Camilleri, for those who may not know, is Italy’s best loved author and the creator of the wry and observant Sicilian commissario, Salvo Montalbano. He reached international fame at the ripe age of 70 and is therefore a true inspiration for all aspiring writers. I interviewed him for Publishers Weekly at his apartment in Rome.
Here are two rather nice quotes from Camilleri that I won’t put in my article:
“When I don’t have any ideas I might write a letter, for example, to a man I’ve just encountered at a kiosk. It’s a letter I know I’ll never send, but it serves as an exercise. Without that, you get stuck. What’s behind writing? It’s not that the artist writes when he gets inspiration — it’s the work of each day.”
“Two great masters for me are Hammett and Chandler. Perhaps Hammett above all because of his behavior during the Communist Witch Hunt in the 1950s. He ended up going to jail for his views. Now, this was a man who drank nearly a bottle of whisky a day. So going to jail for him was like having a double sentence. It took a great deal of courage.”
Camilleri very kindly signed books for Stefania (who made her family take their last vacation to Sicily so that she could visit all the sites where the Montalbano TV series is filmed) and for Susanna (whose favorite book is Il birraio di Preston.)
Susanna was very pleased when I told her that that book was very significant in the development of Montalbano. In fact without it there might have never been a Montalbano. You see, Camilleri was stuck when writing Il birraio di Preston so he decided to set himself a “creative exercise”: writing a mystery novel. He wanted to see if he could write a linear plot – going from chapter one through to the end and linking each chapter logically. So there you have it, Montalbano started out as a remedy for writer’s block.
Before going to Rome for the interview my husband went to a small hand-made chocolate shop to buy a box of candy to take to Camilleri. (I had done my homework and discovered that he had not drunk wine since 1947 – yes, 1947.) The shop assistant asked my husband if the chocolates were for a woman and he told her they were for Andrea Camilleri.
Shop Assistant (in awe): He’s one of those people that you think don’t really exist.
Michael: You mean like a mythological creature?
Shop Assistant: Yes, exactly!