Many of my readers have commented about the confronting world in Vivaldi’s Lost Concerto of my contemporary protagonist, Fiona, a recovering drug addict, thief and ex-prisoner. They have been shocked or at least surprised at the content and ask how I know so much about that side of life. Where did I learn about drug use and life on the streets? How did I find out about jails and courts? Some have also admitted that they know very little about homelessness, criminal behaviour, and the justice system so I thought I’d put some time aside to explain my motivation for using such a startling setting in a novel about, of all things, a Vivaldi Concerto.
In my eighteen years as a Social Worker in Correctional Services I was faced on a daily basis with the harsh realities of many people’s lives. If there is one catch all that summarises what I learned it is that most criminals/ offenders/ perpetrators – however you want to think of them – have themselves been victims, more often that not from the day they were born. Of course there are victims who do not become offenders and there are offenders who have not been victims but they are by far and away the exception.
But victims of what? Child abuse, neglectful and emotionally absent parents, drug and alcohol abuse, an inflexible education systems (despite the best efforts of most teachers), illiteracy, experiencing and witnessing domestic violence, underfunded mental health resources, shortages of secure housing, an exhausted and overflowing child protection system, poverty, corruption within those holding positions of power. I could go on as indeed the cycle of deprivation gets passed down through the generations.
Does that make me a bleeding heart? I like to think not. I spent much of my time in Corrections working with perpetrators of DV (95% male) holding them accountable for their action in the belief that until they faced up to the realities of their actions and the harm they were doing they would not chose another course. This involved unpacking the beliefs they had about what it was to be a man and their attitudes and beliefs about women.
So how did this fit with Vivaldi for goodness sake? When I learned that Vivaldi wrote almost all of music for the abandoned girls of Venice and that he devoted his whole life to making glorious music with and for those who, in our society, are more often than not the very people who I worked with in Corrections, I could not help but be compelled to write about the “what if?” What if we treated all our children as worthy of care, safety and respect? What if we, through our government, took responsibility for ensuring all citizens had equal access to safety and resources. What if we recognised the power of music and the arts to give value and meaning to life? What would the outcome be?
I am not naive enough to suggest that there is an easy solution nor do I think 18th Century Venice was an idyllic society. But I do hope that as well as enjoying VLC as good read it has provoked some of my readers to consider the bigger questions that we face when we look below the surface of our complex world and what our role is to make a difference.
Jennifer is a writer of short stories, novels and a family history.