Francesca Marciano knows it’s time for her next move when she starts to feel too comfortable. All her life, she has slipped in and out of the familiar, in search of new territories to explore, observe and ultimately write about. Her longing to face the unknown has lead her to live on three different continents, work as a screen writer and eventually, answering a life-long calling, to become an accomplished novelist. Using the turmoil of Afghanistan, the contradictions of Africa or the hot dry summers of Italy as a background, she explores one’s ability to find strength in vulnerability, to surrender and be transformed whilst remaining true to oneself. If one can accept to pour all of one’s insecurities, doubts and fears into the first time, then the next time can be filled with strength, confidence and the power of experience.
ALOUD: Francesca, you are primarily a novelist but you are also a screen and film writer, could you describe your background in these fields?
FRANCESCA MARCIANO: I was born into a literary family. My grandfather was a novelist and that probably made me believe that the aspiration to be a writer wasn’t something so extraordinary. I do think that everyone is born with a particular vocation and if anybody asked me when I was 8 years old what I wanted to do as a grown up, I did say that I wanted to be a writer. Actually, there were two things I wanted to do, I wanted to travel and I wanted to write. If I look back now, I think I followed my inclination. It took a long time before it became possible but I never abandoned the idea and I can even recall the day when I made the rational decision to pursue it. It was a moment that stuck with me and that I can single out. I didn’t know right away that I wanted to absorb other cultures but I wanted to brave the world and at 21, I left Italy and went to New York. Europeans tend to be very stable in their lives, they are born and die in the same house from generation to generation. In the States, people were more fluid and I immediately felt that that way of life appealed to me. There was a freedom I felt very comfortable with. I enrolled in a film school and got a job with a television network. That lasted for about 7 years at the end of which, I wrote a script with a friend of mine. We took it back to Italy. By miracle, we got funding for it and we decided that we would direct it ourselves. We went back to NY with the script and the money and we shot our first film which we co-signed as writers and directors. The film came out and it got a lot of attention, it went to the Venice Film Festival but at the time, I realized directing was not my final destination. There are a lot of writers who become directors and never look back, I actually looked back right away. I never made another attempt at directing but that’s how I started writing scripts.
ALOUD: How did you make the transition into writing novels?
FRANCESCA: Well, it’s funny because when I decided to write films, I thought I should be a writer in my own language. I left New York and went back to Rome but after a few years, I really missed that sense of adventure, of conquest and so, for various reasons, I ended up in Kenya. I fell in love with it and the idea of living in a place like that. I thought I would stay for a few months but I ended up staying in Kenya for 10 years. I made a few documentaries in different parts of Africa, like Sudan, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Somalia. Kenya is one of the most spectacular countries as far as the wilderness is concerned. There are areas that are incredibly pristine, tribes that are still living in a very traditional way. Despite all this we, as whites, were living in a very protected small world. We would go on safaris and enjoy the freedom and the wilderness, while right outside the country there were civil wars raging in Rwanda and Somalia, people were being massacred, killed, and I felt this contradiction. It really made a change in the way I perceived my life there and I decided to write about it in what eventually became my first novel, “Rules of the Wild”.
ALOUD: What are some similarities or differences between writing a novel and writing a script?
FRANCESCA: When you are writing a script, you are trying to make something work for the audience and everything that you write will be mediated by the director’s work, the actors, the costume designer. Everything you write will be taken on by someone else so that final result is a teamwork. You are only the initiator. Whereas, when you are writing a novel, there is nothing between you and the book, that’s it. I know this is a cliche but when you are writing, you really are on your own and you float in this kind of uncertainty. You have to remind yourself everyday that you are not mad to be working daily on such a demanding task as writing a novel without knowing what the outcome will be.
ALOUD: At the moment, which one of those occupations do you spend the most time on?
FRANCESCA: I am slow as a fiction writer. It’s been 3 years since “The End of Manners” came out. Meanwhile, I have been writing films. I can feel that something is starting to happen and I am collecting my ideas for my next work. I also applied for an artist residency which I won so I am going to be in India for three months, in a rural area outside of Bangalore. I am going to be alone and I’ll be writing, away from everything.
ALOUD: Your books tend to focus on the stories of women, can you explain why?
FRANCESCA: The women that I wrote about are women who are making different choices and they are confronted with unusual situations. “Rules of the Wild “focused on racial differences and conflict, “Casa Rossa” is about how the history of one’s country can inform the story of one’s family, whereas “End of Manners” is about the issue of war and gender. I don’t have children and I am not married so I tend to write stories about women who are kind of unhinged, who live in places which are home to others. I’m interested in the challenge that feeling poses and how this makes one particularly vulnerable . This is probably a recurring theme for me.
ALOUD: How do you make important decisions? What would make you say “no” to an offer?
FRANCESCA: I try to make decisions that will raise the stake rather than keep me on a secure route and I try not to repeat things that I know how to do very well. Also, I have never made an important decision just because of the money. Every time I have in the past, it has been a mistake. If my heart is not into it, I really cannot do it. Of course now, there is a recession everywhere and it is hard to work, but even that is good. It’s good to be poor again for a year or two. It just tells you that you never arrive anywhere, you are never safe anywhere. You have to keep your energy going to be able to face difficulties and make difficult choices.
ALOUD: What do you think of this quote “Choose a job you love and you will never work a single day in your life?”
FRANCESCA: I am very grateful that work can be so much fun but it’s not only fun. It’s also been difficult, and at times, it has made me feel very insecure. That can be painful. Probably, an artist is more exposed to that feeling of insecurity than, I think, a doctor. When you have a practical skill, you have a lesser chance to fail, I think. A writer can go wrong all the time.
ALOUD: Something I really like in your writing, particularly in “Rules of the Wild”, is the honesty of this interior dialogue that is going on in the protagonist’s head. She feels things we all feel but it can be difficult to put it into words in a way that rings so true.
FRANCESCA: I remember when I was writing that book, Esmè, the character, came out as pretty brutal, with a lot of rage which was probably mine at the time. I thought it was very liberating to write a character that was not afraid to have that rage, that sarcasm, to be mean. I remember a great sense of satisfaction when I could let it all come out of Esmee’s mouth. I remember the opening line of a chapter where she says “Let’s face it, we don’t have any African friends.” which is such a simple truth and yet, nobody wants to acknowledge that. Here in Europe, things are much more subdued which is why I also liked living in a place that has such a harsh contradiction. It challenges you everyday.
ALOUD: It says something about the people who are very comfortable with this contradiction.
FRANCESCA: When you live in a place that has such contradictions, you are forced everyday to really think about principles and ethics. Sometimes in Europe, you live such an easy life, you are not confronted with it all the time. You tend to soften up. In these countries, you are forced to live within a constant state of vigilance because every single day, you are facing things that force you to think. I love that and I miss that, in fact.
ALOUD: Do you sometimes think that people who never leave where they come from have an easier life?
FRANCESCA: I read lots of Conrad as a child. I always wanted to escape and I always envied people who did. I think the people who never leave end up wishing that they had when they were young. The more experience you have, the more aware you become of how vulnerable you are and how difficult life can be. I know it’s possible because I have done it. It makes me more of a survivor, I think. There is a freedom in falling in love with a new place and whoever can do it, is blessed. It’s scary but it’s a gift.
ALOUD: Are the risks worth the rewards?
FRANCESCA: Absolutely, I think there are no rewards without risks. The more the better. Speaking about my experience as a writer, I said there was a moment when I made that conscious decision, with all the risks involved, to set on a path which is full of traps and pitfalls and exposes you to rejection. It’s a risk but obviously, if there are the rewards, then you haven’t betrayed yourself and I think that is the most important thing.
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