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Tuesday 28 June 2016

ℚ The Last Great Race - Mark Morey

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author to talk about The Last Great Race (26 April 2016, Mark More, 348 pages), an Historical Fiction novel.

Achille Varzi: the most successful of his time; hero to his followers; worshipped by the women in his life; driven to succeed.  Told partly through the eyes of Varzi and partly by fictional Italian-Australian journalist Paul Bassi, we follow the many triumphs and tragedies of Varzi's life: his passionate love affairs, his tragic addictions, his recovery, his marriage and his re-signing to race once more. 

This is a fictionalised account of a real-life story that seems too incredible to be true, only it is.

Author Q&A | Synopsis | Teaser | About the Author | Giveaway & Tour Stops

A very warm welcome to Mark Morey; thank you for joining us on BooksChatter.

What was the inspiration for The Last Great Race?

"I have followed Formula One car racing since the early 1970s, and through that I was aware of the story of Achille Varzi, a good driver of the 1930s until his private life got in the way of his racing career.

When I looked into the facts about Varzi I didn't realise that he was the best racer in a legendary era, certainly one of the best of all time, and that his love affair with Ilse [Pietsch] was so passionate and ultimately so destructive.   I thought that passionate love, the tragedy that came out of it, and his recovery with the help of Norma who came back into his life, made a great story.

Norma Colombo was a woman against the odds.  She lived with Achille Varzi unmarried when women didn't do that, and when Achille broke up with Ilse she came back to him.   That was just as amazing as anything that happened between Achille and Ilse.

One man and two women who adored him completely, totally and absolutely."
Ilse Pietsch Achille Varzi Norma Colombo
How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?
"There is very little of me personally in this story, as it is set in Italy almost 80 years ago.  The love that the fictional characters Paul Bassi and Pia Donati experience is influenced by the love I have known and still enjoy more than 30 years after we met.  Paul and Pia have mutual respect for each other, shared interests, shared goals for life and an easy-going attraction to each other.   Most of that comes from me."
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover.  Can you tell us about your cover for The Last Great Race - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"Because The Last Great Race is historical fiction based on real people and real events, I designed the cover around a picture from the time.   The picture I chose is Achille Varzi at Monaco in 1936, and it looks like he's about to go out for a practice session while still smoking a cigarette.

Varzi on the starting line of the 1936 Monaco Grand Prix, smoking

Varzi was a heavy smoker at a time when the health risks of that were unknown, and the combination of the Auto Union racing car while smoking a cigarette was very typical of Achille Varzi at the time of this story.  Few racing drivers would set off at speed while still smoking, but Varzi did that a lot.

Beyond that, in the weeks after this picture was taken, Varzi suffered two terrible emotional traumas which took him years to recover from.   So the cover is like the calm before the storm."
I am myself a Formula One fan [although I did stop watching a few years back when the BBC purchased the TV rights and only showed half the races live; a situation that still persists now that the rights have been purchased by Channel 4! - thank you BBC!] and was first exposed to it in the late seventies.  I have always found the lives of the great drivers fascinating, and of course its history and just how incredibly different things were when it first started.  It's been an incredible journey!

Can you tell us something quirky about The Last Great Race, its story and characters?

"The tragedy of Achille Varzi and Ilse Pietsch was originally published in the memoirs of Alfred Neubauer [Speed Was My Life], who was Mercedes Benz team manager of the time. 

Neubauer was not a man who let the facts get in the way of a good story, so I had to disentangle myth from reality, especially because aspects of Neubauer's story of Achille Varzi did not make sense to me.  Fortunately I do speak and read Italian and I was able to use more accurate sources written in Italian.

One issue that was quite strange was the Libyan governor Balbo insulting Varzi the way he did.   The race had been gifted to an Italian driver in an Italian colony, and then that driver was publicly humiliated by the Italian governor of the colony.  I used the memoirs of Hans Stuck, translated from German by a friend, and that indeed happened.  It was one of those examples where truth can be stranger than fiction.

Some of the other events that happened were Varzi attacking the cook at Tunis, and the all-night phone call.  Achille and Ilse spent hours and hours on the phone to each other, and even though I am fortunate to know true love, I find it hard to imagine a love so obsessive that they spent all night on the phone when they had been apart for only a few days."
Who would you recommend The Last Great Race to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?
"This story is about love and loss set against European motor sport in the 1930s, and fascist Italy during World War Two.  The car racing is just a background to the characters and their triumphs and tragedies, and as such The Last Great Race can be read by anyone who likes a good story that goes beyond genre fiction.

This is a story of love and passion and it has a few sex scenes, but they're all tastefully written."
If you could / wished to turn The Last Great Race into a movie, who would be your dream team?
"A few years ago Ron Howard directed Rush which was a film based upon the 1976 Formula One racing season, and Rush was a critical and commercial success.  Ron Howard would be the obvious choice for director.

Formula One driver Niki Lauda & Director Ron Howard Director Ron Howard with Rush actors Daniel Brühl (Niki Lauda) and Chris Hemsworth (James Hunt)
For the lead actor to play Achille Varzi, it would be essential to cast an Italian to play an Italian, and one actor I can think of is Alessandro Roja who did an excellent job playing Dandi in the television series Romanzo Criminale (Crime Novel).

There are many characters from many nationalities in The Last Great Race: Italian, French and German, and as the film Rush showed with two German actors playing real-life Austrians, it is best to have actors of the same nationality and language."
What do you like to write and read about?  Do you stick to a particular Historical Fiction or do you like to explore different ones?
"My first novel was a crime novel, the second novel was a dark mystery, and my next novels have all been historical fiction.

I am currently working on another historical fiction story and then I will try something different, perhaps crime again, and perhaps in a strange or quirky place."
What is your writing process?
"If I'm going well I will write for three or four hours a day for a number of days in a row, and when I feel stale I will take a break for a day or two.

When I'm writing historical fiction I have to pause and do additional research like the clothes they may have worn, the price of goods and a myriad of other details.

I don't believe in writing every day for the sake of it, because what may come out of that can be unusable.  If I'm fresh when I'm writing it's cleaner and better."
What is in store next?
"My next story stays in Italy but in renaissance Venice where, in the year 1428, a young woman created a major scandal that rocked Venetian society to the core.  That story is intertwined with sub-plots based upon oppression of gay men and oppression of women.  I have completed a first draft of The Adulterous Bride but I still have a way to go."
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?
"I am married with two, grown children, one still living at home, and I don't have any pets.   I have a pet motorcycle and I am a member of a 40 years and over motorcycle club, The Ulysses Club, and that is one pastime beyond work and writing.  I have included a picture of us taken one sunny day late last year."
Excellent! Thank you for sharing and a big hello from us to everyone in the Ulysses Club :-)

The Last Great Race
Available NOW!

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Victoria Alexander said...

Great pictures - thanks for sharing them :)

Mark Morey said...

Thank you so much for the extensive coverage of my novel, and especially publishing the pictures from my website, and especially the pictures of the people involved in the story. I have always liked the picture of Ilse leaning against Achille, taken at San Remo in 1937. There are interesting characters in this real-life story, and the actual pictures add an extra layer of interest.

BooksChatter said...

Hi Mark, I really did like that picture of Ilse in San Remo.

BTW I am from Italy, my grand-father used to be a mechanic for an early f1 team and I remember watching it with my father in the late 70's when Niki Lauda was dominant, therefore Achille's story definitely caught my attention!

I could not believe the political entanglement! Amazing.

I remember a few years back I became absolutely fascinated with the events surrounding Senna's death and that entire week-end in San Marino: Roland Ratzenberger, Rubens Barrichello, and of course Senna and Williams.
More recently I was shocked by what happened to Michael Schumacher and I have missed out on the last few years worth of racing...

What a great subject!