Interview with Anne Charnock, author of Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind

23 Dec 2015
Tell us a little bit about your new release, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind.

This is my second novel and it explores themes of family, feminism, and loss in three storylines set in Renaissance Italy, present-day China and a future London. Toniah is a future art historian trying to bring overdue recognition to women artists of the Renaissance. Thirteen-year-old Toni, in the present day, accompanies her artist father to China where he agrees to copy a Renaissance masterpiece for a Chinese businessman. And in Renaissance Florence, Antonia takes art lessons from her father, Paolo Uccello. It’s a work of slipstream fiction, bringing together science fiction, contemporary, and historical biographical fiction.

What is the one movie that you can quote the most?

Pride and Prejudice. There are so many hilarious one-liners. I cannot resist quoting Mr Collins, the sycophantic clergyman. When he dines with the Bennett family, he utters the unforgettable line, “It’s many years since I have had such an exemplary vegetable.”

How did art inspire your writing career?

Difficult question! In general, I’d say that artists and writers have a great deal in common. They have skills and techniques that they deploy in order to tell a story, or convey a message. For me, it was a surprisingly small step from making art to writing fiction. It did help that I already had writing experience—my first career was journalism.

In writing Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, I took an iconic painting of the early Renaissance, a painting that’s recognised today as a breakthrough in perspective drawing. It’s Paolo Uccello’s Battle of San Romano. His daughter Antonia is described on her death certificate as a painter, but none of her works has yet been discovered. I saw Antonia’s absence from art history as a starting point for a story about success, loss, and the obstacles faced by young women in different eras.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

Michael Cunningham, Jennifer Egan, Kate Atkinson, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Oops! That’s four. I can’t unvite anyone—the invites are already in the mail.

Where was the most recent place you’ve traveled?

Orvieto in Umbria. My husband and I traveled in our campervan from England to Orvieto just north of Rome. Orvieto Cathedral is now my favourite cathedral in Italy. The edifice is adorned in fabulous reliefs—a masterpiece of the late Middle Ages—and inside the cathedral there’s a surprisingly modern-looking fresco: Resurrection of the Flesh by Luca Signorelli. It looks like the zombie apocalypse.

Pretend you qualified for the Olympics this year. What sport would you compete in?

A writer’s life has prepared me for the High Jump. I’m trained for a short run up, getting stuck in, and throwing my world upside down.

What’s your favorite quote or scene from Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind

Thirteen-year-old Toni reflects on the unfairness of the world as she examines a painting in the National Gallery—Piero di Cosimo’s The Fight between the Lapiths and the Centaurs.
“She hunts around the painting to see if there are any female centaurs. None. Why is it that women are always the ones being dragged off? Why aren’t they the ones doing the clubbing and biting?”

Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?

These are two writer quotes that come to mind:
“The book to read is not the one that thinks for you, but the one which makes you think.” Harper Lee.
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” Frank Herbert.

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Anne Charnock is the author of the new book Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind

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