Now, did I catch your interest with my title? I’m happily married, thank you, to a half-Italian, half-English gentleman, so I don’t need no lover… BUT, via social media, I have met another writer who has fallen under the Italian spell. Her latest book, “The Silence”, came out a few days ago and I caught up with her for a chiacchierata and a coffee… (work that one out for yourselves). Meet Katharine Johnson, who is published by Crooked Cat Books.
Katy, both the books I’ve read by you are set in Italy and have a historical slant. How did your interest in Italy start?
In the 1990s I spent a month in Florence between leaving one magazine and starting on a new one whose launch was a bit delayed. While I was there I found out about a wonderful course at the university per stranieri at Villa Fabricotti, all taught in Italian. I went back to England, enrolled in evening classes to learn the language and started saving. A couple of years later my husband and I took a late gap year and came out to Florence to do the course. We had language lessons in the morning followed by lectures on art, architecture, literature, film, politics etc. In the late afternoon we had visits to galleries and at weekends visited other cities. After the course we travelled around the country and eventually bought a cottage near Lucca which we’ve been doing up ever since, but it has enabled us to spend a bit more time in Italy.
Katy’s writing spot on the terrace of her Italian house
I love the sense of place in both your books. How do you go about creating that? Do you carry a notebook around with you? Use photos? It’s always interesting to know how authors go about their writing.
Thank you – I wrote some of The Silence and The Secret in Tuscany which I suppose was cheating really as I had plenty of inspiration around me. I do carry notebooks with me and also get ideas when I’m walking the dog in England or swimming in Italy (I’m the boring person who ploughs up and down the pool instead of joining in the ball games.)
I don’t think that’s cheating at all! Are any of the characters in your stories based on real people?
No but I suppose we’re all the sum of our experiences or observations so they’re probably a jumble of bits of people I know and have imagined.
“The Secret” revolves around a World War mystery. My first book has the same period as the background, so I was really interested to read another book set in war-torn Italy. What sparked off your inspiration for this story?
I grew up with pictures of my great uncle who had died in the war in Italy. All her life my grandmother was deeply affected by the death of her little brother. When she heard I was going to Italy she asked me to find his grave in Assisi which I did and I started reading up about the Italian Campaign. I used quite a bit of that research in my first book Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings which has some scenes where the main character Jack is fighting in Italy. But I was also interested in what it must have been like for the Italian civilians, soldiers and partisans during such a devastating and confusing conflict.
You are with a publishing company. Have you ever self-published? What would you say is the main advantage of being with a publisher?
Yes, my three books have been published by Crooked Cat Books. I haven’t self-published yet, mainly because I’m rubbish with technology but it’s something I’m looking into.
I know the feeling. I feel as though I thrash around, knocking into everything. But it is so necessary for marketing. Do you have a couple of writing tips you would like to share?
I don’t know if this makes the best commercial sense, but I write books I’d like to read. The nicest review I’ve had just said “I wish I’d written this.” I know that feeling – I’ve had it about lots of books but it was so lovely to hear someone say it about mine.
When you start writing you get bombarded by advice and it can get quite stressful trying to keep up with it all. I think it’s really important to engage with people and groups on social media, but juggling writing and promotion is really hard. I’ve found it’s best not to spread yourself too thinly.
Love, lies and betrayal in wartime Italy. Two girls growing up in Mussolini’s Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences. Against a backdrop of fear, poverty and confusion during the Second World War friendship is tested and loyalties divided. But a chance encounter changes everything. The girls’ lives diverge when beautiful, daring Martina marries and moves into Villa Leonida, the most prestigious house in their Tuscan village while plain, studious Irena trains to be a teacher.
But neither marriage, nor life at Villa Leonida are as Martina imagined. And as other people’s lives take on a new purpose, Irena finds herself left behind.
Decades later a tragedy at the villa coincides with the discovery of an abandoned baby whose identity threatens to re-open old wounds. While Irena’s son is determined to get to the truth, Martina’s daughter is desperate to keep the past hidden.
The Secret is published by Crooked Cat Books and is available in paperback £6.99 and kindle £1.99, here:
Katharine Johnson likes writing about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. She’s passionate about old houses and the stories they have to tell. She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire but spends as much time as she can in the Lucca area of Tuscany. When not writing you’ll find her exploring cities, drinking coffee, playing netball badly and walking her madcap spaniel
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Other books by Katy Johnson: The Silence:
Katy, I’ve so enjoyed meeting you – albeit virtually. I really hope we can properly meet up some day when you are over here in Tuscany. Good luck with your writing!