So many people have supported this little project of mine that this post can only be dedicated to them. I don't normally write personal pieces but touched by the encouragement and kindness I have received during this year I feel somehow the occasion demands it. For, in spite of all that is written on the curses of the Internet, there remains a curious warmth when an unknown reader follows an unknown writer's blog. The novelist's lot, the loneliness that comes with the job, the uncertainties (does anyone even read your books?) is assuaged by such a practice. I know that my posts are read around the world in countries I have never ever seen, in places where the sun shines continously and a sea breeze springs up and in places where the summers are short. Places where wars have come and gone, where conflict remains and places where hope alone survives in a brilliant example of the human spirit. So for those of you who read these pages, this piece is for you.
Only a week to go now, before the film & book are launched at the National Gallery in London. If you are in London please come. It is a public event and the link for tickets is here.
It has been a long road and I have almost forgotten the beginning. Almost, but not quite. I still remember the day when my agent rang me having finished reading the manuscript of The Road To Urbino. I was in a bar in Milan with an old friend, drinking a strong black coffee. Outside on the pavement a tub of pink oleander cast shadows on the ground. And then amidst the hiss and steam of the espresso machine and Italian laughter all around I heard the voice from England telling me that yes, she loved the book.
'Brava!' said my friend when I told her, and putting out her cigarette, she added, 'now we have a glass of prosecco!'
Damn, there went the diet!
Another memory, this time in Jaipur, pausing between events at the festival, sitting with my wonderful editor beside the pool in her hotel, sipping tea and talking about the text.
Re-reading the manuscript, correcting, discussing character and plot.
'Why would he do that? What drives him? Would she really say this?'
To have a sensitive, caring editor is the one blessing a writer must have. Someone who gives you the time to develop your craft, who guides but does not dictate. The editor after all is the conductor who views the whole when you, the writer become too close. My characters and I are lucky to have her.
In this way the book wound its slow way into production. Copy editing, checking, changers, re-changers.
'You're just fiddling now, not improving,' my husband said.
'It's good, ' my children told me, with all the authority of being my children.
By now the year had turned and turned again and the kittens we had acquired in January snow had grown into large cats that prowled the garden. Time was passing swiftly as I set to work on the film, Letter From Urbino.
Another six months of solid work from morning until late at night with a different kind of editor.
'My job,' Conrad told me firmly, 'is to make your vision happen.'
But did this involve the vast number of chocolate cake we consumed on those long hours into the night?
'That's your choice,' he said. 'You should be concentrating on the screen.'
Winter turned to spring and the sky lightened. Stories from my homeland in Sri Lanka filtered down to me. I was appalled anew by the brutality of what was going on. Such ugly viciousness from people who were my countrymen. The only thing left was to bury myself in my work. Night after night I stared at the images on the flickering screen, discussing, changing, finding just the right music that conveyed the mood I wanted. And then, the voice of the wonderful actor Rob Mountford and suddenly there was a shape to the film. So it was off to London to check the film on the equipment at the National Gallery, not once, not twice but in all three times.
'Here it is,' said my editor at Little Brown, handing me the first copy of the book, smiling encouragingly.
She is a woman with the knack of making every author feel important, I thought.
I hope Urbino will do her proud.
So now all is done and I can only wait. A first review of the novel was out yesterday in the Morning Star. I believe it is a good one, but dare not look.
Next Friday the whole village of Cargalla is coming to my launch. Some of the villagers are quite old and have never been further than Genova, leave alone on a plane. But they love their country and want to see how it is represented on a screen. Since they do not speak English I have had a translation of the script made especially for them.
'After rain the angels come!' someone once famously said.
I hope they will.
The trailer for Letter from Urbino is here.