March 1, 2013
Interview with Tinney Heath
Tinney: Hi, Elizabeth. Thanks for hosting me.
Elizabeth: Welcome, Tinney. Can you give us a brief description of your novel?
Tinney: A Thing Done is a historical novel which takes place in Florence in 1216. Here’s the blurb:
The noble families of Florence hold great power, but they do not share it easily. Tensions simmer just below the surface. When Corrado the Jester’s prank-for-hire goes wrong, a brawl erupts between two rival factions. Florence reels on the brink of civil war. One side makes the traditional offer of a marriage to restore peace, but that fragile peace crumbles under the pressure of a woman’s interference, an unforgivable insult, and an outraged cry for revenge.
Corrado is pressed into unwilling service as messenger by both sides. Sworn to secrecy, he watches in horror as the headstrong knight Buondelmonte violates every code of honor to possess the woman he wants, while another woman, rejected and enraged, schemes to destroy him.
Corrado already knows too much for his own safety. Will Buondelmonte’s reckless act set off a full-scale vendetta? And if it does, will even the Jester’s famous wit and ingenuity be enough to keep himself alive and protect those dear to him?
This is Corrado’s story, but it is also the story of three fiercely determined women in a society that allows them little initiative: Selvaggia, the spurned bride; Gualdrada, the noblewoman who both tempts Buondelmonte and goads him; and Ghisola, Corrado’s great-hearted friend. From behind the scenes they will do what they must to achieve their goals—to avenge, to prevail, to survive.
Elizabeth: How did you first learn about this Florentine feud and what made you decide to write a novel about it?
Tinney: I was researching Florence in Dante’s time, several decades after the pivotal event in A Thing Done, and almost every contemporary chronicle, every diary, every after-the-fact history looks back at this incident and cites it to explain the beginning of the Guelf-Ghibelline split that divided Italy for centuries. Dante refers to it, in such a way that it’s obvious he expects his readers to know the story. Machiavelli details it in his history of Florence. You really can’t avoid it. It’s either a footnote or a prologue to every history of 13th century Florence.
Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into the story?
Tinney: Pretty much everything I could find in the historical records about this incident is there. Even though the story pops up everywhere, the actual information provided was minimal – a paragraph here, a brief mention there, and the jester is only mentioned in the earliest chronicle. Even in that one, as soon as he performs the action that sets it all in motion, he disappears from the record. Other chronicles tend to begin with the betrothal and continue from there. The families, their political alignments, the contracted marriage, the jilting, the vendetta, its outcome, its aftermath are all as history records them. The places are as I wrote them: the palace with its tower, the bridge, the church where the meeting took place. Even the heraldry is accurate. What is my own invention is the personality and the continued involvement of the jester, some of the specifics of how it all happened, and the roles played by the women other than Gualdrada (whose role as strategist and gadfly is in the historical record). Medieval chroniclers tended not to record much about women.
Elizabeth: How do you go about doing historical research?
Tinney: My research is mostly extensive reading, and I’m lucky to have access to a good university library. I read in both English and Italian, and I’ve been to Florence a number of times. I do use the internet, but sparingly and with caution, because I’ve encountered so much utter drivel there, strutting around as if it were backed up by real research.
Elizabeth: What is your writing process?
Tinney: My writing process is rather volcanic: a lot of rumbling below the surface for quite a long time, the occasional belch of smoke, and suddenly everything erupts onto paper. (Then there’s the looooong cleanup and rewrite…)
Elizabeth: What’s the story behind the title of your book?
Tinney: “Cosa fatta, capo ha.” These words, which translate roughly to “A thing done has an end,” were uttered by a Florentine knight in 1216 as he urged his colleagues and allies to take lethal vengeance against an enemy, rather than merely wounding him as payback for an insult. This is the vendetta that’s at the heart of A Thing Done. Dante repeated it when he wrote of the incident; even today, the phrase is used in Italy, though an Italian friend tells me that these days the meaning is closer to “It’s over, so get on with it.” They didn’t get on with it, though, not for a very long time. Even today it’s possible to identify Italian towns as having been either Guelf or Ghibelline (though many switched sides more than once).
Elizabeth: What are you working on now?
Tinney: In the time period about halfway between A Thing Done and Dante’s lifetime, a female poet lived and wrote in Florence. She was known as “La Compiuta Donzella” – The Accomplished Maiden. No one really knows anything about her – her life, her real name, whether the three poems attributed to her are in any way autobiographical or not. But she lived in a period that fascinates me, turbulent and full of change, so I’m now working on a book about her, using her surviving work as a starting point.
Elizabeth: Sounds wonderful. I look forward to reading it. Now, tell us about yourself.
Tinney: I live with my husband in Madison, Wisconsin. We’re both amateur musicians, studying and performing music of the late middle ages and the early Renaissance on a lot of different wind instruments, including (in increasing decibel levels) recorders, crumhorns, portative organ, and shawms. We love to travel to Italy, and research is only one of many reasons for that. My professional training and background is in journalism, though I did once aspire to become a professional flutist. I was involved in historical reenactment for quite a few years, and that has proved to be a useful background for someone interested in writing historical fiction.
Elizabeth: I love the name “Tinney” ? Is there some story that goes with it?
Tinney: It was my mother’s maiden name. It’s Irish in origin; a lot of Tinneys have come to the US from County Donegal, though I don’t know whether that was their home or just their point of departure. I’m an American mongrel, a mix of Irish, English, Welsh, Scottish, French, German, Swiss, and Cherokee – and those are just the ones I know of. No Italian, alas.
Elizabeth: What do you read for pleasure, and what do you avoid?
Tinney: I read many different kinds of fiction. Dorothy Dunnett is my hero in the area of historical fiction, but I also enjoy fantasy, some contemporary fiction, and mysteries, as long as they’re either historical or set in Italy (or both). I read Hemingway or the sagas as a corrective when I find myself getting too wordy. I don’t seek out Young Adult, romance, or the unfortunately-named genre called chicklit, though I’m sure there are individual books in each category that I would enjoy. Thrillers generally don’t thrill me. And in my home territory of historical fiction, I’m totally tired of Tudors.
Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?
Tinney: Coffee. Preferably Italian, strong, and in quantity.
Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?
Tinney: Mountain. Big, sharp, pointy mountain.
Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?
Tinney: Hiking, especially if the aforementioned mountain is nearby.
Elizabeth: Violin or piano?
Tinney: Violin. (Though if you had asked “portative organ or shawm?” it would have been a tougher call.)
Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?
Tinney: Fantasy, though I read both.
Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?
Tinney: Heathcliff. With so many novelists and screenwriters unwilling to let Ms. Austen’s characters retire, I’m about Darcy’d out. Besides, I prefer moors to drawing rooms. (If you haven’t seen the Monty Python sketch of Wuthering Heights done in semaphore, I urge you to watch it!)
Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?
Tinney: Death scene to write, love scene to read.
Amazon is one of the places you can order A Thing Done.
Thanks to Tinney for visiting today.
Tinney: Thank you!