Mr Lost is a book about a wife’s journey into her marriage: frustrations, sexual fantasies, doubts and adultery. It explores why women have affairs, what they want, and why they leave ‘good’ marriages.
The narrator, who isn’t named, starts writing a blog under a pseudo-name (Lucrezia Borgia), in which imaginary character Emma Bovary is free to live the alternative, fuller and exciting life the real person wishes for, separated from her own desires by two levels of fiction (Lucrezia and Emma).
We met the author, Angie Voluti, to talk about her motivations for writing Mr Lost and how she juggles her work as a writer with running own PR company, AV PR.
Lucrezia Borgia is part of the Italian Borgia dynasty – known for its politics, incest and sexual corruption. LB was described as a femme fatale. How much research did you do into her character and family?
As someone who grew up in Italy (don’t forget that English is my second language) perhaps the Borgia history has less of a secret fascination, as it is part of our background: a little like monarchy here is taken for granted, whilst in Italy it is considered to be yet another eccentric element in the British social tapestry. As for the reasons why I chose to use Lucrezia’s name, I set out to write ‘Mr Lost’ as an outsider: adultery, when one is a respectable, married mother of two, is a hot potato and requires careful handling with oven gloves. I used two pairs: Lucrezia Borgia writes the ‘blook’ (a book which reads like a blog) under a pen-name, ‘Emma’. Like the main character in Madame Bovary, another woman tormented by doubts, dark desires and frustrations.
LB’s family arranged several marriages for her to important men to further their own political ambitions – do you think this contributed to a colourful fantasy life in that she needed to escape her reality? I think it’s something most women can identify with – a need to have control over part of your world.
Lucrezia Borgia was extremely young when she was used as a political pawn, married off to men crucial to her father’s and brothers’ plans for global domination. It would have been part of the Italian Renaissance culture for a woman to have no opinions or say in the matter. It is exactly for that reason that I chose Lucrezia as a name behind which the main character in ‘Mr Lost’ hides: she, too, feels no control over the life she leads, despite the fact that she has chosen it. Today’s world is more complicated, but our grip on it is no less fragile.
What was your impetus for writing the book – did this feel like the right time to explore women’s inner fantasies and share them with the reader?
Remember that the narrator in ‘Mr Lost’ is never disclosed. It could be your best friend, sister, or mother. She is protected by two layers of anonymity, two historic/literary names. Whose fantasies are those? Lucrezia’s? Emma’s? Women’s, in general? My friends? I spoke to many, and gathered a lot of material. ‘Mr Lost’ is a cauldron of ideas and material. The important point is that it is all fabric which can be shared to make a particular dress, the one which usually stays hidden in our closet.
You run a corporate PR agency for the automotive industry. How easy is it to switch gear from promoting clients’ businesses and going into your own head to write your books? Do you find it easy to do your own marketing? (many writers don’t!)
I have separate times in the day to write my books, and manage my business as a PR consultant. Separate parts of the brain, and interests. I wrote four novels during the years I was a freelance in the car industry, as I was raising my children (and was married). ‘Mr Lost’ already has a ‘Mrs Lost’ and a ‘Miss Found’ sequels in the drawer, waiting to be edited and released to the world. And I hardly sleep. I have an inordinate amount of physical energy, which helps when you run your own business. As for self-promotion, yes, it is very hard, but more of that later.
Fast cars & sex – the two are intertwined and you talk about driving in high heels. How has the day job, travel and speed fed into your writing? It’s a good contrast between speed and stillness, external and introspective? Do you write quickly?
I simply put my fingers on the keyboard, and they move by themselves. Seriously, I do not have a plan, nor do I know what I am going to write. It just happens, much as driving (once you know what to do) happens naturally as soon as you put your feet on the pedals, your hands on the steering wheel. Do I drive fast? It depends on who is asking. And who is with me in the car. My boys think that I am the best driver in the world – and they can be judgmental little sods. I do everything as fast as I can, because life is short and we have a long sleep ahead of us.
What’s your favourite classic car and why? You talk about classic cars having personalities, like women.
The best classic in the world? An Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce (‘Veloce’ meaning ‘fast’, of course), followed – in hot pursuit – by a Jaguar E-Type Series I with a 4.2 engine. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Nossir. Beauty is objective in some cars; in their perfect lines, in their balanced proportions. In the way they respond to your input, and how they connect you to the road. A car is, in the words of the immortal marketing guru Marshall McLuhan, a ‘mechanical bride’. Or groom…
You are writing erotica under your real (business) name - why not use a pen name as most erotic authors do?
Of course, if I had a corporate job this may be a little harder, and I did think of publishing ‘Mr Lost’ under Lucrezia Borgia’s name. BUT…. then two things would have happened: one, I could not have promoted the book as best as I could, and PR/promotion is my trade. I would have wasted an opportunity. And two, when you hide behind a pen-name or two, it only makes people more resolute to find out who you are. And once they do, the question will be: why did you hide? I am not ashamed of what people have described as ‘intelligent’, ‘sophisticated’ erotic writing. ‘Mr Lost’ is not about heroines moaning with pleasure and men using their conspicuous assets to give multiple orgasms. Not at all. Mr Lost is a tormented story which is narrated without stressing the torment. Sexual fantasies are part of our nature. It does all depend on what is described, how, and why. Self-promotion, to go back to that issue, is very hard. I feel like I am boasting, all the time. If Mr Lost had been written by someone else, I’d not hesitate to be as pushy and ambitious as I can. But it is my own, and I am instinctively prone to pause and tone down.
How do you balance writing, work and motherhood? I find I’m not really present when working on something. My daughter has to ask me to do something three times…and then I feel guilty for not giving her my full attention. Mr Guilt features in the book. Part of the life of a working mum I guess?
AV: I do not sleep. As simple as that. I have no help, am a single mother and the boys rely completely and totally on me. They go to school and stay over for every single bloody club available; if I am out in the late afternoon or evening for work, they will stay at school – I am lucky in that their school has a ‘Late Tea’ facility. Mr Guilt never leaves me, but that’s more because despite my efforts and energy, I will miss the occasional signature on their log book, or be late for Parents’ Evening. But I have never missed a school play, choir/musical, carol service etc… At the cost of working until four in the morning, I shall be there.
How do you structure your time when working on a book?
I spend the day in the office, as AV PR. The nights… I dedicate to reading and writing. If I don’t feel like writing, I shall not force myself. It is not a duty. Only a pleasure.
What do you think Italians can teach us about living well – food, sex, family? What differences in attitude and outlook have you noticed?
The relaxed Italian attitude is a joy when you are not very busy, perhaps on holiday. Spending three hours to cook the perfect ragu is a wonderful privilege and a treat, but I left Italy because I did not want to do that on every single day of the week. The epicurean approach to life is something that ought to be carefully managed (which means that it stops being epicurean altogether!) if you want to achieve a balance between the lascivious Mediterranean folks and the dour German tribes. I am happier in the UK; I carry my being Italian (Sicilian) with me and whip it out at every opportunity, but I also know when to fold it back and put it away. It is the pockets of desire made reality, that make our life worth living. If there were no pockets, and a lifelong reality of wonderful sex, food and pleasure, we’d no longer recognise them as special.
Tell us a bit about your previous book ‘Sicily in London’ – it’s about women in aviation – women who flew, loved and dared passionately. What was your inspiration for this?
‘Clay Ghosts in Sicily’ is a completely different piece of work. Published in 2011, it is historical fiction, based on a true story, and weaved in and out of reality in Sicily during WWII. The only item it has in common with ‘Mr Lost’ is how carefully it was researched. It is a love story and a thriller, a mystery and a mafia novel. Yet, apart from a rape scene, there is absolutely no blatant sex whatsoever. Sex, or rather, sexuality, however, is the force which pushes the story forward. Clay Ghosts in Sicily is available on Kindle from mid-March.