Another author you wish you knew: Pina Leyland – What is her favorite story she ever wrote?
Pina, “This is a difficult question for me to answer. It is really hard to choose my favourite story from the 80,000+ plus words that I have had published to date. But if I must choose, then I would have to choose the first that was published: ‘Magia Nera / Black Magic’.
This is the first story that I wrote as part of a Graduate Diploma in Writing course at University of Technology Sydney in 2009, which was the first step towards completing a Master of Arts in Creative Writing. The story is based on one that my father told me many years ago, before he passed away. At the time I was interested in ‘magic realism’ and this story fascinated me because it contained ‘magical’ elements which seemed to fit that genre.
The story is set in Abruzzo, Southern Italy, in the 1920s and revolves around three central characters, all female: a young pregnant woman named ‘Carmela’ and her grandmother-in-law ‘Nonna Maria’, and a gypsy woman named ‘Marika’, who enters their home uninvited and uses ‘black magic’ to mesmerise them.
However, writing this story became problematic for a number of reasons. Basically, it was not considered ‘politically correct’ for me, an Italian-Australian, to write a story that reflected poorly on people of Romani/Romany descent and might be viewed by a member of that ethnic group as being offensive. This stopped me in my tracks and I almost withdrew from the course and gave up on the idea of becoming a creative writer.
But whilst I was grappling with the challenges of prickly feedback in my ‘Advanced Narrative Writing’ class, I was being introduced to Edward Said’s concept of ‘Orientalism’ in another class on ‘Theory & Writing’. Although Said had published his book in 1979, his work had failed to infiltrate the curriculum of my Sociology classes in the late 1970s or to filter down to me through the subsequent years of debates about multiculturalism and cultural pluralism, so his ideas were new to me.
I began to understand why my subject material was so sensitive. This led me to writing a Seminar Paper on ‘Orientalism, Wogs and Gypsies’, which was well received. I decided that the only way I could tell my story was to weave in the ‘other’ point of view. And so, the ‘Marika’ character manifested, larger than life, and this gave the story more balance and earned me a Credit where I felt previously destined to Fail.
A number of people have since told me that they love the Marika character. She is so strong and sassy. She is one of the most colourful, if not the most colourful, characters that I have ever created.
And to continue in the vein of ‘firsts’, ‘Magia Nera’ is the first story to appear in ‘CONDOR: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group Inaugural Anthology 2018, published by Grant P Hudson of Clarendon House Books. This Anthology was the first of a string of Clarendon House anthologies of creative writing in which my work appears. The story is also the first to appear in my own collection of creative writing, ‘Pezzi Pazzi / Crazy Pieces’, published by Clarendon House Books in 2019. This makes the story even more precious to me.
However, in the current political climate of ‘Black Lives Matter’, where racial stereotypes are being identified and stripped away (which I fully support), and in the context of contemporary debates about what constitutes ‘cultural appropriation’, it may no longer be possible to write or publish such a story.”
Abruzzi, Italy ~ circa 1925
Carmela wiped her brow with the back of her hand, careful not to get flour in her eyes. She stared out of the open window. It was a glorious autumn day. The early morning sun streamed through the vines creating patterns of light that danced a tarantella before her eyes. She hummed in contentment, patting the bump of her tummy.
Nonna Maria sat in her rocking chair in the corner of the kitchen, overseeing the lunch preparations, as she did most days. The old woman’s gravelly voice shook Carmela into action. She resumed kneading the plump ball of dough on the little wooden table in the centre of the kitchen.
Marika stood in front of the mirrored wardrobe door in her caravan, gazing at her naked reflection. She didn’t mind what she saw, golden skin firm and smooth despite her age, a little bony perhaps, but still with womanly curves. She rolled her hips and shimmied and for a moment she was transported to another time, another place. That’s where I should be, she thought, in that smoky tavern, dancing with a jewel in my navel to a tune of my own making. She raised her hands and clicked imaginary castanets with her fingers in the air.
Bio: Giuseppina (Pina) Marino Leyland is a social worker, author and artist. She was born in Australia of Italian immigrant parents and currently lives in Wollongong. Pina was awarded a Master of Arts in Creative Writing by the University of Technology Sydney in 2011 and has a special interest in oral history and family heritage stories. Her work has appeared in several anthologies and publications of various genres since 2018 and her first collection of creative writing entitled ‘Pezzi Pazzi / Crazy Pieces’ was published by Clarendon House Books in 2019. She is now working on a second collection entitled ‘Pezzi Pazzi 2’, as well as several other writing projects.
Pina writes from a predominantly female point-of-view and although her stories are generally infused with an Italian–Australian flavour, she hopes that they have universal appeal. Her focus is on writing stories that no one else can write, particularly the stories that are whispered in secret, the truths and lies that are usually kept hidden to protect family honour and maintain ‘la bella figura’.
Pina’s writing has been described as ‘Charming, sensitive, beautiful…’ (Grant P. Hudson, Publisher, Clarendon House Books 2019), ‘funny, insightful and a great read’ (Phyllis Schinella, Sydney 2020) and ‘Insightful insane fragments fused with a gentle narrative style…’ (Dominic Zucaro, Perth 2020). In his 2019 review of the book, master storyteller Steve Carr wrote, ‘…to say that I was mesmerised by the stories… would be an understatement.’
Pina can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You find stories written by Pina in the anthologies at: Clarendon House Books
You can find Pezzi/Pazzi – Crazy Pieces here.