The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I was asked whether I would like to take part in this game of blogger’s tig by Margaret Skea, whose first novel Turn of the Tide was published just before Christmas by Capercaillie Books.  I went to Margaret’s launch at Blackwell’s, here in Edinburgh, and found the book intriguing: it’s now top of my to-be-read pile, so I won’t hazard any opinions now.

The theme of this blog hop is “The Next Big Thing”, so here we go with mine.

What is the title of your book?

A Florentine Cardinal in Renaissance Rome: The Politics of Magnificence and Exile is the title at the moment…

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s a subject that I’ve been mulling over for the past thirty years (!), ever since I wrote my PhD thesis on this man and his family. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to come back to the subject of Cardinal Niccolò Ridolfi … I think it can be summed up as Life [with a capital L], work and children (possibly not in that order).   In many ways, I feel that I can approach the subject more fully now, with greater knowledge and more perspective than a 24-year-old researcher!  I have written various articles – liked the ones listed here, on my page – but I hope that this is now going to be a book-length study.  It will encompass more than just the cardinal: I’ll also look at his family, particularly his sister-in-law and nieces, and at the web of European links that existed at this high level in Florentine and church politics.

What genre does your book fall under?

Non-fiction, possibly what is now called “literary” non-fiction – although the best historical writing has always had a good narrative and pace.  Just look at Francesco Guicciardini’s History of Florence, written in the mid-sixteenth century – not to mention some of the great British late Victorian and Edwardian writers, like Julia Cartwright and her daughter Cecilia Ady (there are chapters  on both women in this wonderful book edited by John Law and Lene Østermark-Johansen).

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m not a great movie buff, but I’d want to run as far as possible from the Borgias …. so there wouldn’t be even a whiff of Jeremy Irons.  Derek Jacobi, on the other hand, might play the cardinal in later life or Donato Giannotti, his closest political adviser.  Rory Kinnear would be excellent as the younger Ridolfi (although he’d still need a beard).  Ben Whishaw would be great, too – perhaps as one of the cardinal’s brothers, or as Pope Clement VII – with Ian McKellen as Paul III.  As for the women, I see Maria Ridolfi as Monica Bellucci… that would certainly bring a little dazzle to the story!

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Oh, heavens, this is really difficult!  Something like this… “An intimate portrait of ecclesiastical wealth, Italian politics, art and learning combined with the everyday life of a cardinal’s household in Renaissance Rome.”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I haven’t got that far yet.  I’ve sent it to a publisher who’s asked to see another two chapters, so maybe there’s hope… but I’ve feeling that there’s still a long road ahead.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

This is slightly different in my case because I have a 60,000-word thesis (accompanied by a volume of footnotes of similar length!) as my starting point.  However, the thesis was written with a different slant and, although I’ll be using much of the material, it needed to be re-written into a more congenial and captivating format.  I have two or three chapters in a fairly good state now, and I hope to complete the first full draft later this year.

What other books would you compare this to within your genre?

There are many, although it wouldn’t be right to compare my unpublished book directly with any of them.  However, there’s nothing to stop me aspiring to emulate historians like Lauro Martines, with books like April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici (Jonathan Cape, 2003) and Scourge and Fire: Savonarola and Renaissance Italy (Oxford University Press, 2006), or Judith Hook whose book, The Sack of Rome (Macmillan, 1972), remains eminently readable.  Other examples might include, among others, Christine Shaw’s Julius II: The Warrior Pope (Blackwell, 1993) and, most recently, Catherine Fletcher’s book, Our Man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian ambassador (Bodley Head, 2012).

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think this question is probably best answered by referring back to the previous one: I’ve been inspired by reading works by these and many other brilliant historians, and I would love to be able to use the material I have accumulated to inspire others.

There is so much still to discover about Renaissance Rome, particularly in the extraordinary period of the second quarter of the century, which lies on a cusp between the flowering of the Renaissance under the two Medici popes, Leo X and Clement VII, and the more worrying years that followed the Sack of Rome, when religious and political tensions rose.  The exiled Florentines in Rome longed for a return of the oligarchic and republican government in Florence and continued to plot against Duke Cosimo, whom they regarded as an upstart who assumed power after his cousin, Alessandro de’Medici, was assassinated in 1537.

As I said earlier, I’m also focusing on relations between the cardinal and his female relatives: this is particularly interesting, since the cardinal’s household – and indeed the Curia itself – was predominantly male, and therefore the letters and payments to Maria Ridolfi throw new light on the concerns and business matters that tied the cardinal to his closest relatives.  Dowries were a prime concern, but so was education and also the procurement of special goods, such as finely embroidered shirts and particular wine, cheeses and much else.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is a period of Italian history that is probably overshadowed by the Borgias, or if not by them, then by Machiavelli and the earlier Medici.  Yet, there is so much more to discover: of course, the politics is fiendishly complex, but by adopting a clear standpoint, I hope that readers will enjoy delving into the motives that led the Florentine exiles to ally with France – and with Scotland – in their desperate, and hopeless, struggle to re-establish a broad-based government in their native city, which for centuries had been a bastion of republicanism.

The material is a rich mine of social and cultural history, and Ridolfi’s household and lifestyle certainly lives up to the period’s reputation for magnificence of all kinds: architecture, gardens, books, clothing, horses and food.  Novelists do not have a monopoly on description in this respect, and there are plenty of insights, even revelations, and appetizing stories that fit well with the non-fiction approach.

Lastly, today we may find it hard to understand, indeed we may well be alienated by the idea of a society in which organised religion is not an option but a matter of life and death:  much of the book is written in the 1530s and early 1540s, before the Catholic Church had fully grasped the thistle of the reform.  Yet, out of this period came one of the most fascinating and inspiring movements of the time, the spirituali or fervent Catholic reformers.  Cardinal Ridolfi appears to have been on the fringes of this group, or he may have been clever enough to disguise the extent of his commitment. The passions of the Catholic reformation have already been studied in depth (by Paolo Simoncelli, Fenlon Dermot and Maria Forcellino, among others), but I hope to weave yet another strand into this complex and brilliant tapestry.

Now, back to the “Next Big Thing” blog hop.  Part of this lark is to pass the baton to others, so I urge you to click through to the websites highlighted below. In about a week’s time, they also may post answers to the above questions… and so the fun continues.

The authors I’d like to tig are:

Historical novelist Stephanie Cowell who is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet. She is the recipient of the American Book Award. Her work has been translated into nine languages. Her next big things are the love story of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the opera based on her novel Marrying Mozart and a family drama/mystery/love story about the year Shakespeare wrote Hamlet from the points of view of the writer, his daughters, wife, mother and mysterious new love.

Joanna Hickson, whose exciting and intriguing novel The Agincourt Bride tells the story of Catherine de Valois, who married her country’s conqueror Henry V of England and later founded the Tudor dynasty. A fascinating life and a gripping tale.

Breaking news: Joanna’s novel  will be launched at Blackwell’s on South Bridge, Edinburgh, at 6.30 pm on Thursday 10th Jan.

Dr Ian Mortimer, who has a double writing life as a prize-winning historian and, using his middle names James Forrester, as a historical novelist. The Elizabethan Time Traveller’s Guide is now being filmed for BBC2 later this year – follow the Guide on Twitter here.


2 Replies to “The Next Big Thing Blog Hop”

  1. Hello via Cornflower’s wonderful meeting place of a blog! Delighted to discover your site and to read about the Cardinal’s life in progress. I’m in awe of your research and love the sound of ‘literary non-fiction’.

    1. Thank you for visiting the blog, Deborah. It was lovely to be mentioned alongside you on Cornflower’s fantastic blog! I’m also in awe of her blog and the breadth of her reading! Just wonderful. The blog hop thing was fun to do and has certainly made me think about the book. I’ll be back to visit your website soon and hope to be in touch. Lucy

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