Canada | 2011
Gil Adamson is a Canadian writer. Her first published work was a collection of poems, Primitive, which was followed by a collection of short stories Help Me, Jacques Cousteau after which came a further collection of poems, Ashland. She won the Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2008 for her 2007 novel The Outlander.
What a gift it has been to come to Santa Maddalena, and to meet the remarkable Beatrice.
I am too superstitious to talk about a book if it is still in process, in case I drain the blood from it, chatter the energy away. Also, it is unwise to admit weakness. But because we are among friends here, I will admit that, when I left Toronto, I was at war with my second novel. I knew where I wanted to take it, but the damned thing would not gel. One character in particular refused to cooperate, and no matter how many times I wrote and rewrote, the thing just fell apart in my hands. My first novel had been so easy to write. What was happening to me? Increasingly bewildered, I realized I had begun to resent my book, as one might resent a coy lover who is proving impossible to coax into bed.
Santa Maddalena would, I hoped, provide me with time for “hard work,” and “concentration.” I intended to be serious and puritan about it. Instead, I entered one of the most idyllic, least puritanical environments for writers imaginable. Not only did Beatrice give me the time and freedom to work exactly as I needed–often nocturnally, in pyjamas, as is my habit–but I found myself in a kind of protected garden where “normal” life doesn’t apply. Other writers came and went with laptops under their arms, there was art everywhere, dogs everywhere, the Tuscan landscape spread out beyond my window. Slowly, the anxieties that had been swarming inside my head began to disperse. For the first time in ages, I could sit and think. Actually think.
I looked at the books in the libraries. I watched the bamboo outside my room sway. I talked about movies with Brian Chikwava. I went for walks with Hector Abad and we talked about character and voice and self-editing. Every night I went in to dinner hoping that Beatrice would be moved to tell another story–stories from a life filled with artists and writers and actors. I was given Grisha’s studio, where the air was fertile with his presence. Art everywhere. His manuscripts. Bees humming outside the window. One evening, I reached down to touch a key on one of his beautiful little typewriters and experienced a gust of physical memory. I remembered what it felt like to use a typewriter! No battery, no electricity, it is it’s own printer. Ecological, practical, and a marvel of engineering. My hand hovered over the keyboard. Proust had his Madeleines; I had this perfectly balanced letter N. The machine still in working order, requiring no power, no battery, no printer, nothing but itself. Waiting for his hand.
Late one night, perhaps 2 am, I sat in my bed–the Sicilian marriage bed decorated with metal lovebirds and blindfolded cherubs. I wondered why the artisans had blindfolded the cherubs. Blessing the newlyweds, no doubt, but giving them privacy, too. This seemed apropos of life at Santa Maddalena. Blessings and privacy.
Somewhere in that first week, I discovered a way into my story. It was simple, and I should have seen it before. The characters formed, as if they were stepping out of a fog. Frankly, my relief was immense.
So! Many thanks to Beatrice for taking a chance on me. She is generous and interesting and impressive. And she has great instincts for how writers work.