I began creative writing back in the mid 1990’s with a couple of feature-length screenplays. One was a war story, another a fantasy/comedy, another a romantic/comedy. The novel Hollywood on the Tiber which I’ve now penned also began its life as a feature-length screenplay sometime between 1996 and 1997. I was teaching English as a foreign language in a private school in Sardinia, Italy. I had absolutely no Italian when I went there first in 1995 and tried to absorb as much as I could in a relatively short period of time. Italy, you have to understand, is one of several European countries along with France, Spain and Germany which dub foreign films and TV shows into its native language. In Italy everything from Casablanca to Citizen Kane is translated into Italian. It follows a tradition begun during the Mussolini regime in the 1930s.
I can’t remember the exact moment when I came up with the idea for Hollywood on the Tiber. Perhaps it was after watching Tom Cruise shouting, ”˜Show me the Money,’ in the Italian version of Jerry Maguire, or Peter Falk as Columbo uttering his immortal, ”˜Just one more Thing,’ in a Romanesque accent that sparked my imagination, but an idea for a story came to mind about an obscure Italian actor who has spent most of his professional life in the dark of the studio providing voices for famous Hollywood stars and TV personalities. There’s a large industry in Italy based around dubbing and most of the actors and actresses are not household names. My central character, Max, is one of these – an actor who’s never had a breakthrough hit and has pretty much resigned himself to the stability and regularity of dubbing and voiceover work. That is until one of the Hollywood stars he voices arrives in Rome to shoot his new film at the famous Cinecittà studios. That particular studio is where epics such as Ben Hur and Cleopatra were shot. More recently it’s been used for films like Gangs of New York and the new James Bond film Spectre, but in the 1950s and 1960s the term ”˜Hollywood on the Tiber’ was coined in reference to the large number of American productions which shot on location in the Eternal City.
Writing a book is quite a laborious task of course. Personally, I think the key to it ultimately is discipline. You have to be brave and open up that laptop in the evening-time, after your working day, and stick with it for as long as you can. There were earlier versions of my novel which I wrote over the years but subsequently abandoned because I was either unhappy with them or simply lost interest. The story evolved in my mind over time and I think it became better as a result. Three years ago, as I turned 40, I decided I was going to have a proper bash at it and began writing a new version. By November of that year I had 150 pages written but felt there was still much room for improvement. I took a break until the following Spring at which time I wrote up an 18-page synopsis. This synopsis was chiefly for myself and a way of attempting to solve some of the difficulties and loose ends I was seeing in the story. I spent approximately two months working on it and it proved to be the turning point.
I began writing the novel in May 2013 and reached official completion when I did my two book launches in Laois and Dublin in May 2015. My approach as I was writing was to take it on a chapter-by-chapter basis. The discipline kicked in in terms of my setting a target of beginning work on it at approximately 7’o clock every weekday evening and finishing just after 10. Between 10 and 11 I then did background reading for research purposes. I tried to stick to this regime as best I could and this goes back to my previous point about discipline. You can be as creative as you like but it all counts for nought unless you get the ideas down on the page. Being regimented is the most important thing I think when it comes to writing a novel, particularly when you have a 9 to 5 job. You have to be tough on yourself and decide that yes I’m going to get this done because the concept feels strong enough to me and because it’s a story worth telling. There are many moments of frustration along the way naturally. Quite often it does seem like one step forward, two steps back. I think there’s a certain mind-set involved which you have to employ and I tried to pep myself up as much as possible while I was writing the novel. I mostly took weekends off from it because everyone needs a break away from a project. Some of my best ideas actually came on long walks and I often found myself rushing home anxious to get the latest brainwaves down on paper. The process is an on-going one right up to the point when you sign off on the proof-reading. Even then I agonised over minor alterations and certain grammatical points. It’s part of the pain I guess. It’s worth it in the end though as there is a definite sense of accomplishment.
I really quite honestly believe that I could not have written this novel 20 years ago when I first conceived the central idea. Even five or ten years ago and it might have been too much of a stretch for me. I think time and life experience are vital tools to have and I personally believe they have helped me bring this story to fruition. I love cinema and see this as a sort of homage to both Hollywood movies and also to Italian film. I hope those who read the novel can appreciate the time and thought I’ve invested in this labour of love. It’s been well worth it. That’s the pre-eminent memory I take away with me from this writing experience.