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Author Interview Liz Gavin Blog
What are you currently reading?
At the moment I’m working on my next novel, The Adulterous Bride, and I’m publicizing this story The Last Great Race.
Do you have a favorite author? Who is it:
My favourite author is Paolo Coelho
When did you start writing?
I started writing in 2005 and the book from that time, The Red Sun Will Come, was published in 2012
Why do you write?
I have always liked reading good books, and one day I went to the local library to borrow a book, but I couldn’t find one. Particularly the books by male authors had stereotyped, cliche characters, the loner who eventually rights all wrongs but never finds love or companionship. I thought I could do better than that, which became the inspiration for my first novel, The Red Sun Will Come.
Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
This story is about love and loss set against European motor sport in the 1930s, and fascist Italy in World War Two. The car racing is just a background to the characters and their triumphs and tragedies, and as such The Last Great Race can be read by anyone who likes a good story that goes beyond genre fiction.
If you could go back in time and meet one famous person or legend in history, who would it be? Why? What would you say to them?
I would like to meet former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, and ask him if he knew, before he did them, if his actions would forever change the culture of my country of Australia like no person has done before or since.
How did you come up with the idea for your book? Why did you want to write about Achille Varzi?
I have followed Formula One car racing since the early 1970s, and through that I was aware of the story of Achille Varzi, a good driver of the 1930s, until his private life got in the way of his racing career. When I looked into the facts about Varzi I didn’t realise that he was the best racer in a legendary era, certainly one of the best of all time, and that his love affair with Ilse was so passionate and ultimately so destructive. I thought that passionate love, the tragedy that came out of it, and his recovery with the help of Norma who came back into his life, made a great story. Norma Colombo was a woman against the odds. She lived with Achille Varzi unmarried when women didn’t do that, and when Achille broke up with Ilse she came back to him. That was just as amazing as anything that happened between Achille and Ilse. One man and two women who adored him completely, totally and absolutely.
Tell us about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?
I did the cover based upon a picture of Achille Varzi at Monaco in 1936, and it looks like he’s about to go out for a practice session while still smoking a cigarette. Varzi was a heavy smoker at a time when the health risks of that were unknown, and the combination of the Auto Union racing car while smoking a cigarette was very typical of Achille Varzi at the time of this story.
Who would you cast for the main characters if your book became a movie?
It would be essential to cast an Italian to play an Italian, and one actor I can think of is Alessandro Roja who did an excellent job playing Dandi in the television series Romanzo Criminale (Crime Novel). If his English were up to it, I’m sure he could play Achille Varzi.
How about an excerpt from your book meant to capture our imagination and make us want to read more?
Achille lit a cigarette and pulled Le Ambizioni Sbagliate from his luggage. He sighed while he momentarily contemplated nights in hotel rooms. It was always better when Norma accompanied him or when his friends were around. But racing had changed and the cost of developing new cars meant fewer entries, and fewer drivers at the circuits. He took the comfortable velvet armchair in the corner of the room and turned to the first page, when he was startled by knocking at the door. Achille put the book down and opened the door to be surprised by Ilse Pietsch. Momentarily startled he then realised she ought not to be seen there. “Ilse,” he said. “Entrez, s’il tu plais.”
“I saw your times from practice today,” Ilse said in French after she closed the door behind her. “They were good.”
Achille nodded while puzzled to have her in his room.
“That isn’t why I came here,” she said. “All the time you were practicing I thought about your comment on Tazio Nuvolari. I know that any driver can drive fast, and any driver can drive on his limits and perhaps crash and break his leg, or even kill himself. A great driver and an even greater man is the man who knows where his strengths and weaknesses lay, and how far he can go to achieve his ambitions without going too far.”
Achille stood stunned with his cigarette hanging from his lips. It was as if she peered into his soul. Just like that.
“Achille?” she asked.
“Pardon?” Achille said, still confused. He looked at her eye to eye for she was almost as tall as he. “You understand me,” he said quietly.
“So I’m right.”
“You knew you were right.”
“I wanted to hear it from you.”
“You’re a great man more than a great driver, and I know you have been misunderstood. I heard talk of arrogance but they don’t understand you. You’re a deep thinker who analyses all the options before deciding on a course of action.”
Achille was again startled. Ilse knew more, much more, about him than his racing. He wondered how she could do that, and especially a woman so young.
Their conversation faded to silence and Achille suddenly felt an intense ache of desire for beautiful Ilse Pietsch. A yearning, a longing, an almost overpowering urge to grab her and take her away and ravish her. He never felt such strong feelings before and he liked them. He liked them a lot. And yet she was unobtainable. Perhaps that was it. She understood him and yet he couldn’t have her. His heart raced and he felt sweaty despite the pleasant temperature. No, such feelings were something else and he guessed what it was. After two brief meetings he had fallen in love with another man’s wife. He didn’t love Norma and never had, but he never expected to find love in a hotel in Montlhéry. He butted his cigarette in the ashtray and all the time Ilse stood there, close but not too close, and Achille knew the significance of that. He wondered, but it was too far too fast. For many years he wanted to kiss those lips, but he knew if he started he wouldn’t be able to stop. He gazed at beautiful Ilse Pietsch, he smelt her soft perfume, and he knew he shouldn’t.
“You should go before people realise,” Achille said.
“Of course,” Ilse replied.
She left his room and quietly closed the door behind to leave Achille pondering whether he should have asked her to stay.
GENRE: Historical Fiction
This story is based around the life of one of the most fascinating and enigmatic sportsmen of his era, Achille Varzi: multiple race winner, twice Racing Champion of Italy and a hero to his many followers. Told partly through the eyes of Varzi and partly by fictional Italian-Australian racing journalist Paul Bassi, we follow the many triumphs and tragedies of Varzi’s life: his passionate love affair with Ilse, his tragic morphine addiction, his recovery from his addictions, his marriage to Norma and his re-signing to race for Alfa Romeo.
Only war intervenes, and Paul and his wife Pia leave Achille to spy for the British at the naval base in Naples. Paul and Pia endure hundreds of Allied air-raids, they join the partisans who fought off the German army until the Allies could rescue them, and then they survive in a near-ruined city as best they can.
By 1946 Italy is still shattered but life is returning to normal, and no more normal is Achille Varzi winning the Grand Prix of Italy that year. Over the next two seasons Achille Varzi scores more successes, until he makes his only ever driving mistake and is killed in Switzerland in 1948. Even though he died too young, Paul and Pia know that Achille Varzi would never have lived in his life in any other way.
5 ***** – More than a sports story
When I read the summary of this book, I wanted to read it so badly. I’m a huge fan of all things connected to Formula One races. But this book is so much more than that. It’s a beautifully written tale about relationships, struggles, love, loss, and overcoming obstacles.
Since most of the characters are based on real people, it would be redundant to say the author made them seem realistic. However, his talent becomes apparent in the way he involves the reader and keeps him/her spellbound. It’s not an easy feat.
It’s also a great accomplishment being able to make a story as engaging as this is. Granted, Italy as a backdrop and pre-WW II as a timeframe are two powerful assets to any story. But, if an author doesn’t have talent, he/she won’t get anywhere. It’s not the case with The Last Great Race at all. On the contrary. As I turned the pages (so to speak as I read on my Kindle LOL), I felt like I was back in Europe, which has always fascinated me. More specifically Italy. It’s such an amazing country with such gorgeous people. What’s not to love about it, right?
Finally, the dual POV makes for a much more interesting storytelling style as it gives the reader a priceless opportunity to dive into different minds and have a more complex understanding of the situations.
I recommend The Last Great Race for anyone looking for a great book, regardless of their feelings about car sports because as I said in the beginning, this book is SO MUCH MORE than that.
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Writing technical documentation and advertising material formed a large part of my career for many decades. Writing a novel didn’t cross my mind until relatively recently, where the combination of too many years writing dry, technical documents and a visit to the local library where I couldn’t find a book that interested me led me consider a new pastime. Write a book. That book may never be published, but I felt my follow-up cross-cultural crime with romance hybrid set in Russia had more potential. So much so that I wrote a sequel that took those characters on a journey to a very dark place.
Once those books were published by Club Lighthouse and garnered good reviews I wrote in a very different place and time. My two novels set in Victorian Britain were published by Wings ePress in July and August of 2014. These have been followed by a story set against the background of Australia’s involvement on the Western Front, published in August 2015. Australia’s contribution to the battles on the Western Front and to ultimate victory is a story not well known, but should be better known.
Staying within the realm of historical fiction, one of the most successful sportsmen of the 1930s, Achille Varzi, lived a dramatic and tumultuous life. It is a wonder his story hasn’t been told before, beyond non fiction written in Italian. The Last Great Race follows the highs and lows of Varzi’s motor racing career, and stays in fascist Italy during the dark days of World War Two.