This is the question on the lips of Melbourne author and Italophile Vanessa Carnevale as she marvels at the recent publication of her debut novel The Florentine Bridge.
Set against the backdrop of rolling hills in Tuscany and the azure waters of the Amalfi coast, the novel tells the tale of Mia, a young aspiring artist.
A recent battle with cancer has left Mia riddled with fear and self-doubt, so when the opportunity to travel to Tuscany arises, she grasps it in the hope of rediscovering her passion for painting.
In true tear-jerking fashion, the novel traces Mia’s path to self-discovery and a blossoming romance in the heart of Florence.
Vanessa’s vivid writing transports readers to Tuscany from wherever they happen to pick up the book and dive into her words.
“It takes people who have been to Italy down memory lane, while those who haven’t been there feel like they have and now want to go,” she says.
The key to the transportive nature of this novel lies in Vanessa’s own familiarity with Florence.
Born and raised in an Italian household with Sicilian parents, Vanessa made the inevitable choice to travel to Italy in her early twenties.
Although the talented writer grew up bilingual, she decided to return to Italy shortly after her first visit to enhance her knowledge of the Italian language.
Vanessa landed in Florence where she ended up living for a few years, working for a foreign exchange company and freelance writing on the side.
Between working, writing and immersing herself in the Tuscan lifestyle, Vanessa met her now-husband, who was a waiter at a local restaurant at the time.
While the couple embarked on their life together in Italy, Vanessa began jotting down notes as she noticed new quirks and customs carried out by local residents.
“As an expat I was really seeing Italy through different eyes,” she recalls.
“I had previously called myself Italian, but I didn’t really know what it meant to be Italian until I got over there.”
As Vanessa continued to document her observations, the rest of the world became infatuated with Under the Tuscan Sun author, Frances Mayes, who rose to fame in the early 2000s.
Inspired by Mayes’ work and having always wanted to write her own masterpiece, Vanessa kept all of her notes close thinking they may come in handy one day.
Years later, that day finally came.
Having moved back to Australia and started a family with her husband, Vanessa finally decided to sit down and write a novel from her Melbourne abode.
“I was thinking about what I wanted to write and I remembered the notes I had made all those years ago,” she says.
“My mum had held on to them and she sent them to me one afternoon; reading over them really took me back to that period of my life.”
After reminiscing about her time in Florence, Vanessa decided to set her novel in the stunning city she once called home.
Given that Florence is synonymous with the arts, it was a natural choice to create a protagonist that had a passion for painting.
“I met an elderly painter over there who gave me an oil painting and a poem a few weeks after we met,” Vanessa explains.
“That memory inspired me to create the character of Signor Fiorelli, the man who mentors Mia throughout her journey.”
With a handful of characters in mind and a collection of precious notes by her side, Vanessa began breathing life into her thoughts through the words of her novel.
Months of writing and 396 pages later, The Florentine Bridge now adorns the shelves of all good bookstores across the nation.
While the novel is inspired by Vanessa’s time in Florence as a twenty-something, her love affair with Tuscany and la dolce vita is far from a brief fling forgotten in time.
With in-laws and family still firmly planted in the Belpaese, Vanessa and her husband travel back regularly.
“Because we have children now we try to make sure they see their grandparents as often as possible,” she says.
The talented wordsmith also ran her first writing retreat last September, renting a restored 17th century Tuscan farmhouse for a week, where she hosted writing workshops and coaching sessions for a small group of writers.
“We also held optional tours to make the most of sightseeing at the same time as writing,” Vanessa says.
“It was really lovely to share my love of Italy and writing and merge those two things together.”
While she has her heart set on organising a second retreat, Vanessa may have to hold out for a little while to fulfil that wish due to her busy schedule.
Still on a high from the release of The Florentine Bridge, she recently handed in her second novel as part of a two-book deal, and is on the cusp of penning her third book.
It seems that the sweet taste of success and the realisation of a lifelong dream have propelled Vanessa into an infinite whirlwind of writing.
And to think it all began with a plane ticket to Tuscany.