• Sheryl Gwyther

#7 The stars align ... the story calls

It's funny where story ideas come from. For me, the best ones are those requiring the most dedication, work and perseverance. They're the ones that come with a personal passion ... like my family's travelling actor heritage from the early 1900s in regional Australia (Sweet Adversity). An interest in Australia's dinosaur fossils inspired my first novel, Secrets of Eromanga - at 12 years, I found my first 100,000 million year-old fossil (a marine whelk) in Porcupine Gorge, outback Queensland.

This historical children's novel-in-progress, The Four Seasons of Caterina takes me to Venice. It, too, is a story requiring hard writing work, frustration, love, and proper research. It began with a passion for Vivaldi and Baroque music - the era between 1600-1750. A time of brilliance and diversity, not just in music, but in literature, art, architecture and intellect; the growth of the middle class in the northern hemisphere combined with trade in far away places. Its main philosophy was a belief in music as a potent tool of communication.

And so it was for the violinist and composer, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, musical genius and son of Venice whose work influenced many of his contemporaries.

When I was a kid, we had an old stereo. My mother played classical music records, my father played Benny Goodman's jazz, and the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals (which is probably why I remember the lyrics of every song in musicals like Carousel).

We also had a LP record of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Hard to imagine this perennial favourite only became known to 20th Century ears through the first recording of Vivaldi's music ever made in 1942.

What I didn't know before I started writing this story was the breadth and depth of his work. He was prolific - he had to be to earn money to survive. He also had a day job - 30+ years teaching music at Venice's home for abandoned children. The idea for my novel began life in a short story, Vivaldi's Angels.

Before long, its main character, a young street urchin named Caterina firmly established herself in control of the narrative. And so it goes from there.

Writing a story set in another far off century and city requires extra care. What was life like behind the walls of the Ospedale della Pietà where the nuns brought up generations of Venice's unwanted babies since the 1300?

That's when I chanced upon research carried out by British woman, Micky White. Check out the video above to see Micky showing her discoveries in the Ospedale Museum's old records.

She's become a world expert in uncovering the relationship between Vivaldi and the Ospedale, and his running of their figlie di coro and instrumenti. With the help of the Oxford Women's Choir and the BBC4, Micky recreated a staging of Vivaldi's famous and beautiful composition, the Gloria at the Ospedale itself, with an all-female choir. When I saw that production, I knew I had to meet her one day.

And now I will. I contacted Micky in a round about way via the Facebook group, Vivaldi's Women, the world famous all-female ensemble of singers and players recreating the sound of Vivaldi with female tenors & basses. The other day I got a reply from Micky. She's happy to meet me in Venice in late October to show me around the Ospedale's Museum and to help with my research.

The stars have aligned indeed.

Until next time. Signing off...


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