Saturday, July 15, 2023

Q&A with Kat Devereaux




Kat Devereaux is the author of the new novel Escape to Florence. She lives in Italy. 


Q: What inspired you to write Escape to Florence, and how did you create your characters Stella and Tori?


A: I started writing Escape to Florence as a private escape for myself. I was going through a particularly tough time, and wanted a creative project just for me — something I couldn’t succeed or fail at doing. Of course, it took on impetus and life over time. But the first draft was really written as a way of blowing off steam.


You know, I used to (very gently) roll my eyes when I'd read this kind of statement, but both Tori and Stella more or less ... showed up. I had a very strong, clear, immediate sense of both personalities and both voices. Clearly my subconscious had been at work!


Of course, research fed in, especially in the historical timeline. I watched, read and listened to many accounts by women partisans while writing Stella's story, including quite a few who were just teenagers when they worked for the Resistance. Their determination, their strength, their matter-of-fact courage and the terrible risks they described all profoundly informed her story as it developed.


Q: The novel is told along two timelines--did you focus more on one before turning to the other, or did you write the novel in the order in which it appears?


A: I wrote Tori's timeline first because I intended to write a purely contemporary story. When my agent, Broo Doherty, read it, she pointed out that I had built an entire WWII scenario into the background of the manuscript — and now it was time to bring that out. I trained as a historian, so it's not too surprising that my historical preoccupations snuck up on me.


Q: The novel is set in Florence, Italy--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: I would say it's crucial. I enjoy writing about places that I know and love. And as I return over and over again in the course of writing the story, I learn to love them even more.


Even my imaginary location in Escape to Florence, Stella's home town of Romituzzo, is firmly rooted in the geography and history of the Valdelsa, where I lived for a while. I am very fortunate that I live in Italy and so can visit these places with relative ease, taking my freelance work with me.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I am definitely a pantser and not a plotter. The story tends to unfold as I write — I can sometimes see a few chapters into the future, but often I'm just following where my characters take me. I also tweak and rewrite and adjust as I go, and I keep on researching, too. It’s a very intense process but I love it. My first drafts are concise, but very clean, and the editing process is all about diving deeper into those key moments.


One of the strangest things for me as a published author is that I now have to write a synopsis before I've done much work on the book. The finished product tends to be very different, although the main characters and the setting stay the same. It’s quite funny to look back and see what I thought the book was going to be!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now, I am in Genoa finishing up the first draft of my next book. It’s a historical novel set during the Nazi occupation of the city, and it has a mix of real and invented characters.


It’s a joy to write, not least because of my brilliant (and real) leading man, Massimo Teglio, the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Genoese Jewish community. A brave and very dashing aviator, Teglio stayed in Genoa after the Germans arrived and became head of the North Italy branch of DELASEM, a clandestine rescue network that saved many Jews from deportation and murder. I think he's wonderful, and my heroine agrees.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My absolutely favourite character in Escape to Florence is don Anselmo. I am so very, very happy when readers love him, too.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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