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  • Writer's pictureBrandie June

Interview With Author Valentina Cano Repetto

Valentina Cano Repetto’s upcoming gothic horror novel, Sanctuary, features a dual timeline, unreliable narrator, and a strange, frightening old water mill. Are you hooked? I am! I recently chatted with Valentina about her novel, how living in a secluded watermill in Norther Italy influenced her book, the key to writing a gothic novel, and more! 

Headshot of author Valentina Cano Repetto
Author Valentina Cano Repetto

What is the premise of Sanctuary?

Sanctuary is a historical horror novel in dual timelines. It revolves around a watermill in northern Italy and the two families that inhabit it a few hundred years apart. One storyline takes place in the 1500s, when an upper class family that’s fallen on some trying financial times moves down from Genova to their newly built villa and the watermill they’ve purchased to help them grow their grain empire. Not knowing the displeasure and outright hate they’re about to encounter from the people in the area.

The second storyline takes place in the 1930s, before the second world war, when a married couple buys that same mill and villa, in ruins now, to fix it up and transform it into a lumber mill. These characters carry their own baggage but are full of hope. The mill has other plans, though, and they begin to experience escalating violence from the land and the building.

I read that you now live in a secluded watermill in Norther Italy. How has that experience influenced this book?

The inspiration for the novel was my own watermill. Or rather the forest that surrounds it. The forest “Il bosco del cavallo” which translates to the horse’s forest. It’s an old name and no one seems to know why it’s called that. I asked local historians and they’re not sure. So that set my mind going, offering that spark. And it built from there. I based the story in the region here, of Molare, so the descriptions are what I see around me. Even the river is a wilder version of the one that runs behind my house.

Because I have a fully-functioning water mill, I was able to learn about the various parts that were crucial to its working –as well as the various things that could go wrong.

What was your writing process for Sanctuary?

I did extensive research before I tackled the novel. For SANCTUARY I had a wealth of information available via the I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History. With this novel, I wrote 1,000 words a day, every day, until it was done.

As I do with all of my novels, I edit at night what I write during the day, polishing as I go. At the end, I might have plot changes I want to make, but I don’t have gaps in the story that I have to fill in. I’m usually exhausted by the time I’m done writing a novel, so it helps me to edit as I go.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Patience and flexibility are key. Be ready to tackle revisions with an open mind. Oh, start building you writing community early on. And read. Read, read, read. Everything you can get your hands on.

What are key elements to writing a gothic thriller?

With a Gothic thriller or Gothic anything, really, is to give the location its own voice and menace. The reader should feel slightly threatened by the setting but also want to linger a bit more. For any Gothic novel, you need the ingenue, who will work as the reader’s eyes. In SANCTUARY, Sibilla is my ingenue, though because I made her an unreliable narrator, the reader also gets a warped view of what’s happening around her.

What was your path to publication?

SANCTUARY had a bit of a rough path to publication because I went through two agents while trying to find it a home. With the first, our view of what the novel should be was too disparate, while the second one decided to leave the industry. So the novel was in limbo. On a whim, really, I decided to send it to CamCat because I enjoyed THE TAXIDERMIST’S LOVER by Polly Hall. Their response was so refreshing and overwhelmingly enthusiastic that I made the choice almost immediately.

Where can people order your books?

You can order books pretty much anywhere that sells books. The CamCat page is a good place to start!

Where’s the best place to follow you?

You can follow me on Twitter at @valca85, Instagram by the same handle, and check out what I’m up to on my website 

Sanctuary by Valentina Cano Repetto

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