Set amid the twisting streets and sunlit piazzas of medieval Italy, The Towers of Tuscany tells the story of a woman who dares to follow her own path in the all-male domain of the painter’s workshop. Sofia Barducci is born into a world where a woman is only as good as the man who cares for her, but she still claims the right to make her own mistakes. Trained in secret by her father to create the beautifully-crafted panels and altarpieces acclaimed today as masterpieces of late medieval art, Sofia’s desire for freedom from her father’s workshop leads her to betray her passion and sink into a life of loveless drudgery with a husband who despises her when she does not produce a son.
I never expected to launch a career as a writer of historical fiction. Fiction, yes. Historical fiction? Well . . . It’s true that I love history and I’ve certainly been known to pick up novels set in the past (most novels are when you come to think about it!), but surely to write historical fiction, I must need a Ph.D. and an office filled from floor to ceiling with musty tomes that I’d actually read.
It turns out that all I really needed was a spark and I found that spark one day while thinking about San Gimignano, a hill town in Italy that includes at least thirteen medieval towers and commanding views of the iconic Tuscan landscape. During its heyday in the fourteenth century, San Gimignano had over 70 towers. Why was I thinking about San Gimignano? I had visited the town a few times over the past two decades (I also love traveling) and I had fond memories of it. Why it popped into my head one day while I was trying to come up with a subject for a novel is anyone’s guess.
But what happened was that I got to wondering how the town of San Gimignano had looked with 70 towers crammed into the same space as the town occupies today. Had a painter from the period actually depicted them? The answer is no, so far as we know. Landscape painting was in its infancy in the 14th century and highly stylized. I decided to invent a painter who departed from the usual religious iconography and painted a view of the towers of San Gimignano in the style of the time. My painter is a woman because I was also intrigued by the possibility that women must have painted in medieval times, even if they did not become known. Medieval painting was a family affair, so after consulting with experts in medieval art, I concluded that it was plausible that a painter could have trained his wife or daughter in the painter’s craft.
And then I got a sign that my novel was destined to be written.
While surfing the Web for sites on Tuscany, I stumbled upon the website for San Gimignano 1300, a museum in San Gimignano that includes a large scale model of how the town appeared in the year 1300. I couldn’t believe it! Two artists had painstakingly recreated the city complete with all seventy of its towers. As soon as I could, I caught a plane to Rome, the train to Florence, and the bus to San Gimignano. My morning spent at San Gimignano 1300 was one of the most productive of my writing career to date.
Over the next year, I immersed myself in the fascinating history of the period. It turns out that I already had the main pre-requisites for an author of historical fiction—I was curious and I could read. I also have a graduate degree in Drama with a major in History so I guess I’m not totally devoid of background, but I learned early on that researching a period to add flavor and verisimilitude to a work of fiction is not nearly as onerous (or dull) as academic research. I could pick and choose what I needed to include and I had experts to call on when I got stuck. I carefully avoided including “info dumps” in my novel and only snuck in the results of my research when needed for the story. I’m now hooked on writing historical fiction.
The Towers of Tuscany is my first historical novel with an “arts twist.” I have dipped my toe in most of the arts over the years and my goal is to combine my love of the arts with my love of history to produce novels that celebrate an individual’s journey with his or her art during a particular era. My next novel, tentatively titled “Nocturnes” tells the story of a concert pianist in Vienna in the 1820s—shortly after the death of Beethoven and during the last year of Schubert’s life. I plan to release that novel in the fall of 2014. And the next one is about an actress embroiled in the “Old Price” riots of 1809 in Covent Garden Theatre in London. History and the arts are full of great stories! A sequel to The Towers of Tuscany is also not out of the question.
The Towers of Tuscany is appealing to people who are fascinated by fourteenth century Italy and by Tuscany, particularly the towns of San Gimignano and Siena, where the action of the novel takes place. Readers interested in the glorious art of the period and in workings of a medieval painter’s workshop are also enjoying the novel.
But most of all, people are enjoying The Towers of Tuscany because of Sofia Carelli, my spirited, talented, kick ass heroine who never gives up her passion for painting or her search for love, even in the face of almost insurmountable limitations. I was recently honored to receive a review of The Towers of Tuscany by bestselling SciFi author Spider Robinson who happens to live on the same rain-soaked island as I do. Spider calls my Sofia “one of the most endearing protagonists in years” and the novel itself a “startlingly first-rate piece of historical fiction.” Another reviewer gave the novel “six stars out of five” and called it a “beautifully crafted masterpiece of historical fiction.”
For an author, nothing beats knowing that someone who does not even know you has read your work and enjoyed it.
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About the Author
Carol M. Cram has enjoyed a wonderful career as an educator, teaching at Capilano University in North Vancouver for over twenty years and authoring forty-plus bestselling textbooks on business communications and software applications for Cengage Learning. She holds an MA in Drama from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Carol is currently focusing as much of her attention as she can spare between walks in the woods on writing historical novels with an arts twist. She and her husband, painter Gregg Simpson, share a life on beautiful Bowen Island near Vancouver, Canada, where Carol is also very active in the local arts council. Visit her online at www.carolcram.com and find Carol on Twitter @carolcram.