Anna Mittone (b. 1971, Torino) is a TV screenwriter and author. After studying the communicative structures of soap operas at the Università di Torino, Mittone got her start in television with the long-running Neapolitan soap opera “Un posto al sole.” She then worked for such popular television shows as “La Squadra,” “Un papà quasi perfetto” and “Capri” before writing two works of contemporary fiction, Quasi quasi m’innamoro (I Might Just Fall in Love) (Piemme, 2011) and Come ti vorrei (How I Would Like You) (Piemme, 2013).
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mittone about the language in her work, the colorful characters (real and imagined) in her debut novel, Quasi quasi m’innamoro, and her future writing plans.
Does the language you use to write television differ from that of your novels?
Screenplays and novels are two very different writing activities, each with its own peculiarities and its own language. The writing of a screenplay must always reflect the fact that it’s an instrument in the hands of directors, actors, set designers and all those who will contribute to create the final product. The descriptions are therefore essential and designed above all to guide the professionals who will have to stage the idea of the screenwriter. In the same way, the dialogues will have to reflect the demands of brevity, “pronounceability” for the actors, similarity with everyday speech, and they have to create the rhythm and musicality of the scene. All this means that the screenplay doesn’t have to necessarily be a “good read” in itself, but above all must contain all the elements that then will make a good film or a good television series out of those words.
In the novel, on the other hand, the words are everything. There is no subsequent stage of work. The words on the page must suggest what, in the screenplay, are the locations, costumes, music and acting inflections.
After fifteen years of writing screenplays, writing a novel therefore put all of my lexical competencies, my linguistic richness, and my ability to “find the words” to the test, just as it (pleasingly) forced me to find a rhythm of phrasing and narrative construction that hadn’t been asked of me before.
In Quasi quasi m’innamoro, Consolata’s father speaks the Piedmontese dialect, but her mother speaks Italian. Why this dichotomy?
It’s an aspect, frankly, that I hadn’t even noticed! After reflecting on it, it occurs to me that maybe, while for Consolata’s mother I had a precise characterization in mind, the dialect helped me to create one for the father. The Piedmontese dialect in particular is one of those dialects that, unlike Neapolitan, for example, is now spoken rarely and isn’t passed down between generations. My grandmother spoke it, and my mother still knows it fairly well, but I know very little of it and only thanks to memories from my childhood. So it seemed like having Consolata’s father speak it would help me to imagine him and depict him as one of those authentic Torinese, raised on the outskirts of town, tied to traditions and customs that are now somewhat dated in the city.
Consolata’s mother is both a meddler and a serial worrier. Would you say she’s fairly representative of the Italian mamma today?
Well, I’m a contemporary Italian mamma, and I sincerely hope I’m not like that! All jokes aside, it’s known that the Italian mamma is decidedly more meddlesome, anxious, protective, suffocating and invasive than the average European mother (and maybe even more than mothers worldwide!). But I think (I hope!) that the Italian mothers of today are a bit more modern and “liberal” than those of the previous generations. Although certain traditions die hard… For Consolata’s mother, I was inspired by a classic archetype—the mamma who torments, above all her female children, so that they “settle down;” that is, they get married and bring lots of babies into the world. And I have to say that her success was unexpected for me. Almost everyone who read the book was struck by the mother, more than by Consolata, and a lot of the female readers told me “my mother is also like that!”
At a critical point in the book, Consolata imagines her father saying, “Date ‘n andi.” What does dialect symbolize for Consolata?
Those dialect expressions of his, for me (and therefore for Consolata!), sound very tender, a bit melancholy. They are words that survived a world that no longer exists, and for this reason they’re capable of unleashing the sweet sadness of a memory that simultaneously brings to life a certain temperament, a typically Savoy way of approaching life. “Date ‘n ansi,” that is, “move it, get going,” but also “get a hold of yourself,” is a way of urging someone not to lose heart, not to succumb to exertion, boredom, or even pain. The Piedmontese people are notoriously (or at least they claim to be!) tireless workers, perseverant, tenacious, Calvinist in spirit, and the Piedmontese dialect is full of expressions that encourage people not to be pelandroni (a pelandrun is someone who is sluggish, or lazy). That dialect expression is for Consolata a warning to get her feet back on the ground, to not waste time daydreaming, to get her incentive back, her strength, her backbone.
What made you decide to use a real person, musician and X Factor judge Marco Castoldi (a.k.a. Morgan), as Consolata’s love interest?
Since its conception, the novel was based on a protagonist who fell hopelessly in love with a famous person, therefore finding herself at forty years of age in a typically adolescent situation. Initially, the famous person was supposed to be Roberto Saviano (the author of Gomorra), who Consolata fell in love with after seeing his photo on the back cover of the book. Still now, when I think about it, it seems like it was a good idea. And yet the novel wasn’t “ascending,” it wasn’t growing; it wasn’t finding its path. I’d written about 30 pages more or less, and I was already blocked. Then on night, when I was home alone surfing the channels, I happened upon an episode of X Factor, and I saw Morgan, whom, until that moment, I’d only heard people talk about. And it was a kind of “love at first sight”! For some strange reason, he inspired me, and in a matter of a few hours—more or less the length of the show—I decided that I would risk everything using him instead of Saviano. Magically, from that moment, the novel practically wrote itself!
You stated that the language of your recently released second novel, Come ti vorrei, is different from that of Quasi quasi m’innamoro. How so?
Quasi quasi m’innamoro, like many first novels, is kind of the concentrate of years of thought, words and stories that hadn’t found a place to “blossom.” It’s definitely excessive: in the language, in the typification of the characters, in the literary, pop and musical references. It’s as though at a certain point I’d opened a door and everything—too much!—had come out at the same time and even slightly disorganized. I didn’t want to write true and proper dialogues because I was fed up with dialogues from screenplays. I used almost no punctuation because the words and thoughts came to me in waves, and I didn’t want to stop them… It was a very freeing and free writing experience. For Come ti vorrei, I “streamlined” myself in a certain way. It’s a less crazy novel—even in the plot—more intimate and logical, even though (I hope!) it maintains the same lighthearted and bright characteristics.
Readers want to know: Do you have any plans to write a third novel?
Definitely yes. And it will be a third novel that is again different from the first two. This time the protagonist will be a man, and his will be the point-of-view on life and love.
Note: Many thanks to Anna Mittone for the terrific interview. Be sure to take a look at my post on Quasi quasi m’innamoro. This book is a blast!