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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
A pinch and a punch? March 1st? I think not. I’m starting gently this week. My lovely author friend this Monday is Carol Thomas , fellow Apricot Plotter and published by Ruby Fiction. She’s had a rough time recently and doesn’t need any more punches. xxxx
Over to Carol:
Whole, fully-formed story ideas don’t come to me easily. I wish they did. Especially at the moment when I know, I should be writing. But having very recently lost my dear mum, I can’t settle and get started. I think it would be a comfort if I could do it, to lose myself in it, but perhaps my mind doesn’t want me to escape the rawness of my true feelings at the moment.
In the past, I have found that inspiration can strike from a single situation or sentence; I used to sit in cafes, hear a snippet of conversation, and it would set my imagination going. How we all miss sitting in cafes and people watching!
However, the idea for my novel Maybe Baby, released in paperback on February 23rd, came from the fact I had more I wanted to explore with previous characters. Writing Maybe Baby, the sequel to The Purrfect Pet Sitter (the first in the Lisa Blake series of books) was fun and interesting. I already knew my characters well, and so I could put them in new and challenging situations as they embarked on their lives together. You could say, the inspiration was born out of curiosity. I have often wondered what happens after the happy ever after / or content, for now, moment in romance stories. Maybe, as I have already mentioned people watching, I am naturally nosey!
Starting the story, I picked up where I left off, but of course, my characters had already been on a journey in the first novel, and so I had to have them ready to start a new one. I enjoyed that, especially as I was writing about characters (two couples) in established, happy relationships. It was refreshing, and the ideas came to me quickly, especially once I embarked on research. I am not always a plotter, but as the story involved a pregnancy, I had to make sure every date and milestone fitted completely. I’d never written to such a detailed spreadsheet before. It probably helped the book get written quickly; it was completed and released in ebook and audio within a year.
During that time, I also spent a week on a writing retreat in Umbria, with Sue Moorcroft, who has an amazing work ethic. With her as inspiration, I got a big section of the book written.
I have tried working to a spreadsheet again since and strayed somewhat. I think I would describe my style as a plotter who, once writing, then forgets they have been a plotter and becomes a pantser!
My latest novel, coming out with Choc Lit later this year, was inspired by something that happened while volunteering in a charity shop. Someone had donated a photograph album, but in it was a picture of a couple with a baby. That inspired me to write a story about a charity shop worker who receives a donation that unlocks secrets about her past. The title is currently, It’s All About You – but these things sometimes change so we will have to wait and see. Whatever it is called in the end, I’m looking forward to sharing it.
Thank you for having me on your lovely blog.
It’s a real pleasure, Carol. Your new book sounds intriguing. I love charity shops too. Looking forward to reading it.
Carol Thomas lives on the south coast of England with her husband, four children and lively Labrador. She has been a primary school teacher for over twenty years and has a passion for reading, writing and people watching. When she is not in school, chasing after her children, or stopping her dog from eating things he shouldn’t, she can ordinarily be found volunteering for Cancer Research UK or loitering in cafes drinking too much tea and working on her next book.
Just when you thought you had it all worked out …
Best friends Lisa and Felicity think – maybe, just maybe – they finally have everything sorted out in their lives.
Lisa is in a happy relationship with her old flame, and busy mum Felicity has managed to reignite the passion with her husband, Pete, after a romantic getaway.
But when Lisa walks in on a half-naked woman in her boyfriend’s flat and Felicity is left reeling from a shocking discovery, it becomes clear that life is nothing but full of surprises!
My guest this week is Kathryn Gauci. She frequently posts beautiful images of costumes, interiors, textiles and antiques which take me to another place. So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that this author has a background in textiles. I read The Carpet Weaver of Usak during lockdown and so enjoyed being taken away by the characters and places she wove for me.
Over to Kathryn:
Thank you for inviting me on your blog, Angela. Because of my background as a textile designer, I always think in images. The words come later. As a writer of WWII among other things, as you are, the imagery is combined with knowing the area well and hearing the stories. I always think it’s like walking with ghosts: being familiar with the area seeps into your bones. You smell the fragrance of the countryside and imagine the food that was cooked by maquisades in the ruins of the homes, and much more. Touching the senses through food, sounds and smell is vital in giving heart to a novel. It rekindles memories. This has happened in all of my WWII books, but particularly the latest, The Secret of the Grand Hôtel du Lac, which was inspired by the Resistance in the Jura and the area around the Swiss Alps. I was alone for much of my research time and it fired by imagination as to just how hard it was for the maquisards to survive and move about in the terrain – even more so for escapees.
Apart from actually being there, art is a huge inspiration. This was especially so in my Asia Minor novels like The Embroiderer. Orientalist painting played a big part in trying to get the décor and clothing. I never stop looking at art. Looking at old photography was also important. My current WIP is a WWII novel set on a Greek island and a painting inspired that. When I saw it, I had no idea where it would take me, but it touched me. My next step was to make a rough storyboard.
Girl with Two Caged Doves by John Frederick Lewis on left. On the upper right: The Quayside of Smyrna (lzmir) prior to the Great Fire in 1922 and below right: Preliminary Presentation Board for WIP The Blue Dolphin
And then there is music. I always play music related to the period while writing the story. With my Asia Minor novels, it was the oud, and other oriental sounds. One of my books, Seraphina’s Song, is completely inspired by music. Rebetika and Smyrniot songs played in the hashish dens and tavernas of 1920’s and 30’s Piraeus. Which brings me to another source of inspiration – films! Never on Sunday and the Greek film, Stella, were inspirational for Seraphina’s Song.
Cinema is a wonderful inspiration –, especially Film Noir, for mood and the pacing of a story. I can think of countless films that have inspired me for WWII, including The Third Man which had a profound effect on me as I later went to live and work in Vienna. I aim to try and evoke that mood for my next book which is set there.
Kathryn Gauci was born in Leicestershire, England, and studied textile design at Loughborough College of Art and later at Kidderminster College of Art and Design where she specialised in carpet design and technology. After graduating, she spent a year in Vienna, Austria before moving to Greece where she worked as a carpet designer in Athens for six years. There followed another brief period in New Zealand before eventually settling in Melbourne, Australia. Before turning to writing full-time, Kathryn ran her own textile design studio in Melbourne for over fifteen years, work which she enjoyed tremendously as it allowed her the luxury of travelling worldwide, often taking her off the beaten track and exploring other cultures. Since then, she has gone on to become an international bestselling author. Code Name Camille, written as part of The Darkest Hour Anthology: WWII Tales of Resistance, became a USA TODAY Bestseller in the first week of publication.
Today on #Motivation Monday is the turn of Angela Barton. Feast your eyes on these covers:
I am proud to say that Angela has used part of my review for some of her ads about my favourite book: Arlette’s Story Set in World War 2, there is the most moving chapter describing an actual massacre that took place in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane.
Small wonder, having read Angela’s beautiful descriptions, that she is also a talented creative. I hope this modest lady won’t mind me bigging up some of her clever hand-crafted work to be found on NEEDLEPULLINGTHREAD.CO.UK
Anyway, back to today’s business. Yipee and hip hip hooray – Angela has started another book and I chatted to her about how she embarks on a new writing project.
Hello Angela. Thank you so much for inviting me to join your weekly blog on how authors start their books. Actually, this is very good timing as I’m writing Chapter 1 of my fifth novel, which has a working title of, The Mountains Wept.
How did I start it? Well, I knew I wanted to write a third book set in France during WW2. One of my previous novels was set in the city of Paris and the second in the countryside of southwest France. I wanted a different landscape for this book, so I chose the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Once I’d decided on the location, I look for factual events that happened during the war in that place. I don’t give my characters an easy time! I chose the perilous journeys made by exhausted and injured airmen and refugees as they tried to escape over the mountains while being hunted by the Germans.
When I established the theme of my book, I began reading fiction, non-fiction, books on mountaineering, diaries, online articles on escape lines and safe houses, watched films, documentaries etc. Reading not only gives me lots of information, but it also puts me in the frame of mind of a passeur (mountain guide) and my imagination and storylines build from there.
When I’ve thought of the main story arc and smaller arcs (that keeps the drama unfolding) I need to build a cast. I find it easier to establish what’s going to happen before I invent people to fill the pages. I suppose it’s a bit like being a casting director!
I start a Pinterest board with images of my characters, setting, story ideas and especially my hero. It’s tough work ploughing through so many images of handsome men, but it needs to be done! I keep adding to the board while writing.
Next I’ll draw a sketch of the village and surrounding land so I can refer to it and know I’m sending my characters in the right direction and passing consistent landmarks. In this sketch I like to add interesting features like a dilapidated moulin à vent, caves, grottos, shepherds’ huts and water of some description.
Then it’s time to get writing. As I write each chapter I jot on a piece of paper the chapter number, a sentence or two about the chapter’s storyline, which character is involved and the timeline. This helps with continuity, and if I want to add something to a particular chapter, I don’t have to scroll through the novel looking for a particular scene.
I continue reading books of the same genre throughout the time spent writing. They inspire me and help with my imagination.
I’ve written a book in three months (You’ve Got My Number) but one has also taken me a year (Arlette’s Story). I don’t have a set routine for writing, but try to do some every day. It really depends what’s going on in my life. There’s nothing better that experiencing that feeling of being in the ‘zone’ while writing; it’s as if I’m inside my story living amongst new friends.
Thanks so much, Angela for sharing your methods. I love that idea for a map. And I also understand totally that great feeling when you’re in the “zone” and you feel as if you are living amongst friends. Good luck with this new book. Can’t wait to read it.
Angela Barton was born in London and grew up in Nottingham. She is married with three grown up children and adorable six-year-old twin granddaughters. She is passionate about writing both contemporary and historical fiction and loves time spent researching for her novels. In 2018 Angela signed publishing contracts for three of her completed novels.
In addition to writing, Angela also relaxes by making landscapes using free motion sewing on a machine. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a reader for their New Writers’ Scheme. Angela is also a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio, the Society of Authors and Ellipses and Ampersands’ fiction critique group.
Find out more about Angela with these links, and buy her books here:
Another Monday in lockdown and I talk to another author about the inspiration behind a new story. Meet friend and author, Jane Cable. I love all her books.
Every book starts with an empty page. It sounds obvious when you think about it, but that huge expanse of whiteness is one of the single biggest things that stops would-be authors in their tracks. But for me it has always been inspiration over motivation; once I have the idea I just have to write.
Thinking back to how I started the first full length manuscript I would go on to finish, it began with idle musing, as I watched the England cricket team parade around The Oval after winning The Wisden Trophy at The Oval in 2004. And I thought… what would it like to be the new girlfriend of one of the squad watching this happen, and feeling like a fish out of water? 250,000 unpublishable words later, I knew.
My next four novels were all inspired by a place. The house my husband and I bought in Yorkshire yet never managed to live in; a fairy tree on the banks of the River Hamble; beautiful Studland Bay in Dorset and, most recently for Endless Skies, the empty blue vastness above northern Lincolnshire.
But a place alone is not enough – people need to live there too. And those people must have compelling stories to tell. There are times I have been well into a first, or even second, draft, before I really know what that story is. Take Another You ; I had been writing about Marie and her trials and tribulations as she tried to break free of her abusive marriage for a while. It was only when I researched more about the history of Studland that the World War Two element fell into place and the story felt complete.
Now I have a publisher, writing organically is no longer possible, because I need to provide an outline of the book for them to decide whether or not they wish to acquire it. Characters, settings, plots, all need to be set out in advance of even starting to write – although I do always say that things may change as I go along. Sometimes, well, quite a lot of times, the characters are too strong to ignore.
My next book, which will be available to pre-order from Sapere Books in the spring, was written in this way. Timeslips were selling well for their authors (indeed, many authors) and Sapere is known for Regency, so that got me thinking. Plus I wanted to write a book set in my new home county of Cornwall… and Regency in Cornwall has more than a whiff of Poldark about it. Brooding scenery, mine owners – and in the present-day story, abandoned mines – came together in what I hope readers will find a thrilling romantic mystery.
So as an author your inspiration – and the way you write – can change over the course of your career. But the day that I stop waking up aching to get on with my story will be the day I question whether I am doing the right thing.
Jane Cable writes romance with a hint of ghostly mystery. Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneCable or find out more on her website www.janecable.com, where you can also sign up to her newsletter. If you do decide to subscribe, mention Angela in your email to be entered into a prize draw to win one of Jane’s books.
Thank you, Jane, for chatting to us about your writing. We are learning and growing with our writing all the time. Rather than finding that daunting, to me, it is all positive. May it never stop.