Today it’s my turn to interview another Ocelot Press author’s character. And I’m so pleased that it’s Fra’ Lorenzo, the gentle friar from Sue Barnard’s The Ghostly Father. Here he is above in a lovely drawing by Sue’s friend, Kay Sluterbeck.
Sue’s novel is an alternative version of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Like many people, she wasn’t happy with the ending, so she decided to write her own. Fra’ Lorenzo, otherwise known as Friar Laurence in the Bard’s play, becomes a Franciscan friar, which allows him to pursue his interest in medicine. But he harbours a secret and some lifelong regrets. Let’s hear what he has to say about them.
Also, The Ghostly Father is on offer at a reduced price this week. AND Sue is offering a prize of another of her books. Read on to find out more.
Do sit down, Fra’ Lorenzo. Please tell us a little about your childhood in Venice.
L: I had a comfortable and happy upbringing. I had one brother, Filippo, who was three years my senior. Our father, Antonio da Porto, was a wealthy Venetian count, but I never knew our mother, as she had died at my birth. Filippo and I were raised by a nurse, but the household also had several other servants. We were privileged indeed – something which I did not fully appreciate until it was all taken away from me.
Your ambition was to become a physician, yet you were forced by your father to take monastic orders and become a Franciscan friar. What was your reaction to this unexpected command?
L: Shock and disbelief. My father had always been a just and fair man, and this directive seemed totally alien to his character. It was not until almost twenty years later, when I was summoned to his deathbed, that I learned the true reason behind it. That truth, if I am honest with myself, came as an even bigger shock than my father’s original decree.
Before you entered the friary, you met and fell in love with Chiara. Did you ever consider renouncing your promise to become a friar and flee with her to Verona?
L: At the time, I was so conditioned to the doctrine of obedience that I lacked the courage to defy it. But looking back, I realise now that my older self would probably not have given the matter a second thought.
Which vow did you find the most difficult to adapt to: poverty, chastity or obedience?
L: Chastity was not a problem; having lost the love of my life, I knew that I could never replace her. Poverty was a little more difficult because it was such a contrast from my upbringing, but as a friar I still received my basic material needs (food, clothing and shelter) and I eventually realised that I had no need of anything more than that. The most difficult one was obedience, because this was what had previously forced me on to a path which by choice I would not have taken.
What’s the significance of the term “Ghostly Father” and in what ways did your own ghostly father help you to reconcile yourself to monastic life?
L: “Ghostly Father” means “spiritual director” – one who takes care of the soul. I was the ghostly father to both Romeo and Giulietta, whilst my own ghostly father was the Father Superior of the friary, Fra’ Roberto. When I first met him when I originally entered the Franciscan order, I was amazed to find that he was gentle, kind, sympathetic and worldly-wise – not at all how I had previously imagined a monastic would be. I subsequently discovered that he and I had much in common – not least a past life outside the cloister and a love lost before entering it.
You were asked to set up a new friary in Verona, where your beloved Chiara lives. What did you feel when you received this directive?
L: A curious mixture of excitement and fear. I cherished a faint hope that I might find her again, but against that I was afraid of what might happen if I did. Would she even remember me? And if she did, would how would she react? In the end, I had to trust God to deliver whatever outcome He deemed appropriate. Let He that the steerage of my course direct my sail…
Why were you so keen to help Giulietta and Romeo?
L: I could see how much in love they were, and I had no wish for either of them to suffer the pains of lost love in the same way as I had. I also hoped that their marriage might serve to end the long-standing feud between their families, although that was only of secondary importance. My first priority was their happiness.
Looking back on your life, what is your biggest regret?
L: I have two. The first is that I did not flee to Verona with Chiara. The second is the misplaced anger that I felt against my father for so many years. It was only as he lay dying that I realised just how badly I had misjudged him.
What you won’t know, Lorenzo, is that an English playwright named William Shakespeare wrote a play entitled Romeo and Juliet, in which you play an important role. He chooses to have the lovers die at the end. What do you think of his interpretation of their story?
L: That is fascinating to hear, although it saddens me to think that this could have been the outcome, when such a tragedy could – and should – so easily have been avoided. Be that as it may, I should be most interested to see this Mr Shakespeare’s play performed, if only to observe how he defines the action and portrays the characters. I expect he imagines me as an old man when the events take place – which, as you know, is not the case…
Indeed you aren’t old but in the prime of life. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.
An extract from The Ghostly Father
The following extract, which takes place shortly after Lorenzo’s father died, is part of a conversation between Lorenzo and his own ghostly father, Fra’ Roberto:
“[It] is not our place to judge others…”
Not for the first time, I marvelled at the wisdom of this kindly man, and how fortunate I had been to have him as my spiritual mentor throughout my time as a friar. And, once again, I found myself wondering about his own past life.
I mustered the courage to enquire, “Fra’ Roberto, may I ask you: why did you enter the Order?”
He smiled wistfully. “I was married, but my wife died in childbirth. After that, if I could not be an earthly father, then I knew I should become a ghostly one.”
“I am sorry.”
“Do not be sorry; we were happy for the short time we were together, and I will always be grateful for that.”
I hesitated before answering, “I too was once in love.”
Fra’ Roberto looked at me sympathetically. “I am not surprised to hear that.”
“I have observed that your understanding of human nature has always been far greater than that of most of your peers. Such a level of sympathy comes only to those who have had personal experience of it.”
“Is that why you have always understood me so well?”
Fra’ Roberto smiled. “I expect so. Maybe in you I instinctively recognised a kindred spirit; another one who had loved and lost. When my wife was taken from me I knew I could never seek to replace her, so I then sought a life with a different purpose.”
“Thank you.” I hesitated, then added, “You have been much more of a father to me than my own has ever been. And I remain eternally grateful to you.” Fra’ Roberto smiled. “A ghostly father should complement an earthly one, Lorenzo, not replace him.”
An offer and a prize from Sue
For this week only, the Kindle edition of The Ghostly Father will be available for the special price of just 99p.
Sue is also offering a prize of a *free* Kindle copy of her other Shakespeare-themed novel The Unkindest Cut of All (also published by Ocelot Press). To be in with a chance of winning, click on the link here to be taken to the book’s Amazon page, click on “Look Inside”, and find the answer to the following question:
What time is the audience allowed into the theatre?
Email your answer to Sue at suebarnardauthor AT gmail DOT com (remove the spaces and replace the shouty bits with appropriate punctuation). The competition will stay open until midnight tomorrow (Wednesday 6th November), UK time.
Copyright Sue Barnard, Vanessa Couchman 2019. All rights reserved.