There always seems to be a deep interest, respect and appreciation for all things Italian whether it be fashion, food, the people or the language. But there appears to be a curiosity and intrigue when we travel much further south of the country and we land on the beautiful island of Sicily, home of the Mafiosi as we know it. Sicily seems to encapsulate all of the human beings key elements and transforms them into the colourful existence of Sicily and the Sicilian; food is no longer just food, it’s a meal of many courses, lunch is the rock of the day, a gastronomic experience where you eat yourself into fatigue. The language isn’t just words, but a form of communication which is animated, its syncopated, its rhetoric and it’s emphasised with all kinds of hand gestures. The family, the pillar of Sicily isn’t just the blood and biological connections, the family is a promise of respect, generosity and affection – a tightly knit organisation that doesn’t run so smoothly when the routine is disrupted. Whether a husband doesn’t eat his lunch at the designated time or an entrepreneurial rival is monopolising too much wealth, routine and organisation is paramount to Sicilian life.
With my demonstrated fascination with Sicily and its’ people and my close ties and frequent travels to the island I was advised to read the work of Sicilian Catanese writer, Ottavio Cappellani. Like the island, his work is thrilling, vibrant, beautiful and sexy – he deciphers the language of the land and transcends this into the vivid, multi – layered, innate language of his voice, a voice which is time altering and entertaining in both literature and in sound. I was more than happy to take my fourth trip to Sicily Catania when Cappellani agreed to meet with me. We had arranged to meet at Scenario Pub. Li. Co, the Catanese equivalent of Southbank’s BFI. The bar was occupied by what you might call the ‘arty’ crowd; writers, directors, comedians and musicians – the sort of people you might expect to meet in Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
When the tall, fluffy haired fully bearded Cappellani entered the bar stroke art centre he was greeted and acknowledged by all of Scenario Pub.Li.Co’s patrons. Looking like none of the pictures in his books I could only assume by the attention he was receiving this might be him, my host confirmed that it was. He joins us at our table and after exchanging kisses he orders himself a glass of Prossecco, lights a cigarette and gets into full conversation about the Sicilian song festival Festival della Canzone Siciliana currently taking place, in which he is one of the critics on the panel. Prior to our meeting I had the pleasure of viewing this X factor, meets cheesy fifties song contest live at the ABC theatre. Cappellani is open and chatty, he tells me he is having trouble deciding the title of his soon to be published third novel, he advises me on restaurants to visit and tells stories from his past. He’s funny and frank, naturally he is full of witty and comical stories and he interviews like a dream with responses as beautiful and lively as his writing.
Ayesha Charles: How long have you been writing?
Ottavio Cappellani: I think that somehow you are born a writer, maybe the question should be, ‘How long have you been a published writer.’ There are a lot of writers that cannot get their work published, being a writer has nothing to do with having your work being published or recognised….at least this is my belief!
My first book was published in 1988, a philosophy book called, ‘La Morale Del Cavallo,’ (The moral of the horse). The preface was written by Manlio Sgalambro, a famous philosopher and theologist in Italy. The publishing company was named NADIR, the same publishing company that published the works of Pietro Toesca, who is considered the intellectual head of the Italian anarchist movement; the publication of this book shut me out of the university world, however I was very happy about this as it gave me the chance to focus on my romance writing, which I believed was something I needed to do if I were to live my career fully as a writer.
AC: How many books have you written?
OC: La Morale Del Cavallo, (The Moral of the Horse) Chi e’ Lou Sciortino? (Who is Lou Sciortino?), Sicilian Tragedee, Chi ha Incastrato Lou Sciortino? (Who framed Lou Sciortino?) The latter is the prequel to Chi e’ Lou Sciortino.
AC: In general, how long does it take for you to complete a book?
OC: It takes a year and half to have the novel clear in my mind, during this period of time I write nothing, not even notes. I only follow the inspirations and paths that I believe could be useful for me to write the story I intend to write. I then sit down in front of my computer and physically write the novel within three months, at least this has been the process and timing for my published romance novels thus far.
AC: When do you know your book is complete?
OC: There is a point during the writing process where my characters take a three-dimensional form. I see them as though they were alive and at this point they are the ones leading me through fiction. The work is finished when the writer disappears and all that is left are the characters and their stories.
AC: How long did it take you to get your first completed book published?
OC: The first romance novel I wrote in three months, I sent it out to several publishing companies by mail, after a few months I received two positive responses from two different publishing houses and was left to choose between them. It sounds an easy and straightforward path, however there are many difficulties a new born writer must face.
AC: How did you go about promoting your work?
OC: I had the luck of being contacted by an agent from London who was able to sell my first romance novel in 30 countries. I am useless at promoting any of my work, luckily press and event departments of publishing companies exist.
AC: Are there any motifs / recurring themes in your books?
OC: I would say the MAFIA, which represents the biggest literary metaphor of power in all its forms, also the cinema and theatre which represents and stores our general history and forms the way in which we analyse our present. The imaginative world of mafia, of cinema and theatre have taken the place of what in the passed was called the lyric opera; literature, philosophy and theology, a sort of pop that now has the duty of expressing and narrating our times.
AC: Is Sicily a stimulus for your writing? / How important is Sicily to your writing?
OC: Immensely. Sicily is not a geographical region, it’s a place of the spirit for its history and position, Sicily is a metaphysic and literary place. It is also a place where feelings, both good and bad are somewhat made extreme due to our heat, our sun, our wine, our food, our men and women, our civilisations melting pot, our sea and for all those reasons that I cannot list, as there are so many. Nowadays I think there are only three literature inspiring places in Europe at the moment; these are London, Berlin and Sicily.
AC: What is your general writing process?
OC: I try to picture a story that could represent at its best all the things that I want to express at that time, then as said above I take a year, looking around, gathering inspirations, reading, watching movies, travelling and then at some point the story anchors itself to something I have deep within myself, like all the pieces of a puzzle taking their position, then that is when I start writing things I never imagined I could write about. In my latest romance work this process has been taken to its extreme, reading it all over again there are chapters I did not even remember I had written – a splendid surprise!
AC: What are your ambitions as a writer?
OC: To be able to discover a literary language capable to work within the cinema without losing its literary depth, maybe in the future, to be able to describe ‘this’ Europe at the end of its civilisation as we know it thus far. I would also like to be able to sell many copies of my more complicated works, those unsuitable to be published. Also to terminate the Apocalypse, and to pilot a helicopter!
AC: What does being a writer mean to you?
OC: To have upon me an immense responsibility and at the same time acknowledging the fact that this is a responsibility I cannot live without. Being a writer, to me also means that I can have the irresponsibility towards common duties of life, when she (life) betrays me or lets me down, I can take my revenge and anger out by writing. It is an unrenounceable joy, being able to create a world with my writing that can be seen and accessed by many, now and in millions of years to come.
AC: What is the best and worst thing about being a writer?
OC: The worst thing about being a writer is having the sight of a monster, a beast which lives within the writer. This monster has a lucid view of life which affects all human relationships. This monster is called The Writer.
AC: If you weren’t a writer what could you imagine yourself being?
OC: A dead man!!
AC: What are you currently working on? / What can Sicily expect from in the next few years?
OC: I am writing a book about Catania, a sort of touristic guide seen through the eyes of the “monster” (writer) mentioned above. On the 30th March 2009 my new romance will be published by Mondadori, [Italy’s biggest publishing company] its a story set in Los Angeles in the seventies, the birth of American Indi cinema, it’s full of Italian-American names and is called Chi ha Incastrato Lou Sciortino? (Who framed Lou Sciortino?)
In June a romance novel titled Ulisse con Piscina (Ulysses with Swimming Pool) will be published with limited copies. In this piece I make an encounter with mythology that populates my land with the so called “postmodernism”. Then, a novel titled Viaggio al Nord (A Trip to the North) is due to be published, in this piece I narrate Scandinavia from the eyes of a man from the “south” [Southern Italy]. Finally it’s in the pipeline to create a contemporary western film set deep inside Sicilian inland; a dry land and yellow in its horrific shadows.
AC: Any advice to aspiring writers?
OC: Stop writing and look for an honest job!
AC: What accreditation have you had so far as a writer?
OC: In 2007 I was listed in the ‘Reading The World,’ a shortlist of 40 books published in the States voted to be the best in the world of the respective year by book store owners and publishers. The year I was listed I was the only one of the forty writers not to win a Nobel Prize. I have also had David Leavitt dedicate a full page article in the New York Times to my second novel The Sicilian Tragedee, in which he states; “[Ottavio Capellani] He is the heir of the great Italian Literature with a surprising intimacy with Shakespeare.” His comments made me emotional and gave me so much joy.
AC: What are the perks of being a writer?
OC: The possibility to express whatever you feel, being able to say it in your own way with your own words, in your own time, to the broadest public possible. To have in your hand a weapon, [language and the word] that can be more powerful than the conventional weapon. Also the fact that I can smoke, drink and sleep around without having a “social” stigma, as to writers many things are forgiven!
Many glasses of Prossecco and Amarro later Ottavio Cappellani readies himself to leave, we exchange our good byes and he promises to send me a copy of his third book. My host and I soak up the final remnants of Cappellani and decide that we like him and Scenario Pub.Li.Co very much. My host takes himself to the bar to pay for our drinks and returns placing his money back in his wallet, with the look a father gives when his son does him proud, ‘That was on Ottavio,’ he smiles.
Ottavio Cappellani’s third novel, Chi ha Incastrato Lou Sciortino? (Who Framed Lou Sciortino?) was published Monday 30th March 2009.