ran to it as well, and so did the Englishman.” She drank more water. “I thought he must be dead, nobody could survive a crash like that, but he climbed out of the wrecked car and brushed dirt from his overalls. He looked around and saw me but I don’t think it registered.”
“Is he alright?” Paul asked, worried.
“He’s fine although shaken. He didn’t even light a cigarette, and then he fainted. The Englishman Raymond Mays helped him, and he drove us back here.”
Paul contemplated what he heard, and that would have been a terrible thing to see.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Pia repeated and Paul hoped that Achille really was alright. If he was taking that curve flat-out he must have been doing about 300.
About the Author:
Once those books were published by Club Lighthouse and garnered good reviews I wrote in a very different place and time. My two novels set in Victorian Britain were published by Wings ePress in July and August of 2014. These have been followed by a story set against the background of Australia's involvement on the Western Front, published in August 2015. Australia's contribution to the battles on the Western Front and to ultimate victory is a story not well known, but should be better known.
Staying within the realm of historical fiction, one of the most successful sportsmen of the 1930s, Achille Varzi, lived a dramatic and tumultuous life. It is a wonder his story hasn't been told before, beyond non fiction written in Italian. The Last Great Race follows the highs and lows of Varzi's motor racing career, and stays in fascist Italy during the dark days of World War Two.
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