City of Flowers is set in Giglia, the equivalent of Florence in our world and I started writing it in that city - or those cities perhaps - last autumn. I spent the month of October living in an apartment in the Via Cavour, going to Italian classes in the mornings and roaming the city in the afternoons, sometimes with my History of Art teacher.
This was a nostalgic time for me, since my great love of Italy began with a month spent in Florence in my first summer vacation from university, when I was twenty years old. Then I lived in a pensione in the Piazza San Lorenzo but I also had morning classes in Italian and afternoons exploring the paintings, sculpture and architecture of the city.
It would be nice to think that, so many years on, my Italian had really improved, but I still feel I have a lot to learn. Every time I return to Florence I discover something new; I have my favourite places (the Bargello, the Baptistery, San Lorenzo) and my favourite works of art (Michelangelo?s prisoners in the Accademia, Simone Martini?s Annunciation in the Uffizi, the Fra Angelicos in San Marco and the little Apollo/David in the Bargello) and even my favourite restaurants and shops now.
But one of the most important places, where the story of City of Flowers begins, I discovered only a few years ago. It is beside the church of Santa Maria Novella. In my book I call it Saint-Mary-among-the-Vines, which comes from an old name for SMN - Santa Maria tra le Vigne. Attached to the church is the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica, which sells the most heavenly, perfumes and soaps and lotions as well as herbal remedies and the mysterious dark pink liqueur called Alkermes. It is a magical place
The first time I stumbled upon it, it was by stepping into it through a door from the Great Cloister, which now belongs to the Carabinieri. I don?t understand how this happened, because that cloister is closed to the public it must have just been meant to be. I was already planning the Stravaganza novels by then and that Farmacia seemed to me to be the perfect gateway into Giglia for my third Stravagante.
He is Sky, the seventeen-year-old bi-racial son of Rosalind Meadows, who has brought him up on her own. At the beginning of the book Rosalind has been ill for several years with ME and Sky has been looking after her. His father, who has never met him is a black rock star, Rainbow Warrior.
Sky?s talisman is a blue glass perfume bottle with a silver stopper in the shape of a fleur-de-lys. It transports him to the church of Saint-Mary-among-the-Vines, where he meets ?his? Stravagante, Brother Sulien. Sulien is a black friar, in both senses; he is the pharmacist at the church and runs the infirmary. Being a Dominican he wears black and white robes.
Giglia is preparing for a clutch of di Chimici weddings, organised by Duke Niccolo at the end of City of Stars. Among the expected guests is Arianna, Duchessa of Bellezza, who is going to have her statue sculpted by Giuditta Miele, who is another Stravagante. Arianna?s father Rodolfo and his assistant Luciano come to the city first, where they meet Sky.
It is a dangerous time for the Stravaganti and for Arianna. There is a blood feud going on in the city between the di Chimici and another rich family, the Nucci. And the Duke hasn?t forgotten his enmity towards Rodolfo and Luciano and all their kind.
Sky?s guide in Giglia is a street boy, Sandro, who is an apprentice spy. His master, known as the Eel, is a character we already know. We also know some of Sky?s fellow students the fair-haired girl he fancies, her fierce friend with the tattoo, and the younger boy who hangs out with them and is the school?s fencing champion ?..
Perfumes, poisons, swordfights, weddings, jewels and a duel, not to mention several overlapping love stories that is City of Flowers. Oh, and fathers. It is a book very much about fathers.