‘..clearly, here was an event that gripped the nation like no other and didn’t relax its grasp for twenty one whole days.’
Tour de Yorkshire fever is about to grip Yorkshire this Friday. In preparation for the race, I have placed a topical book, about cycling, in my handbag. Nowadays, I can’t wait to go and capture the atmosphere of this cycling event but I haven’t always been a fan!
However, my husband has always been obsessed with the Tour de France and is glued to the television for three weeks during the tournament. I could never understand the appeal; to me it seemed like endless scenery whizzing past. I was not impressed when my husband decided to buy me a book about the event. He assured me that I didn’t need to be an enthusiast to read French Revolutions by Tim Moore.
Annoyingly, I did love the book, and didn’t stop laughing; it was something to read whilst my husband watched the race. It is an hilarious book about an amateur cyclist, aged 35, who decided to complete the Tour de France route six weeks before the big race. Admittedly, you do learn about the event, but the book is crammed full of entertaining anecdotes. Moore’s style of writing just breezes along, punctuated with witty observations.
The book entertained me and managed to begin a revolution in my heart! I was nudged again when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, and then when the Tour de France visited Yorkshire. It really was like a fever had swept through God’s own county.
I’ll leave you with the words of that great French cycling legend:
“It was like having a Tour de France stage in my home region, it was so amazing. I am not saying that because I am here, I really feel it. To see my name written on the road or on banners held by children really touches me. I have been a rider for 16 years and I have never seen anything like that.”
Thomas Voekler, France, Tour de Yorkshire Winner 2016
Lizzie Lamb’s blue VW camper attracted admirers at Urquhart Castle, Scotland. The engine purred obediently, as Lizzie expertly manoeuvred the vintage beauty into a parking space, overlooking Loch Ness. Excited to see the van featured in Boot Camp Bride, I patted the gleaming bonnet.
The door opened, Lizzie emerged and invited me inside. She wore a very glamorous blue and white blouse and jeans.
While she prepared some tea in the compact kitchen, I opened a tin of Scottish shortbread, with a picture of Nessie on the tin, and managed to drop biscuits on the pristine table. Laughing, Lizzie helped me to clear up the mess. A copy of Lizzie’s novel, ‘Girl at the Castle’, invited me to peer inside. Lizzie’s books are always so beautifully designed and presented in a distinctive lilac colour, they match perfectly with my handbag.
Jessie: All of your books look like tempting gifts of lilac loveliness for the reader. If I open the book, then I will start to read it. Tell me about ‘Girl in the Castle’.
Lizzie: Fate takes Henriette Bruar to a Scottish castle where the laird’s family are in mourning over a tragedy which happened many years before. Cue a phantom piper, a lost Jacobite treasure, and a cast of characters who – with Henri’s help, encourage the family to confront the past and move on. As part of the healing process, Henriette falls in love with the laird’s son, Keir, and they achieve the happy ending they both deserve.
Jessie: The plot and setting sound thrilling. I know you write in a very natural and witty style. Can you tempt us with a couple of words from ‘Girl in the Castle’?
Lizzie: ‘Giving a superstitious shiver, Henriette acknowledged there were subtle forces at work in this ancient castle. Forces which wanted her and Keir to be together, forever.’
Jessie: This is so tempting! You craft the words so artfully. I know you have been longlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize. What did the reviewers say?
Lizzie opened up a folder on her laptop and read some reviews. I was sure I heard the distant sound of bagpipes, but Lizzie didn’t comment.
Lizzie: Ah, here they are. I’ll read three reviews.
‘I loved all the many elements in this novel: The location, history, slightly paranormal atmosphere, love lost and found, and a missing treasure. Not to forget gorgeous Keir MacKenzie, a hero to swoon over.’
‘This convincing romance beginning in conflict and distrust is set in stunning scenery which comes to life through Henri’s experiences and Keir’s enthusiasm for his birth right. A great read!’
‘Girl in the Castle is romantic, witty, interesting and you don’t want it to finish. I enjoyed all the characters – and the storyline. I laughed, gasped, and wished I were Henriette! I love the way Lizzie is knowledgeable about Scotland and shares this with the reader in a heartfelt way. A romantic novel with substance and wit – hurry up and write us the next one, please.’
Jessie: As expected the reviews wax lyrical about your writing. Having read one of your novels, I get the sense that you are very attached to the characters and this brings them to life so beautifully. Did you miss the characters of ‘Girl in the Castle’ when you had finished writing the novel?
Lizzie: When I finish a novel it’s always hard to say goodbye to the characters. Many of my readers feel the same and often ask for a sequel. However, although I miss the characters and the setting ,once I type THE END, that’s it for me. I leave the novel so that readers can imagine what would happen next . . . I think it has been hardest to say goodbye to Henri and Keir. And – mad writer alert – I still have conversations with them in my head and I know exactly what they’re doing now. I felt the same about Charlee and Rafa in Boot Camp Bride and Fliss and Ruairi in Tall, Dark and Kilted.
Lizzie opened a collection of photographs in a gallery. She left me to scroll through the images while she refilled the teapot. I was sure I heard the bagpipes again as I studied the photos.
Lizzie: We spend a month each year in Scotland. Castle Stalker on Loch Linnhe, near Oban is the inspiration behind Girl in the Castle.
Jessie: Of course, I have seen this iconic image on the front cover. I’d love to visit the castle and read all your novels. Who would you like to read your novels?
Lizzie: I would choose Jilly Cooper. I adored her earlier books: Emily, Prudence etc. and her bonk busters: Polo, Riders et al. I would like Jilly to read my books because that would be my way of saying: ‘thank you for inspiring me to become a writer, and for making it all seem possible’. If I’m allowed a second, more practical choice, I would thank Amazon for giving indie authors the means of getting their books ‘out there’ to a wide audience of readers.
Jessie: As an independent author, I notice your wealth of images and campaigns. Where do you get the photos from?
Lizzie: As a writer and blogger I am very aware of infringing copyright so I have subscribed to a couple of websites where I pay and download images: https://www.123rf.comhttps://www.dreamstime.comhttps://unsplash.com Other than that, I take my own photos with my iPhone wherever I go. A word of warning, don’t assume that images you see on Pinterest etc. are copyright free, always double check before uploading anything onto your sites. If in doubt, credit the artist/photographer.
Although, it was drizzling and grey outside, we decided to enjoy the Scottish weather. Meandering along the shores of Loch Ness, we both joked about meeting up with Monster.
Jessie: Tell me, why should I keep your novel in my handbag?
Lizzie: My book would be the ideal companion when you’re feeling at a low ebb because I write feel good books, set in wonderful locations, with humorous secondary characters and, most importantly, a hero to fall in love with. If you want a break from the usually run of the mill romances, try one of mine. Oh, and bring a large handbag, my paperbacks are 9”x5” and need lots of space.
Jessie: Don’t worry, I am always hunting for a new handbag. I think a tartan handbag is called for, after this trip. What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Lizzie: Dialogue between the hero (Logan) and his grandfather written as bullet points (which is how I generally write dialogue in my first draft).
– do you love the girl?
– I guess I do, but . . .
– then what are you waiting for. Go get her. As the poet said: faint heart never won fair lady.
While Lizzie read her dialogue, I noticed a mysterious shadow in the water, and the skirl of bagpipes sounded closer. I think a certain Nessie may have been listening to the story. Neither of us commented because we just knew… Lizzie removed a delicate whisky flask from her handbag and we celebrated with a wee dram. Slainte!
Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an author?
Lizzie: Writing books has never been an issue, my head is teeming with ideas for future novels. The hard bit is getting my books to the notice of a wider public and finding new readers. I would love to get my books in supermarkets etc. but I know that won’t happen without my being a contracted author. If I was contracted to one of the ‘Big Five’ publishers I’d probably have to write books in genres I wouldn’t enjoy. So, its Catch-22 for me. I would like more time to write and spend less time on social media, but without social media I wouldn’t have achieved the sales I have.
Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Lizzie: Stop endlessly polishing the first three chapters and a synopsis to send to agents and publishers. You might find that once the novel is completed you jettison the first few chapters in any case. Finish the whole novel, edit it and then polish it to send out to agents/publishers (if that’s the route you want to take). Failing that, publish it yourself – but remember, time, tide and the whims of publishers/agents wait for no man. By the time you write that great novel of yours, trends will have changed and your novel won’t be what agents/publishers are looking for.
Jessie: This interview has inspired me to plan a trip to Scotland, but my Scottish neighbour is always warning me about the midges.
Lizzie: The received wisdom is that you are ‘pretty safe’ in late May/ early June but the wee beasties are bad in July and August. Having said that, if May is very warm, the eggs hatch and they come early. We’ve never been bothered by them and I’ve received worse bites in our garden in the summer.
Jessie: That’s reassuring. Where’s the best place to begin a tour?
Lizzie: Edinburgh or Inverness make great centres to tour from if you’ve never been to Scotland before. Fewer midges on that coast, too. We love the west coast but it is much wetter (and more midges). Stirling is also a good centre as you can have some fantastic days out exploring the Trossachs. When you get a feel for those parts of Scotland you can head for the ‘wilder parts’ on another visit.
Lizzie showed me collection of photos. Ardvreck Castle, Assynt Geo Park Nth West Scotland, Achnasheen nr Kinlochewe, island in middle of Lake Maree, Argyll and Bute
Jessie: Thanks for the advice. I am going to stock up on your novels then plan another trip to Scotland.
Lizzie: If you have a dream – go for it. Life is not a rehearsal After teaching my 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, I decided it was time to leave the chalk face and pursue my first love: writing. In 2006 I joined the Romantic Novelists? Association’s New Writers? Scheme, honed my craft and wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), quickly followed a year later by Boot Camp Bride (2013) and Scotch on the Rocks (2015) – finalist, The Exeter Novel Prize.
Lizzie is hardworking, creative and focused on writing the best book she can. She loves sharing her stories and ideas with readers, new and old. She gets a real buzz when readers tell her that when they turned the last page of her novel they feel bereft and she should hurry up and write another.
I first stumbled on Lizzie’s books when searching for another great reading escape. Thrilled at Lizzie’s ability to inspire comedy, I downloaded all of her novels. Her Scottish books motivated me to plan a holiday in Scotland. Lizzie is great fun and her love of writing shines through her novels.
Lizzie says: “when I’m not writing – I’m dreaming”
I had the pleasure of visiting Yorkshire Sculpture Park last week. It is an open-air art gallery, set in the grounds of an eighteenth-century mansion. The landscaped gardens work together with the sculptures to create an amazing creative harmony.
There is such a variety of sculptures and each one inspires questions. Indeed, it is amazing the way in which perfect strangers are happy to discuss the sculptures without worrying about their interpretations. Perhaps the visitors feel uninhibited as they are not confined by the walls of gallery that echoes with knowledge. Who knows?’
During the walk, we stumbled on many people from different nationalities. An Australian woman told me that she had been ‘startled’ by a wonderful sculpture of a woman’s head. We agreed that the spirit of the woman seems to beckon you. From a distance, the sculpture looks like a projected image – prompting: is she real or imaginary? As you approach, the sculpture is flat – like the silhouette on a stamp. It is a beautiful form that seemed to appeal to women rather than men, on that day. Despite the grey sky, the light was adding a mystical quality that gave the sculpture an air of confidence. What this suggesting something about the modern woman?
Further into the walk, we were greeted by Highland cattle. These creatures were so still, and at ease with the visitors, that we wondered if they were sculptures. We also found a dead tree with ancient looking bark and a very twisted form. Had the tree been left there to demonstrate how natural objects can also be sculpted by the elements? We were having this debate when another visitor overheard and said, ‘What a load of arty farty nonsense!’ This brought us completely down to earth and reminded me of how everything is open to interpretation.
Still laughing at the comments, we found some steps that were carved into the earth paving a way to some open woodland. I decided that the steps were a sculpture but my husband was sceptical at this point; he had been influenced by our fellow Yorkshire folk. A plaque marked the spot as if to reassure me. It felt as if someone was presenting a hopeful message about the climb. Pardon the pun, but I went a step further and commented that to me they represented the struggle for independent authors. But that was my interpretation at that point in time: I was influenced by my emotions, experience, the weather and, of course, ‘arty farty nonsense’.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a wonderful place to visit. I wonder if you would be able to spot the sculptures that instigated our discussions? Would you agree with the interpretations? Did someone deliberately construct a place when art can be read according to mood, weather and other factors? I don’t know the answer to this but invite you to have a look. Perhaps some of the questions should be placed next to the sculptures? Maybe, there will be a sculpture of a handbag in the future, or possibly a sculpture constructed of books.
Following the visit, I was brimming with questions and ideas. Reading the sculptures inspired my own writing, and reminded me that it is so important to take some time for reflection. I placed picture postcards of the sculptures in my handbag, rather than books. However, I know that I will return to ask more questions and to find a suitable reading spot – or maybe several.
Nobody followed me to the No Sign Bar, Swansea – a regular haunt of Dylan Thomas. Seated next to the window, I searched inside of my handbag for Collected Stories by Dylan Thomas. I found ‘The Followers’, a ghost story, hidden inside the anthology.
A ping from my phone confirmed a signal, but I ignored the emails. I sat in the bar Thomas renamed the Wine Vaults. I read the opening lines of the story, but there was no sign of the beer I had just ordered. Without anything to quench my thirst, there was nothing I could do apart from read on. Between words, I felt compelled to search for two pairs of eyes outside of the window, but there was no sign of anyone.
Outside the window, ‘the rain spat and drizzled past the street lamps’. No one wore ‘squeaking galoshes, with mackintosh collars up and bowlers and trilbies’. Alas, the ‘rattle of bony trams’ was silenced long ago. Only the swish of car tyres, hum of engines and slamming of car doors filled the silence on the streets. Gazing at the decaying red window frames, I did not see ‘a young man with his arm around a girl’. Instead, I glimpsed a young couple hand in hand dashing across the road while there was a break in the traffic. Outside, there was a mass of coloured jackets and everyone wore jeans, leggings or trousers. No one looked inside the tatty building. They didn’t seem to care that Dylan Thomas had once frequented this watering hole.
Reading the short story, I pursued the followers, as they scurried through the alley. Inside, No Sign Bar, I could smell the old musty wine cellar. No one was responsible for the spontaneous spark of colour in the open fire. The pitted floorboards had been battered by tired and drunken feet for centuries. Words echoed around cavernous room. Perhaps, these were the words that inspired Dylan Thomas’s story ‘The Followers’: his only ghost story. And I heard the rise and fall of the Welsh accent that probably escaped into the pages of Thomas’s mind, as he imagined the story. I read the final sentence, ‘And we went our separate ways.’ I departed.
Near to Paradise Alley, I heard a voice echo. ‘Spare some change, madam?’ The homeless soul was clutching a synthetic, fleece blanket. His watery, bloodshot eyes regarded me as he rolled himself a cigarette. I spared him fifty pence, but this wouldn’t even buy him a beer. He caught the meagre offering with a grateful nod that punched my conscience.
‘Have you seen Leslie?’ mumbled the man. He looked at my handbag as I retrieved more change.
I nodded. ‘Only bread and jam in my handbag,’ I declared.
I ran to the car park. The rain drizzled until diluted my memory of the bar. I heard the distance tapping of footsteps and turned around. Thankfully, there was no sign of anyone following me. Checking Twitter, I did note I had two more followers.
No Sign Bar and The Followers
No Sign Bar is believed to be Swansea’s oldest pub and dates to 1690. The wine cellars date back to the 15th century. The name ‘No Sign’ originates from legislation of licencing when public bars had to have a recognisable sign. This building was not public house and did not require a sign, hence was later given the name ‘No Sign’ to announce its presence!
Dylan Thomas frequented No Sign Bar, as a young man. No Sign Bar is featured as the Wine Vaults in Dylan Thomas’s story, ‘The Followers’. Salubrious Passage, next to the bar, is referred to as Paradise Alley in the short story. I recommend you read The Followers, Dylan Thomas’s only ghost story. I first encountered this story at the age of fourteen and enjoyed revisiting the prose while seated in Thomas’s old haunt.
Here are useful links if you wish to visit Swansea and find out more about the writer, poet and playwright.
The wonderfully witty author of At Home in the Pays d’Ocarrived 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: 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.
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.
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!
‘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