I always think blogged sounds rude, but it’s an expression I’m growing used to – along with other writerly terms. So, before I forget, I was recently blogged by Tony Riches: a gentleman who is very supportive of other authors and very generous with writing and publicity tips. Here is Tony’s interview
This year I have learnt that it is not enough to sit and write at my desk if I want my books to be read. The marketing is far harder for me than writing but it is a necessary part. At times I feel overwhelmed. Will I ever get there? Thank you to talented Ben Harvey for another photograph which sums up my mood.
Today I walked two miles to take an envelope to friends who are returning to England tomorrow. It contained a Contract I had signed with Endeavour Press, an independent publishing company based in London. They have taken on “Tuscan Roots” and “Now and Then in Tuscany”. All along the dusty track I had last minute nerves: was I doing the right thing? Why didn’t I continue to promote these books myself?
As I walked, ideas for another book started to drift into my head. Inspired by abandoned houses in our valley, I feel there are stories still to be told; ghosts from the past knocking at my mind. I passed a trough that may have been used in the past for animals or laundry by the local women. In it lay a piece of discarded barbed wire, like a symbol.
And then, more ideas presented themselves and I stopped to jot them in my notebook. Afterwards, I realised I hadn’t thought this way for a while. I’ve been so preoccupied with marketing my first two books, I had no space to think of my next projects.
Once home and after I’d delivered the envelope, I felt freer and I wrote a 75 word submission for Planet Paragraph. It may well not be accepted, but it marked a turning-point for me.
“Up the track I trudge, air scant, broom and orchids withered now. Holm oaks sough in the Scirocco wind and cicadas blast my ears. By a crop of sandstone, a lizard scurries over crisp leaves. My heart thumps, the terrain is arid. I stop to guzzle water from my flask and scribble in my notebook. Perched on the Apennines, high above me, sits a huddle of abandoned dwellings. Ghosts whisper to have their stories told.”
The photo below wasn’t taken today because I was on my own and it was hot. This is Tuscany when it drizzles. The village of Gattara that I am looking at has plenty of stories and I shall weave them in. My heart feels lighter now.
They’re one of the most important ways to communicate. Obvious – but we take them for granted at our peril – and I’m not just talking about authors. I’ve been thinking about words a lot recently. Finding the correct ones to advise, console, instruct, write… Personally, I need to learn to cut out unnecessary words. Less is more; make each and every word count and earn its living. When editing, think about the phrases on the river stones that I use to remind myself on how to shape, prune, improve my work…
At a Sunday lunch in a local restaurant last week (Sunday lunches are definitely not “less”), we were sitting opposite a pretty, intelligent young Italian called Elena who was good at semantics.
For some reason I had been telling my friends how much my lovely husband adored his muck heap (polite expression); how his eyes lit up when the local farmer brought a trailer load of the sheep manure down our track for my husband’s “orto”. They laughed. Elena then asked me, “Did you know that the Italian expression “lieto” (meaning delighted to meet you), stems from the same Latin root, “laetus”, meaning manure?”
We thought she was joking but it turns out she’s spot on and my husband is at one with the Romans in their appreciation of sheep and cow shit.
So, I started to ponder about other words and their derivations and then, on Twitter, I posted a photo of what I thought was an orchid. (I follow a friend I’ve never met who is an expert). That is not an orchid, he retweeted. It’s broom rape.
I thought it an ugly name for an attractive plant. To cut the semantics short, the rape part of the name does not signify something violent and ugly. My expert informed me it could also be called a broom turnip. Click went my brain. Rape in Italian means turnip.
As authors, words are out tools. We mustn’t take them for granted.
I went walking this week. A trek usually sorts my writing thoughts and – if I’m honest – it’s a small way towards combatting the effects of pasta and Sangiovese on my Tuscan tum. I don’t like the gym and a brisk walk from 500 metres up to 800 asl gets my heart rate up and I’m rewarded at each turn by views.
This corner of Tuscany, like many other rural areas, has seen an exodus for work by the population ever since the end of the Second World War. One of the remaining farms near us is run by our Albanian friend, who in turn left his native country to better his life. June here is a time of hay cutting and fireflies and there are signs of hard work in the meadows. I’ve tried taking photos of these fascinating insects but I’m not clever enough. I’ll leave you to imagine hundreds of pinpricks of sparkling lights in our meadow. Stars above and below us.
My destination today was the home of our eighty nine year-old friend, Evalina. She’s one of the most intelligent ladies I know, brimming with wisdom and profound sayings. She left school young to help her father on the land and no matter what I say to her, she feels inferior because of her lack of education. She’s suffered a great deal and is wise from the school of life. Evalina is full of stories and she helped me with ideas for both of my books. I love listening to her. She was very concerned at how hot I was – perspiring from my hill climb – and went to fetch a towel, proudly telling me she’d had it since the day she married. “They make them from rubbish nowadays,” she said as she gently wiped my face and neck, adding, “I’m your Italian mamma.” I joked with her, saying she’d be forbidding me to go dancing next. She laughed and went over to her stove to prepare coffee. I think it’s really important to record the old folks’ experiences. The past builds our present and future. I came across a phrase from 2,000 years ago and my theory was understood even then.My head brimming with new ideas for stories, I walked back downhill to Il Mulino. I was still hot and a plunge beneath the waterfall was a welcome end to my open air “circuit training”. In our little pool on the Marecchia, there’s clear, refreshing water, plenty of tadpoles this summer, the occasional harmless river snake and dragonflies that hover tantalisingly over bleached stones. I can never capture them on film. But I know someone talented who can. Our young friend, Ben Harvey, is an architect. He’s passionate about his job but he has another passion – photography. Look at his stunning photograph, a reward for patience and knowledge. Why not take a look at his website for more wonderful photos. Here are Ben’s photos
Wow, eh? We should all take time to nurture our creative gifts in our busy lives.
My first blog and what do I write about? There are so many other blogs out there. Why am I starting another? I read an interesting article in The Times last week about Ian Rankin. “Rebus and the case of the tweeting novelist” was the headline. He has confessed that his writing speed is “slowing down” and attributed it partly to the demands made on authors to promote themselves on social media. “The notion of locking yourself away and writing all day has pretty much gone.” If authors are on line all the time, how can they produce their books?
With this in mind – and also because I think it is boring to constantly self-promote – I want to widen the purpose of my blog. I’ll share a little about the stunning locations in Tuscany where I write and we’ll see how we get on.
For six months of the year, I live in the Tuscan Apennines. I love this stunning countryside
and I realise it impacts on my writing. More of that another time. But here are a few photos to set the scene. And that will be enough for today.
June 13th 2017
I haven’t managed to do any writing this week on my WIP, which has nothing to do with beautiful Tuscany. I’m busy with Mavis and Dot from the British seaside. But I have been interviewed by a Canadian Blogger. I “met” her on Twitter and it is exciting to think my words might spread across the sea to a country I’ve never visited. I’m sure the sun shines over there too, but I always picture Canada covered in snow and ice. What do I know?
Here is Kristina Stanley’s interview: Kristina Stanley’s interview
June 17th 2017
Snail-pace progress on my WIP. I need to strike a balance with social media. But it is definitely working. I am meeting new readers and a wonderful blogger called Jessie Cahalin popped up on my Twitter feed. I was attracted by her handbag icon and contacted her. (Leather handbags and Italy go together, you know). This morning she published an interview we did together. Click below to see:
Interview on Books in my Handbag blog