It is a pleasure to welcome Tania Blanchard back to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews for A Tea Break with Mrs B, a author interview series. To help celebrate the release of Echoes of War we sat down for a chat. Thanks Tania!
Hello Tania. It is my pleasure to welcome you back to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. I greatly appreciate the time you have provided to answer a few questions. To begin, can I interest you in a strong black coffee again, or would you prefer another beverage?
Hello again Mrs B! It’s lovely to be back and I’d love my usual please – strong black coffee!
Can you give us a little insight into your achievements as a writer to date?
I’ve been very fortunate to be shortlisted for the 2018 ABIA awards in the category New Writer of the Year for my very first novel, The Girl from Munich. I also hit 100,000 copies sold of The Girl from Munich and Suitcase of Dreams in January 2020, which was wonderful to know how many people I’ve been able to share my grandmother’s story with.
What came first in the creation of the novel – the title, plot, characters, setting or something else when you first set out to write Echoes of War?
I was first inspired by an old black and white photo of my Italian grandfather in military uniform. I discovered that he’d fought with the Royal Italian Army in the Italian wars with Ethiopia and Albania, in the late 1930s prior to World War Two. I’d had no idea my grandfather had been to war in Africa and it sparked my imagination. I wanted to learn more about life for my grandparents and their family in Calabria, southern Italy at that time.
How different was the experience of writing Echoes of War, compared to your previous releases?
With my previous novels, I had the wonderful documents, photos and memorabilia from my German grandmother, as well as rich and detailed family stories. When I delved into my father’s family stories for Echoes of War, they were less detailed and were more like small snippets of what life was like in Calabria and there were only a few family photos. However, this gave me greater flexibility to write essentially a fictional story while remaining authentic to my family stories and how my grandparents and their community would have lived at that time.
What are the main issues present in Echoes of War?
All the themes revolve around family – within the context of the importance of family in Calabrian culture and the close bond between family members. At the heart is the struggle for self -identity for women in remote southern Italy who continue to live an ancient and traditional way of life, even though northern Italy has modernised. The conflict between family duty and finding a voice, personal freedom and individuality within the rigid framework of family and community shifts as war approaches Italian shores, and the struggle for independence and survival intensifies. But women have always been strong, and this is especially true in wartime, holding together the family, the community and their livelihoods. War brings sweeping change, even in the south and suddenly following your heart and a sense of belonging becomes more important than ever before.
Did you undertake any research to bring Echoes of War to life?
Yes, lots! I spoke to family members and friends about their recollections of life in Calabria, stories they’d heard from their parents or grandparents, about Calabrian culture and way of life. I was fortunate to sample wonderful Italian food and take part in the iconic salami making ritual. Unable to go to Italy myself with the pandemic, I was lucky to speak to family members who went there recently and got great insights from their photos. I read books about Mussolini and Fascist Italy and about World War Two by historians, found fascinating articles on the internet about Calabria, and the war years and I watched documentaries too.
Are the characters in Echoes of War inspired by any real-life figures?
Nonna Mariana and Giulia are inspired by my grandmother. People used to come to her for folk remedies and treatments. She was a strong woman who didn’t allow her limitations stop her doing the things she wanted. She was illiterate but still able to help those around her. Unable to speak English when she came to Australia, she still managed to regularly use two trains and a bus to visit my aunt who was newly married on the other side of Sydney. Giulia’s brother Vincenzo and his friend Stefano are inspired by my grandfather who fought in Ethiopia and Albania.
Is there anything surprising you discovered from the process of writing Echoes of War?
I was surprised to learn how many wars Italy was involved in, in the lead up to WW2 – in Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War and Albania. I was fascinated to learn how Calabria was settled by the ancient Greeks in the 8th Century BC. Calabria has a long history of settlement by the great civilisations of ancient Greece, ancient Rome, the Byzantines, Normans and even the Ottomans, which gives the Calabrian culture a particular richness. I was also intrigued by the unique religious traditions of the region, the dominant Roman Catholic beliefs influenced by ancient Byzantine rituals and the strong faith in God, the Madonna and saints to intercede in every day problems.
What is one thing you would like your audience to take away from the experience of reading Echoes of War?
I’d like to pass on the things I found most fascinating while researching and writing Echoes of War. I was amazed to learn that the years before WW2 were so tumultuous in Italy and when war finally came to Italian shores, it split the country into fascist north and occupied south and plunged Italy into civil war. I hope readers get a sense of the incredibly rich culture of Calabria and the way of life in a very remote and ancient part of the world, and finally another unique perspective of fascist Italy and WW2, through the eyes of Calabrians, just like my grandparents.
What ingredients are essential for a successful historical fiction novel?
For me it’s about authenticity to the historical period and the way people lived life, accuracy of the historical detail and being able to take the stories of ordinary people set against the big historical events of their time and show how they’re affected by the world around them. But most of all the stories have to be full of human emotion – loss, hardship, joy and hope, with strong characters and a memorable protagonist.
When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy cooking up a storm for my family, walking my dog, reading for pleasure, spending time watching a movie or playing a board game with my family or researching my family history.
What book is next on your reading pile?
The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follet. This is the prequel to Pillars of the Earth, one of my favourite books and I’ve been meaning to read it all year!
What is next for Tania Blanchard, do you have any works in progress you would like to share with your readers?
I’m currently working on my next novel, this time inspired by my husband’s family stories. It’s set in Durham, Northern England, in the late Victorian era, around the turn of the Twentieth Century and follows the story of an amazing young woman who was involved in running a country pub.
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews Tania and congratulations on the publication of Echoes of War.
Set in Mussolini’s Italy amid great upheaval, this is the story of one woman’s determination to find her place in a world that men are threatening to tear apart. Another heart-rending novel inspired by a true story from Australia’s bestselling author of The Girl from Munich.
Calabria, Italy, 1936
In a remote farming village nestled in the mountains that descend into the sparkling Ionian Sea, young and spirited Giulia Tallariti longs for something more. While she loves her home and her lively family, she would much rather follow in her nonna’s footsteps and pursue her dream of becoming a healer.
But as Mussolini’s focus shifts to the war in Europe, civil unrest looms. Whispers of war are at every corner and her beloved village, once safe from the fascist agenda of the North, is now in very real danger.
Caught between her desire to forge her own path and her duty to her family, Giulia must draw on the passion in her heart and the strength of her conviction.
Can she find a way to fulfill her dreams or will the echoes of war drown out her voice?
Echoes of War by Tania Blanchard was published on 29 September 2021 by Simon & Schuster Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
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