Hoy viene a leer Agostino di Febo

Biography by himself:

I was born and raised in Bari, a medium sized city in the south of Italy. You know the heel? Right there. A cute city, I would say, but as you can guess  when you deal with Italy – with Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples and all of that – to be on top youreally need to be something huge… Well, Bari is just cute. And easy-to-live, I would also say. So the first part of my life flew smoothly in my hometown, between schools, friends, family and university. I studied so much…

My father is some sort of engineer with a law degree, my mother is a lawyer. So, I first pretend to became a philosopher. Sounds odd, isn’t it?, but by that time it seemed to me the most normal thing to do. Now I know that I should have been studied classic literature but as a matter of fact I got a law degree. Actually I don’t know how this has been possible but, you know, the real truth must be this: I made the cheapest choice.

And, from a certain point of view, this cheapest choice paid: I’ve got my degree, my PhD, now I work for a central bank, I’m fine.Among all of that I met a girl, she’s beautiful and strong. She’s my wife, we live in Rome (because of the central bank, remember?), we have two children, a boy and a girl. Night club, the book I wrote, is dedicated to her.

Oh, yeah, the book, I was almost forgetting. I never stop reading, I never stop writing. But the novel is a very tough dimension for someone committed in all the nice things I told before. So I started writing very short stories, handling each in the arch of a couple of nights. Night club is the result of this work; the best – in my humble opinion, of course I like the things I published! – of everything I have written in the last two and a half years. The book came out at the beginning of December 2016. I hope that who will have the canche to read it will enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing.

-Agostino, apparently your career has been developed outside the literature. In which moment did you start writing?

Oh, this is a sad truth, I’m not a professional writer: I’m a lawyer and I work for a public institution. But the will to write stands by me since I was a teenager. Actually, I always wrote something: science fiction, in the very beginning, poetry, I developed many ideas about novels, screenplays, short stories that I never wrote. But, you know, everything has its right time. Sometimes I thing that my life, by now, is made by three arches: study, job, family. I dedicated my “first forty years” to settle these issues, to complete these arches. Now, my studies are done, I have a job with a fair career, and a steady family. Of course I’m still committed in all these things, family and job maybe more than studying, because you have to work hard to keep things going. But, I don’t’ know how to say, the starting phase is over, the machine works easier than before, even if not by itself. From this view, is not a big coincidence if I found now the force, the will and the energies to write a book. Maybe this is my fourth arch: writing.

-Did you attend to any course or school for writers? Do you think it is possible to learn to write?

Let’s start from this last question, shall we? I think that writing – maybe more than we can say for other form of art – is, at 90-95%, a matter of handicraft. Do you remember Pinocchio? The wooden muppet made by a carpenter which lives and wants to become a real baby? There is a sparkle of life in this puppet, but the rest of the work is made by Geppetto (the carpenter), starting from a log. Well, you can learn how to work the wood but you cannot learn how to blow life into an inanimate puppet. Maybe this throws the line between an artist and a good writing craftsman.

The funny thing is that you can’t judge by yourself if you have “the shining”. Not you: maybe the readers, maybe the publisher, maybe the editors, I don’t know who maybe else, but definitely not you. This means that trying to learn how to write, the techniques of writing, certainly worth.

So we get to the first question: I both attend a couple of creative writing courses and read maybe four or five creative writing manuals. Actually it was a way to alleviate my frustration while I didn’t had the strength to write, but it was useful. Among them, courses and manuals, I do prefer manuals, but this is not a rule. I think that a writer cannot teach how to write: he can only explain how he writes. Maybe his experience fits to someone but it may be completely far to someone else’s feelings. So, you will prefer the teacher that is nearest to your mental patterns, let’s say, and I found this kind of affinity with the manuals I read, more than with the front courses I attended to.

Anyway, these kind of courses – the ones in the classrooms, with a teacher and other students – are useful as much as they force you to write something, even if you’re not in the right mood.

-For the 3 stories of your book that we have read, we think that you pretend make people think about situations. Is this your goal when you write?

I write because I like it, because I need it. It completes my life and makes it richer. Maybe it’s me: maybe I want to think about the situations I write of, to explore them, trying to deepen some issues that worry me at the subliminal level. Of course I’m not saying that the reader is not involved in the game, but he comes later in the field, when the work is done and you ask yourself if someone will like it. Because, I mean, a story without a reader is like a movie in an empty theatre: just nonsense. But writing worth for the writer, even if the story will never be read. It’s kinda odd, understand, but it’s true. Maybe. (laughs)

-If you were in the night club sitting next to the man, what will you do?

Actually I am the man sitting in the night club… (laughs) Just joking…

Look, when you write, you’re a silent observer of what you’re writing of. You actually stand next to your characters, you actually see their movements, listen to their words, you hear their thoughts and, somehow, you wonder about the point of all of that, why such things are happening. Sometimes, when I write, I feel like a movie director: I place my camera in the middle of the scene and wait for my characters to act. So, coming back to your question, if I were in the night club, sitting next to the man, I would have done just what I did: absolutely nothing, but enjoying the scene.

-I wonder that you don’t believe in happy endings…

Life is not sad, or happy. There only are sad people or happy people. Life is just tough, or easy. You can have sad people with an easy life, and happy people with a tough life. I just try to explore this complex truth in what I write. In Night Club, the girl is happy, the man is sad, but we don’t know – and I don’t really know – which life is tougher than the other. The dimension of the short story allows this kind of ambiguity. In the novel, you need to deeply know your characters – who they are, where do they came from, where they are going to go – because you have to show their lives almost day by day, at least across the arch of the novel. In the short and very short dimension – the one I choose for this book – you can let them flow in the middle of your imagination, asking them to reveal about their selves just the things you need to picture a small portrait.

The short story Abat-jour (the shorter of the book) is about a man that tells to her woman – they’re lying in their bed – the story he is writing in that very moment. The story is not completed and the woman asks to the man “and now, what’s going to happen?”. She things that something good is going to happen but the writer is more cautious. “Maybe”, he says, “Or maybe not”. That’s the answer to your question.

-In your opinion which is the main problem in the society?

Oh, this is a big one. Well, society is a nexus of relationships and relationships come from needing, that is just another way to say problems. Then, society is a nexus of problems. Though, I Think that usually society is bigger than problems: usually society is the solution. Sometimes, instead, problems are bigger than society. Every age has its challenges to face, its needing to satisfy, its problems to get rid of. In our times, I see three main issues. Actually they’re not just issues, they’re really big deals: environment, intolerance and this IT revolution we had starting from the end of the last century, that is making harder and harder for every single person to deal with a huge load of light-speed information and almost impossible to tell the difference between the lies and the truth.

Somehow, environment and intolerance are even connected: environment is polluted by oil, and oil is the very reason why many wars are still declared and fought in our century. The very reasons why cultures that have so much to learn one from the other and so much to gain from peace and coexistence are thrown one against the other. Of course I’m making it far simpler than what it actually is, but… well, I think that electric cars will save the world… (laughs)

-What inspires you?

The weakness of the people.

My weaknesses, the weakness I see in the ones I love, the weakness I see in all men and women, even in the bad ones. Sometimes, when people ask me “Why do you write”?, I answer “To save the headshrinker money”. Writing is somehow like dreaming: you put your fears inside it, your deepest desires. You are willing to admit things that you would never admit when you’re awake, you’re going to face limits that you’re going to hide to anyone, even to yourself. Weaknesses make us human and human beings, their place in the world, their will to survive, their ability to love and hate, are the heart and soul of literature. Hoping that future generations – used to say Woody Allen -might understand more.

-So, this is how literature can help people, according to you?

Well, yes, but only at the very end. You know, fiction and non fiction, scientific and non scientific literature share at least this: the aim to understand thinks. Scientific literature aims to understand things by watching them, trying to figure out the way they work and why they work in that way and not in another. One of the most common instruments of scientific thought (and literature) is the experiment. Well, in most of the cases fiction is some sort of experiment: you put people in some situations and try to figure out what is going to happen.

Literature (and art in general, I would say) helps people because it is the unconscious of humanity. The metaphor of the dream is still useful, here. Art is humanity’s dreaming. And, as when you are in troubles you go to the psychotherapist to analyse (also) your dreams, analysing art and literature you can understand which are the human beings deepest fears, desires and so on.

But, as I told you before, this is true only at the very end. Just as for dreams, the very first reason why we dream is to get some rest. While dreaming, our mind looks at his own life watching from the outside. This is very comfortable and encouraging. And this the very first reason why, I think, we read.

-As a lawyer, where do you find time for writing?

Mainly at night, almost deleting TV from my life. From 9 pm to midnight I have a window I often dedicate to my interests, which basically means that I write. One of the best and most common advices that creative writing teachers give to aspirant writers is that in order to write successfully you need to be regular. You need to write everyday, for a certain amount of time, aiming to write a certain amount of the story – let’s say, a paragraph per day, 10 pages, a chapter per day, along with the time you can dedicate to the issue. That’s perfectly true and I subscribe every single word of it. But most likely that’s also almost impossible, especially when you’re not a professional writer. That’s why I get a deal with the short, sometimes very short, stories: they allow me to get the work done in one or two nights. Then, If I had something else to do – for job, with my family or whatever – I didn’t had to break any crucial rule of writing: I just had to start writing the next story a couple of days or weeks later. I wrote the sixteen stories gathered in Night Club in the arch of two years and a half. Almost all by night, between 9 and midnight.

-Do you have a special place to writer, any ritual? Or on the contrary do you think that the spaces are mental? Is there any help from the government for writers?

I have a room, at home, in which I normally write. There is a desk, the computer, the printer, pens and paper because you still need that, everything in its place. There is also a turntable and a good number of records, because I love music. But I write almost everywhere: in my bed, before getting asleep, on the coach – sometimes even in front of a television turned on – and, why not, also in the bathroom. The real question is: do I have something to write? If I don’t have any specific thing to write of, often my writing room is the best place to collect new ideas. But if I have something to write or, that is even worst, if I really need to write something (an evolution of the scene I was stuck with for days), well I can write it even on the bus, cuing at the postal office, waiting for the next meeting at work. And I can write on anything, but just to be sure I bought a computer weighting 900 grams that I always bring with me in my backpack.

So, I don’t know whether spaces are mental or not, but I know that if I don’t write what I need to write (when this happens) straight away, I will get mental… (laughs)

-What is the general overview in Italy for the book industry? Is it difficult to publish?

Maybe I’m not the most suitable person to answer this question. Since I work in a completely different field, what I know about the book industry is what I read on newspapers, magazines and so forth. They speak about a long-time crisis, made even worse by the spread of new technologies. What I can see with my own eyes is that for bookshops, especially for small ones, is getting harder and harder to keep the accounts going. The most vital and smart are joining, let’s say, hybrid solutions, adding to their shops a small bar, organizing events and presentations where people can also have a drink or eat something. But many shops are closing, and this is so sad. Even big chains and franchises, filled by books more than by people, have to fight to survive. Some of them merged and, in Rome, a couple of years ago an historical chain went bankrupt.

On the other hand, publishing has never been easier than nowadays, if you join the self publishing platforms spread here and there on the internet. To publish an e-book, let’s say on amazon, it’s just a matter of copy and paste, more or less. But I have the feeling that, when it comes to read fiction and at least here in Italy, people still prefers the paper and, anyway, the success of a book depends not on his format but on promotion and distribution. And only big publishers can supply their products in a successful way. Not a case, than, if one of the most important literary prize in Italy is organized and powered by the Industrial association.

-In our blog we think that in many lives there is a book that once read change everything in a life of a person, which book that have read makes an impact in your life and why?

Art can change your life, definitely. Of course you must be willing to let your life be changed by art. The first time I saw the Guggenheim collection, my life changed: I saw the path which leads from Cezanne to Andy Warhol and understood that evolution is nothing but jumping from the floor built by our fathers, jumping from the flor their ancestors made. Crimes and misdemeanours, the Woody Allen’s movie I quoted before, changed my life: it helped me to get through the darkest moment of my life, some years ago. Music by U2, poems by Raymond Carver, novels by Italo Calvino and Milan Kundera: they helped me to discover the boarders of my heart, my struggle to feel, my need to understand. And those are just examples.

My way of writing is clearly influenced by Raymond Carver, again, and Ernest Hemingway, of course I would say. But if I had to cherry-pick two books, I would choose The lord of the flies, by William Golding, and The road, by Cormac McCarty. Fear and hope. They are both experiments. In the first one, a group of kids get lost on a desert island. They will soon became adults fighting each other. They became adults through the war. Fear. In The road, after some definitive and irreversible catastrophic event, a man struggles to death to give his young son a chance to survive. Hope.

Like a good mother, literature thought me how our conscience swings between these huge and irresistible feelings. How not to love her?