I’m pleased to welcome Barbara Bonfigli to Ascroft, eh? today. I recently received a review copy of her novel, Café Tempest. The soft blue cover put me in a relaxed holiday mood, sending my thoughts to lounge on a Mediterranean beach. My mind refuses to leave it as I follow the adventures of the main character, Sarah – laughing and loving with her.
Barbara, will you introduce us to the excerpt from the book?
“Welcome to Pharos. Laugh and dance in the hammock—not the cradle—of Western civilization. I’ve been falling in love with Greece since I was old enough to drink retsina. But if Sarah hadn’t captured my imagination you’d never know how I feel about friendship, feta, and the abundance of grace that turns friends into lovers and fishermen into kings.”
From Chapter 19.
[Sarah, the novel’s main character, is an American theater producer spending several weeks on Pharos, a rustic idyllic Greek island. She’s accompanied by her friend Alexandra (Alex.) Theo, the island’s doctor and impresario, has asked Sarah to direct the islanders in their summer play. She picks Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Theo’s office is the site of the audition.]
We arrive at Theo’s office to find the doctor arranging cheese pies and taramosalata on a table under his open-heart poster.
“Hi Theo. Have I got the wrong night?”
He looks puzzled.
“We’re having auditions tonight,” Alex says.
I’m about to say this isn’t a social event when I remember I’m in Greece.
The hopefuls begin to arrive. A lot of them—excited, nervous, hungry. Each one tries to strangle me while dropping an impassioned plea in my ear. Except for Stephanos, the chief of police, who drops a chocolate bar in my pocket. (Clearly he knows the criminal heart.) Theo produces a case of Sprite and starts pouring. The only no-show is Omiros, my translator.
“Theo, have you seen Omiros?”
“He drives Tino’s cab. After Tino he comes. I help you before.”
“But what if Tino’s in the play? Who’s going to drive his cab?”
“Oh, you can’t have Tino; he never loses the business.”
“Then why is he here?” Do you have to be Greek to follow this?
“Look around, Saraki. He will hate it to be left out.”
“Alex, let’s hand out the parts.”
The excitement increases. It’s a challenge to gossip drink eat and read at the same time.
“Good evening. I’m very happy to see you. I’ll call you in to read, one at a time. There are lots of you so please be patient.”
The butcher, the hairdresser, the ferry ticket seller, several cab drivers, the gorgeous sponge diver, the chief of police: one by one my heart sinks. In the beginning I look to Theo for guidance: the Pharos Players . . . was he kidding? But no, he seems enthralled. Whereas Alex can see that my spirit’s drifting back to London. And that I’m chewing on my nail.
“I’ll get Priftis,” says Alex.
The butcher has taken off his bloody apron, which does nothing to disguise his profession. It’s not so much the blood under his nails as he rattles the script, as the bits of . . . what . . . entrails? in his lively beard. Which makes it hard to concentrate on his performance. But slowly his rich unbridled voice and infectious energy clear my brain and grip my imagination.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” Priftis announces with a butcher’s unflinching certainty. “And our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
I can’t help picturing his massive cleaver separating a goat from its head.
“Thank you, Priftis, you’re our Prospero.” I jump up and grab his hand. “Please send in the chief of police.”
When Stephanos, the first prince of Naples to simultaneously pick his teeth and dig in his ear, finishes his soliloquy, we wonder why Prospero decides to spare his life.
“Thank you, Stephano. I’m afraid you aren’t right for the part.”
He glares at me from a rolling prairie of chins.
“The part isn’t right for you, actually. But I’ll find one that is. I do have one question. Would you have time to rehearse?”
“Malista”– of course.
“Well, that’s good. I’ll let you know.”
He winks at me and exits.
“Why did you ask him that?” says Theo.
“Because he’s the chief of police. Doesn’t that keep him busy?”
“Doing what . . . ,” I echo.
Thanks Barbara for the glimpse into life on Pharos. Now, let’s continue with a few questions about the novel and your writing life.
You use dashes of minute, arresting detail to describe the place and people of Pharos. Was it difficult to capture the essence of a Greek island (even a mythical one) and its people so succinctly?
‘Succintly’ is always more difficult; that’s why there are so few great Haiku poets. But besides the challenge, it’s also great fun for a writer to capture a personality or place in just a few words.
Each of your characters has a distinct, memorable personality. Who was your favourite character to write?
No fair! I love them all, even Stephanos the pompous Chief of Police. I think of him every time I get into an elevator and am knocked over by some guy’s aftershave. The question is…who is your favorite character?
Did you worry that friends and family might see themselves (or think they do) in your characters? If so, how did you overcome your inhibition and write the story you wanted to?
I call it a ‘fictional memoir’. Because it is. Some of the characters are similar in many ways to people I know, but all of them are more than 50% fantasy, and none of them are caricatures.
Having said that, I do have a brother who has begun calling himself Stephen.
Were there any parts of the book (eg. a scene or character) that you found difficult to write?
Love scenes are the most challenging to write because it’s easy to
1) fall into romantic clichés, and
2) turn off a reader who, for any reason, doesn’t like your choice of mate. And it can be a high wire act to write on the very narrow edge that separates the seductive from the salacious.
You use lots of humour in your writing. Do you find humour easy to write? Is your writing style influenced by any particular author?
Humour is easy for me. I walk around seeing the absurd, the funny, the plainly hilarious in everyday life. My brain and my ear are naturally tuned to that. Not always a good thing; such as when a fly alights on a holy statue during a very somber church sermon. Every good writer I’ve read probably influenced my writing style but no particular one stands out. Though, I did cry when Gary Larson stopped turning in regular cartoons.
Do you have a writing regimen or do you write when the ideas flow?
No regimen. I once thought I’d imitate Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust, but I soon realized it was hopeless. For that you need a writing studio and plenty of household help. The moment I sit down to write ideas flow. The problem is sitting down to write. Life has so many distractions, some delicious, some harrowing, all calling out “Me First”!
Thanks for stopping by, Barbara. Since I’ve been enjoying the novel so much, I’m delighted to have hosted a stop on your tour. Now I’m off to find out how Sarah’s faring and how it all turns out. I’m glad I saved the last couple chapters – I’m not quite ready to leave the island yet.
To learn about Barbara Bonfigli and Café Tempest, feel free to visit any of these sites.
Barbara Bonfigli’s website – www.cafetempest.com
Order Café Tempest directly from the publisher – http://www.tellmepress.com/pub_ct.php or from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Café-Tempest-Adventures-Small-Island/dp/0981645313
To see the complete tour schedule visit http://virtualblogtour.blogspot.com/2009/05/cafe-tempest-by-barbara-bonfigli-summer.html