The Forgivable Sicilian
Platform meets the author of acclaimed cult novel Chi Ha Incastrato Lou Sciortino?, Ottavio Cappellani for a glass (or two) of Prossecco in Catania. The fluffy haired Sicilian Catanese writer talks about the extremities of Sicily, the Mafia, the Sopranos, all to which are present in his third English translated novel, Who Framed Lou Sciortino?. He reveals the mind of the writer, his journey to creating beautiful words and his strange ability to transform into a monster. In the words of David Leavitt of the New York Times Cappellani is ‘the heir of the great Italian Literature,’words that have made the great Sicilian literary emotional.
An Interview with Sicilian writer Ottavio Cappellani
in central Catania (a cheesy fifties live singing contest, the equivalent to X factor) for which Cappellani sits on the panel of critics. Cappellani never made it to the set that night due to an approaching deadline, but insisted we meet after the show. We met at Scenario Pub. Li. Co, the Catanese equivalent of London’s Southbank art’s centres, committed to the literary and theatrical pursuits of Catania. The bar inevitably was occupied by the creative class; writers, directors, comedians and musicians – the sort of characters one might expect to meet in Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
ith my demonstrated fascination with Sicily, my frequent travels to the island and my love for World Literature I was advised to read the work of Sicilian Catanese writer, Ottavio Cappellani. The first book I read, written by the Catanese writer was The Sicilian Tragedee, his second novel to be translated into English – the first paragraph and I was hooked. 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. Instantly Cappellani transforms the reader to his land and does so with the utmost attention to detail and an authenticity that brings pleasure to the reader that is fond and familiar with Sicily and evokes a hunger and discovery for those that are not. I was more than happy to take my fourth trip of the year to Catania when Cappellani agreed to meet with me. He had arranged to have me watch the Festival della Canzone Siciliana at the ABC theatre
“ADEAD DEAD “A However, I doubt that even Hemmingway had the imagination to write a character quite like Ottavio. He’s tall with a chaotically wild mound of curly grey hair and a full beard to match. His hair seems to act as his symbol of protest against conventionalism and his tendency for anarchism. On his entrance he is welcomed by the bar’s patrons with congratulatory handshakes and familiar greetings, he does his round of hellos before finding me sat away in the corner. After exchanging the obligatory kisses and settling down with a glass of Prossecco and a cigarette he launches into full blown conversation that makes no room for small talk. He’s delightfully talkative and unashamedly enjoys making people and his self laugh. He retells hilarious events that took place when he attended boarding school and divulges that he is having trouble deciding the title of a novel that is soon to be published. 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.
Q: What is your favourite piece of Sicilian literature and why? A: My favourite author is Nino Martoglio. He is a playwright and also directed a movie at the beginning of the 1900s, but this has gone lost. He is not very well known abroad however, because he used to write in Sicilian dialect, unfortunately this is not translated in English, but in my opinion he is the best.
Q: What literature would you recommend a foreigner read that would give a complete and authentic depiction of Sicily and its people? A: Vitaliano Brancati is the best in describing the
Sicilian ambient, Paolo il Caldo and il Dongiovanni are master pieces, but to know the real Sicilian soul you need to read the works of Martoglio.
Q: How long have you been writing? A: 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.
Q: How many books have you written? A: 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.
Q: In general, how long does it take for you to complete a book? A: It takes a year and half to have the novel clear in
MANâ€? DDMANâ€? 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.
Q: When do you know your book is complete? A: 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.
Q: How long did it take you to get your first completed book published? A: 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.
Q: How did you go about promoting your work? A: 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.
Q: Are there any motifs / recurring themes in your books? A: 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 past was called the lyric opera; literature, philosophy and theology, a sort of pop that now has the duty of expressing and narrating our times.
Q: Is Sicily a stimulus for your writing? / How important is Sicily to your writing? A: Immensely. Sicily is not a geographical region, itâ€™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.
Q. What is your general writing process? A: 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!
Q: What are your ambitions as a writer? A: 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 â€˜thisâ€™ 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!
Q: What does being a writer mean to you? A. 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.
Q: What is the best and worst thing about being a writer? 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.
Q: If you weren’t a writer what could you imagine yourself being? A: A dead man.
Q: What are you currently working on? A: I am writing a book about Catania, a sort of touristic guide seen through the eyes of the “monster” (writer) mentioned above. In June last year my romance novel titled, Ulisse con Piscina (Ulysses with Swimming Pool) was published with limited copies. In this piece I make an encounter with mythology that populates my land with the so called “postmodernism”. A movie producer liked it so I am now writing the screenplay. Because of the legal agreements I cannot speak much more about this am afraid, but I can tell you it’s a project I am very passionate about. 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. In October Chi ha Incastrato Lou Sciortino? (Who framed Lou Sciortino?) will be available in English.
Q: How pleased were you with the reception of Chi ha Incastrato Lou Sciortino in Sicily? A: Chi Ha Incastrato Lou Sciortino? (Who Framed Lou Sciortino) has become a cult. It feels funny to see a book only written two years ago already considered a classic. It has not yet been translated in English, this usually takes a few years, but Chi e Lou Sciortino, (Who is Lou Sciortino) which you know has been published in English had great reviews. It’s set in Los Angeles in the seventies, the birth of American Indi cinema. It’s full of Italian-American names and has been compared to The Sopranos.
Q: What accreditation have you had so far as a writer? A: 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 w ith a surprising intimacy with Shakespeare.” His comments made me emotional and gave me so much joy.
Q: Any advice to aspiring writers? A: Stop writing and look for an honest job.
Q: What are the perks of being a writer? A: 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, he advises me of a restaurant that I must eat at, Don Mimo. He looks at me expectantly and smiles when he sees that I am familiar with the name from reading his novel, The Sicilian Tragedee, in which the characters frequent the restaurant. We exchange our good byes and he promises to send me a copy of his third translated 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?) will be available in English on the 1st October. P
Published on Jan 29, 2012
Platform meets the author of acclaimed cult novel Chi Ha Incastrato Lou Sciortino?, Ottavio Cappellani for a glass (or two) of Prossecco in...