Today, I would like to introduce to you an amazing lady and friend, Anne Frandi-Coory. We connected on Twitter five years ago, when another equally lovely lady, Melanie Selemidis recommended Anne to read my short stories. It was from then on, we found we had not only a common interest in ancient history and mythology, but we also shared the same culture, an Italian heritage. I since read her heart-wrenching autobiographical/memoir, Whatever happened to Ishtar? and more recently, read her latest publication, Dragons, deserts, and dreams: poems, short stories and artworks. Her latest book, is a unique collection of poetry, artwork and stories of her familial heritage. Click here for my review of the book.
I asked Anne if she’d honour me with an interview, and she said yes! In this candid interview, Anne is honest and her answers will make you want to reach out and hug her. Enough with my ramblings, and over to Anne…
1. Why did you write this book in this unique compilation?
For a few years after publishing Whatever Happened To Ishtar? in 2010 I felt a deep seated need to paint and write poetry incorporating some of the memories and family stories I’d written about. Writing Ishtar? helped me to organise my childhood trauma into some kind of chronological order and gave many of the fractured memories context and adult understanding. That’s when poems and brush strokes just flowed from me although I’d never written poetry or painted on a canvas in my life before. Any task or project I have embarked upon, be it career, marriage, motherhood, writing or painting, I have done with a passion, I know of no other way. Once a particular passion grips me, I let no one, or nothing, stand in my way.
I loved reading to my children when they were little and later I read to my grandchildren, whenever I helped out with their care. My grandchildren love to share their vivid imaginings with me so when I had completed the painting and poetry of the painful past, I was inspired to paint images of my young grandchildren’s imaginative stories, along with the natural world around us, and to write poetry to enhance them all.
Whenever family came to visit they were keen to see whatever painting I was working on and how it was progressing. I kept a record of these and the rest of my works in a folder. I had intended to write another book when I realised one day looking through my folder, that I had already written and illustrated another book! Somehow, all the different poems and stories just seemed to fit when I re-arranged them into a certain order. I felt that everything I’d written and painted summed up my whole life. I could see the pain of the past, and the joy that my grandchildren had brought into my life and how much we loved walking around the lakes near my home, watching wildlife and learning together.
2. How do the poems and short stories relate to each other?
There are two short stories in the book. One relates to my Lebanese grandparents’ emigration from Lebanon to Australia then on to New Zealand, based on my grandfather Jacob Coory’s diary. I wrote the other story especially for the book because I wanted to encapsulate all the research I’d done into my Italian family history which highlighted the heartbreaking lives of mothers and daughters, especially that of my great grandmother, Raffaela Mansi Grego. Compared to the Italian women in my family tree, my Lebanese grandmother and her daughters had a relatively happier existence. The poems pick up some of the hardships the women suffered, and how it impacted upon following generations. Catholicism featured largely in the lives of both my paternal and maternal families, much of it detrimental and in my view, added greatly to the suffering of the women and their daughters. The societies they lived in were patriarchal and certain cultures and conventions hadn’t changed for centuries. I believe that when a Christian god was installed as the Almighty One and Only God, and pagan gods and goddesses were relegated to nothing more than Classical Studies, life for females became much darker. In this way, the short stories and many of the poems are a literary reflection of my maternal Italian and paternal Lebanese heritage.
3. The first third of your book is dedicated to the wrongs done to others and to Mother Nature. I thought the poem, a homage to Daniel, Zahra and Caylee was particularly moving. How does your own childhood manifest in these poems?
The tragic deaths of Daniel, Zahra and Caylee were front page world news during the years I was writing my first few poems, and their stories really affected me and stayed with me. I couldn’t get them out of my mind, so I sat down one day and wrote a poem especially for them. The words just poured out, and I dedicated it to all abused children. Only then could I get on with my other writings. My own childhood was full of fear, loneliness and gross neglect by family and others who should have been caring for me, and I felt deeply the horrors Zahra and Caylee had endured in their short lives from their own families. Daniel came from a loving family, but his last moments at the hands of the stranger who murdered him would have been terrifying. All because a bus driver decided not to stop and pick him up at the bus stop. Likewise, the cruelty that some humans inflict on animals I find deeply disturbing. Life can be fickle, children and animals so vulnerable. Humans have the intelligence and power to do so much good on this wonderful planet earth, but sometimes it seems to me that greed and evil are winning. I fight depression by putting my thoughts down on paper. Sometimes they develop into stories and poetry.
4. It was evident to me from reading your book and from your artwork, this project was filled with love, heartache and triumphs. What experience are you hoping readers will gain from your book?
I wanted women, especially mothers, to soak in my words, to be able to relate to them and for those of us who were raised within strict Catholic institutions, to know that others share the harm done to us and understand. I would like readers in general to see the balance in my works…that love and the kindness shown by others can overcome tragedy.
Of course I have also written poems which celebrate the imagination of children and the allure of animals and the natural world. I hope readers can share the joys I have found in my affinity with animals and children, and the solace that the natural world can bring to our lives if we can accept that we are a part of nature and that we must live in harmony with it.
5. How difficult was it confronting your own troubled childhood and that of your familial history, when writing the poems, short stories and painting? Did you learn anything while on this journey?
It was much easier than writing Ishtar? because then I was confronting a jumble of fractured memories without any context. Each time I discovered new information it was another emotional hit and it left me exhausted, depressed and emotionally troubled. However, painting always leaves me in a state of equilibrium and the poems are already formed, seemingly, in my subconscious, so that I am merely transferring them onto an empty page.
Did I learn anything? If I did, it was that much of the emotional pain that I had carried around with me for most of my life, had largely dissipated.
6. There is a search for innocence, love of a family and tribute to beloved pets in the latter part of the book. Does this reflect contentment and happiness in your life now or are you still seeking solace and answers to your abusive childhood?
When I was a child incarcerated in various Catholic institutions, the natural world and animals did not feature in my life at all. Any reference to animals or nature were in abstract, that is, told through the prism of religion: God made everything on earth, Noah saved animals on the Ark during the great flood and St Francis of Assisi loved animals. Most of the children’s books we were given to read were illustrated bible stories, the images always of perfect human beings and animals. We knew nothing at all about the actual world outside. When I was a young mum, we had a menagerie of many different animals; as my children grew up and learned to cherish animals, so did I. There is no doubt in my mind that animals taught me so very much about motherhood, life, death and loyalty. For instance, as a child, I was terrified at the thought of death. My nights were filled with nightmares of my own and others’ deaths. Having witnessed many times the death of beloved pets due to old age or accident while bringing up my children, I realised how animals accept death as a part of life. Not for them the maniacal scenes of death and destruction nuns and priests often imposed on us as a warning against sin. At first, I could not believe how peaceful death was when our first pet cat was euthanised after a long and happy life. I expected writhing and meowing in agony and as the tears streamed down my face I waited in trepidation; instead our beloved feline died quietly in my arms. I had paid for the vet to come to our house so our pet who had never left our gardens could be surrounded by that which he loved. The vet too had tears in his eyes, witnessing my distress. Not everyone I come into contact with is so gracious about my emotional states or as understanding of my passions. It has been a long process, but yes, the happiness and contentment reflected in Dragons, Deserts and Dreams, is real. I remain a bit of a recluse, preferring to strictly control who comes into my life because I still live with trust issues which prevent me from having a normal social life.
7. What is your next writing project? Will it be inspired by your family’s history or of your life today?
I have correspondence from hundreds of readers, and both Lebanese and Italian descendants living around the world which has the potential to be transcribed into a very powerful book.
I’ll await and see what spirits contrive to move me.
8. Where can people purchase your book?
Dragons, Deserts and Dreams can be purchased worldwide from Amazon and other online bookstores or if readers live in Australia or New Zealand they can purchase a signed copy directly from me through my blog at frandi.wordpress.com
9. Where can people connect with you?
I’m always happy to receive comments and correspondence from readers either through comments on my blog or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org