When I was in Italy researching my book Ciao Bella I met the author Tim Parks. At the time I was still planning to write my book about Italian women but I told Tim the story of my Italian family. “Now that’s a story I want to read,” he said. I asked him how he got around writing about people who are close to him without upsetting them. “As a writer your first responsibility is to your book,” he told me. “Basically as long as you don’t get anyone in trouble with the law or their wife, everything else is fair game.” A few days later, encouraged by Tim and my husband, I abandoned the book on Italian women and started to write Ciao Bella.
As those of you who have followed the blog will know I gave a copy to my aunt (pictured here with Leonardo) two days ago. I never imagined she would ever read it, it’s in English and she rarely makes the effort to read English. Or so I thought…..my father has just called and says she is furious. No, she’s more than furious, he described their conversation as “ugly” and I got the impression he was pleased he had phoned her and not dropped in.
There is plenty in the book for her to be irritated by, and I was always aware of this. But this book is not a eulogy to my gorgeous relations, it’s a truthful memoir. She is a great character, partly because of her faults, but as one reviewer said, despite these we still like her. I like her and of course I am sorry that she now hates me. I suppose this fury won’t go on forever but knowing her it could go on for a very long time.
So was it worth it? I agree with Tim that my first responsibility is to the book. If I had been soppy about my aunt and written a book she would have liked it would not have been as good or as honest (or as funny). And as Nora Ephron’s mother used to tell her every day: “Everything is copy.” I suppose there may come a time when no one will dare to speak or hang out with me for fear of ending up in one of my books. I already get countless people nudging each other and saying; “Ooooh, be careful what you say, you’ll end up in the paper.” To this I smile benignly but my silent response is one I heard from Peter McKay, the Fleet Street legend and possibly the last proper hack alive. “As if ANYTHING you could say, could POSSIBLY be of ANY interest to ANYONE.” Unluckily for my aunt, this was not the case….