The Postcard from Italy by Angela Petch Blog Tour – Review

As I am away this week on a writing retreat in Spain, I will leave it to Julie B on her Bookish Jottings site, to post for me today. I’ll get back to you after the week is over. I loved it as soon as I stepped through the finca gates, through the first courtyard smothered in bougainvillea and gazed on the view over the mountains…

Bookish Jottings

Italy, 1945. ‘Where am I?’ The young man wakes, bewildered. He sees olive trees against a bright blue sky. A soft voice soothes him. ‘We saw you fall from your plane. The parachute saved you.’ He remembers nothing of his life, or the war that has torn the world apart… but where does he belong?

England, present day. Antique-shop-owner Susannah wipes away a tear as she tidies her grandmother’s belongings. Elsie’s memories are fading, and every day Susannah feels further away from her only remaining family. But everything changes when she stumbles across a yellowed postcard of a beautiful Italian stone farmhouse, tucked away in Elsie’s dressing table. A message dated from World War 2 speaks of a secret love. Could her grandmother, who never talked about the past, have fallen for someone in Italy all those years ago?

With Elsie unable to answer her questions, Susannah becomes determined to track down…

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Training the eye…

I always carry a notebook and pen around with me. I never know when an idea for a story might hit me, or an overheard conversation might inspire me for a writing project. All writers are nosy parkers.

But I also carry my phone in my back pocket to capture locations and details for my stories. As I share my year between England and Italy, I might write a scene set in England whilst I’m living in Italy and vice versa. Yes, I have pictures in my head, but some details will have dropped through the holes of my sieve-brain. So, it’s good to have photos as well as notes to refer to. I print out the pictures that are most relevant and pin them to my noticeboard, so that when I am writing a scene, the images are next to me. Looking at them helps me remember sounds and smells, textures and tastes, so that I can conjure the most realistic scene I can.

In two days, my latest book is published by Bookouture: The Postcard from Italy.

Allow me to share some photos that helped me whilst piecing together my story: pictures of Puglia and Hastings. They were not taken with a photographer’s skill, but they helped me flesh out my story.

“Physical details become metaphorical in the writing… the physical becomes metaphorical and allows the reader to connect in a more profound way.” [Alicia Stubbersfield in Keeping Your Eyes Open.]

A grey sky can mirror a character’s mood, the sound of waves can bring calm to a scene, descriptions of food can add to a sensual moment.

“Everyone is drawn to look at different details. You have to learn to be confident in your own view. Let your eye wander and take down what it is you’ve picked out. There’s nothing more compelling for a reader than seeing the world through the unique view of somebody else.” [Paul Magrs from What Are You Looking At? – both quotes taken from The Creative Writing Coursebook from the UEA]

I am delighted that early reviewers of The Postcard from Italy have appreciated the details in the book and have felt they were transported to Puglia.

“Petch takes us to the easternmost point of Italy, Puglia, on the Adriatic coast and helps us envision the wild coastline, dotted with stone trulli and masseria. She almost enables us to bask in the sunshine, smell the salt air, taste the variety of fish, and see the multitude of trabucco where the land meets the Adriatic Sea.”

“I forgot about my own life and was immersed in the world created by the author.”

“The Italian setting was so vividly and gorgeously described I felt that I was there. Highly recommended.”

“I also revelled in being lost in Italy, both in the 1940s and in the present day. Angela Petch has a fantastic knowledge of the country and that means both her settings and her research are impeccable. The wonderful descriptions of the landscape, the people, the food… it drew me in in a way that meant I could feel the sun on my back and a visit to Puglia is now definitely on my bucket list.”

Thank you so much to these bloggers and reviewers, for taking the time and trouble to leave feedback.

I do hope more readers will enjoy my new book. I’ll leave you with some more images that you might find written into the pages of The Postcard from Italy.

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Sensitivity…

In nine days, my new book, The Postcard from Italy will be published.

It was inspired, in great part, by black and white photos in my mother’s album of a good-looking, fresh-faced young man, dressed in his RAF uniform and my mother’s fond memories of her little brother.

 My Uncle William, affectionately known as Billy, was a rear gunner, crewing on Lockheed Liberators for the RAF. The last mission he flew had a mixed crew, including Canadians. They were shot down over what was then known as Yugoslavia on November 5th 1944, on a mission to deliver supplies to partisans. Billy was only twenty.

He was the only son of five children, born into an Irish Catholic family living in England. My mother was the oldest child. In this photo, there are only three siblings: my mother (the tallest), my godmother Aunty Joan and Billy. They are about to go to a fancy dress party.  My other two aunties were born later.

Off to a fancy dress party – Billy is the little boy in the centre

My youngest aunty is still alive and I dearly hope she and other members of my family will not mind that I have used Uncle Billy as my inspiration. Billy in my book is not the same young man as my uncle. He is half-Italian, half-English and he survives his last mission, but I have used some of my uncle’s details. I borrowed his identity number (1584477) and I made him a rear gunner, or tail end Charlie – having the unenviable role of sitting in the back of the aircraft with the lonely task of scanning the skies for enemy aircraft.

Sergeant William Francis Beary – my handsome uncle

With the present state of war in Ukraine and images on our television screens of brave young fighters and so many displaced families, Billy has once again been at the forefront of my mind. Once upon a time he was a little boy.

I am anxious about upsetting my surviving aunt.

My brother has researched events surrounding our uncle’s last flight and there is a lot more I could have used, but I did not, out of respect for her. We have, for example, a detailed account written by the German pilot who shot down our uncle’s Liberator. Out of respect for my aunt, I did not include any of this.

Some of the detail provided by The Ministry of Defence. I have not shown you everything.

In all my books I research to the best of my ability as I do believe it is very important to record stories from our past, so that we tell the world what it was like. We need to learn from mistakes, understand the tragedies of war, the way ordinary people are affected, in order to protect the future.  My uncle was not just a number. He was an only son, a brother to four delightful sisters. He had a girlfriend and his life was cut short. Far too short.

However, I also have a duty to the living survivors and should not sensationalise history. My aunty will probably never read my book and I am wary of telling her about it. However, I do not want Uncle Billy to be forgotten. He was more than number 1584477.

 I’ve dedicated The Postcard from Italy to him and my father too. They both fought in Italy and they have both passed away.

I would love to hear your perspective on this.

Billy is buried in Belgrade but remembered on the family grave in England
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People and stuff …

I used to think that I could live on a desert island. There’ve been times in the past when I’ve wanted to run away. Last March, I even appeared as a guest about it on A Little Book Problem and had fun choosing my books to take with me.

(my photosof Pangani beach, Tanzania)

BUT… we went to a wedding on New Year’s Eve, our youngest daughter’s wedding. And our coming-away-present was, unfortunately, testing positive for Covid-19.  Fortunately, my symptoms were very mild indeed (I am fully vaccinated and boosted). My husband was asymptomatic.

For the last ten days, we have been isolating. Tomorrow is when we are allowed out. Boy, have I missed being in the fresh air and walking along the sea near our Sussex home. But it’s people I have missed most. Phone calls and Zoom meetings are not the same.

We talk about writing being a solitary business and I suppose it is, when we are pouring out our ideas at our desks, inventing characters and settings in our head. Why we write would need a few more pages than here, but one of the aspects that I enjoy most is engaging with my readers. A few months ago, I received an e mail from an elderly lady who lives in Canada now. But when she was a child she was brought up in an Italian orphanage that I used in my first book, The Tuscan Secret

It was near Parma, in Emilia Romagna, and during World War Two, British POWs were locked up here, before the Armistice of 1943.

Here are some of her words: “I was an orphan at a very early age of one & as the years went by it was more difficult for my mom to look after me. My brother was already in an orphanage & he was 7 years older than me. I googled about my orphanage & it turned out to be the camp where these people were hiding from the Germans & that was built around the era of Mussolini. That brought me back to my childhood where the orphanage was run by nuns & they made me the person that I am today.”

She went on to say that she wanted to write her own story now: “ I always wanted to do a biography of my life so that my grown-up children & my grandchildren would know & realize some of the sacrifices that my mom made & the reality of the post war life that I went through as a child & for them to appreciate what they have & not take things for granted. Just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed the book, because I was able to relate to them & the people in the village where they lived. Brought me back lots of memories of my past. I want to thank you.”

I encouraged her to just start writing and I was thrilled to hear from her yesterday to learn that she is already well into her writing: “ I already wrote 8 chapters and 73 pages. How about that? I think I will reach 10 chapters and maybe 100 pages. Not a very big book. Thought to give you an update on my progress.”

How wonderful is that?

People will always need people.

To please
To tease
To put you at ease,
People will always need people.
To make life appealing
And give life some meaning,

An extract from a poem by Benjamin Zephaniah

People need people and stories, so I will not be escaping to a desert island for the moment. Tomorrow we are heading for the Sussex Downs with a picnic and flask and I won’t stop walking all day.

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Strangers who become friends…

Yesterday was publication day for fellow author, Lizzie Chantree

Lizzie and I haven’t met yet in reality and I haven’t been able to read her new book yet but it is on my list. She runs a popular Facebook group: Lizzie’s Book Group and is a very supportive and fun lady. But I’ll talk about that aspect of social media after I’ve introduced you to The Woman who Felt Invisible – only 99 pence at the moment on Amazon.

Have you ever felt invisible? 

Working as a stationery supervisor and a sitter to a pair of internet famous, delinquent dogs, wasn’t how former cyber-specialist, Olivia, imagined her life turning out. 

Working in a tiny cubicle with a decrepit computer and being overlooked had suited her for a while, but now she’s fed up, lonely and determined to make the world ‘see’ her again. 

Old school friend, Darius, wants to fill Olivia’s days with romance, but their love of technology has taken them on very different paths. 

Gorgeous undercover policeman Gabe, is steadfast in finding out if Olivia was part of an online scam, but something doesn’t feel right and he suspects someone else was manipulating her life. 

Can love blossom from the most deceptive of starts? And can someone who feels lost, find a way to flourish against all odds?

Now – many people moan about social media; don’t want to have anything to do with it. I certainly don’t like being approached by dubious-sounding colonels or supposed widowers who want to get to know me better. And don’t talk about hackers… But – and this is a big BUT, I do love to communicate and engage with fellow authors and other interesting people. So a huge thank you to “social” (as Italians call it here).

As you may already know, in Italy I live in a fairly remote valley. No writing groups to join, festivals too distant, but I have managed to remedy this with friends who mostly remain virtual. (Too many to mention here).

Last week in the beautiful city of Siena, I met two in the flesh. One is Chiara Borghesi, a fascinating blogger who teaches Italian in a unique way, bringing in lots of detail about Italian lifestyle. Check her out on Facebook under Chiaras Tuscany Experiences – Language & Lifestyle Experiences.

In addition she runs an online bookclub (Chiara’s Tuscany Bookclub) and regularly posts beautiful and fascinating images on Instagram @chiarastuscany. If you want to learn Italian in a refreshingly different way, then look no further. (Chiara is the lady in the middle of my photo).

Another author was with us who lives in Italy was with us. Fay Henson’s book is set in Tuscany. Headstrong in Tuscany is aimed at a late teen readership. A good idea for a stocking filler? Fay is holding her novel in the photograph.

It felt so good to meet up and we chatted away, with the help of pasta and wine. I would never have come across these ladies without social media. Grazie!

I have found the writing community on social media so warm and helpful. As I have said, I couldn’t possibly mention everyone here, but I have to give a special nod to lovely fellow-author Jessie Cahalin who I met on Twitter initially, when she started off her Books in Handbag blog.

(I was attracted to her handbag icon). She filled me with confidence when I self-published my second book – A Tuscan Memory – which Bookouture later took on. I shall forever be grateful to this lovely friend for her encouragement and shall never ever forget our first meeting – we ran across the room at the RNA conference and hugged each other. It should have been set to music…

Jessie is concentrating on her own writing more now and so she should. There are wonderful moments in writing, but there are downers too, when an author feels very lonely and lost. So to have motivation from like-minded people who understand the peaks and troughs too well, is manna. I also have my super author friends, at Apricot Plots and we zoom when we can. It is such a treat to link up from Italy to other corners of the world and thrash out worries and ideas. And laugh together. Laughter is an important ingredient in the writing process.

A couple of my Apricot Plot friends at the RNA Conference: Carol Thomas and Jane Cable

So, a HUGE THANKYOU to all my social media friends, bloggers and all. You are the tops!

I’m sure there are many stories to be shared about friends made via social media or events discovered. I would love to hear about them in the comment box. Two weeks ago I met up with a couple of Italian gentlemen (for research purposes… behave, everybody!) One a university professor, an expert who has been able to help me with my next book and the other, a relative of victims in a dreadful World War Two massacre in our corner of Tuscany. Both these people were discovered on social media and we have become friends in the real sense. Liked both ways!

Professor Ermanno Torrico and Giorgio Gabrielli comparing notes

So, back to Lizzie and her writing. She has an impressive record and I wish her the best of luck with her latest publication. I shall review it after I have read it. It looks like another uplifting stocking filler.

International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex. Visit her website at http://www.lizziechantree.com or follow her on Twitter @Lizzie_Chantree https://twitter.com/Lizzie_Chantree.

Book links:

Universal book buy link: The little ice cream shop: viewbook.at/IceCreamShopByTheSea

Universal book buy link: Networking for writers: viewbook.at/NetworkingForWriters

Universal book buy link: If you love me, I’m yours: viewbook.at/IfYouLoveMe-ImYours

Universal book buy link: Ninja School Mum: viewbook.at/NinjaSchoolMumRomance

Universal book buy link: Babe Driven: viewbook.at/BabeDriven

Universal book buy link: Love’s Child: viewBook.at/Amazon-LovesChild

Universal book buy link: Finding Gina: viewbook.at/FindingGina

Shh… It’s Our Secret: https://www.bhcpress.com/Books_Chantree_Shh_Its_Our_Secret.html

The woman who felt invisible: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09J98F32J

Social media links:

Website: www.lizziechantree.com

Author page: https://www.viewAuthor.at/LizzieChantree

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Lizzie_Chantree

Good luck, Lizzie and thanks for being a friend. Maybe one day we shall meet up too.

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Mists of time …

I’m writing this on Remembrance Day, November 11th. It’s misty and a little melancholy outside. The mountains are veiled, the peaks snagged with clouds. It reminds me of a local saying:

“ Quando l’Alpe mette ‘l cappellovende le capre e compra ‘l mantello.”

Time (when the mountain puts on its hat) for the shepherds and herdsmen to sell their goats and buy a cloak for the ten-day walk down to the coastal plain. I wrote about this in A Tuscan Memory but the shepherds used to leave at the end of September, not November. They are long gone, not only because the practice died down in the 1950s. There are not many shepherds left in our mountains. Too many wolves and youngsters are not enamoured with the harsh working conditions of the past.

It’s drawing close to our departure from Tuscany as well. This year has been a little strange for everyone – the epidemic still clinging on, and there’s been a temptation to console myself with, ‘Let’s hope it will be better next year.’

But a lot of joyful events have happened during our shorter stay here this summer. And it’s wrong to wish life away. I think all of us should live in the now. “Don’t count the days, make each day count.”

 We had three of our grandchildren to stay and the sound of laughter and young voices echoed down the river. They were drawn to the water like magnets and all three managed to get completely wet within five minutes of nearing it: fishing and jumping from stone to stone. They enjoyed old fashioned games that dragged them away from the screen. We visited an ancient castle high on the hill and they found a fascination in the torture implements. Boys will be boys…

There was a Roman project for school to complete and we took Luca to Sestino, an important Roman stopover in the mountains nearby. House building is constantly held up in this tiny town because of Roman artefacts being unearthed. I will gift a copy of one of my books to the first person who can tell me the story behind the photograph below. What was this pot used for in Roman times? (Winner has to live in UK).

Guess the use of this Roman pot.

It was a joy too this autumn to meet up with a history professor from Urbino university. He knew my husband’s grandfather really well. What a shame that our relatives did not share much about their war experiences with us. It’s understandable when you dig deeper and discover what they went through.

Maurice at the foot of the torricini of Urbino, beloved birth-place of his mother

Maurice had inherited a box of old documents kept meticulously by his Nonno over the years and dating back to the 1930s. Professor Torrico has pored over them over the past weeks and this weekend we shall enjoy a lunch here with him and his family while he explains better. He was able to reveal more about Nonno’s courage during the war. A fervent socialist all his life, Nonno hated having to sign up to the Fascist party and neglected to do so for as long as possible. The Resistance persuaded him to stay on: he would be more use to them if he remained (ostensibly) within the party. Nonno’s story has inspired me to write another World War Two book. I hope I can do his story justice. Wish me luck.

Within the next few days we shall say goodbye to the autumn mountains as they start to shed their fiery leaves. It has been breath taking to walk in the forests. Another positive to be taken from the negative, as we are not usually here at this time of year.

A presto! Speak soon – the next time, from Blighty.

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A chat with Jane Cable aka Eva Glyn

Tomorrow sees publication of a new book by my good friend, Jane Cable. We used to belong to Chindi Authors and are on similar writing journeys and it was good to catch up with her on the night before The Missing Pieces of Us makes it appearance. I love the clever cover.


Jane, you wrote this under a pen name: Eva Glyn. But you also write as Jane Cable. I’m wondering if you do this for different genres and if so, was it your decision or your publisher’s?

As Jane Cable I’m known for romances with a slightly ghostly twist and their feet firmly in the past. One More Chapter wanted something broader, to include women’s fiction, and certainly nothing spooky, so knowing Jane Cable had contractual commitments to fulfil elsewhere I decided on a new name.

Eva was my father’s mother’s name, and he was a writer too. And Glyn is borrowed from the Welsh novelist and poet Glyn Jones who was a close family friend. It’s a constant reminder of the high bar I’ve set myself.

That is so lovely: that you are continuing the family name and honouring a past friend’s writing skills at the same time.

We were indie publishers (in fact, I am hybrid). What do you think are the positives and negatives?

I did like the control over the whole process that being an indie author brought. You were never in anyone else’s hands over title, cover, pricing… but I think when we were doing it the market was less crowded and it was easier to make an impact. The biggest negative for me was it meant your book lacked the affirmation of having been acquired by a publisher, and that might not matter so much to readers, it just mattered to me. There was a constant question in the back of my mind as to whether I was really good enough.

Spot on! It’s a lonely business and the marketing and technical side is very hard for me. To try and reach a wider market is a struggle and I do admire indie publishers who go it alone. The Missing Pieces of Us was originally published as The Faerie Tree. Which title do you prefer? Did you have to make many changes and if so, was it hard to come to terms with the changes?

I changed the title myself, before submitting the book to One More Chapter. I worked on it during the first lockdown because I felt an uplifting novel dealing with how people cope with grief and loss might be something readers wanted, given everything we were all going through. The new title felt more modern, somehow, and the book needed that. But when I looked inside the pages I found very little else that I wanted to update. All my editor at One More Chapter asked me to do was expand on the impact of finding out whose memory was wrong, and the recovery from that, which was something I was delighted to do.

Your books deal with very poignant issues. They are not always easy reads, but always beautiful, intelligent and complex.  And you often include the spiritual. In The Missing Pieces of Us, how symbolic is the faerie tree? How real is it?

The faerie tree is absolutely real and was the starting point for the book. It stands near the River Hamble in Hampshire, just as it does in the story, and I was taken there by a friend one April many moons ago. I knew it had stories to tell, but for a while I wasn’t quite sure what they were, although I wanted the book to be an inspiration for anyone suffering from mental health problems that recovery was possible and there could be a rich and fulfilling life ahead. The strength of the oak, the way it bends, breaks but ultimately survives the storms, spoke to me that way.

I love these images of the woods and the faerie tree, just as I pictured from your descriptions in your wonderful book.

You have an amazing review (amongst many others). One reader, Jayne, writes: “At one point… I found myself unconsciously kissing the cover because of the loveliness of the section I had just read.” How wonderful! How do you deal with poor reviews?

Honestly, as far as reviews are concerned, I take the rough with the smooth. The Missing Pieces of Us had some shockers on Netgalley (where as you know ‘professional’ readers review books), but they had been brilliant on there for The Faerie Tree and the book hadn’t changed that much.

I think you are very skilful at writing love scenes. In The Missing Pieces of Us, we read about “a slow, sensuous affair, the softness of Robin’s fingers trickling over my skin and lodging deep into the corners of my mind…” To me, this reads as if it was an easy passage to write. But was it?

Thank you! That’s a lovely compliment, because there is always a certain amount of angst that goes into writing love scenes as I don’t like anything to be too specific unless it is essential to the story. Here I wanted to contrast their love-making with what had gone before – and what came after. Izzie needed to remember a Robin she would want to fall in love with all over again.

Thank you so much for chatting, Jane. It reminds me of the times spent together with you at RNA Conference, talking to our hearts’ content about writing. Good luck with your fabulous book and wishing you oodles of inspiration and ideas for the future.

Chindi friends, Angela Petch, Carol Thomas and Jane Cable

The Missing Pieces of Us is available across all ebook formats and will be published in paperback by One More Chapter on 14th October. You can find out more about Eva Glyn’s books at www.evaglynauthor.com, or follow her on Instagram (@evaglynauthor) or Bookbub @EvaGlyn.

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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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