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“My name is Mireille Mardaga-Campbell, an archaeologist and writer from North Queensland. I am going to read from La Serenissima, a historical fiction, which was selected for the Varuna/PanMacmillan publishers fellowship.
I found her standing by the window, her head held high, as she gulped in the cool, moist air, with the avidity of one confined too long within solid walls. She was wrapped in a coat of the deepest indigo, which a long plait of silver hair crossed like a ray of moonshine. My mother was like Venezia this morning, clad in serenity, waiting for a watery sun to break through. She did not turn to me when I entered, recognising my step and the rustle of my dress as her eyes had started clouding over, and the world reached her from the end of a long misty tunnel. But her fingertips and her sharpness of hearing made up for her failing sight.
‘Allegra, I was waiting for you.’ she said,
A letter lay unfolded on her chair. She told me that it had arrived from Cathay with the morning tide. By her side, her wooden chest was open, overflowing with precious silks, red, saffron and midnight blue, through which she had rummaged to reach another of her treasures, a satchel of embossed leather marked with the crest of Pope Innocent. It held parchments and scrolls that gathered the blemishes of time, and which I had often seen her leaf through or hold on her lap without reading them, her gaze lost inside her memories. The fine Chinese papers talked to her and she listened like one listens to the hum of the sea inside a shell.
When my mother was with her letters, she was no longer the quiet and mysterious lady belonging to the Polo family. She was Chinua-dei, Princess of the Mongol. She was proud of who she was, and in her veins ran the blood of Genghis Khan, founder of the greatest empire in the world, and of a Frankish woman, long dead and whom no one remembers.”
ABOUT MIREILLE MARDAGE-CAMPBELL:
“As an archaeologist, I have always enjoyed writing about the past but it was only when I broke free from scientific writing that I was able to experience the thrills of fiction writing. I found Rukshana, the Afghan woman who became the wife of Alexander the Great and took flight. In 2006 I started a medieval story, La Serenissima, based on the little known journal of a Flemish monk and the memoirs of Marco Polo. Since then, I have written two short stories and worked on a WWII novel. Last month, overlooking an Italian lake, I started a 1970’s retro love story, in French naturellement.
When I visited Varuna for the first time in 2006, it was as part of the Longlines program. This was the first and most important milestone for me as I had finally come out of the closet. All of a sudden I was a writer. Meeting an extraordinary mentor in Varuna’s creative director, Peter Bishop, gave me the confidence and drive I needed to pursue this exciting but challenging career. I returned another three times between 2009 and 2010, winning a short-listing with Penguin and a selection by PanMacmillan as part of the Publisher Fellowships, finding as always mentorship and support from the Varuna people and companionship from all the writers I have met there.”
Varuna has been funded by the Australia Council to produce a Varuna Writer-a-Day “app”. When we have recorded 365 writers the app will be made available via the iTunes store. In the meantime, if you subscribe to this free blog, you can receive a daily reading delivered to your email inbox which can also be directed to your mobile phone. To find out more about Varuna’s programs, residencies, events and support services for writers click here.
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