When writing, The Proxy Bride, I bought, for the first time, a bottle of Felce Azzurra (blue fern) talcum powder – last seen decades ago in the bathroom cabinet at Nonno Anni and Nanna Francesca’s (beside the Oil of Ulan and Pino Sivestre). The latter two brands have been around since the 1950s, while Felce Azzurra has been made in Alessandria, Italy since 1876!
It’s amazing how powerful scent can be in evoking a memory. That first intake of musky, fern freshness rocketed me straight back to being young, staying at my grandparents’ house. How Nanna Francesca emerged from the bathroom after her morning shower in a cloud of this scent, dressed ready to take me to ‘the pictures’. I couldn’t resist including it in Proxy.
While the book is fiction, I loved combining true goings-on with the story I created, adding in twists and turns. To me it’s crucial to make something as authentic as possible and the collage pictured is just a fraction of many elements that inspired me and that I wove in with material from interviews, libraries, museums and research trips (Palmi, Calabria and Stanthorpe, Qld being vital!) I wonder how many of these pictures you may recognise from the story?!
I was especially thrilled to find a photograph of proxy brides on a ship to Australia to be with husbands they’d mostly never met. Each face, each stance even, tells a different story in that moment. It’s such a poignant scene knowing their lives are about to change forever. It would’ve been so tough in many ways and I admire them greatly. I hope they found some happiness. Zoë xx
(PS. And yes, I had a Walkman just like that as a teenager and Nanna Francesca had a 1950s stereogram and loved playing her Italian record collection, including a bit of Dean Martin!)