The Fall is an astonishing memoir. Its 424 short passages match the number of steps taken by Diogo Mainardi’s son Tito as he walks through the streets of Venice, the city where he was born and a medical mishap left him with cerebral Palsy. Elen Lewis talks to author Diogo Mainardi about memoir and telling the truth.
Describe what you do in 26 words.
I’m a father, I follow my sons around, I ride my small motorboat, I lose money on the stock exchange, occasionally I write a book.
How has your son, Tito changed you as a writer?
He made me stop writing for ten years, because I had to earn money to secure his future. So I did journalism. To stop writing is always healthy for a writer. I had already written four novels, that’s more than enough. When I started writing again, Tito gave me everything: the story, the style, the will. Writing became very easy and enjoyable.
What advice would you offer others looking to write about their family?
To tell the truth, which doesn’t necessarily mean telling everything. Homer wrote about families, Shakespeare wrote about families, Tolstoy wrote about families – so keep in mind that your family story is a ridiculously tiny bit of that weighty literary tradition.
Did you write 424 steps in order, or did you jiggle the steps around during the editing process?
I swear I didn’t cheat. Jiggling the steps would have subverted what the book is about. I wrote it in order from step 1 to step 424 exactly the same way I used to count Tito’s steps.
What advice would you give your 17-year-old self?
Go to London, lie to your parents that you’re attending classes at the LSE, stay at home reading two or three novels every week, go outdoors only to get some greasy fish and chips rolled in last month’s newspaper at the corner shop, read last month’s newspaper, don’t say a word for days because at 17 you don’t have anything worthwhile to say. That’s what I did when I was 17 and I’d do it again.
How does your fiction inform your non-fiction writing?
My fiction writing is dead, but I inherited from it a sort of freedom to experiment and to think things that are not always thinkable.
In terms of other inspirations… What is your favourite…Book? Film? Writer? Place? Piece of music?
I fluctuate between Gulliver’s Travels and Montaigne’s Essays. I translated one of my favourite novels into Portuguese: Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. I believe I have some 26 favourite novels… Film? A Night at the Opera, maybe, or 8 ½, or La Grande Guerra (Monicelli). My favourite place is easy: Venice, my part of Venice, near the Salute Church. I don’t listen to music, but I like painting and my next book will be about Titian (curiously, Tiziano means Tito’s son).