Today I welcome artist and novelist Rosa Fedele to Behind the Pen. Rosa has just released her latest illustrated novel, The Legacy of Beauregarde. Over to you Rosa!
When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?
I’m fairly new at novel-writing; I am, in actual fact, an artist. Here’s me in my natural habitat.
Funnily enough, when first I started to write in 2013, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew nothing of POVs, of characterisation, of plot arcs. I was so embarrassed that I wrote in secret, waiting until the house was empty and I was sure to be completely alone.
It all began because I love old houses. A lot. Sometimes my heart aches profoundly at the sheer beauty of a building and I will stop and stare dumbly at the shimmering tarnished Gothic copper roof of a turret, the sun flashing off stained glass windows or the swirling ochres and russets of a Sydney sandstone wall.
One day, I was strolling through Glebe (one of the oldest suburbs in Sydney), admiring the old mansions, and I happened upon one house in particular. But it was more than a house; the magnificent old building riveted and mesmerised me and in the following weeks I was drawn back to the site over and over. The mansion was fronted by a brightly painted door, a glossy façade, and I imagined what the door might mask and what it could have concealed over the last 150 years: nasty, shameful secrets, possibly a poor family’s misfortune and tragedy, rotten crimes and heaven knows what other unholy messes … and that’s how my first book, THE RED DOOR, was formed.
How long on average does it take you to write a novel?
Ages. Not only because I’m interspersing writing with portraiture and figurative painting, but also because I illustrate my books along the way.
As I write the story, the characters emerge in my mind and I’ll stop to make a sketch or paint a picture illustrating exactly what my main protagonista looks like or how I imagine the front door of The Peach Pit to be. I always invite my social media followers along on the journey, to watch the illustrations evolve from inception through to the final image. Some of these paintings are discarded, some filed away, and in THE LEGACY OF BEAUREGARDE only sixteen made the final cut.
Here’s my main lady, Marcela: a beautiful, empowered, tenacious, yet troubled, soul. She also has a weakness for Irish accents.
What is your favourite scene from one of your novels and why?
It was such a pleasure concocting the tale of the insalubrious Andreu Beauregarde and his lover, William Leonard; flashing back to 1899 and telling of their antics in what was then a filthy and disreputable part of Sydney, The Rocks, and the true story of the Grey Friar, the priest who was rumoured to have been sent out from France as a punishment, and whose shame was so great that he flung himself from the topmost window of The Seminary’s tower.
I think I wrote the whole piece in a single stream of consciousness; I remember staring at the screen as if I’d woken from a dream, and wondering at this outlandish piece of melodrama which had just popped out of my head.
What inspired your most recent novel?
Each of my books is built around an iconic Sydney building. The Seminary was inspired by an old Abbey in Annandale; as in the book it is a majestic estate previously owned by the Catholic Church. I then picked the building up and placed it in the leafy and delicious suburb of Hunters Hill. Here’s how it looked circa 1880.
The other inspiration is the current global obsession with home renovation and the plethora of television shows filling our screens, from UK’s Grand Designs and Restoration Man, to America’s Fixer Upper. This story explores this middle class fixation, playing with the idea of having a film crew record the entire process.
How would you best describe this novel to a new reader?
Marcela and her family have lived beside The Seminary for four generations. After twenty years of abandonment, the Gothic Revival manor, steeped in both fanciful legend and rumours of haunting, is in dire need of heavy renovations.
The building is purchased by a wealthy couple with deep personal issues, and the wife is filled with grand ideas of how to remodel it. Not only that, she has arranged to have the renovation followed by a television crew.
And that’s when Marcela’s problems begin.
LEGACY is a decadent and eccentric tableau of theatre and treachery, old secrets and betrayals; exploring friendship, guilt and obsession, and slipping between characters to gradually reveal a century-old mystery.
How much planning do you do? Do you plan/plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?
The main protagonist of my stories is always a strong, if troubled, female. From the outset I’ll have a definite idea of her character, her appearance, her weaknesses, her deepest hurts.
From there I’ll build a surrounding cast, along with their interrelationships, secrets, schemes and desires. This is always fun: I love basing my characters on personalities I’ve come into contact with, whether at parties, conferences, workplaces or in the street. I’m almost always “recording”; taking in mannerisms, inter-personal dynamics, the tilt of a head, a finger rubbed nervously across a philtrum. And sometimes, outrageous words and opinions uttered can be infinitely quotable!
I become deeply connected to my characters, creating a “universe” for them and, since I couldn’t imagine saying goodbye to some, I’ve carried them over from my first book. I do have a basic idea of the plot but, of course, the pesky critters soon take over and do what they damn well please – it’s like having a colony of unruly children in my head.
Here’s the infamous socialite and artist’s muse, Beatriz Beauregarde, loosely painted in the style of Norman Lindsay.
What is your favourite childhood book? Did reading as a child have any bearing on your decision to become a writer?
Having grown up on a rich diet of illustrated stories – the works of C.S. Lewis, Enid Blyton, Beverley Nichols, Hauff’s Fairy Tales, E.C. Pedley’s Dot and The Kangaroo – I’ve always known that I would write and illustrate my own books; it was a natural progression from art.
But I’d have to say that Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were (and still are) the masterworks that inspired me most.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
Actually, there are so many books on my bedside table that it’s become a health and safety issue!
I’m currently reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, a dark and mesmerising tale based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. Kent’s wordcraft is mesmeric, addictive and inspirational. As I aspire to paint like Sargent or Zorn, I also aspire to write like Kent. #goals
Can you share with us a vivid childhood memory?
I’ve actually retold one of my most vivid (read “embarrassing” and “humiliating”) memories in my book, albeit from the POV of the character Claudia. Here it is:
“Claudia remembered standing at the front of a long queue winding down the aisle of St Mary’s church. An alarmingly tall and intimidating Bishop had stood before her in blood-red robes, his hand raised and waiting to bestow the Holy Sacrament. An unknown adult stood at her shoulder and, in answer to the priest’s question, uttered a strange name.
Silence reverberated in the vast house of worship; a foot scraped, a throat was cleared. The Bishop asked the adult to repeat the name and seemed perturbed at the answer. He questioned Claudia directly: ‘Is there a Saint called Aurora?’
Claudia gaped at him, tongue-tied and terrified.
The Bishop turned to his cohorts, asking again in a booming baritone: ‘Is there a Saint called Aurora?’
His voice echoed accusingly into the furthest corners of the church. The priests were confused and looked at each other in bewilderment. Amongst the congregation was murmuring, loud whispers, which quickly became giggles. Claudia’s classmates, both the ones who had been Confirmed and the incumbents waiting behind, began to snigger. The priests conferred amongst themselves.
She was painfully conscious the whole proceeding had been held up because her thoughtless father had chosen an obscure and unsuitable Saint’s name; her face burned and she prayed, not that the Holy Father would seal her with the gift of the Holy Spirit, but that she might be instantly teleported to the interstellar warship Galactica where she could end her days adventuring with Apollo and Starbuck.
Exasperated and impatient, the disapproving Bishop finally condescended to apply the peculiar name and keep the ceremony moving. Walking back to her pew, Claudia was subjected to jeers and ridicule, and from that day on she would forever associate churches with shame and humiliation.”
If you could walk through a door into another realm, describe the universe you’d choose to visit.
Without a doubt, Narnia or Middle Earth. A no-brainer, really.
Thanks so much, Theresa, for having me along and allowing me to wantonly inundate your blog with art and architecture. I hope you all enjoy reading THE LEGACY OF BEAUREGARDE as much as I loved writing it and, of course, creating the illustrations.
THE LEGACY OF BEAUREGARDE
‘You could lose someone down there, couldn’t you?
Anyone could get buried under the concrete slab,
and no one would even know!’
The Beauregarde women have lived in the shadow of The Seminary for four generations.
And there is nothing conventional about Marcela, or her family.
When the decadent and obsessive Gordana acquires the iconic Sydney property and
invites a television crew to film the building’s transformation into a magnificent showpiece,
strangers suddenly penetrate Marcela’s world, each with a dark secret of their own.
But Marcela conceals a sinister bond which inextricably ties her to the derelict estate,
holding the power to not only unravel Gordana’s grand designs,
but expose bloodstained treachery, long-buried betrayals and lies.
A decadent and eccentric tableau of theatre and treachery, old secrets and betrayals;
exploring friendship, guilt and obsession … slipping between characters
to gradually reveal a century-old mystery.
About ROSA FEDELE
‘For me, every painting and every book is a new adventure, started with a thrill of excitement and anticipation.’
Graduate of the prestigious Julian Ashton Art School and finalist in many prizes including the 2017 Portia Geach Memorial Art Award, Rosa has exhibited at NSW Parliament House and Parliament House Canberra, as well as numerous galleries and exhibitions in Australia and worldwide. Rosa has studied at the NSW Writers Centre and is a regular contributor to arts magazines where she prepares articles and comprehensive tutorials.
“I love the dramatic use of light and colour, and often veer off into the world of whimsy, painting whatever takes my fancy – whether urban scenes or vintage cars. My style is constantly changing and evolving, and I’m always looking for fresh stimulation. I am thankful that I am able to fulfil my passion for painting and writing, and the opportunities to capture a little moment of beauty to be enjoyed by future generations.”
Her debut novel, The Red Door, an illustrated suspense set in Sydney of the past, was a fulfilment of a lifelong dream, to interweave a story with pictures and draw the reader into her own bewitching, and slightly dark-edged, world. Her next illustrated novel THE LEGACY OF BEAUREGARDE is out 10th July 2018.
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