I must say that I greatly miss my mentor.
He was one of Italy’s great paediatricians, and also a philosopher and the author of a few groundbreaking books about medical ethics. Hardly the right mentor for a historical novelist and playwright, one might think – except that he also was deeply and passionately knowledgeable about opera, literature, theatre, cinema – and the greatest and most enlightened president the Accademia Nazionale Virgiliana ever had. Quite the Renaissance man – and a wonderful teacher and mentor to boot…
What I loved most was his unrelenting way of pushing me out of my comfort zone. He never let one take the easy way out, or to sit cosily within self-made bounds. It used to drive me insane, at times, the way he insisted that I try something else, something new, something uncomfortable, something different, something harder. Relentless – that’s what he was, and hard to please, and could nag and nag and nag with the best of ’em, but it always led to discoveries at the very least – not to mention some of my best work.
I was very lucky.
And now he has been dead these four years, and I never found anyone to take his place, and I greatly miss him. I try to push myself the way he did, and take on contract work to try different things – but in the end I mostly write characters, themes and settings I love and am comfortable with. Which is great, don’t get me wrong, but I miss the odd sideways step, the experiments, the unsettlement, the challenge of finding my angle on a subject I don’t care about…
Because the fact is that, even in the dreariest, unlikeliest subjects, even in the ones I thought I disliked, I always found, buried somewhere, a tale I wanted to tell, a technique I wanted to try, a new understanding of someone or something. It was electrifying and thought-provoking, it opened unexpected doors, it made me a better writer.
See why I miss it – and my mentor so very much?