26 March 2015

The Intel: Luca Di Fulvio

Photo: Olivier Favre Photo: Olivier Favre

Here it comes, rattling over the Brooklyn Bridge, accompanied by a sumptuous Ennio Morricone score —it’s The Boy Who Granted Dreams Blog Tour. It’s stopping here for the day at Crime Thriller Fella, to get a thorough examination at our own version of Ellis Island, before moving on for a full and happy life on your Device.

Author Luca Di Fulvio is an engaging man with a fascinating history. A former student at the prestigious Silvia D’Amico Dramatic Arts Academy, he was mentored by legendary crime writer Andrea Camilleri. He’s known as the Italian Thomas Harris for his gruesome serial killer thrillers, such as The Mannequin Man.

But his latest is, he says, a book full of light, a sweeping romance set in the Roaring Twenties amid the criminal gangs of New York. The Boy Who Granted Dreams was indeed partially inspired by the acclaimed Scorsese film Gangs of New York and features a boy by the name of Christmas Luminita.

So we’re delighted to say that Luca gives us the intel on his lyrical tale, and tells us about Christmas, being told he’s not ‘Italian’ enough, and how a writer’s talent is like pigeon poo…

Tell us about Christmas Luminita…

Christmas deals in dreams. When the Jewish mob boss Arnold Rothstein meets him, he says: ”So, ya go around tellin’ lies.” And Christmas replies: “No, Mister, I just know how to tell stories. It’s the only thing I’m good at. Stories people believe in. People like to dream.”

And thanks to this special talent, Christmas has the chance to escape the fate that met so many of the new inhabitants of New York’s Lower East Side during the roaring twenties. Many turned to crime as an easy way out of poverty. Others lived an honest life but suffered great hardships at a time when lowly workers were exploited. But countless others were able to take advantage of the opportunities that the American Dream offered them. And Christmas is one of those.

What was the inspiration for The Boy Who Granted Dreams?

When I was a child, each night my grandmother used to tell incredible stories. I’d listen open-mouthed as she spoke and afterwards I’d lie in bed, my head filled with all these vivid images. In a sense, all my adult life I’ve been on the lookout for a story that would allow me to celebrate the gift my grandmother gave me, and to relive the wonder I felt back then. And eventually I found a way to describe how the strength and beauty of the imagination can overcome reality, even in a ruthless, unforgiving place like New York.

Cover_TBWGDWhat attracts so many authors to the criminal gangs of the Roaring Twenties?

It’s true these people were nothing but appalling cutthroats, with no sense of decency, a total lack of morals, and not a modicum of respect for the lives of others. So you’re right to ask where the attraction comes from.

I think at some level these criminals represent the dark side we all have buried somewhere in our unconscious, the rebellious side that wants to break all the rules. They’re ‘untamed’, as we all sometimes feel we are.

Christmas finds fame on the radio precisely by taking the ordinary people listening to him in that dark, mysterious and risky world on an imaginative journey, making them believe for just one second that they’re different, and not ‘flat’, as he calls them.

You’re known as the Italian Thomas Harris for your dark crime novels, but The Boy Who Granted Dreams is a sweeping romantic drama as well as a thriller – did you enjoy the change of pace?

It happened almost by accident that the first thing I wrote was a thriller. But the book did well, the film studios were suddenly interested in me, and in the blink of an eye, before I knew what was happening, I was screwed, bogged down in a process more commercial than artistic.

Then Christmas and his dreams came along, restoring my own dreams and putting me back on track.

I wouldn’t call this book a thriller. I think, as you said, it’s more a romantic drama and a coming of age novel. And it’s full of light, in contrast to my earlier crime novels, which were very dark.

Am I pleased this change has come about? Over the moon. I love the light.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Those of us lucky enough to make a living out of doing something we love should never describe our work as ‘hard’, if for no other reason than out of respect for the millions of people who really do work hard. What I can say, though, is that without doubt the biggest obstacle I have had to overcome was to continue believing in myself after ten years of failing to find a publisher. I was repeatedly told I wasn’t good enough, not ‘Italian’ enough, that I sounded too American or English. So the hardest lesson I had to learn was not to give up.

How do you deal with feedback?

I started out as an actor. When you’re on stage delivering your lines, you can tell if the audience is with you, if you’re connecting with them. And at the end you lap up the applause like a much-needed glass of water. You find the appreciation of the audience isn’t just gratifying, but essential. The same goes for all lines of work in which you expose yourself to the judgement of others. In my case, there are of course two types of feedback: the reaction of the public, and that of the literary critics. The critics give me guidance, show me where I’m going wrong and what I’m doing well. But it’s the reader who hands me the glass of water I’m thirsting for

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Last year I mourned the loss of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the greatest writers of the last century, whom I absolutely love.

But Marquez aside, I was raised - artistically and emotionally - on Anglo-Saxon literature. Jack London (in the book, Christmas reads first White Fang and then Martin Eden) and Dickens were my very first teachers. Hemingway came along when I was a teenager, with Thomas Hardy and William Faulkner following afterwards.

It’s impossible to list them all. But I have to say I can’t stand it when writers reel off names no one’s ever heard of, just to show how utterly original they are. If I were to ask you which classical composers you like, you couldn’t skip Bach or Mozart or Beethoven just because everybody knows them.

Another writer who would have to play a part in this imaginary procession - and I told him so at Frankfurt Book Fair - is Ken Follett.

Give me some advice about writing…

The first thing that springs to mind is reading. By reading those who have come before us, not only can we learn from them, but we can better understand ourselves and gain a sense of what ‘chain’ of writers we might belong to - because none of us is as unique as we might like to think we are. The best we can hope for is to become one link in that long chain.

The second piece of advice I can give is not to be arrogant, not to get too puffed up about your talent, because you did nothing to deserve it: it was a gift sent down from above, just as a splat of pigeon poo might be.

My third piece of advice leads on from the previous one. We should constantly be honing our skills and improving ourselves, because that really is something to be proud of.

Finally, my last piece of advice is this: not to become too attached to what you’re writing. A good writer knows to chuck a whole lot of pages into the wastepaper basket.

What’s next for you?

A book of mine which takes place in Venice in the 1500s at the time of the first ghetto will be published in English next year. That’s one big thing in the pipeline, and I’m very excited about it.

As for the novel I’m working on at the moment, it’s set in Buenos Aires, in the harbourside barrio of La Boca, in 1914, when half the local population was Italian.

The Boy Who Granted Dreams by Luca Di Fulvio is out now as an ebook, published by Bastei Entertainment, price £4.99