Everyone welcome Pat Lowery Collins, author of Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice, a historical novel that takes place in Venice, Italy during the 1700s.
1- Hello Pat. Welcome and thank you for taking the time to stop by Damsels in Regress to talk with us. So I’m going to jump right in and start off by asking what drew you this particular setting? It’s a very unique time period that we’ve seen very little written about in children’s historical fiction.
I was inspired by a comment on a classical music station that Vivaldi wrote his vast array of concertos in order to showcase the orphans of the institution where he taught. Presumably, their musical skills would help them find husbands or employment. It seemed amazing to me in this age when the arts are downplayed in the curriculum, that the orphans in all of the Venetian ospedali were taught to play an instrument and it was considered one of the most important parts of their education.
When I dug more deeply, the notion of the foundling wheel appealed to me, as did the fact that the ospedale was primarily a girl’s school, the dynamics of which are very familiar to me. I was also immediately drawn to the challenge of portraying the lush beauty and 18th century life of baroque Venice.
2- In your author’s note you talked about the research you did for this novel from reading books to websites and even a trip to Venice. Tell me a bit about the trip. How much did it help you with your research and in writing the novel.
I had definite goals when I set off for Venice: to see where Vivaldi lived and worked and to learn as much as I could about his life, the life of the orphans under his tutelage, and the period. I knew that without being able to adequately set the scene and place the events, there could be no novel. Such institutions as the museum of the 18th century, Ca’ Rezonnico, and the Doges’ Palace, gave me an intimate view of the furnishings, embellishments and flavor of the times. The name of Rosealba is actually taken from that of a famous pastelist, Rosealba Carriera, whose paintings adorn the Ca’ Rezonnico. I also needed to see St. Mark’s Square and what views would be possible from the windows of the Ospedale della Pietà. While in Florence, which I visited as well, I came upon a display of musical instruments of the period and a wonderful illustrated book describing them all.
3- You did a wonderful job giving the three girls, Anetta, Rosalba, and Luisa very distinct personalities and having them each grow throughout the novel. Was it a challenge to write from three points of view?
Ye it was a challenges, but really lots of fun, and it gave me the opportunity to show different perspectives and reinforce information. It was difficult, however, to distinguish each girl’s dialogue, one from the other, since they all used the formal speech patterns I felt were consistent with the times.
4- What was one piece of interesting information you had to leave out of the finished book?
The original manuscript had more orphans. For clarity and simplicity, my editor asked me to cut out some of these characters that I had thought were pretty interesting and necessary. I had wanted the challenge of working with a large cast of characters and to convey the hustle and bustle of the orphanage, and I hope I accomplished the latter in spite of eliminating a few of the characters.
5- What do you hope readers took away from your novel, particularly in terms of the time period?
I want readers to come away with the realization that the basic feelings and emotions of people are virtually the same at any period of history. As a reader, however, existing for a while in another time period is like moving from one culture to another. The aspirations and expectations of the characters are bound to be different than those of our contemporaries, even as the yearnings of the human heart remain unchanged.
6- Do you have other eras you’d like to explore (writing wise)? What are some of your other favorite time periods (in general)?
The early years of the entertainment industry in Hollywood continue to interest me. I grew up there, and some of our aging neighbors had been tycoons of the period. New England history interests me as well. I just finished a novel for Candlewick called “Daughter of Winter” which is set in Essex, MA, in 1849, and will be out in fall of 2010.
7- What were some of your favorite historical novels as a child? Any more recent favorites?
When I was very young, my grandfather read aloud to me – such books as “The Back of the North Wind” by George MacDonald. When I learned to read, my favorites were usually fantasies such as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Rip Van Winkle.” I then read almost nothing but comic books in Junior High. This didn’t prevent me from thinking of myself as a writer, and writing poetry and plays. My devotion to literature came in high school, but I read very little historical fiction other than such things as “A Tale of Two Cities.” My focus in college was on poetry. My interest in historical fiction came much later in life and I didn’t actually realize that I was writing it until someone pointed it out to me. Recent favorites of historical fiction are “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Adichie Chiamanda Ngozi, and “The Other Half of Life” by Kim Ablon Whitney.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us.
For more information on Pat and her books, visit her website: http://www.patlowerycollins.com