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 Pasquale M Palmieri: International treasure 

Pasquale M Palmieri: International treasure

08 Nov, 2010 02:37 PM
Pasquale M Palmieri’s thick Italian accent, anonymity and lack of academic credentials posed a big problem when he decided to shop his debut novel to local publishers.

“They were concerned that because I was of Italian origin and not a celebrity I would be hard to market,” he says. “Publishing is a business, it’s not ‘I like you or don’t like you’, if they invest money in a book they want to make money.”

But this rejection only made the 64-year-old Brighton resident, who has ironically lived in Australia for the past 30 years, more determined to find a publisher who would give him a go. A quick Google search revealed a number of overseas options and after a few email exchanges Palmieri had signed a deal with an American publishing house.

His book 40 Something centres on the lives of 12 friends, who live, socialise and digest the meaning of life in Brighton, Elwood, St Kilda and Port Melbourne. Some of the memorable characters include Luca, a devoted photographer and veteran of two divorces, Patricia, an idealistic actress who is constantly out of work and Manuel and Allison, a couple in their 60s who are preparing for the last leg of their journey and retirement. Many of the settings will be familiar to readers – St Kilda’s Spuntino cafe on Acland Street makes an appearance, as does Deck Bar on Bay Street, Brighton. Palmieri dug into his own experiences for inspiration for 40 Something and also channelled his fascination with relationships into the book.

He wrote his first novel on a rickety old typewriter when he was 14 and living in Rome. “It was about a young man who couldn’t fit into society; his best friend was a tree,” he recalls. In 1984, after studying architecture in Canada and the United States, Palmieri began writing again. By this stage he had two children whom he had brought to Australia to escape the Red Brigades, a Marxist-Leninist militant group based in Italy who were responsible for a number of political assassinations.

“Life became very hard in Italy,” he explains. “I had two young children and I wanted them to grow up in a safe environment. Terrorism was very frightening, people started to get used to bombs exploding.”

But the designer and photographer didn’t have the confidence to get his work published until 2007, when his play Albatross won an award at the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ National Literary Awards.

“After the award I knew it was more than just a friend saying they liked (the play). It was a national award for a play I wrote about relationships with a very interesting twist.”

Although it is set in Melbourne, 40 Something is only stocked in one local bookshop – Top Titles on Church Street, Brighton. While Americans can walk into a shop and pick up a copy of the book, most Melburnians will have to buy the book online.

So what will American audiences make of Palmieri’s debut novel?

“The publishers like it because it is a very nice story that depicts contemporary Australia. There is a lot of interest about Australia; there is a bit of a myth about this country and its freedom, possibility, space and it’s an exotic destination as well. What is outstanding about Australia is there are so many cultures but we live in a civilised way and I have never seen that around the world.”

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