A Tuscan Feast to indulge the Senses
It is an absolute delight to invite fellow author, Angela Petch to feature as a guest writer. I met Angela over a year ago, during a self-publishing panel discussion with our authors’ networking group CHINDI. Her first novel ‘Tuscan Roots’ was published in 2016 and takes the reader on a wonderful journey into the Italian Appenines.
So over to you, Angela. Let’s start by asking you where you get your inspiration from?
I love talking to the elderly about their lives. In this remote corner of Eastern Tuscany where I spend six months every summer, there are still horrific reminders of World War 2 in the mountains. There were massacres in a couple of nearby villages. I feel the stories of these ordinary people should be recorded. I love the traditions too: the folklore, medical treatments handed down through generations… the landscape inspires me. The mountains, valleys, people who live here all have stories to be told. It’s the same in England – I’m nosy. I often take the bus along the sea front, a bag with notebook and pen and find a café to linger over a coffee and people watch and imagine… I speak Italian fluently so can use sources, diaries, documents here. The best source is oral, however.
This all sounds very moving and going by your photos, a beautiful part of the world too. So when did your passion for writing begin?
I’ve always been a bookworm. When I was about eight I wrote a play, made the puppets, played all the parts and invited my family to watch. I remember my father pretending to attend, but he was really reading his newspaper! English was my favourite subject at school. I only started writing in earnest, however, once my three children were beginning to fly the nest.
I started by writing short stories (which I still do) and then surprised myself by deciding to write a historical novel based on my Italian mother-in-law’s interesting life. She was a war bride and her accounts were so fascinating. Then, when we retired seven years ago, the area that we moved to for the summer is full of history about the partisans in the Second World War, that I decided to combine all these memoirs into a novel. I had more time too. I write historical fiction – based on a lot of fact. (Is there such a term as historical faction? That would better suit my genre).
In fact, if I were to describe my writing in 10 words, I would say: Factual, romantic, historical fiction recording poignant memories.
When and where do you prefer to do your writing?
I tend to write in the afternoon after I’ve done jobs in the morning. In Italy I have a space at the top of our converted stable and in Sussex, I share a study with my husband. Sometimes I will write outside but I need to be on my own.
I have to ask, but are your characters based on real people or people you know?
Some of them are – but I have a very vivid imagination too. They do say that it isn’t wise to be friends with an author – you might find yourselves appearing in a story! Inadvertently I upset my husband when I started writing short stories. I had invented a murderer who was a quantity surveyor (as was he) and I remember him throwing down the story and being convinced I had cast him as the villain. We had quite an argument… I suppose we draw details from real life too. I hadn’t meant to upset him and it was a lesson for me to be careful and respectful. I would never use anybody’s memories without asking permission first.
How funny! And you’re right I have heard the expression ‘don’t upset an author or they may just kill you in your next novel.’ Humour aside, do have any favourite authors?
Oh what a difficult question! I’ve had many… I think it depends on where you are at that moment in your life who you prefer; what suits your mood. I read a lot – and a wide range of authors. I like Jill Mansell, Julia Gregson, Jo Jo Moyes, Amanda Hodgkinson, Nicci French… I don’t think I have A favourite author and I found this difficult to answer… I’m reading a book by Rosanna Ley and I’m enjoying her and will probably look up her other books. But in a couple of months’ time, who knows?
What is your all time favourite book and why?
At the moment, “All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr. What a masterpiece. It is absolutely beautiful and if I could show one tenth of his skill in my writing, I would be ecstatic. It took him ten years to write and it is not a book you can “eat” in one sitting. Each page is a work of art. It also deals with a subject I have often wondered about. The Second World War in his book is largely seen through the experiences of two young children. The boy becomes a member of the Hitlerjugend – mainly because it will keep him from starving. He is an orphan. I often wonder how I would have reacted to propaganda during a war. Would I been able to see through it? Would I have protested or would I have been too much of a coward? My own mother-in-law was a teenager in the war in Italy and every Saturday, she donned her Fascist uniform and went off to march around the main square with all the other youngsters of her age. It was what you did, she said. I would recommend this book to everybody. Thought provoking. Beautiful! I like a book that makes me think.
It sounds as if your writing is greatly influenced by stories set in wartime. So how did you research your own novel?
For my Tuscan novels, maybe too much. But I want to know so many details that I can live like my characters in that world I am describing. I have lever arch files filled with details that didn’t all make it into my stories. I think we have to be careful too, if we are writing fiction, not to pull the narrative out of shape with too many facts. I find it hard to stop.
I like authors who write through the hearts of the characters. With this in mind, who would you like to see playing the lead character in your book and why?
For my first novel, “Tuscan Roots”, I would love to be able to turn the clocks back and cast my beautiful 91 year old mother-in-law, Giuseppina, as Ines. She would be perfect. Am I allowed that fantasy? She would just “get it”. I based a lot of her own story on Ines, so the director would not have to explain too many things. And, although she’s lived in England for over 70 years, she still has a strong Italian accent. Perfect!
For the second novel, “Now and Then in Tuscany”, I would definitely cast Aidan Turner. He is so watchable and a good actor too. (Trying not to dwell on the drop dead gorgeous aspect). He is dark too – could pass for an Italian. And there are one or two romantic scenes I could see him in. Oh, stop it… you’ve got me going now!
Good choice! Mmmm… don’t get me started on Aidan Turner. I seem to be wandering off track a little, so onto the next question and fast. Do you work out a strict plot or just start writing?
I’m a bit of a butterfly in most things so I don’t follow a strict plot. I have a notion but if it deviates, then I tend to follow. I always have to do loads of editing and cutting out afterwards, but I like to let my thoughts fly onto the paper, without worrying too much in the initial stages.
Interesting. In that case, what’s the best advice about writing you were ever given?
“Just write”. I have that written on a river stone on my desk. Get on with it. Get something down on paper/screen. Prune it after, by all means, but have something to prune and edit. There should be no such thing as writer’s block. Harsh, maybe.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Are we talking about writing? I don’t think there’s much point in having regrets in life…best to go forward. As regards the writing, I think I would have approached agents. I didn’t have the confidence in myself but, after winning one or two competitions, I’ve begun to flutter my wings a little…
Lastly, I must ask, what are your future plans for writing?
My two books have been taken on by Endeavour Press and I am very proud about that. They will be reissued mid-November onwards. At the moment I am trying to engage more with social media to increase publicity and widen my readership. I’m also half way through a completely different project. I’m writing a novella which I hope will come over as gently humorous. Ten years ago I lost my best friend to cancer. We used to go out together and called each other Mavis and Dot. When she was very ill, I wrote her some short stories based on the imagined escapades of these two ladies. She loved them. I’m developing their antics into “The adventures of Mavis and Dot”. In the back of my mind (but often jumping forwards) is an idea for a third Tuscan novel. It will feature the stories of migrants and other characters who left this area where we live in Italy. Lots of research and thinking to be done.
Congratulations on being taken on by Endeavour Press, that is wonderful News! Your novella sounds wonderful and what a lovely accolade to your friend. I have read Tuscan Roots and thought it was a beautiful, moving story that really stirred my feelings. So I will finish this post by adding a link to your books:
And finally, a little about Angela
Family are all important. I’ve been happily married to Maurice for forty years… can’t believe it. He’s half Italian and we met in Sicily where we were both employed in the construction industry. I have a degree in Italian and lived in Rome from the ages of seven to fourteen, so Italy features highly in my life. I met Maurice in my early twenties when I’d escaped from a stupid boyfriend and when we were introduced, I told Maurice I’d given up with men. He found that vaguely insulting, understandably… We are lucky to have a son and two daughters and four little grandchildren. We’ve lived and worked in Tanzania, Holland, Italy and I was born in Germany. I’d find it nigh on impossible to survive without books. I read all sorts and, surprise, surprise, I love to write. My handbags always have pens and notebooks inside, rather than lipstick and perfume. I love watching and playing tennis competitively but at the moment I’m nursing a shoulder injury so, instead, I walk up mountains. Hard life, eh? Cooking, eating, red wine. What else? My rather wobbly Christian faith is also important to the real me.
Social media links:
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AngelaJaneClarePetch