Kindness of strangers

Thank goodness I’ve not been filmed over the last two weeks since my shoulder operation. It means my right (writing) arm is in a sling and typing, trying to put on socks and knickers with one hand has been a challenge. I know it’s no big deal really but the timing is bad. My first historical novel, “Tuscan Roots”, has been reissued by Endeavour Press and keeping up with the publicity on social media with one hand has been difficult. “Life is a challenge – meet it…” [Sai Baba]. A twee rhyme my mother wrote in my autograph book (remember those?) when I was ten keeps coming into my head: “Life is mainly froth and bubble, two things stand alone: kindness in another’s troubles, courage in your own…” My wonderful, kind husband has certainly been my right arm/shouldering the load and all the other corny puns I can think of and I am extremely lucky.

Anyway – here is the new cover and I think it’s great, although I also love the original cover depicting our eldest daughter walking round the hilltop village of Montebotolino.

new cover imageJust as I was feeling despondent and frustrated about missing the targets I’d set myself, up popped two e mails from my editor at People’s Friend. I had sold two more stories. That softened my mood.
Publication day came on Friday December 10th. I’d done as much as I felt I could. How lovely are fellow authors and amazingly generous bloggers who post reviews, share and comment. Thanks so, so much. This time last year I only knew budgerigars tweeted and I was wary of engaging with strangers on social media but this time this year I have virtual friends in fellow authors and readers who seem like real friends to me in their generous giving of time. Checking their details I see they are spread all over the world: Canada, the Bahamas, USA, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, South Africa, Italy, Great Britain, India…I used to grumble about the intrusion of social media, the adverts for anti-wrinkle cream, Viagra, shopping for “ladies of a certain age” but I’m now relishing all the opportunities offered (except the Viagra). I’m loath to write onwards and upwards, but I just have…


Jessie Cahalin’s blog

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The Italian connection

Towards the end of our Italian period, the shadows were longer, the sun lower in the sky and the colours on fire. Everywhere were berries, toadstools, rosehips and the stark red of dogwood stems. I went on a last walk with my camera, snapping cobwebs caught between sloe berry branches and distant views of ruined houses. I was suffering from melancholy at the thought of leaving our beautiful area for six months. Maybe if I captured the scenes on camera, I could hold them to me for a while longer.DSCN3928DSCN3922 As I passed one meadow edged with a thick coppice of holm oaks, I heard somebody chopping branches. I thought I knew who it was and I prepared my Italian farewell. But it was a stranger. One of the African immigrants from our small town. They are called “clandestini” in Italian, because many of them destroy their documents so they cannot be easily identified and repatriated. They are not supposed to work either and the young man turned away to hide his face, so I hurried by. I thought back to our stay ten days earlier on the island of Lampedusa, besieged by boatloads of immigrants arriving from North Africa in precarious vessels. Quite a few boats lay on their sides on shore, like hideous tombstones for the thousands who have drowned at sea.
In our little town of Badia Tedalda (500 inhabitants), there are at least 50 immigrants and, although Italians have generous hearts, there is a growing feeling of resentment over the strain they are putting on their health system, schools and funds to support their numbers, continuing to pour into Italy. Eighty miles separate Tunisia from the tiny island of Lampedusa, where a stone monument entitled “The Gateway to Europe” stands on the cliffs, so it is an obvious destination. Local fishermen with whom we talked, told of the impossibility of ignoring people drowning before their eyes but earlier in the year they had been told by the authorities not to rescue any more arrivals.
I don’t believe the rest of Europe help enough. Italy bears a huge burden.DSCN3731
On our road trip back to the UK we diverted from our normal route to revisit childhood haunts in the Italian Tyrol. Going back doesn’t always work but we were enchanted by this area of Italy that seems so un-Italian. This area has a certain amount of autonomy and German is the first language. The mountain views were spectacular and we intend to return for a long weekend.IMG_2539 The next stage of our journey took us via Austria, then the congested Rhine valley and an overnight stop in Worms. Incredibly, our satnav didn’t recognise Austria or Germany, so we resorted to old fashioned methods. We had a basic map, we used the sun as a compass and I dug up my school girl German to ask the way. Lost in Worms, (howzat for a book title?), I phoned the hotel proprietor who spoke no English and we communicated – sort of. We were in the centre of town. I described what I could see. “You are not far from me,” he said. I climbed out of the car to get better reception and almost immediately bumped into a man speaking into his mobile phone. It was like a scene from a film, because it was the chap I was talking to. Half an hour later, we established that he wasn’t German at all, but Italian. Another migrant of a sort. He could see no future for his family in Abruzzo, southern Italy and had moved to Germany for a better future. “But my wife is back in our house in Italy, gathering our olives and maybe, one day, I shall return.” The next morning we gave him some of our tomatoes and peppers from our Tuscan orto and he presented us with a bottle of wine, apologising it was not Italian. I hope he gets back to the land he loves, but momentarily resents.
In my second novel “Now and Then in Tuscany”, I describe the way the peasants travelled down to the coast for work. A young boy, Giuseppe, hides himself on a cart to escape with the caravan. “I remembered Nonno telling me that for the long months away between September and May, shepherds became like snails – carrying their homes on their backs. It felt as if all of the homes had landed up on my particular cart. There was a huge pile of umbrellas, for autumn always brought rain and mist and it was better to travel dry. I wriggled free of the sharp spokes only to find myself face to face with a caged broody hen which set up such a squawking, I was certain of being discovered. But I needn’t have worried: the cacophony of clanking buckets, copper pots, colanders and ladles banging against an iron cooking stove drowned the bird’s indignation. It was an uncomfortable, bumpy ride…”
There was just enough room in our VW for us on our drive back on our own transumanza. We were laden with wine, home-grown vegetables and fourteen panettoni for Christmas… (Don’t ask). But we have been back in our little cottage safely for two days now and our winter phase starts here. My mind, however, is still full of migrants. IMG_2537

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Sweet sorrow

Our six month annual stay in Tuscany ends in forty eight hours. This summer has been bittersweet, but I’ll dwell on the sweet.
Amazing times: walks in the beautiful Apennines, discovering ruined houses that whisper stories to me. The children coming to visit with partners and little ones. Making new friends in the area. Our return to Sicily after forty years. Meeting ‘virtual friends’ from all over the globe and coming across relatives in America and New Zealand. All this thanks to clumsy forays into internet marketing for my writing. What a bonus. I’m not hibernating in England. Far from it. My books are being republished next month by Endeavour Press. Watch this space and thank you for joining me on this journey.

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Interview with Wendy Clarke

Wendy Clarke[4368]What a lovely smile to greet us this morning.

I’d like to welcome Wendy Clarke to my blog today. I “met” Wendy on Twitter when I was very new to this form of social media and was delighted to see that she doesn’t live too far away from me in Sussex. I am in awe of her short story achievements. To date she has been published in The People’s Friend, Woman’s Weekly and Take a Break Fiction feast and sold well over 200 stories to these women’s magazines. We decided that as it was Saturday, we would dispense with coffee and open a bottle of Prosecco, which I’d brought back from Tuscany. I know she loves Greece, so it was lucky I had some Feta cheese and olives in the fridge to snack on. ‘Cin cin,’ I said as we clinked glasses and started to chat.

 Wendy, how did your success with short story publications start?


Unlike many magazine writers, I started writing later in life. Despite loving creative writing at school, and enjoying teaching it in the classroom, it had never occurred to me that I might one day make it my career. It took an unfortunate event (the closing down of the school where I taught) and an online writing course, to show me my new path.


It was my course tutor who suggested I try submitting some stories to magazines. The course had just finished and, feeling bereft at not having a weekly piece of wring to submit, I decided to give it a go. At first, I had the expected rejections but I didn’t let it put me off. I carried on writing and I carried on submitting then, three months later, I had a letter from the People’s Friend saying they liked one of my stories… hurray! This was followed by a sale to Take a Break Fiction Feast and Woman’s Weekly.


That was the start and, five years on, I’m still writing for them all and have had over two hundred stories and two serials published. I still find it hard to believe!

That is amazing and very inspiring.  I believe you write predominantly for women’s magazines and their guidelines are quite stringent. Is there a story you are bursting to write outside of their parameters? Or have you written one already? Have you written anything longer?


I love writing magazine stories. I love their conciseness, their messages of hope and their clear beginning middle and end. When I first started writing, especially for magazines such as The People’s Friend, the rules were stricter: no sex before marriage, no divorce… and certainly no ghosts. Over the years, the parameters have relaxed and, three years ago, I wrote The Friend their first ghost story. Have I ever wanted to write something longer and in a different style? Well, the answer is ‘yes’. After moving on to writing serials, I knew that my next step was to write a novel. It would have been easier to have written it in the same style as my magazine stories, but I wanted a new challenge. My first novel is a romantic mystery and my second is a suspense. It took a while to realise I was no longer bound by magazine constraints but, once I’d found my novel’s voice, it was easy to write in a different genre.

I have to say, I’ve read several of your stories and your writing flows. Your style is very relaxed – you make it sound easy. But, what is the aspect you find hardest to write in short stories?


I guess it must be coming up with new and original ideas week in, week out. With two hundred stories behind me, I sometimes fear I’ve written them all!

I can quite imagine that. I read somewhere there are only seven stories in the world. I suppose we have to think of different themes for these seven stories. Tell me,  of all the characters you’ve dreamt up, who is your favourite? If you could spend a day with that person, what would you do?

I’m fond all my story characters but a particular favourite for me is hapless estranged dad, John, who appears in my story, A Christmas Present Called Abbey. He’s pretty cool but really cares for his daughter, even though he has little idea what to do with her when she arrives on his doorstep. I think we could just go to a bar and hang out with his mates… and I could give him some parenting advice.

I think the short story is an undervalued art. What do you think?

Absolutely. Short stories are wonderful. Where else could you get a snapshot into someone’s life in the time it takes to have a cup of tea. What’s not to like?

Could you share three tips for aspiring short story writers?

Grow a thick skin – rejections hurt! Know your market but write what you love. Write, submit… then repeat!

I loved chatting to Wendy – I felt I needed to go upstairs to my study and start writing. Before she left, she reminded me about her Christmas Story Collection, “Silent Night” – a compilation of thirteen festive stories that have all been previously published in magazines. I don’t think it’s too early to order some copies as stocking fillers. I almost wished it was snowing as I waved her goodbye and wished her good luck.

Buy Wendy’s stocking filler here

Wendy's cover












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Short, but not necessarily sweet

Ours is a busy world and sometimes it’s good to pick up something we can read in a spare fifteen minutes or so; on the train, in a waiting room, when we need a break or, if we wish to be lifted out of our humdrum day. I always have a book by my bedside, but for those interludes when there’s not much time, poems and short stories are on my menu.
Alison MacLeod, a local Bloomsbury author is one of my favourite short story artists. And It IS an art. Some say that this genre is easy; just a warm-up for the novel writer. But the two forms are different. In one of Alison’s brilliant talks, she quoted Jackie Kay: “It is a lovely hybrid form, a cross between a poem and a novel. It catches people at crucial moments of their lives and snaps them… Short stories …don’t waste any time. They swoop down and get you like a sea gull diving down to take the bread from your hand. They stay with you, the ones you love, forever.”
Tomorrow, I’ll be chatting to another local author here. Wendy Clarke has had over two hundred short stories published and I admire her achievement. This year, I’ve been happy to see three of my stories published in women’s magazines. One in Prima and two in The People’s Friend. Compared with Wendy, mine are little forget-me-nots in a garden brimming with dahlias. But it’s a  start…

Before I go, another quote used by Alison made me smile: “The short story-teller…must make tragedy out of a plate of peas and a bottle of ginger beer or the loss of a parcel of fruitcake intended for a Halloween party.” (Frank O’Connor). Now, there’s an idea…

Alison MacLeod’s prizewinning stories

Here are my little offerings, published last week.

See you tomorrow for coffee and chatter with Wendy – and maybe even a slice of fruitcake.

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Return to Sicilia


I don’t know much about philosophy but I like to have a little ponder now and then. Maurice and I met in Syracuse in Sicily forty one years ago and we returned yesterday for our first visit since then. So it’s not surprising that Sophocles’ “long unmeasured pulse of time” has been on my mind. How could it not be so as we walked among amazing Greek ruins at Mozia and Selinunte, dating as far back as the 8th century BC? I felt as tiny as the snail I came across, making its trail over an ancient stone. IMG_2051

IMG_2062Diagrams showing plans of how temples and fortifications used to look like and the beautiful, huge stones arranged by archaeologists as we see them today, accentuated the passing of time for me. During our ten days, we also visited the towns of Marsala, Scicli, Noto and Ragusa – all devastated by the huge earthquake of 1693 and rebuilt in ornate, Baroque style. Maybe man felt he had to impose his mark on nature in a show of elaborate style?  

IMG_2064IMG_2038IMG_2253Our final two days were spent in Syracuse. This is such an amazing place. Try and visit! We stayed on the island of Ortigia in a tiny loft apartment near the Greek Temple of Apollo (6th century BC) and overlooking the market, which came alive with colour and bustle rather early. But we didn’t mind. I won’t write about this amazing city here – how could I dare add to what Titus Livius, Plutarch, Cicero, Ovid (amongst others) have written?IMG_2277IMG_2267IMG_2313 (2)So, these days filled with such mind-boggling sights set me thinking about art and creativity, why we do it, what is the point etc. etc.?
I’m in Italy, so who better to borrow a quote from? “Develop your senses…” wrote Leonardo da Vinci. “…especially learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.” I write to try to connect, so I can see what he means.
Here’s a quote from an unexpected source: Sophia Loren has said, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love.” So, hopefully, if I continue to use what I’ve got, I may not end up looking like Sophia, but the passing of time won’t feel so scary and will have served some purpose. Our presence here is so fleeting. Do what we can to make the most of it while we can and maybe leave behind a tiny footprint, an observation, a piece of ourselves.IMG_2190[4547]

A final point in this jumble of thoughts. I was delighted to discover that the museum on the island of Mozia used to be the home of a nineteenth century Englishman. On the ground floor, amongst the array of exhibits of tophets, jewellery, funeral vases and pots, I spied an incongruous Victorian fire-surround – doubtless shipped over for this rich gentleman’s house. Joseph Whitaker was well educated and an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist. He bought the whole island and went about uncovering the Greek heritage of the island. His work continues today. That was his footprint.

Our visit was nostalgic. Lots has changed in the intervening forty years. Tourism is now a major factor in the island’s economy and that is good for Sicilians. When we lived and worked on the island, many of the ruins were unguarded and anybody could trample over them. We used to camp in Pantalica – the site of a deserted, ancient necropolis – and swam in a wild canyon, reached by scrambling down a sheer cliff path. Both places are now UNESCO sites. For a few minutes we felt selfishly disappointed that it was not the same but that was wrong of us.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus (534-475 BC).
So true.



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Taking stock


DSCN3404Mist is wrapping its shawl round the Apennines while we’re busy taking stock for winter. We’re harvesting from summer, bottling produce and thinking about our return to UK.IMG_1523IMG_1686

Whilst I go about these tasks, I iron out ideas for my writing, which I squeeze in each day. My project of the moment is a story about two ladies (of a “certain age”) living by the British seaside, who fall into all kinds of adventures. But I am constantly interrupted by thoughts about a third Tuscan novel I wish to write. It’s not ideal for the flow, but I realise it’s because we’re still in Italy and the location influences me so much.

It’s been so wonderful to realise my dream of writing books. I never thought it would happen and today I’m so happy I can chat to a lady who had a lot to do with helping me start my writing adventure. This blog is a little longer than usual and will probably appeal more to writers, so I hope you’ll forgive my indulgence.
You won’t have heard of this lady, but she’s special to me. Meet Liz Minister.IMG-20170916-WA0001[4000]

Liz, I met you originally in 2,000 when I saw a notice taped to a lamp post in the Suffolk village where I then lived. My heart went a-flutter. It was an advert for a creative writing class – time and place both convenient and within walking distance. You were the leader. We started off in the Methodist Church room and then migrated to your own cottage, where a motley group sat in sagging armchairs, beneath shelves groaning with ceramic, painted potties…
Every Friday morning I was in Heaven for a couple of hours, scribbling and talking about writing. Why did you decide to start the class?
I graduated from Southampton in 1969 with a second rate degree in English – no part of which involved anything creative. We were given no guidance at school about courses and it was only later that I learned how much degrees varied from Uni to Uni. Mine was very traditional, so included Old English, Middle English and History of the Language. I wasn’t greatly enamoured at the time, but have since been grateful because there’s no other way I’d have got to read Beowulf and Chaucer in the original (fabulous) or understood, for instance, the impact of the Norman Invasion on our language. I only came to any form of creative writing very late in life.
I attended a creative writing group and must admit to feeling very critical about it. It was too large, operated on the same formula each week – people reading out work, vague come-back – (always positive), so no one learned anything, arbitrary setting of next topic… I am well aware that “facilitating” is not teaching, but I do think people can, and want to learn, both from facilitator and group. There is no place for harsh, demoralizing criticism, but comments like: I’d have liked it told in the first person, maybe? Or: I think more description would have been good e.g of the old man and the barber’s shop? How would it change if you used the present not the past tense… You don’t have to give a “theme” for writing. How about, “Go into the kitchen, pick up three things and write a story which includes them”.
Turn on Radio 4 for two minutes. Listen – write something. Open a story from the point of view of three protagonists giving each a separate paragraph. How will you take it from there? What is the boy in the picture saying to the woman? VARIETY is the name of the game. Anyway, after a term of being critical I thought, “OK, if you know it all go and run your own group”, so I went home and stuck up notices locally, one of which you saw, Angela.

I’m so glad you did. I enjoyed the way you managed to make us think ‘outside the box’. Some of your exercises we started reluctantly, with moans and groans. But the results were always surprisingly pleasing. I remember an unusual task you set us, based on a kind of Consequences, where we exchanged lists of verbs, adverbs, adjectives etc. in a random order. As a result, I wrote a poem that was runner-up in a Writing Magazine competition. The words made me think of my nineteen year-old uncle, whom I’d never met. He was shot down and killed in WW2.

Watery red ladies
I sit beneath the shelter
Where the tossing, hissing, spitting spray
Is kept at bay.
I wait with rug across my knees,
Pencil poised to tie her down with words.
Nurse wants to wheel me to the warmth,
The fuddled, stale, urine warmth.
“You’ll catch your death out here,” she says.
I smile and slowly net my memories.

I watch you unpin your hair,
Unfurling like rolls of corn-gold silk,
And peel off your scarlet chemise,
Toss it to the breeze
And step into the waves.
Words waft wistfully as you waltz in the weed
That clings to bare, salt thighs.
You perform to the sun, the crimson, orange sinking
Sun that slips between the now and then.
Tell me what you sing so sad.

Watery red lady,
You flew upon the back of your blue eagle.
He spread his wings and scooped you high
From dew-grass where Philadelphus
Sprinkled perfumed-petalled confetti promises.
He lies below a bed of barley in a Slavian valley
Beneath toad-flax and corncockle.
For his King but not for you.

How soon are the young become old
And the watery red ladies dance no more,
Save in the shadows at the sea’s edge,
Tell me what I sing so sad.20953392_1681609081862776_4982512717406503750_n[1]My handsome Uncle Billy in RAF, WW2

How do you think up ideas for your classes? Can you recommend any text books?
Initially I relied on my own ideas, and still do, to a large extent, but over the years I’ve bought a number of books which have been great for new ideas. Some of these are: “Taking Reality by Surprise”, edited by Sondheim; “The Creative Writing Handbook”, Singleton and Luckhurst; “Write Yourself a New Life”, Wade and “Conflict Action and Suspense”, Noble. The Singleton and Luckhurst include poetry but mostly these relate to story.

I remember how you talked about the importance of beginnings in creative work. Any tips for us, Liz?
I was reading a book on writing recently that said the idea that the opener had to grab you by the throat was rubbish. Openers like, “He was lying dead on the sofa with his shoe laces tied together and a colander on his chest. There was nothing to indicate how he had died.” The article quoted a lot of very laid-back openings, some of which gave the setting of time and place. I think the key thing is to be aware that your opening is important – especially in the short story. What function do you want the opening to serve? I give a novel a few pages and am happy to have background. No rules. If I have a strength, it may be in working with art. I did a list recently of ten ways to work with a painting. Working round picture is one of my favourites.

You write beautiful poetry, Liz. How do you start? Would you share one of your poems? And what is your favourite poem?

(Here is an exercise that Liz shared for a poetry exercise:

Choose a line from a favourite poem. Eg: “Dropping from the veils of the morning…”
Write a poem using each word in the right order at the end of a line :
I saw him one night, dropping
Silver coins, which came from
The mines of the
Moon, into…….. veils
Etc )

I have so many poems I love that it’s impossible to choose just one. I love “The Wasteland” and “The Four Quartets by Eliot and I have an affection for Yeats’s “Lake Isle of Innisfree”, not just because it’s a wonderful poem but because I’ve used it so often in teaching. The mastery of language is stunning. As for a book, it would have to be The Bible with its great stories, the beauty of The Psalms and that love poem to beat all others – Song of Solomon.
The poem I’ll write here I just like for the sounds and the nostalgia element – no deep truths!!

Slow fall the hours
From the hands of the clock in the square.
Siesta time lies deep and undisturbed,
The slow hour, shaded by faded blinds,
Muffled by shutters that splinter and flake.
The graveyard sundial – crumbling stone,
With leaden face and fading numerals silently
Tells the time in shadows and angles.
The arm stays fixed and firm, a motionless sail
On a little round of time – God’s time.
This hour no man puts back or forth.
Father Ignatius, dead-heading the roses
On the churchyard wall, loses himself in silent prayer,
That timeless love affair with God.
Somewhere, a long way off,
At the wrong time of day, a cockerel
Recalls another garden, where God’s hand in
Time opened a window on Eternity.
But, for the now, amongst the gravestones,
Slow fall the hours.

Thank you so much for sharing your words, Liz. I hope you’ve sparked some ideas for other writer friends in this, my first interview for my blog.  I’m also curious to know who or what influenced others to start writing…




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Attention to detail


I haven’t had a lot of time to write recently because of family commitments. However, I have snatched moments to think. I’m lucky to live in two different countries throughout the year and I’m in Italy at present for my six-month spell. That seems an apt noun, because Italy brims with enchantment for me. One of my favourite types of outing here is to explore new places. I don’t have to pay to go into a museum or religiously follow a guide book to show me round. It’s the details that appeal: a fountain in a tiny piazza, geraniums cascading from old terracotta pots, an original display in a shop window, the stitching on a costume in a small-town palio, an archway with inscriptions in mediaeval Italian, faded frescoes in the cathedral cloister, piles of aubergines on a market stall…I could go on and on. I’m not a good photographer by any means but I’ve realised that (apart from snaps of family), my albums are full of details. Let’s face it, Italians are strong on this:
“To create something exceptional, your mind-set must be relentlessly focused on the smallest detail.” (Giorgio Armani).

I like detail but viewed from interesting angles. My favourite books reflect this. I have a famous quote by Anton Chekhov pinned on my notice-board near my desk: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.” As writers, we are told to be careful not to tell our readers our story, but to show them. We should aim to suggest rather than to tell in full. In this way the reader’s imagination finds its own wings.
To date, “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr is my favourite read of all. I know this is a book I’ll jealously keep on my bookshelf forever and read again and again. It’s a very moving novel that tells the stories of a young, blind French girl, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, and Werner, a German orphan who is drawn into the Hitler Youth. The reader experiences the Second World War through these two youngsters via stunning, beautiful imagery. Simple details say a lot.
“Doerr sees the world as a scientist, but feels it as a poet. He knows about everything – radios, diamonds, molluscs, birds, flowers, locks, guns – but he also writes a line so beautiful, creates an image or scene so haunting, it makes you think forever differently about the big things – love, fear, cruelty, kindness, the countless facts of the human heart…” (J. R. Moehringer).
I am not surprised that the book took Doerr ten years to write. You must read it yourselves to savour his talent. It’s too hard to pick out a single quote – each page is a treasure trove – so I opened the book at random and here is one example:
Page 26 from Zollverein:
“Werner and Jutta sift through glistening piles of black dust; they clamber up mountains of rusting machines. They tear berries out of brambles and dandelions out of fields.”
From those two lines I’ve deduced that the two boys need the piles of old machinery. This haul is like treasure to them. They’re agile and probably young, because they clamber. They’re desperately hungry – they can’t get enough of the berries and even weeds are needed to fill their empty bellies. But Doerr hasn’t bluntly told me those things. He’s shown me through detail – with just the right measure.
“Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify.” (Henry David Thoreau).

One of my much thumbed text books is “The Creative Writing Coursebook” from the University of East Anglia.
In Chapter 2, Julia Bell writes about developing a “sharp eye for details” in the world around us, so that the writer can construct “vivid, believable narrative”. She continues:
“But we have to unpeel our eyes, re-sensitize ourselves to our environment …focusing too much on irrelevancies will throw the reader off the scent…In many ways it is what you filter out that focuses the reader’s eye on the important details…break up your gaze into jigsaw bits, then fit it back together on the page.”

My final thought for the day (well, it is Sunday), may be considered airy-fairy but I feel that through writing and the capturing of detail on the page, we can help ourselves connect with the world in which we live.


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Roots and Traditions


Today, the 15th August, Ferragosto (the Assumption), is a huge feast day in Italy. Traditionally, there is an exodus to the sea or the countryside. Many people return to their home villages to celebrate with families. Typically, a delicious picnic or lunch is the order of the day. No corned beef sandwiches in Italia, but plates of pasta and roasted meats, salads, cake and fruit washed down with good wine.
And it is an excuse for parties and catching up with friends who have ended up far from their home towns, usually in order to find work. In the Alta Valmarecchia where we spend our summer months, there is a variety of feste to choose from. Some of them have been celebrated down the ages but others are fairly new. There is the 45th annual frog and wheelbarrow race in Fresciano, donkey races in Caprile, in Badia Tedalda, the recent “Salita Divina”, where wine and cheese tasting is carried out (reverently) along the Stations of the Cross trail, the “Festa della Marrone” (beer festival) in Palazzi and, something I want to catch next Saturday, a play (“Il bandito e il cacciatore” – “The bandit and the hunter”) enacted in the open air to celebrate the transumanza, which I wrote about in my latest book, “Now and Then in Tuscany”.DSCN1035DSCN1034DSCN1040
A tradition that, sadly, may die out in our village, because there are insufficient youngsters to organise the event, is the Palio dei Castelli. This happened annually until two years ago towards the end of August. It is a jousting tournament on horseback, played out by representatives of local villages. We were honoured to take part as the Lord and Lady of Fresciano and had to parade through the street and piazza dressed in heavy velvet robes (plus tights for my husband).





from Mass 3

It seemed incongruous at the time that two inglesi should be processing in a very Italian parade, but it shows how times change; how traditions evolve with populations constantly on the move. Badia Tedalda is a small town of 500 inhabitants but there are about forty African immigrants temporarily housed amongst us. Who knows what traditions they might introduce to Tuscany? Most are economic migrants from Nigeria, come to Europe to seek better lives. Once their papers are sorted, they disperse. It is a huge social problem and Italy bears too much of this burden. I feel the rest of Europe should be more caring about this situation. Many Italians remember how badly they were treated when they moved abroad after the war to escape dire poverty and they are always generous and charitable to people in need. My friend, Sergio, went to France. “I decided I would never treat another human the way I was dealt with when I stepped on foreign soil all those years ago.” In April 1929 members of my own family, on my maternal side, boarded the SS Samaira and set sail for New York. My grandfather decided not to stay. Who knows how my life would have developed if he had remained.Beary boat
I’m re-reading Cesare Pavese’s “The Moon and the Bonfires” at the moment. The main character, Anguilla – an orphan who knows nothing of his parents and who was ‘bought’ from the orphanage – returns to his Italian mountain after twenty years in America. Slowly he pieces together the past as he had known it as a boy.

“Thus it was that for a long time I thought this village where I had not been born was the whole world. Now that I have really seen the world and know that it is made up of a whole lot of villages, I am not sure that I was so far wrong when I was a boy.”

We’re all travellers in this world in one way or another, desperately seeking something or other that might simply be in front of our eyes.
Happy Ferragosto!



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