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.