One way in to a piece of writing is via solid objects. They help to tether the prose and stop it from flying off too fancifully.
Objects have their own story too which can help move the narrative along. If you introduce a solid object, you can describe it, ask its provenance, who made it, who bought it, how many owners has it had, what its function might be, whether it is still used for that original function or has it been appropriated for some other purpose? Is it old or new? What does it feel like? To whom is it precious?
The apartment of Chiara Ravello, the main character in Early One Morning, is full of extraordinary objects. She is a bit of a hoarder, a collector. She has different phases but when we first meet her she is in her glass phase and has just found a bargain, a red Murano glass bowl.
What a delightful relief it can be from the urgent business of making things up to while away a happy hour or two deepening your knowledge and understanding of a character’s passing fad. In this case I became a temporary ‘expert’ on the glassware that has been made for centuries on the Venetian island of Murano. I learnt about its history and the techniques of its manufacture, about specialties like crystalline glass and aventurine, the glass with threads of copper or gold within.
I acquired a short-lived but particular fascination for the sommerso (‘submerged’ or ‘sunken’) glass technique developed during the late 1930s. A piece of sommerso glass is layered with the inner stratum being one colour and the outer one either another colour, or clear, thus endowing the vase or bowl with a different quality of depth.
Then there is the bullicante effect achieved by blowing glass into a metallic mould containing rows of tiny spikes which impress tiny hollows on the surface. The object is then dipped back into the melting pot, where it is covered by another layer of glass that traps minute bubbles in the hollows, creating a bubble pattern.
The red glass bowl that Chiara buys reminds her of a lamp from her childhood and also of the sanctuary light that is kept lit in a Catholic church to demonstrate that God is present. It is an important and evocative object for her and within the narrative.
I was in Italy last month for the publication of Una Mattina di Ottobre and my publishers, Nord, gave me a gift:
What an extraordinary thing. My very own red glass bowl. You might think it's as if the bowl had leapt out of the pages of my book and onto my shelf. But that’s not what happened. My bowl is different from Chiara’s. She acquired hers cheap because it is flawed. Mine, however, is perfect.