When life gives you peaches…

We are in Tuscany again, far later than usual, since the dreaded C impeded us and a glorious wedding delayed us.

Our youngest daughter married in a celebration that was a family affair, very home-made and happy, and one day later we drove through France and northern Italy, vaccinated and tested to the hilt, all proper documents to hand, to reach our Tuscan home.

Italy is always a gift to our souls. Straight after our five-day quarantine, a friend arrived from the coast bearing crates of peaches, apricots and plums. The cleaning of our house that had been shut for eight months was put on hold. When life gives you peaches, you have to eat them and make jam…

The cleaning done and a first-aid attempt made on the wild and tangled garden, we were invited to a concert. On top of a mountain, at 1,000 metres. That we walked to. Where a professional singer sang to the notes of a grand piano. Which had been transported up there in the back of a van. It was sublime and worth the two-hour walk, through woods and along mule tracks. We were interviewed for a local television station.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mg9udBAQxoU

Sunset at La Spinella, after the concert, as we sipped wine.

 Two days later, we were off to Ravenna to celebrate our forty-fourth wedding anniversary and to see the famous UNESCO mosaics again, dating from the fifth and sixth centuries.

“Mosaiced-out”, we wandered round the streets, drinking in the sights, sounds and delicious smells. We have found, as from last year too, that our Italian friends are very careful and wary of the epidemic. Masks have to be worn inside public places and proof of double vaccination shown to visit museums or to eat inside. It is called a Green Pass in Italy but so far our NHS Apps have always worked.

And then life gave us flamingos…

Grazing and flying wild in the salt pans outside the city of Cervia. We’ve seen them wild when we lived in Tanzania, but this is the first time in Europe. It was surreal and a magical end to our escape.

On the writing front, I have submitted my next book to my lovely editor at Bookouture. But as for the next project, my mind is not ready at the moment. Having just finished a gloriously picaresque novel, which I believe I was meant to read at this time (I believe in this kind of thing – call it serendipity) : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Miss-Bensons-Beetle-uplifting-friendship/dp/0552779482/

I am not unduly worried. But I do yearn to write something different.

At the end of this novel, I read about the inspiration behind this unusual story, described as “charmingly eccentric”. The author’s lines struck a chord with my present mood:

“The reasons why you choose to tell a certain story are not always clear. I like to compare the first stages of writing to finding a house in the woods that has no windows and no doors. You long to go inside, but you have no idea how, so all you can do is keep circling it, trying to find the tiniest crack.” RACHEL JOYCE

I haven’t found that house in the woods yet. But I feel sure I will and in the meantime, I am circling with open wings;  not forcing it. I shall let Italy sink into my soul and see what happens. Ideas are never far away. Plaques on buildings, notice boards – there is always something to whet my appetite and stir interest.

Wish me luck!

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Ordinary people, extraordinary events…

I haven’t found a lot of time to read recently. My latest book is going through labour pains but I’ve taken a pause and our local library is open again. Joy!

So, I picked up a book that is quite slim, the cover attracting me. The style of dress on the attractive woman from the immediate post-war era, the background of the sea tempting.

I loved, loved this book and give it five stars without hesitation. It’s literary in style but very accessible too. On the front cover, the tagline from The Daily Telegraph sums up Anita Shreve’s style: “Her sentences contain whole universes.”

In my stories I too like to depict ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations. War, for example. Most of us are nosy. We want to peer into other people’s lives and see how they cope, what they get up to.


Set in the immediate post-war years, this book offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of an ordinary young mother of two little ones, trapped in a difficult marriage. In 1947, a woman’s place was in the home and the thought of years stretching endlessly ahead, spent with a man who has been mentally scarred, turned cruel by the war, is grim.
The title of the book is beautiful, taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and summarises the story perfectly:

Doubt that the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth not move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt that I love.”


Those lines are a story in themselves, aren’t they? How many story versions do they inspire? I try to picture the moment when Anita Shreve had her light-bulb moment for her book. Was she lying in a hammock, overlooking the ocean, reading Shakespeare and those lines jumped out? Was she at the theatre and hearing those words, needed paper and pen immediately and had to ask the person sitting next to her if she could borrow his programme to scribble down a plot?

I ask these questions because I’m drawing to a close with my own work in progress and I have no new ideas for another book at the moment. Maybe it’s because my brain is tired. Perhaps I want to write a different kind of book set in a different era from my last books. My head is telling me to switch off, to leave my laptop alone, get out there and let the ideas come to me unforced. Panic is sitting on my shoulder whispering to me: ‘You’re all written out. Let it be for a while.’ Perhaps I should listen. We are due to return to Italy mid August, after our daughter’s wedding. Tuscany beckons. Maybe she will work her magic. I hope so. I don’t like being barren of stories. Not one little bit.

Il mulino inspires me

But to return to The Stars are Fire

Aptly named Grace, the heroine of Shreve’s story, is mostly accepting of her fate but then a fire ravages through her hometown, destroying houses and lives. Her unpleasant husband, a volunteer fireman, disappears and is assumed dead. Grace’s life opens up when she is forced to find a means of survival. Enter two very different men and the story continues.

Homeless, she moves into her deceased mother-in-law’s large house by the sea. What a location. The descriptions are similar to the crumbling mansion in Great Expectations. But slowly, Grace revives the place and discovers secrets which prove useful to her.

The present tense is used for this story. It makes Grace and her plight so immediate. Not every reader likes this tense, I have noticed but it is ‘breathy’, makes Grace close and personal and fits the story very well. It’s a short book by usual standards, but perfectly formed, beautifully written and I am now a huge fan of this writer. I have read some reviews that complain about parts of the story being left in the air. That’s fine by me. I like a book that opens up questions. Life is not neat and tidy. The story can continue in our heads.

I’d love to hear from other authors who might be in my same position of floundering for new ideas. I’ve tried all the tips about cutting out newspaper articles, listening to songs, eavesdropping on conversations, recording my bizarre dreams. But so far nothing has chimed with me. When I hear writers say that they have twenty-four new ideas to write after they’ve finished their present book, I try not to compare myself, but it’s not easy.

In the meantime, before submitting my manuscript to my lovely editor at Bookouture, I am delighting in other authors’ books. They are not latest issues because I have a lot of catching up to do. (I won’t confess how many books are stored unread on my Kindle). I am going to Venice in the next one. Rosanna Ley was also put into my bag at the library visit. I shall report back but I’m sure I’m going to enjoy the journey.

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Discombobulated…

I went for a walk early on Saturday morning. Walking is my go-to tonic. Lately, I’ve been feeling a little confused, frustrated. Anxious about what to do next. And a couple of health issues have dragged me down as well. That word discombobulated fits my mood. An American-English verb, apparently it originated in about 1934 as a humorous word to imitate hi-falutin-sounding Latin words. Other similar words are confusticate (1852) and absquatulate (1840). I wonder what my editor would think if I used these in my next book? I do love unusual words but they can throw a reader…I’d love to hear some of your favourite, unusual expressions.

But I digress.

At this time of year, we are usually living in Tuscany but you and I know that spanners have been thrown in the works after the last eighteen months or so. I had planned a couple of research trips for my next book, which is set in southern Italy. And this is hampering me. I know that writers use “what if” as a tool for their imagination. But in this instance, that question has been leading me down the wrong paths.

‘What if we don’t manage to get to Italy this year?” Google search does not quite do it for me. I like to be in the places I write about. I need the sensory details and the stories that come to me unexpectedly: from talking to locals, coming across plaques in the street or festivals commemorating an event, tasting local food, glimpsing a corner of a town that inspires me.

“What if my imagination dries up and I can’t write another book? Will my publishers say goodbye to me?” Those two monkey words have been plaguing me recently. My walk was early this morning. The air was fresh and I could literally smell the roses in people’s front gardens. The scent distracted me from my pesky me-me-me thoughts.

There was hardly anybody else about, little traffic and a blackbird’s song was a joy as I walked to my appointment. Gardens brimmed with colour and along a footpath, wild flowers beckoned to me and I stopped to snap images on my phone.

In the park, young children congregated for a cricket match by the elder trees, their blossoms telling me it was time to make more cordial. Cricket is not played in Italy and the whole morning was turning out to be very English.

I passed a semi-derelict bungalow near the sea, weeds tangling its front path and I saw what I presumed was a dog stretched out in the sun: thin and long, its ribs protruding from a dull red coat. It was a fox. When I stopped to make sure, he lifted his head and looked at me as if to say: “Yes, I’m a fox. What about it? I have as much right to be here basking in the morning heat as you have to walk the pavements.”

My morning’s walk was giving me messages. Live in the now. Look around and enjoy what you see. Don’t banish the present through worries about the future. Stop and feel. Be grateful for what you have. I was early for my appointment and I did just that when a bench invited me to sit for a while.

Sometimes it’s hard to climb out of yourself. I needed to hear these messages. Yesterday we were at our granddaughter’s sixth birthday party – balloons, pass-the-parcel, rainbow cake and all. And my appointment this morning? To talk to the hairdresser to see how to arrange my hair for our youngest daughter’s wedding this August. How lucky am I?

This year, Italy will have to wait three months until we arrive. What is there to worry about?

On my noticeboard in the kitchen, I scrawled this sentence when I returned home. A reminder to myself to take each day as it comes.

And as if by magic, the postman dropped a parcel through the door. It was sent by a special friend. I unwrapped it and the words were like a hug. You know who you are. Thank you so much. xx

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Angela Petch – My Garden In Tuscany

It was fun to share my garden on an author friend’s site. Thanks so much, Morton Gray. Grazie!

Morton S. Gray - Author

This week I’m joined by Angela Petch who has written a series of books set in Tuscany for Bookouture. Her latest release is The Tuscan House. Angela is talking to us today about her garden in Tuscany which looks absolutely gorgeous. Over to Angela

Our Tuscan garden started from a field. And most of the top soil had been washed away by the river gushing over its banks in a freak flood from the river Marecchia that runs alongside our land. Over the past twenty years we have slowly created a (wild) garden from what we were left with.

There are advantages: part of our garden is a meadow and now wild flowers and orchids bloom on bed rock where once there was a flourishing vegetable garden. Our local Italian friends cannot understand why we do not restore all this, but we love the flowers.One edge of the…

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The Tuscan House – Angela Petch

I am so grateful to all bloggers who take the time and trouble to post their reviews. And, this lady has gone to so much trouble, with her photos and words about The Tuscan House. Mille grazie

On The Shelf Books

Corbello, Italy, 1947. A woman and a little boy stagger into the ruins of an old house deep in the forest, wild roses overwhelming the crumbling terracotta walls. Since the war, nowhere has been safe. But they both freeze in shock when a voice calls out from the shadows…

For young motherFosca Sentino, accepting refuge from ex-British soldierRichard– in Tuscany to escape his tragic past – is the only way to keep her little family safe. She once risked everything to spy on Nazi commanders and pass secret information to theresistenza. But after a heartbreaking betrayal, Fosca’s best friend Simonetta disappeared without trace. The whole community was torn apart, and now Fosca and her son are outcasts.

Wary of this handsome stranger at first, Fosca slowly starts to feel safe as she watches him play with her son in the overgrown orchard. But her fragile peace is…

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All the brave women…

I continue to read around my writing all the time. Research is never finished. In the town of Pieve Santo Stefano, also known as “the city of the diary” on its signpost, is a wonderful archive of ordinary people’s lives. And I’m often to be found in there. In their bookshop I picked up a wonderful account of women’s words about the war. Written by girls in their teens, who felt that the war had robbed them of their most beautiful years, to mothers who had been robbed of their children. All the descriptions move me very much in this compilation, but it is the stories of the women who helped with the resistance that astound me. They could have stayed at home and done nothing, but they volunteered to join in the fight for freedom. There were more women partisan in the Italian Resistance than in any similar movement in occupied Europe. One of them said, “We were conscious that for the first time we had been players in history.” At the end of the war, their role was spoken of with admiration and in fact of the first women elected to parliament, half had been partisans.

Of these female fighter, 4,633 Italian women were arrested, tortured and imprisoned, 2,750 were deported to the Nazi concentration camps. 620 died.

Our own country was not occupied. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to have lived cheek by jowl with not only the occupiers but also with neighbours who were enemies in what was essentially a civil war in Italy. What would I have done? Would I have had the courage to resist? It is very humbling reading about the way so many Italian women felt bound to follow their instincts – their intuitive desire to pursue justice no matter what the cost.

My two heroines in The Tuscan House published today have such choices to make. They are fictitious, but very much based on the real women I have discovered through my research.  

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Desert Island Books with… Angela Petch

What fun I’ve had today on this blog – choosing five books to have with me on a desert island. Not an easy choice and I’d probably choose five different books tomorrow.

A Little Book Problem

desert-island-books

Welcome to another instalment of Desert Island Books, where I transport some poor soul to a remote atoll with nothing for company except one luxury item and five books of their choosing, so they had better choose wisely – who knows how long they will be marooned! Today’s strandee is author, Angela Petch.

What fun to choose the books I’d have on a desert island… but I’m not brilliant at being totally alone, so I need to inject fun on this island.

Book One – Just William by Richmal Crompton

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Meet everyone’s favourite troublemaker!

In Richmal Compton’s Just William, the Outlaws plan a day of non-stop adventure. The only problem is that William is meant to be babysitting. But William won’t let that stop him having fun with his gang – he’ll just bring the baby along!

There is only one William. This tousle-headed, snub-nosed, hearty, loveable imp of mischief…

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When the going gets good…

This Monday is the last in my #motivation series. Thank you so much for following me. It’s my turn today to talk about how I go about writing my books.

It is invariably a place or a person that sparks off ideas for me.

Giuseppina and Horace where they met in Urbino, 1944

My wonderful Italian mother-in-law was the inspiration for my first historical novel, The Tuscan Secret and there are local friends where we live in Tuscany who have told me their stories too. I like to visualise these people when I’m writing. And I hope to do their stories justice.

Locations are another springboard. I pin the images to my noticeboard to get me going. I need to transport myself to these worlds, as if I were within a film.

The premise and details come through word of mouth and research. I think I write better when I am very familiar with the settings. As I speak fluent Italian, research is very easy for me. I have a fantastic resource almost on my doorstep. Down in the valley is the National Museum of Archives. I can look up on-line to source the diaries I want to consult and book a slot to view them. Reading personal accounts has loaned me so many details that I would never have dreamt up. I do admire authors who can set their stories in places they have never been to, but I find that difficult and worry that what I write will not be accurate.

I walked the route of the transumanza for A Tuscan Memory to see what kind of terrain the shepherds crossed

My Tuscan books are largely based on real events, but I use these as the background and thread in imagined stories. I wish I could say I programmed this so that it all poured out beautifully and uninterruptedly. But… look at my desk in Tuscany! (A peach works wonders, by the way). I use my timer to limit the sitting time, otherwise I am stiff and hunched up at the end of the day. I take little breaks on the hour.

If everything was in my head from the get go, I wonder if my imagination would be as alive. Of course I do plan to an extent: I have an idea and I have the characters when I set off. But other characters happen along the way, and events, misunderstandings, complications, nuances knock at the door. “What if?” is a constant question in my mind so that I can add layers. Once I start, I mostly write at my desk or in a quiet spot, but if a scene comes to me, I can write anywhere. My handbag has pens and notebooks in it, rather than lipsticks.

At structural edit stage, the layers need untangling and sorting. This is the period when I am probably very difficult to live with. I’m totally taken up with moving chapters about, cutting, pruning – in a panic that I might leave something crucial out. I always make copies of everything throughout the writing process and back it all up too.  This is also when my timeline, chapter summaries and story diary are essential tools – plus lots of tea and walks to thrash out sequences.

A book takes me about one year to write. Less time and I would panic. Recently I read Sophie Nicchol’s wonderful book, The Dress. “Let the words find you…” says Fabia, her main character. “…The best words are not chosen…”

Of course, the words don’t drop into my lap without a lot of thought and work. And having a deadline is a wonderful motivator. What I take from this author’s words, is that I should not push too much. To write well, we have to enjoy what we are doing. Hopefully, the readers will enjoy the words too. I have had some very special reviews and they make all the agonising worthwhile.

My latest book, The Tuscan House, is now available to pre-order. It will be published on April 7th.

Thank you so much for reading this blog and I hope you are motivated to write. It is fun, I promise you, despite all the hard work.

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Beginnings…

Having chatted to authors in the past few weeks who are already published, I’m turning to my friend, Sue Sharp, at the beginning of this new week and at the beginning of her writing journey. Her first book is due out this summer.

I will post her photo after you’ve peeked at her enchanting space in Tuscany, not far from where I live. When I discovered a fellow-writer and member of the RNA living nearby, I was ecstatic. At last, somebody to share tips, hopes and fears about this writing passion.

How could you not be inspired by such surroundings? I’m so looking forward to reading Sue’s debut novel when it comes out. (I might even sneak into her Tuscan garden to read it by the lavender).

Drum roll – meet Sue Sharp:

Angela, thank you so much for this opportunity. After many years of treading water with this writing lark, I’m nervously peeking from the safety of my comfort blanket to put myself out there. It’s a scary prospect, especially for an introvert like myself. Though I’m reassured by people like yourself, who have braved the same path. This is my first ever blog interview, so here goes (deep breath) …

You will be fine, Sue. I find the writing community so supportive and we’ll all be cheering you on. How did you start on your novel?

I started writing ten years ago when we first arrived in Italy. From the first moment, I found myself thriving on the solitude, and the voices in my head started to make sense (we all have them … right??) After a lifetime of wanting to write, I’d suddenly found I had the time. At first, I dabbled, with no idea what I was doing. After scribbling random paragraphs for a couple of years, praying things would come together, I realised I needed help. That’s where fate stepped in. A fellow romance writer messaged me one New Year’s Day. Urging me to apply for the New Writer’s Scheme (NWS), offered by the Romantic Novelist’s Association (RNA). I had no idea what she was talking about. With a quick internet search, I discovered that the RNA NWS offers around 250 memberships to unpublished romantic fiction writers. And the best bit? The organiser has a team of readers who are published authors. After joining, members of the NWS can send their manuscript to be critiqued. Just what I needed.

However, the scheme is only open at a specific time in January. I have to say, my finger shook when I sent my application email at two minutes past midnight on the second of January 2014, as instructed. I didn’t think I had a chance. The following day, I was over the moon to find I’d been accepted. This was my turning point …  when I started to take myself more seriously.

There’s a membership fee to pay. But, it’s not a huge amount and well worth the investment. Because not only do you get a critique from proven experts, you become part of the most inclusive group I’ve ever known. 

There you go! You’re discovering this friendliness and readiness to share expertise already. I’m going to interrupt you now, to share some more photos of your writing spaces. (Drool, drool).

Sue, looking inspired. I recognise Anghiari, a picturesque hilltop town in our corner of Tuscany

Back to you, Sue.

Of course, my first submission was a complete disaster! However, I plugged away and gained a new focus. After scrubbing my first attempt, I moved on to something new.

My husband and I run a summer holiday rental business in Tuscany. We meet people from all over the world and, for a short time, have a glimpse into their lives. With an active imagination and a penchant for people watching, this became my inspiration. Having a constant feed of interesting personalities made it a no brainer. 

However, constantly moving between the UK and Tuscany means I’m a bit of a nomad. With no fixed place to write, I have to travel light. So I use Pinterest boards for my characters, settings, and situations. And Scrivener for the actual writing. It means everything is with me, wherever I am.

My debut novel, Time For Tuscany, is a contemporary romance exploring love, friendship, and forgiveness. If all goes to plan, I will be self-publishing this summer.

It sounds wonderful. Can’t wait. I wish I used Pinterest in a more organised way. I’ll have to pick your brain sometime.

And I hope everybody will sign up for Sue’s blog and newsletters. She is a photographer, as well as an author and has a real eye for detail. You’ll be transported by her images.

I’ve loved chatting with you, Sue, and I wish you all the very best with your debut novel. The cover is mouth watering.

In bocca al lupo, as they say in Italy, or buona fortuna!

If you would like to follow Sue in her writing journey, here are some links.

Website and sign-up for Newsletters

Instagram

Facebook

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Monday – Lunedì – the day of the moon…

How apt that this Monday, my guest should be publishing her debut novel: Under the Light of the Italian Moon

I’m delighted to introduce you to an Italian/American lady who has spent many years recording the true story of her relatives in northern Italy, and turning her research into a passionate novel. Please welcome Jennifer Anton.

Angela, grazie mille for having me on your wonderful blog! You are a star!

The pleasure is all mine, Jennifer. Honestly, I can’t tell you how excited I am for you on publication day, Also, fittingly, World Women’s Day 2021.

Tell me, how did you begin your book?

I began my book with no idea what I was doing. It was a research project out of curiosity about my Italian grandmother’s life. She told me a story once that I wanted to learn more about. I had many questions for her, but she died before having time to answer them all. That began a journey of searching for the answers through family members in the U.S., Canada and Italy and reading everything about WWII and Mussolini I could get my hands on.

Where did you get your ideas from?

In doing my research, I discovered so many interesting facts and stories that aligned to paint a picture of what the women in my family’s lives were like during the rise of fascism and WWII. These facts and stories fed more questions, which fed my imagination. Trying to get into the head of a woman who is the daughter of a strong-willed midwife under a fascist dictatorial regime interested me. The long-distance love story of a woman in Italy with her lover abroad spoke to my imagination. In the fourteen years that I wrote the book, my development as a wife, daughter and mother informed the work. Things happened to my friends, both happy and devastating, and I saw how they coped. I observed all of this and fed it into the pages.

How did the ideas arrive in your head?

The ideas came from the mixture of stories and facts. I spoke with over eight people who had lived through the 1930s and 1940s in Italy. Some left, emigrating to Canada and the U.S., others continued living in Fonzaso. They shared details about the Nazi atrocities that took place there. I walked around the cemetery and visited the monuments to the fallen. The stories, the history, the facts all came together.

How long did it take you to complete the book?

It took me fourteen years to write my novel. I’ve had to learn everything: not just about the book, but how to write, plot, line edit, and how to figure out what the story is truly about. It was all new. I’ve learned so much and loved it all. My first novel has been a journey—a chaotic joy that has been like a friend—always there in the background waiting for me. In the end, the novel needed to take fourteen years. It wouldn’t be what it is if it had taken less. I hope my next one doesn’t take that long!

I adore this cover. I know it was created from one of your own photos. Awesome! I hate to use a pun, but it seems to me that your book has been one long labour of love. I wish you every success with its birth today. Congratulations!

May you find joy and inspiration in the pages you read this month! Cento baci! Jennifer

Jennifer’s bio: Jennifer Anton is an American/Italian dual citizen born in Joliet, Illinois, and now lives between London and Lake Como, Italy. A proud advocate for women’s rights and equality, she hopes to rescue women’s stories from history, starting with her Italian family.

Under the Light of the Italian Moon is her first novel, based on the lives of her Italian grandmother and great grandmothers during the rise of fascism and World War II.

Preorder the novel on Amazon: www.getbook.at/Janton
Preorder the novel on BarnesandNoble: https://bit.ly/3n1nDqC
Connect with Jennifer on Instagram www.instagram.com/boldwomanwriting
Connect with Jennifer on Facebook www.facebook.com/jenniferantonauthorpage
Join her mailing list at www.boldwomanwriting.com


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