It’s such a pleasure to welcome Vanessa Carnevale back to the blog. Apart from being one of the loveliest people in the writing world, Vanessa also produces heartfelt novels with a deeply emotional core.
In 2017, Vanessa released her first novel The Florentine Bridge and she’s followed it up this year with The Memories that Make Us.
This book has the most beautiful cover and I’m so pleased to report that what’s between the pages is equally delightful. It’s the story of Gracie Ashcroft, a young Melbourne woman who’s injured in a car crash and wakes in hospital to find she can no longer remember much at all about her life, including the fiance she’s due to marry in three months time.
From here, Gracie goes on a journey of self-discovery. She moves to the country, to her family’s abandoned flower farm, where she tries to find out who she really is and what she really loves. There’s also a terrific twist, which I certainly did not seeing coming!
Vanessa is currently in a whirlwind of interviews and book club visits and flower workshops, but I’m so grateful that she squeezed in the time to answer my questions.
I seem to recall you wrote the first draft to ‘The Florentine Bridge’ in six weeks. Did ‘The Memories that Make Us’ pour out of you just as quickly?
The short answer is no! The draft for The Memories That Make Us took a lot longer than six weeks to write and I didn’t go through sequential drafts. I’m learning that the writing process with each book is different.
I do feel like there was an element of ‘second book syndrome’ with this one, because I often felt like I had to prove to myself that I could write a book, that The Florentine Bridge wasn’t just a fluke!
I was also conscious that people would be reading this book–my agent, publisher, and ultimately readers, whereas with The Florentine Bridge I had no expectations of the book or myself while writing it. The reassuring news is that writing the first draft of my third manuscript has been much easier.
I’m finding that using a general outline works for me, where I have an idea of the direction of the story, the central characters and the major turning points. Sometimes I think I know the ending, but it can change and I don’t mind being surprised when that happens.
With The Memories That Make Us, I knew the setting would be a flower farm but didn’t know exactly what role the farm or flowers would play in the story. I did know the twist, which actually contributed to the book being a tricky one to write!
I purposely didn’t let myself know too much about Gracie’s backstory (she has amnesia and is unable to recall most of the elements of her past) because I wanted to experience the frustration she had about her life before the accident. Of course I knew some things about her past, but I really limited that knowledge until subsequent drafts.
The key question in this book is ‘If you had to the chance to live your life over, would you live it the same way’ and Gracie realises there are certain things in her life that need to change. What are your personal thoughts on this?
The whole idea for this story came from me reflecting on my own life, actually. I’m a wife and a mother of two, and I have been married for 14 years. One afternoon as I was folding laundry, I was thinking about how all the turning points of my life have led me to where I am today. I started wondering whether I would make the same choices about my life if I had my time over. (In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes.)
The thing is, we can never really know for sure just how much our memories and our past influences our future, and for me the fascinating part of writing this book was exploring that.
Gracie says in the book at one point:‘If memories are the delicate threads that knit our souls together and make us who we are, who can we be without them?’ So while this speaks to her quest in finding out who she truly is, there’s also the exploration of fate versus destiny.
I think the book will give readers a chance to reflect on their own personal lives, their big moments, their relationships and the role their memories have played in making them who they are. Hopefully they enjoy it!
You write with such passion and insight about flowers in this book. Has this always been an interest?
Thank you! I’ve always loved flowers but I certainly was no green thumb and my interest in them didn’t really extend past enjoying receiving them. But once I started researching flowers and flower farming, and the research that has been done connecting fresh blooms to positive emotion (as well as memories), a new botanical world opened up to me and my appreciation deepened. I started by visiting garden shows and flower farms (tulip, rose, peony and dahlia farms) and I was able to chat one one flower farmer in particular, who sat with me on her front porch and patiently answered my many questions. I read blogs and books and then I started hands-on research. I pulled up my veggie patch and filled it with flowers! I also started buying roses and peonies and planted them in borders in my front garden and backyard.
I now have over 25 roses growing (mainly David Austins) as well as a lot of the varieties of flowers that Gracie cultivates in the book. When you put so much hard work into planting, it really is an amazing feeling seeing that first flush of blooms. It was important for me not only to observe the way they grew, but also experience the feelings associated not only with growing them, but also giving them away.
It was fascinating seeing the expression and gratitude on people’s faces (teachers, friends, neighbours) when I started giving away fresh flowers. The most beautiful part about it was that it brought them joy and made them feel special. I really tried to capture this lovely quality about the beauty of flowers in the novel.
Since publishing your first book, what are the main things you feel you’ve learned about writing and publishing?
It’s been an amazing journey and I’m so glad I took the step to write my first novel. I’ve learnt firstly, that I can actually write books. Until I wrote The Memories That Make Us, I wondered if writing The Florentine Bridge was just a fluke. I’ve since written my third manuscript and while writing isn’t always easy, I know I can actually complete a book now. I’ve also learnt patience–publishing moves slowly, and there is much an author can’t control. What we can do, is try to write the best books we possibly can.
You run some wonderful writing retreats and get to meet many authors, at varying points in their careers. Do you tend to see similar issues and problems for writers across the board?
Yes, and I love hosting retreats. I’m hosting three of them this year! Yes, I have found that most writers (myself included) face similar challenges. In supporting writers to trust themselves, I find that I’m able to more easily trust myself. This is another reason that spending time with other writers in a setting like this or at a conference is so important. When we can come together and talk about the challenges we face, we don’t feel so alone.
Can you give us any hints about your next book?
Sure! I’ve written a new manuscript, which is a work of contemporary women’s fiction. This one centres around a moral dilemma and is about a married couple who really want to become parents but life throws them a major curveball. It’s a story about motherhood, marriage, the depth of love, and the difference we can make in the world. I’m going to tackle the third draft soon, and while the first draft seemed easy enough to write, it’s getting things right at this stage of the process that is turning out to be the most challenging. I’m enjoying it though!