“But you’re from different tribes, Frankie. Us and them, we’re from different places mentally, historically, geographically, you know. It courses in our blood, all that stuff our parents brought over with them from the old country, even if we were born here. It’s part of who we are, good or bad.”
Archimede Fusillo has an important legacy of novels for young people. Much of his work has a valuable masculine perspective. Combining this with his Italian-Australian heritage, Archimede’s books hold a unique place in Australian literature.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Archimede.
You have a distinguished writing career and are probably best known for your YA literature. Where are you based and what have you been doing between writing your last two books?
Between the previous two novels – Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night and Tribal Lores I completed a Literature Fellowship in Europe. The resultant Report – which looked at the reasons behind many migrants to Australia returning to their place of birth permanently; The Future In Their Past, when in to itself received an award and took me back to Europe to lecture on the findings. The stories from the Fellowship I then developed into a series of lectures which I have been presenting at schools and universities here and overseas.
Could you tell us about one of your most prominent books?
One of my most prominent novels is The Dons – published in 2002. It tells the poignant story of a family coming to grips with dementia and all that this insidious disease brings to bear upon the individual suffering it directly and those living with it vicariously. The novel has recently been optioned for development into a feature film.
What is the significance of the title of your new novel, Tribal Lores (Walker Books Australia)?
Lores are those aspects of our inner family sanctum that bind individuals to a family, its history, its traditions and its secrets. In this way every family is different, and yet there is always between families, across cultures, an overlap of certain universal truths – which include the desire to find love, be respected, develop relationships and seek to be understood for who you are as an individual irrespective of background, colour, race or creed. In this novel the characters seek to both understand where they come from, where they draw their world views, and how to incorporate the world outside their immediate family circle into their own lives.
What does the cover represent?
I love this cover. The picket fences represent the barriers that sometimes exist between people – even neighbours in the physical sense of neighbourhoods. The grass is often greener on the other side – may or may not be true. What matters is the mindset that is developed around that idea – and the notion too that if we open up to what we don’t really understand we may sacrifice what we hold to be true, because in holding onto what we believe we keep ourselves safe – or at least free of any re-evaluation of what we are brought up to accept as fact. Note the upside down fences. Look closely-the pickets also look like spears-the notion of tribes facing off.
Could you introduce us to your protagonist, Frankie?
- his family… Frankie’s family are migrants still trying to make their mark in their adopted homeland of Australia. They are people who have bought into the prospect of Australia being a place of opportunity, yet they are moored down by the cultural baggage they often unconsciously use as a kind of protection against what they do not understand. Frankie’s parents want desperately to be part of the greater Australian identity but are fearful of opening up so much that they may be ridiculed and found wanting against the expectations – real and imagined, of their adopted homeland.
- Zio Pete… Here is a man who has failed to take responsibility for himself, dependant on his old mother for his day to day well being, and on his friends – mainly Frankie’s father Teodoro (Ted), for navigating the challenges of adulthood. He is still a bit player in life, not fully committed to his new Homeland because he lacks the mental maturity to take responsibility for his actions.
- Gabby…Vibrant, strong-willed, independent despite her physical handicap, she refuses to be the victim. Gabby refuses to be anything less than what she wants to be, and does not buy too deeply into the self-limiting expectations that cloud her parents’ considerations of what she might be capable of.
- Frankie’s mates….These young men are a cacophony of male types. They are individuals shaped by their own families and backgrounds, and so they each have their own voice, strengths and fears.
Which other character particularly appeals to you and why?
Lochie appeals to me because he is tenacious, loyal, street smart and wiser than his years, yet still fragile and vulnerable. Lochie has to fight for every success, no matter how small. He lives in a world where the parameters shift without notice – as evidenced by his pregnant half-sister moving back into an already crowded family home along with her layabout boyfriend. Lochie is her kind of mate most of us would want, someone not given to self-importance or self-righteousness, but rather driven by a real desire to understand his world and the forces at work there-and how these impact on who he is-and who he can trust and rely on.
Frankie’s father and Zio Pete have come from a village in Italy. Where do you see some of this heritage alive in Australia today?
This heritage is alive today in the pride so many second and third generation children of migrants have in the traditions handed down to them – from wine making in backyard garages, to large family gatherings at times of great happiness and also of great loss and sadness. The heritage is alive in the vibrancy of the connections between the various generations, sometimes characterised by what to an outsider might appear to be disdain but is really a deep rooted appreciation for the sacrifices made on their behalf.
What is the significance of memento in Frankie’s family?
Memento is about the maintaining of a link between what was and what is. In the story the baptismal gown and Frankie’s boots are links with a past that cannot be cut off from the present or the future. They are tangible reminders of where one comes from – metaphorically as well as culturally. A memento is a moment set in concrete by a concrete object yet spanning time and place.
What is the catalyst for change in Frankie’s life?
Is there ever just one catalyst, or are there a series of events, revelations, moments of awareness that together appear to be of the one event. For Frankie it is everything that has led to his meeting with Lochie, with Lochie’s family, with the demands of having a gay cousin, a less than role-model “uncle”, a mother still grieving a lost child… It is the path and the journey that at every step is a new reconning for Frankie as he strives to navigate the world of his family and the world to which he must by needs belong.
How does Frankie grow up during the time of the novel?
For me it’s about Frankie growing through rather than “up” his awareness of the wider world around him and his family. I think Frankie develops a respect for the differences between the lores and traditions of his family and those of others outside the inner circle. It is a time of awakening for Frankie regarding the fragility of slavishly seeking to be on the other side of the fence – as though what he is immediately surrounded by is of little practical consequence in the world beyond his front gate. I hope the reader comes to see Frankie as maturing as an individual apart from his family – learning to engage with the wider world more confidently on his own terms.
Is there an incident in the novel that has happened to you? If so, could you tell us please?
I lost a friend suddenly when I was much younger. It was a violent and avoidable death that robbed him of his life and for many years after, robbed his family of their will to live without him. It left those who had known him scarred by the seemingly random nature of death and the rawness of that event has never really left me. In this novel I have tried to find a voice for that deep carnal pain that is so very hard to shift completely from your soul.
You have achieved the extraordinary feat of showing “the fragility behind … bravo” of young men while also crafting a very readable story that builds to an unforgettable climax. How do you balance your deep character development and plot without sacrificing pace and reader engagement?
Thank you. I appreciate that very much. I think that as I write I am constantly asking myself – What does this add to the forward movement of the story? How does this scene, this exchange of dialogue, contribute to the reader’s involvement with the slice of this character’s life that I am trying to bring alive? Early drafts are just me seeking the story arc. It is when I start to be critical of the story as I have laid it out in those early manifestations that I delete, delete, delete….and then add back only where I feel I need to give the characters layers. If something is there simply for decoration or because “it sounds good” but adds nothing to the story, it goes. This is probably the most difficult part of the endeavour because don’t we writers love every word?
Who do you most hope reads Tribal Lores?
I wrote the novel with a broad Young Adult audience in mind, while always conscious of not trying to be a teenager. That would make me rather pretentious because I haven’t been a teenager in a long time. I would like to think that Young Adults would see something of themselves reflected back at them in the different characters that make up the novel. Interestingly though, I have had many many adults already read the novel and comment on how it reflects something of what they were back at them many years after they were young adults themselves. I think the novel crosses over because the story is universal, and the characters do not represent a rigidly set time.
What do you hope they take away from the novel?
I don’t like to tell a reader what they might, should or could take from my novels. If I’ve done my job well enough, if I’ve created characters and a story that engages enough, then each reader will take something from their reading of the book. A reader doesn’t even need to like a character, but I hope I make them care a little for each of them.
Which of your many awards has meant a great deal to you?
Every award is special because there are many others deserving of it apart from you. I am grateful for all the awards I’ve been fortunate enough to be awarded, however one that does stand out because it comes from my parent’s native homeland, is the Globo Tricolore Literature Award from the Italian government for my body of short stories, articles and novels.
What are you writing now or next?
I am currently working on another YA manuscript but also overseeing drafts of the script treatment for the optioned film version of The Dons.
What have you read recently that you would like to recommend?
The Weight Of Water by Sarah Crossan…a verse novel that engages from the outset with a character who draws the reader into her world and takes them on a rather intriguing journey to find the father who refuses to make contact with her or her mother.
How would you prefer your readers contact you?
Readers can make contact with me either through the publisher – who passes all correspondence on to me, through the Booked Out Speakers Agency in Melbourne, or via my website: archimedefusillo.com
Thank you so much for this powerful novel, Archimede. You are a greatly respected and valued voice in our literature for young people.