William Wall News

Launch of Empty Bed Blues

My new novel Empty Bed Blues will launch at the Cork World Book Festival on April 19th at 19.00 in the Central Library, Cork City Libraries.

The book has been out in Italian since June 16th 2022 (La Ballata del Letto Vuoto) and I’ve been touring it there since then. In all I’ve done twenty public interviews, or ‘presentations’ as they’re known in Italy, including several festivals,  as well as various TV, Radio, magazine and blog interviews. In Italian the book went into a second edition late last year.

Empty Bed Blues is mainly set in Italy. After an opening scene in Ireland the action moves to Camogli (pictured on the cover) in Liguria, where the protagonist, Kate Holohan, attempts to make a new life having been left with a mountain of debt by her late husband. The book follows her as she makes new friends, begins to learn the language under the instruction of the mysterious older lady Anna Ferrara, and finds work and love and solidarity.

It’s partly an exploration of my own process of learning Italian, partly a love song to Italy and Liguria in particular, partly an exploration of politics (or the lack of it in Kate’s case), partly about the act of translation and, coincidentally, because Kate is a Joyce scholar, a book about how Joyce can obsess someone. It’s also a book about debt. The idea came to me after the great crash of 2008 when Ireland was saddled with one of the biggest fiscal debts in the world. how could I write a book about fiscal debt, I wondered? Especially about the idea of repudiating debt. For a novelist like me it has to be about people, so I personalised it. Kate has a debt she can never pay off, which she didn’t incur (her husband was speculating very unwisely) and which she didn’t know about until the day the lawyer called her in to discuss her husband’s will. When she runs away to Italy she is pursued, of course – how does she survive? Not on her own.

It follows Kate through three seasons, beginning in January and ending on Bloomsday and, I hope, captures, the colours, tastes, sounds and smells of life in Liguria.

It’s a handsome design by New Island complete with what are called, in the trade, ‘French flaps’, those fold overs that give a paperback something extra by way of substance. The cover photo is by my wife, Liz Kirwan and shows the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta (origins in the 13th century) and behind it the Castello della Dragonara, the ancient fortification that protected the port of Camogli, once called ‘the city of a thousand sails’ and which provided a substantial part of Napoleaon’s fleet at the Nile. And in the foreground the stony beach and the pier with its cutting which figures in one particular scene of the book. In the distant background the hills and the beginning of the city of Genova where Kate goes to work.

This is an area rich in ancient and recent history and it’s no accident that Anna Ferrara is an ex-staffetta, a runner for the WWII Resistance. In the mountains around Camogli (and Liguria is mostly mountain) the war against the nazis and Italian fascists was particularly fierce – so much so that the partisans actually captured an entire German division, the only time in the war that resistance fighters achieved this. But the history goes back – the shipowners of the city of Camogli helped finance Garibaldi’s expedition to Sicily, and before that Napoleon (who built the long mole that shelters the port on the other side of the church) and the borgo itself, the little ancient town at the heart of the city is medieval and based on a Roman 1st century settlement.

Follow Kate as she finds her way into this little society and learns its language a little of its culture while struggling with her own demons, particularly the demon of debt, makes new friends and learns more about her mysterious friend, all the way to a finale that includes a journey to France. To find out more about the publication, click on the book cover below.