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The Fortune Keeper

Renaissance Venice shines in Deborah Swift's new novel

I’m thrilled to welcome author Deborah Swift back to the blog today, to celebrate the release of her latest Italian Renaissance Series novel, The Fortune Keeper. This series is close to my heart. I loved the first two books (The Poison Keeper and The Silkworm Keeper, about Guilia Tofana, a 17th-century Italian woman who was infamous for dispensing poisons leading to hundreds of murders). The Fortune Keeper is the tale of Guilia’s feisty and courageous step-daughter Mia Caiozzi, and I found it absolutely captivating.

Venice, 1643. Mia Caiozzi is determined to discover her destiny by studying the science of astronomy. But her stepmother Giulia forbids her to engage in this dangerous occupation, fearing it will lead her into trouble. The ideas of Galileo are banned by the Inquisition, so Mia must study in secret.

Giulia insists Mia should live quietly out of public view. If not, it could threaten them all. Giulia’s real name is Giulia Tofana, renowned for her poison Aqua Tofana, and she is in hiding from the Duke de Verdi’s family who are intent on revenge for the death of their brother. But Mia doesn’t know this, and rebels against Giulia, determined to go her own way.

When the two secret lives collide, it has far-reaching and fatal consequences that will change both their lives forever.

Set amongst opulent palazzos and shimmering canals, The Fortune Keeper is the third novel of adventure and romance based on the life and legend of Giulia Tofana.

Read on to learn about the inspirations and history behind the book.

Welcome, Deborah!

AM: What inspired you to write about that particular era or character?

DS: This is the third book in a series all set in the Italian Renaissance. The first two books tell the story of Giulia Tofana, a poisoner who apparently was responsible for the deaths of 600 men in and around Naples and Rome. This third book is about her daughter, who was baptised Girolama. I have nicknamed her Mia in the book, to avoid confusion. Historically, there has always been a lot of confusion around the two women, as Giulia and Girolama’s similar names often became mixed up. What made it more awkward for historians trying to sort out the dates between the mother and the daughter’s alleged crimes, is that they were quite close together in age, and this is because Mia was a step-daughter rather than a blood daughter.

Mia Caiozzi was known as ‘the astrologer’ or sometimes ‘The prophetess’. In this novel I’ve chosen to focus on the astrological influences she might have encountered, though in a future book I might use her other nickname to drive the plot. This plot includes quite a lot about astrology and astronomy which in that era were more closely linked than they are now.

How did you create a realistic setting for your story?

Venice was a delight to research. La Serenissima has always fascinated people because of its construction floating on the sea and its waterways and canals. There are a wide range of artists associated with the period. One of my main sources was the fantastic map by Merian, shown here, and also the paintings contemporary with her life, particularly those of Bernardo Canal – Canaletto’s father.

What surprised you in the course of your research?

My research was derailed when more information about my main character came to light, – information that had previously been locked in an archive and had never been translated. This meant I had to re-think the plot and also the trajectories of the characters. For example Giulia Tofana was apparently married twice, which left be with a conundrum as to what to do with her first husband! Other things that surprised me was that murder was quite acceptable in Venice, and you wouldn’t be prosecuted if you were reclaiming a debt.

Do your research findings guide the plot, or do you plan out the plot first and flesh it out with research? (Or perhaps both?)

It’s both. I research constantly as I’m writing the story, and what I read influences the development. I usually have only a rough idea of the plot when I start. In this novel, finding information about ‘the house that kills’, the Palazzo Dario, influenced the plot and became a key location, and Gerachi, a real-life swindler and cheat, inspired one of my major characters. I tend to write in both male and female points of view, so there are always several people’s stories to fulfil, and find a voice for.

What is your usual writing routine?

I have a timetable to my week which I find really helpful. Though I’m a full time writer, actually my week is taken up with a few other things. These are activities I enjoy and that keep me fit, and are designed to be antidotes to the desk life. Two mornings a week I do a dance fitness class and on Friday afternoons I teach two tai chi classes. In the evenings I also teach yoga or tai chi on three of the evenings. So you can see I am busy with fitness things for quite a large proportion of my time. Other than that, most of my writing time is in the morning, and my research and promotion happen in the afternoon. For me this is a balanced life, because I’ve always been pretty active. I also enjoy walking and getting out into nature, and I’m lucky to live in a small village close to the hills and the sea.

To buy the book:

The Fortune Keeper   #KindleUnlimited

All three books: #KindleUnlimited

About the author:

Deborah Swift lives in the north of England and is a USA Today bestselling author. Her first novel, The Lady’s Slipper, set in 17th Century England, was shortlisted for the Impress Prize, and her WW2 novel Past Encounters was a BookViral Millennium Award winner.

Deborah enjoys writing about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and most of her novels have been published in reading group editions. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and is a mentor with The History Quill.

Connect with Deborah:

Find Deborah at

Twitter @swiftstory



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