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Virtual Book Club: Alan Fisk introduces Cupid and the Silent Goddess

Today I’m delighted to welcome Alan Fisk to my Virtual Book Club, my author interview series in which authors have the opportunity to pitch their book to your book club.

Alan has had many occupations, including economist, Air Force officer, technical writer, fruit picker, editor, and unemployment benefit claimant (not in that order). He has published many magazine articles, several short stories, and five historical novels, The Strange Things of the World in 1988, The Summer Stars in 1992 (republished in 2000), Forty Testoons (republished in 2007) in 1999,  Lord of Silver in 2000, and Cupid and the Silent Goddess in 2003 (republished in 2022)

It’s the most recent of these that well be talking about today, and so to whet your appetite…

Here’s the blurb…

Florence, 1544. Duke Cosimo de’ Medici has commissioned Agnolo Bronzino to paint An Allegory with Venus and Cupid. Intended as a diplomatic gift for King François of France, the Duke demands the seemingly impossible: Bronzino’s painting is to be an even greater masterpiece than Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. It will be the artist’s defining work: his reputation and, ultimately, his life will depend on its timely completion.

He finds the perfect model for Venus in Angelina, a mute and vulnerable Florentine woman whose beauty is ethereal; a silent goddess oblivious to the dangerous new world that surrounds her. As the painting develops, so too does the relationship between the central models. Can Giuseppe, ordered to pose as the adult Cupid, save Angelina from the cruel fate planned for her by the Duke?

Click here to look inside or to buy.

“…a fiction which is as intriguing as the painting itself… an excellent read”

— The Historical Novels Review

“Fans of authors such as Susan Vreeland and Tracy Chevalier who enjoy these what-if forays into art history will also enjoy Alan Fisk’s imaginative story about how the painting ‘Allegory with Venus and Cupid’ came into being.”

— Copperfield Review

What is it about your novel that makes it particularly suitable for book clubs?

Until recently I had never heard of the term ‘book club fiction’, but I realised that it was what I had been writing for more than fifty years: novels that aimed to have a serious meaning but that also aimed to tell a story.

Why do you write?

For my fiction, I write because I get the idea for a story that demands to be told. I don’t know why some ideas generate that compulsion and some don’t, but if I never had an obsessive idea again, that would be the end of my fiction writing.

In Ursula LeGuin’s essay The Fisherwoman’s Daughter, she writes that ‘first sentences are doors to worlds’. So give us your first sentence.

‘When I was a young man, King François of France greatly admired my bare buttocks.’

Where is the book set and how did you decide on its setting?

It is set in Florence, and I did not decide on its setting, because the painting that is the central element of the story was created there.

What is the central conflict in your novel?

Between the young artist’s apprentice Giuseppe, who is trying to protect the severely autistic model Angelina, and the Medici Duke who wants to exploit her.

Did you incorporate any real life characters in your novel? If so how?

Giuseppe is fictitious, as is the story, but the painters, the sculptors, and the Duke are all real. My descriptions of their moral characters are from my own imagination.

Alan Fisk, author

Are you looking to entertain or illuminate?

I am trying only to entertain, first of all to entertain myself, and then hoping to entertain my readers.

Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom, and (if appropriate) why?

I dedicated my novel Forty Testoons to my former English teacher. The dedication reads: ‘To Patrick Hutton. I would never have become a writer without his encouragement, of which he has no recollection whatsoever’.

When you’re writing, do you work to a set word-count?

Yes. I begin by deciding upon the length of my novel. That way, I know how far along I am in the overall story structure. My daily target is one double-spaced page a day. When I used to write my first draft by hand with a fountain pen in a hardback notebook, my target was one page a day, roughly 300 words.

Will Self believes that the serious literary novel is dead. Do you agree?

Yes, and good riddance to it. The ‘serious literary novel’ is one that garners rave reviews in the Culture sections of the Sunday newspapers, but that nobody would ever want to read. See the section ‘Why They Said No’ in Fay Weldon’s Why Will No-one Publish my Novel? for an imaginary discussion at a publisher’s acquisition meeting when a ‘serious literary novel’ called Whence Aramintha? comes up for consideration. It is of course rightly rejected.

An early editorial review of I Stopped Time criticised the apparent ease with which my main character deserted her young son. ‘Part of the problem, I know, is different mind-sets.’ How do you perceive the temptation to superimpose our own contemporary values on historical fiction?

I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but I try not to do it now, because it undermines the whole point of historical fiction, which is to make an honest attempt to represent a past era. It is a cliché to say that historical fiction often reflects the time in which it was written, but it is too often true. My role model is George Shipway, who always tried to present his characters as holding the views and attitudes of their time, no matter how shocking they may be to us. I often wonder which aspects of our current attitudes and behaviour will appal people centuries hence. About what will they say ‘How could people in the 21st century have tolerated this? They saw it every day, and it didn’t bother them’.

How important is historical accuracy when writing fiction and how faithfully does your novel stick to the written record?

I hold strict views on this question. I have no patience with historical novelists who deliberately alter facts. What’s the point of historical fiction, then? Any errors in my historical fiction are due to ignorance on my part.

What was the first book you remember reading that transported you to another time and place?

Winter Quarters, by Alfred Duggan, which tells the story of two Gauls who join the Roman army in the days of Julius Caesar. I was 11, and my English teacher Patrick Hutton (see above) made me read it as a set text. Duggan is out of fashion now, but Winter Quarters, although not Duggan’s best, ignited my love of historical fiction.

Want to know more?

Read the first chapter of Cupid and the Silent Goddess

Visit the author’s website.

Visit the publisher’s website.

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