Meet an explorer of the dark corners of history

Annabel Fielding

 

 

 

 

 

Annabel arrived at my Chat Room in the middle of September.   The autumnal feeling was already in the atmosphere, and I was tempted to light a fire.  Annabel was wearing black jeans and a loose blue blouse, clearly indicating that she is not yet prepared to say a decisive farewell to summer.  Her handbag was slightly bulky – spacious enough to fit in all the possible gadgets and tools of trade, including, perhaps, an odd typewriter.

She was feeling rather tired after a long journey.  Inspired by Annabel’s interest in tea, I had been to a specialist shop, in Bath, to buy some tea.  Annabel approved of my quirky 1930s teapot and a vintage tea strainer.  Apparently, the Winter Mixture tea was perfect.  I served the tea with some shortbread biscuits.  I added stem ginger and lemon to the shortbread and the flavour worked perfectly with the tea.

Jessie:  The front cover of your debut novel looks intriguing.  Tell me more about your book. 

Annabel:  Three very different women get caught up in the political struggles of the 1930s, in three very different ways. The novel is about the allure of fascism, the allure of love, the power of art and the art of climbing to power.

Jessie:  What prompted you to write the book, and what genre does it fit into

Annabel:  I’d say it’s a cross between historical fiction and an LGBT novel. I can say it was inspired by the period dramas that followed in the wake of Downton Abbey (I think we all remember that craze!), but in a sort of twisted way. I had this desire to explore the darker side of the world they’ve showed, to dissect all the political conflicts they only hinted at.

Jessie:  How do you manage to combine a career in PR with writing?

Annabel:  Actually, I can count myself to be incredibly lucky, as most of my duties allow me to work from home and to generally keep flexible hours. Honestly, I cannot imagine how I would have kept up otherwise – scribbled during lunch breaks, probably!

Jessie:  It is such a challenge to release a debut novel.  What response have you had from the reviewers so far?

“A captivating, stylish… historical novel about the polite society, dangerous affairs … political intrigue and espionage in London in the 1930s.’ Christabel, Goodreads

“So well researched and written, this exciting time in Britain (pre-WWII) is brought life in this lively novel. ” Polly Krize, Goodreads

“A fantastic story line and wonderfully written, the plot is well thought out and a brilliant LGBT tale”. Charlotte McGlinchey, Goodreads

Jessie:  It seems as if you have researched the plot thoroughly and developed an intricate plot.  Read me a short extract from the book to tempt the reader.

‘It was as if Hester was once again cycling down the hill and feeling the wind roaring in her ears; only this time the brakes were broken, and the map was lost, and the landscape around her was full of dangers”.

Jessie:  It sounds like the character is having a difficult time here.  Can you provide a little context?

Annabel:  She is under a kind of double pressure here. She is drawn into a turbulent affair with a woman… I could have ended the sentence here, as we are talking about a respectable, salt-of-the-earth, small town girl in the 1930’s; but that’s not the end of it – she is drawn into a turbulent affair with a woman, who has her own dark secrets and a continents-spanning political agenda.

Jessie:  How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?

Annabel: I’d say it was a mix of relief and regret. Parting with Lucy was especially painful. I missed her terribly in the months to come, the shadows in her heart and her glorious way of making trouble..

Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why?  This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.

Annabel: I would have loved to hear Sarah Waters’ opinion on it. Her Tipping the Velvet was a revelation for the nineteen-years-old me.

Jessie:  Would your book appeal to fans of Sarah Waters?

Annabel:  I hope so! I have always loved her mix of sensuality, unparalleled historical atmosphere and social commentary.

Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?

Annabel: That way you’d be able to get your daily dose of hot jazz, bias-cut gowns and interwar intrigue while on the Tube.

Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?

“Into the coming storm”.

Jessie:  Is this a note for another book?  Tell me more!

Annabel:  I would be glad to say so – but, alas, my new book is still in the research phase! This from one of my drafts for the epilogue.

Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an author?

Annabel: For me it was to piece the intricacies of the plot together. After I was done with that, the actual writing process came surprisingly easy.

Jessie: Did you have beta readers and an editor?

Annabel:  Yes, I had good fortune to have as my editor the lovely Clio Cornish at the HQ Digital. She was a tremendous help for me, especially when it came to improving my plot flow or character development!

Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?

Annabel: Probably to disregard the romantic ‘tortured artist’ archetype and work out methods that would cause me as little torture as possible. In my case, it was dedicating enough time to careful research, detailed outline and scene-by-scene planning.

 More about Annabel…

Annabel Fielding graduated from the University of Arts London with an MA in Public Relations. She is a PR assistant by day and a novelist by night. Being a self-professed history geek, she dedicates her free time to obscure biographies, solo travel and tea. She also posts a mix of book reviews and travel photos on her blog at http://historygeekintown.com“. 

Annabel has always been unique.  She read The Iliad in primary school to prove everyone wrong.  She is obsessed with the dark corners of history and wants to bring them to life in her novels.  From an early age, Annabel liked to explore the world – prefect for a writer!

Hilarity in my handbag

Patricia Feinberg Stoner is presenting an extract of her award winning book. ‘At Home in the Pays d’Oc’ is the funniest book I have read this year: I am still recounting her anecdotes at dinner parties. Forget ‘Victoria’, someone should serialise this book for the Sunday night audience – we all need a laugh!

It is an honour to hand over to, the wordsmith, Patricia Feinberg Stoner. 

 

Dear readers,

I’m so pleased to be able to share At Home In the Pays d’Oc with you.  In this extract I’ve chosen the moment when, after a long search, my husband and I first set eyes on what was to become our home in the Languedoc.  It’s my abiding memory, even after 30 years, and I still feel the lift of excitement I felt that day.  I was sure then, and I am sure now, that when I first walked into the dusty, red-flagged kitchen, the house opened one eye and said ‘Well, you took your time getting here.’

Why read At Home in the Pays d’Oc?  Look at the state of the world!  If we are all going to hell in a handbag, then wouldn’t it be nice to have something light-hearted to offset the doom and gloom?   I hope this book will encourage everyone to follow their dream and see where it takes them.

I hope you enjoy this tale of our adventures, and that the book brings you something of the sunshine and fun and laughter that our sojourn in the Languedoc brought to us.

With all good wishes

Patricia Feinberg Stoner.

Extract:

Jean-Jacques, the estate agent, turned right, drove up a narrow street between ancient houses, turned the corner and stopped. We got out of the car. On the corner of the church square and a road so narrow you could have spanned it with outstretched arms, stood the ugliest house I had ever seen.

It was clearly old, very old. It was clearly cobbled together out of what had been two houses. It rose slab-fronted from the street, acres of decaying, yellowish crépis (plaster) bisected by sundry phone and electricity cables. A ridiculous stone staircase flanked by a stunted tree rose ungracefully to a pocket-handkerchief front terrace littered with debris and encrusted with cat droppings.

I stopped dead in my tracks. ‘Ohmigawd’ thought Himself to himself (as he told me later), ‘we’ve just bought a house.’

Why?  There were prettier houses. There were certainly prettier villages – Morbignan in those days was, to put it politely, a little run-down. What made me fall so immediately, so irrevocably in love with this house in this village?

Did I see possibilities in the tree?  In years to come it would grow so high that it could be seen on Google Earth.

Was I enchanted by the steps, crumbling and lichen-dappled though they were? Did I foresee their future when, cleaned and decorated with pots of scarlet geraniums, they would prompt visitors to exclaim ‘What a lovely house!’?

Who can tell?  All I can say is, the heart wants what the heart wants.

More about this ‘tale of accidental expatriates’…

This is the story of how a small brown and white spaniel turned the lives of two English holidaymakers upside down.

Patricia and her husband Patrick are spending the summer in their holiday home in the Languedoc village of Morbignan la Crèbe. One hot Friday afternoon Patrick walks in with the little dog, thinking she is a stray. They have no intention of keeping her.

‘Just for tonight,’ says Patrick. ‘We will take her to the animal shelter tomorrow.’ It never happens. They spend the weekend getting to know and love the little creature, who looks at them appealingly with big brown eyes, and wags her absurd stump of a tail every time they speak to her.

On the Monday her owner turns up, alerted by the Mairie. They could have handed her over. Instead Patricia finds herself saying: ‘We like your dog, Monsieur. May we keep her?’

It is the start of what will be four years as Morbignanglais, as they settle into life as permanent residents of the village. “At Home in the Pays d’Oc” is about their lives in Morbignan, the neighbours who soon become friends, the parties and the vendanges and the battles with French bureaucracy.

It is the story of some of their bizarre and sometimes hilarious encounters:  the Velcro bird, the builder in carpet slippers, the neighbour who cuts the phone wires, the clock that clacks, the elusive carpenter who really did have to go to a funeral.

At Home in the Pays d’Oc‘ has won a Five Star Book Award from One Stop Fiction.  Here is a flavour of the other reviews:

Part memoir, part travel book, wittily written and engaging, At Home in the Pays d’Oc is so much more than ‘how to live in a foreign country’.  Despite being penned anecdotally, it flows with the rhythm of a good novel. Ingenue Magazine

The author, Patricia, in this captivating book, takes the reader on a voyage of discovery, a celebration of the years she and her husband spent enjoying their French home.  Susan Keefe, Living in France

What I most admire about the couple’s story is their attitude to life in another country. (While Many expats are the “Little Englanders,” the Stoners make a real attempt to integrate into the social system of their adopted village.  Kathleen Lance, One Stop Fiction

Patricia is passionate about humour, food and writing; she loves all dogs and some people.  She has written: ‘At Home in the Pays d’Oc’, ‘Paw Prints in the Butter: A Clowder of Comical Cats’ and ‘The Little Book of Rude Limericks’. Her writing is witty, entertaining and a joy to read.

Patricia is releasing her ‘Little Book of Rude Limericks’, on 15th November.

Read my review of ‘At Home in the Pays d’Oc’ or visit Patricia in my Chat Room.

Join Patricia’s blog for her latest news and mewsings.

paw-prints-in-the-butter.com

 

Please see all my  Book Extracts and my blog at jessiecahahlin.com.

 

Something ‘Broken But Not Lost’ in my handbag

Broken

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ivy Logan is presenting the cover reveal of her gripping young adult romance, ‘Broken’.  It is a coming of age romance of sacrifice and love. As I am unfamiliar with this genre, I asked Ivy why I should place her supernatural fantasy adventure in my handbag.

Here is Ivy’s explanation:

Talia, my heroine, belongs to a time when there were no handbags. But for the modern reader, a handbag is all about a woman on the go with so much to do, places to go, things to achieve.

Broken is so apt for the modern reader, who is on the move, as you can pick up the at any time and find sanctuary in another world.  The novel will draw you into a magical world where women are not perfect, but love gives them the power and the courage to fight dragons. We all face dragons, in real life, for the love of our families.

Talia is fragile, has been hunted and has lost her entire family to an ancient curse. As an independent woman, she doesn’t need a prince to protect her, only to love her.  She has learned the best lesson in life- take a stand and face your nemesis head on.

This book offers young girls a female hero who believes in, her family, love and friendships. Although a fantasy, this book has a significant message.  Broken is the portrayal of a strong woman who deals with violence, bullying, grief and sacrifice.

Talia may live in a fantasy world, but like any girl in modern society, she has her own problems and insecurities to overcome before she is strong once again.

It is intriguing the way Ivy has presented an inspirational message in the story. Ivy weaved her magic and had me hooked on her clever tale, and I read the blurb to discover more…

The dark shadow cast by an ancient prophecy shatters an innocent family, but all that is broken is not lost.

Unaware of her supernatural legacy, half blood sorceress Talia has a unique childhood. Although protected by the love of her parents, Talia is instructed in the art of combat by her mother, Caitlin, a powerful sorceress of the Heichi clan.

When Talia’s family’s worst nightmare comes to pass, her protected life spins out of control. Everything she believes in and everyone she loves is cruelly snatched away and Talia is forced to flee the attentions of a mad king.

Choosing a path of retribution devoid of love and friendship, Talia comes to learn that love can be received even if it is not sought.

Broken’ is a tale of Talia’s coming of age, reuniting with her family, and seeking vengeance. Most of all, it chronicles, Talia’s rise from the ashes and how she finds herself again.

Set against a background of time travel and supernatural forces, read Talia’s epic saga of love, sacrifice, and discovering the hero within.

Once the magic spell of the blurb had been cast, I asked Ivy to present some magic words from the story…

Caitlin finally saw a way out of her torment. She had been born a guardian and it was now time to don the mantle again. She had to protect her little family.  She and the cursed child must be separated from each other. If they were not together, the prophecy could not come to pass.

But how does a mother choose? Choosing between her children seemed implausible and unthinkable, but for the sake of her family, she had to do it. She had to know which child lived under the shadow of the curse.

In little Joshua, who was so innocent and without guile, Caitlin saw Michael and the peace and calm he brought to her life. In Talia, she saw an image of herself, the strength, the promise of power, and unfortunately, the pain it could bring. Talia was the half blood; the prophecy predicting Caitlin would betray the Heichi on account of her child had to be related to Talia.

Broken Not Lost‘ is yet to receive reviews.  However, the prequel, Origins – Legends of Ava, has received wonderful reviews and this bodes well for the release of the novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do the reviewers say about the prequel to Broken, titled, Origins –The Legend of Ava?

‘What an introduction! It just leaves you hungry for more. Ivy Logan knows how to build a beautiful scenario even if it is a tragic one. The taste of her mythology is a fresh one. I can’t wait to read more.’ Selene Kallan

‘I have just had the pleasure of reading this short story and prequel to Broken; book one of The Breach Chronicles. The author has introduced the reader to a world where supernaturals live on earth and the complications that this can bring. In this story we meet Ava and the Heichi sorceresses and what a gripping start to the story it is when tragedy and subsequent decisions surrounding this, creates unease among the supernatural. This is a story you must read and it has left me wanting more. I hope it isn’t too long before Broken is released so that I can find out what happens next.’ Ann Walker

‘Picture the opening scene… The beautiful yet unassuming girl, the bad boy rebel… A budding romance. Without giving too much away, they don’t feature all that long in plot. This novel starts as it means to go on, it take all those YA tropes and lets you know that isn’t going to happen here.
I’m genuinely excited to read more of this story. The world being built is rich and new. I’m an artist and I’m already itching to bring to life on paper. The characters are, for lack of a better word, human. Flawed in a real sense that allows you to emphasize with them. The multi perspective way the story is presented allows for a 360 view of events. A very important factor to this introductory piece. I can’t wait for the next installment!’ Faith Summers

‘Ms. Logan has done a great job of setting up the premise for Broken, Book 1 of the Breach Chronicles. The characters are well described, their emotions jumping off the page, and all beautifully worded. I’m looking forward to reading the first installment of the series as this prequel peeks my interest to the epic saga that is to follow.’ Jacky Dahlhaus

 

 

Broken is Book 1 of The Breach Chronicles.   The cover evokes intrigue and Ivy’s writing has the magical quality required for this genre. I believe the readers will not leave this fantasy world until they are reassured that all is ‘Broken But Not Lost’.  This is Ivy’s debut novel and I wish her all the best with her magical adventures!

 

Please see my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

Virginia Woolf and Social Media

‘As a woman my country is the whole world.’ Three Guineas, Woolf

My country is the world. There are no borders, no passports and no countries in the world of social media; only portals to other people’s imagination and musings.

In Three Guineas, Virginia Wolf wrote, “As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”  And via social media, I have connected with writers from all over the world.  My endless stream of consciousness travels around the world through: tweets, my blog and Facebook posts.  People of the world open the virtual door to peek at a representation of my world, and I can walk over the threshold to visit their thoughts.

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

I weave in and out of articles, thoughts, pictures and moments of others. Everyone is documenting stories from their own viewpoint with unique and shared images.  I have the liberty to hop aboard someone’s narrative then return home to my own world.  Social media allows me to explore the texture of other people’s lives to search for inspiration.

A writing room of my own, connected to the world.

Like Virginia Woolf, I have a room of my own, but I have the company of a computer connected to the world.

While contemplating this brave new world, I wondered if Virginia Woolf would have engaged in social media.

Owing to the power of social media, I could knock on the virtual door of an internationally acclaimed Woolf scholar. Professor Maggie Humm wrote this in her email:

Waiting for Snapshots of Bloomsbury

“I think Virginia might well have used social media. She did write for Vogue with a photo of herself; did photograph from the age of 15 (I included over a hundred of these in my  Snapshots of Bloomsbury); spoke on the BBC several times and enjoyed seeing a range of films from The Bengal Lancer to newsreels.”

Maggie Humm’s eloquent response made me feel as it I was speaking to Virginia Woolf, in cyberspace.

Snapshots of Bloomsbury

Snapshots of Bloomsbury   showcases the photographs of Virginia Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell.   Humm’s commentary provides a critical insight into Woolf’s world and ‘the culture and artistry of the period’. Virginia Woolf represented her intimate world in photographs, decades before we became attached to our mobile phones. Now, this is a book I would be proud to own, but I will place it in my battered briefcase. Snapshots of Bloomsbury needs to be enjoyed in the physical rather than digital form.  However, I can’t help wondering what images and words Woolf would have chosen to share via social media.   If only, I could invite Virginia Woolf to my Chat Room.

 

Please see all my adventures at Handbag Adventures and my website and blog at JessieCahalin.com.

 

Meet the wordsmith ‘with a keen sense of the ridiculous

Patricia Feinberg Stoner 

 

 

 

The wonderfully witty author of At Home in the Pays d’Oc arrived on a perfect summer’s day. Purdey, HRH the Dog, also accompanied Patricia.

My esteemed guest admired the scones that I had baked for the occasion. Purdey was not amused so decided to take a nap. The scon / scohne debate lasted until Purdey awoke from her slumber in my favourite armchair.

Patricia had brought some pork pies as a tribute to my northern roots and a limerick to mock my obsession with handbags.  The limerick below is now proudly displayed on my website. Apparently, Patricia is writing a book of limericks

Our Jessie’s bit of a wag:
She doesn’t think reading’s a drag.
Her authors, excited
To be so invited
All send her their books for her bag.

Patricia hopes that ‘the Little book of Rude Limericks’ will be out in time for Christmas.  Her illustrator has gone missing…

After much hilarity, tea and scones were abandoned for a good bottle of Picpoul de Pinet. It was a hoot to listen to Patricia’s anecdotes about her experiences and I could have listened to her all day.  Finally, we managed to get back on track commence the interview.

Jessie: Summarise At Home in the Pays d’Oc in two sentences.

Patricia: A humorous memoir that is largely, but not entirely, based on fact. It’s the story of how my husband and I became expatriates in the south of France for four years – without really meaning to.

Jessie:  Your book is probably the funniest book that I have ever read and everyone should read it.  What do others say about your reviews. At first, Patricia was hesitant to share the reviews until I insisted. 

‘Laugh-out-loud funny, always engaging, a great read.’  Ingénue Magazine

5.0 out of 5 stars.  What a delicious book! Patricia’s telling of Himself – and Herself’s – life in the Pays d’Oc is so well written. Funny in places, poignant in others, and exasperating too sometimes, as they deal with their new life in southern France. A joy to read.  Elfyn Morris, Amazon

‘Patricia writes with a warm engaging tone, great to read if you fancy an escape in the sunshine. A very enjoyable read – highly recommended!’ TJ Green, NZ book reviewer

Jessie: Read an extract from your book that will tempt a reader.

When I first met my husband, he announced casually, quite early on in the relationship, that he didn’t like France. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘this will not do.’ I decided to change his ways.

Jessie: How did you feel when you had finished writing your book?

I felt a mixture of things.  Relief, of course, at having finally finished it.  But a little sadness too.  I had been living with these stories for a decade:  they started out life as a series of sketches for a French property magazine.  Turning them into a book brought back some wonderful memories, and quite a bit of laughter.  I had lots of stories left over, so I immediately started planning the next book.

Jessie:  I do hope that you write a sequel.

Patricia: It was suggested I should write ‘At Home in West Sussex’, which is where I live now.  After some initial excitement, I decided this was a non-starter.  I have returned to France instead and am writing a collection of short stories provisionally called ‘Morbignan Tales’.

Jessie: Have the people in your book read your novel, and did they recognise themselves? 

Patricia: My best friend recognised herself instantly when I called her ‘the acquisition queen’.  Luckily, she saw the funny side.  A lot of the people in the book are French, though, and I doubt if they will have read the book.  Apart from my lunatic neighbour I think I have been kind about everyone:  the book is written with a lot of affection.  And I hope to goodness no-one will think it is patronising or condescending, as some other books about living in France can be.

Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why?  This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family. 

Patricia: That’s a poser.  Language barrier aside, I’d be happy if some of my neighbours from the village read it, and I hope it would make them laugh. In particular I’d like M. Alibert, who took a chance on us and let us have Purdey, to know she is well and happy and still with us at the ripe old age of 15.  It would be quite nice, too, if the BBC came knocking…

Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?

Patricia Feinberg Stoner

Patricia: Look at the state of the world!  If we are all going to hell in a handbag, then wouldn’t it be nice to have something light-hearted to offset the doom and gloom?

Jessie: What is the last sentence in your writer’s notebook?

Patricia: I have a thing called the Owl Book.  I’ve had one since I started work on a local newspaper back in the dark ages – the first one just happened to have an owl on the cover and the name stuck.  I write in everything that happens:  thoughts, phrases that might come in useful, limericks and also memory-jogging stuff like groups I’ve joined and review copies I’ve sent out.  The last note I made was ‘A Dog Called Useless’ which is a reminder to re-think the title of my next book…

Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an independent author?

Patricia: The fact that you can never, never stop promoting.  There are some wonderful exceptions, such as Ingénue magazine which is immensely supportive, but on the whole it is extremely difficult to get publicity for an independently published book.

Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?

Patricia: Well, it’s a bit tongue in cheek, but when I first started work I as a journalist I had a wise old news editor who once looked at one of my more fanciful pieces and remarked ‘Never spoil a good story for the sake of a few hard facts.’  I interpret this as being true to the spirit of what happened, rather than the letter.

About Patricia… 

It was wonderful fun to interview Patricia.  She has an instinctive dry sense of humour and is warm and engaging like the narrator in At Home in the Pays d’Oc.

Patricia is a words person:  she loves reading, writing and dogs (and some people).   She can be lazy, though:  like a lot of writers she will do anything – even housework – to delay sitting down at the keyboard.  She has a keen sense of the ridiculous and is prone to compose daft limericks at the drop of a hat.

I sincerely hope that the BBC will make a series out of the warm-hearted, funny and poignant book.  Alternatively, Patricia should go on a theatre tour to perform her limericks, present anecdotes and engage with the audience.

Please meet all My Guests and see my blog at jessiecahalin.com

A tale of two continents

The Giants Look Down

 

Sonja Price

 

 

 

This gripping tale explores cultural differences, in two continents, through the life of Jaya and her brother.  An intelligent study of how one’s understanding of freedom is relative to education, experience and culture: a very poignant, contemporary message!

Jaya was born in a place where ‘the tiny mauve and yellow flowers danced in the breeze as the snowy summits of Pin Panjal meditated in the morning sun.’  Despite the beauty and implied freedom and romance of the landscape, the women are inhibited by their culture and the ugly politics of war torn Kashmir.  Jaya’s gentle, intelligent observations give an insight into her world as a Kashmiri girl.  Her mother asserts ‘you’re a girl’ and believes that ‘love rides on reason, not romance.’  It is clear Jaya is destined to search beyond this and it is impossible not to admire her questioning.

Jaya wishes on a ‘shooting star’ and the author maps out Jaya’s destiny beautifully.  The novel explores how the independent, free spirited mind can find flight if given the right opportunities.  But the opportunities must be accompanied with an inquiring mind. Jaya’s entrapment in Delhi is as stifling as the intense heat which ‘pressed down on city life like a giant hand.’ Her value, as a potential bride, diminishes once her parents have been killed.  She will find a way to escape a doomed arranged marriage – she is born to fight.

In contrast, Tahir, Jaya’s brother is forced to survive in a world of violence.  Here, Price examines how the innocent, accepting mind can become involved in terrorism.  Tahir’s life is written in the third person as he never finds his own voice.  Jaya’s story is written in the first person so that you can recognise her strength and identity.  She wants to be a wife ‘but (she) wasn’t going to give up everything.’  Ironically, the masculine stereotype and expectations shackle Tahir to a life of unfulfillment. Sadly, a lack of ambition and opportunity forces Tahir to accept his comrades as family.

Like her father, Jaya leaves ‘The Giants’ behind and moves to Scotland.  The cool Scottish breeze brings a fresh new perspective to Jaya’s life.  ‘The ocean! A slate grey stretching out to the horizon’ is symbolic of Jaya’s freedom and endless possibilities.  Meanwhile, her brother remains in Kashmir, and Tahir, believes the British to be the destructive force in his country.  He asks a British man, ‘Have you thought about the devastation your empire has left behind?’  He is unable to see how different cultures can collaborate and learn from each other. Tahir fights for his confused perception of freedom while his sister, Jaya, fights to save lives.  Jaya and Tahir’s father was a doctor. Jaya’s father involved her in his mission of caring for everyone, regardless of religion or race.

Jaya learns to inhabit the space between two cultures and finds her identity.  Her love for Alistair gives her stability, purpose and strength. Tahir is tormented by:

‘The poverty, the beauty, the peace and the violence.  Such extremes separated by the blink of an eyelid.

Tahir never examines his own world as he is too caught up in the conflict and grudges.   The natural ebb and flow of the Jaya’s narrative is enchanting while we never get inside of Tahir’s confused, inhibited mind.  The tale of two continents explores cultural difference: it is a wonderful book of contrasts.  For instance, the peaceful setting Kashmir Valley translates ‘paradise on earth’ yet it conceals conflict.  Jaya questions: ‘How could the landscape be beautiful when Alistair was suffering?’ Like Jaya, one must look beneath the surface.

This novel teaches us to have a respect and understanding of other cultures but we need the freedom to ask questions and pursue our ambition: above all, everyone needs to be loved. ‘Azadi’ (freedom) is a state of mind influenced by opportunities, the people we meet and the strength to ask pertinent questions.

A sensitive, well-crafted narrative that explores challenging themes through a beautiful central character. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly!

 

Please see all my reviews at Books In Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

Will I need space for a broken heart in my handbag?

Now and Then in Tuscany

Angela Petch

Will I need space for a broken heart in my handbag? 

 

 

 

Click here to buy on Amazon

‘In my heart there was a storm that needed to break and my heart hurt like thorns on the wild rosa canina growing in the hedgerows…’

If you embark on this journey of discovery then be sure to prepare some delicious crostini, in advance, as you will not be able to put the book down….

This is a story of love wrapped up in an insight into rural history and customs of Tuscany. Meet ancient craftsmen and farmers, of Montebotolino, and marvel at the tenacity of their families; see how they survived difficult times.

The history of Giuseppe, a farrier and a cobbler, is completely absorbing.  Giuseppe was born at the beginning of last century.  His naivety leads him down some challenging paths, but this shapes the man, and ‘suffering begins the journey to wisdom.’   I found myself wanting to shout at Giuseppe and send him in the direction of love; the loves story is beautiful.

For me, the novel unlocked secrets of the enchanting holiday destination.  I have often wondered who had once walked along the ancient tracks, and who once lived in the ancient dwellings that nestle in the mountains.   As the title suggests, the reader delves into rural Tuscany as it is now and as it was back then at the beginning of last century. The reader has the privilege of meeting characters from the different generations and has more knowledge than the characters:  it is satisfying to fit the jigsaw together.  Indeed, there is a cleverly crafted narrative, in which there are emotional parallels in the lives of the characters from the past and the present.

Giuseppe’s grandson, Francesco, and his English wife, Anna have turned the ancient houses into holiday lets. Their son, Davide, encounters some of the emotional challenges of childhood that Giuseppe, his great-grandfather, had to face. Alba, Giuseppe’s great-granddaughter, faces choices about education very different to her great-grandparents.   Whilst Giuseppe’s grandson Francesco and his wife face different daily routines; this reminds us of how life has changed. However, the tenderness between the couples from both generations is crafted skilfully, and there is an exploration of love.

Life, in Montebotolino, was hard at the beginning of the last century.  Yet, the people had to make the most of nature’s larder, and the peasant food is so tempting.  It seems that the working people, from the past, shaped the menus in contemporary Italy, sadly many of their homes have been left empty as their lifestyle was too difficult. The charm, and majestic beauty of the Tuscan landscape is still there to seduce the modern traveller.  Fortunately, we can still see:

‘Cypress tree lined twisting white ribbon roads up hills towards impressive stone buildings…trees like stakes holding down the land.’

This story takes the reader beneath the surface of the magical holiday destination, associated with a paradise for the eye and the belly.

The transumanza is the Italian term for transhumance, the traditional twice yearly migration of sheep and cows from the highlands to the lowlands, and vice versa. The word literally means “crossing the land”. Ref:  Wikipedia

 

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