Talking to author Judith Mackrell about The Unfinished Palazzo – Venice

18th October 2017

Judith MackrellJudith Mackrell is a writer and is also dance critic for The Guardian. TripFiction’s Andrew caught up with Judith when she was at Guildford Book Festival 2017, talking about her latest book The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love & Art in Venice.

TF: How did dance and literature find their way into your life?

JM: I studied English Literature at University and an academic life beckoned….but I turned away from it. I was interested in dance, so I started pitching fake reviews to mainstream publications. I was lucky to be hired as dance critic for the Independent. And as much as I enjoy newspaper journalism, I find a long-form project more rewarding. My first book was a biography of Bloomsbury Ballerina Lydia Lopokova (“Mrs John Maynard Keynes”), and was well received.

TF: You have written some fascinating books about strong, independent women in the 20th century. What was the relevance of location for them and for you?

JM: Location is very important in writing a biography. You need to walk the same streets as your subject, experience what they would have seen, smelt and felt. I got to know St. Petersburg well for the Lydia Lopokova book, and visited Paris, London and New York for Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation.

TF: And for The Unfinished Palazzo, how much of your research time was spent in Venice, and how much was “desk-based”?

JM: I was lucky. I went to Venice every year or two for a decade, reporting on the dance festival, so I could double up a little with the book research.

TF: The women you write about tend to be very engaging and interesting personalities. But do you have to like who you are writing a biography about, do you think?

JM: I think you have to be interested in them, but not necessarily like them unreservedly. I adored Lydia (Lopokova-Maynard) who was my subject in Bloomsbury Ballerina, for example. For the three women in The Unfinished Palazzo, I didn’t have to like them all but I felt I had to have complete confidence in my ability to understand them and their lives.

TF: What other writing projects do you have in the pipeline?

JM: It’s interesting how one book tends to seed an idea for another. I stumbled across something whilst researching one of my previous books, and that has become the kernel of an idea for my next, which will be about women correspondents in World War II. The book will cover the lives of 5 journalists and 1 photographer.  

TF: The Silver Travel Book Club collaborates with TripFiction and its book club is currently reading One Summer In Venice, by Nicky Pellegrino. The main character goes to Venice for her “happiness project”, to find the 10 things that make her happy. Name the 3 things that make YOU most happy, Judith!

Judith MackrellJM. Goodness! Ummm….a little bit obvious, but travelling to Venice with my family makes me happiest. I love just eating pizza in a square and watching the children drool over proper Italian ice creams. Travelling on my own…that gives me a real sense of self. Writing, which probably gives me pain and pleasure in equal measures! And if I’m allowed another…dancing after a few drinks.

TF: Thank you so much, Judith, for chatting to me and for allowing TripFiction readers a small window into your literary life. Good luck with all your future projects…wherever they might transport you.

Follow Judith on Twitter and writing in The Guardian.

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