Cramming my bag full of Angela Petch’s books and her lovers of Italian

Angela Petch 

 

 

 

 

Books in my Handbag is delighted to welcome the inspirational Angela Petch to the Chat Room

‘I’m inquisitive about different cultures and people. Writers are usually nosy, I think.’

Angela Petch was born in Germany, brought up in Italy and England, worked in Amsterdam, Sicily and Tanzania, East Africa. It is no wonder that she is ‘inquisitive about people and culture’. We can also thank Angela’s late father for introducing her to Italy, and I feel certain that he would have been proud of her writing.  Her colourful life is reflected in her colourful writing pallet.  Angela is sensitive, funny and creative: the perfect qualities for a writer

Angela has published ‘Tuscan Roots’ and ‘Now and Then in Tuscany’.  Currently, she is working on the frolics and escapes of ‘Mavis and Dot’- need I say more?

Always full of joie de vivre, Angela insisted that we open a bottle of Prosecco before we commenced the chat.  The sun was shining and butterflies dancing in the Italian garden as we commenced the conversation.

I adore ‘Now and Then in Tuscany’, but please capture your novel in forty words…

Now and Then in Tuscany is a historical narrative which oozes love for Italy and its culture.

The saga of three generations of a Tuscan family which recalls recent hardships and traditions of country life, too easily forgotten in today’s affluent and comfortable Europe.

Absolutely, these elements were beautifully presented in the novel. Now here’s another challenge, read me an extract that captures the essence of your book.

“The ancient wheel beside the convent door stood waiting … like the mouth of a hungry beast, ready for me to place the baby in its wooden drum and push it to the inside of the orphanage.”

You paint the experiences and emotions with words and tell a heart-breaking yet beautiful story. What do the reviewers say about your 5* novel?  Angela searched through the Amazon reviews while I ate crostini. 

This is no disappointment! What-happened-next books are so often disappointing. After the enchanting ‘Tuscan Roots’ (Angela Petch’s first novel set in Tuscany) I was almost afraid to read on. I needn’t have worried. This new book, which continues the story of Anna and Francesco Starnucci, like its predecessor blends a modern-day story with family history in an intricate weaving of now and then. Once again, the author’s love of the landscape and people of this beautiful region shine through, but this is far from being a mere travelogue. Angela Petch is an inspired storyteller who knows how to blend in a touch of mystery to keep the reader guessing.

Reviewer: Perdisma on 13 May 2017

Fascinating people and places. It reminds me in many ways (though it’s much less relentlessly tragic!) of “The Tree of Wooden Clogs”, the prize-winning film by Ermanno Olmi – it has the same intensely imagined and exquisitely detailed recreation of a lost way of life. The photographs are part of this too – at first sight they’re just grainy little black and white images, but each one explains and is explained by the text, so that the more you read the more alive they seem, like Facebook pages from a hundred years ago.
Reviewer:  Rose on Amazon 11 May 2017

Beautifully written and researched. This is a beautifully written and researched family saga that spans three generations of an Italian family. Giuseppe comes from a poor village in Tuscany where the rhythm of life is set by the Catholic Church and the menfolk’s annual winter pilgrimage to warmer winter grazing land for the sheep… The book is full of a subtle yearning. The prose is evocative. The historical narrative is impressively authentic and riven with the author’s love of her subject.

By CA reviews on 7 May 2017

I am not surprised that you have received such accolades that all are all genuinely inspired by your storytelling.  The book has been a labour of love so how did you feel when you had finished the book?

I felt a mixture of relief and sadness when I had finished writing the book. This book took me five years to research and write. At times, it was an agonising process. I struggled with the balance between history and narrative, fearing that my desire to include details about the era was pushing the plot out of shape. At first, I listened to the reactions of too many Beta readers and grew despondent and confused. But I wanted desperately to give birth to “Now and Then in Tuscany”, as I felt it was a period of history that needed to be recorded. I had help from a professional editor in the end.

It is so reassuring to hear that such a great book is the result of a challenging journey.  Do you miss the characters?

I still miss my main character, Giuseppe. He is so firmly placed in the location where we live in Tuscany that I’m sure I catch glimpses of him every now and again as he strides along the mule track.

Two weeks ago, we ate in the old stone house that I had imagined was his. I’m sure he was sitting in a corner by the stove, listening to our conversation and smiling wryly at the way we enjoyed the meal so much: our friend had recreated a peasant’s meal of nettle soup and frittata prepared with the tips of Vitalba (Old Man’s Beard). We enjoyed it as if it were a delicacy. But he would have eaten these ingredients out of necessity.

Would you like any of your characters to read the book, or maybe there is someone else that you have in mind?

My father, Kenneth Sutor, who died twenty six years ago. He introduced his three young children to Italian culture in the 1960’s, when he relocated to Rome to work for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I still have his 1956 edition of Hachette’s World Guide to Italy that he carried in his pocket for our excursions. Every Sunday he would take us to Mass and afterwards treat the family to a slap-up meal in a simple trattoria. Then, out would come his little blue book and we would be guided round the Villa d’Este or the Via Appia Antica, Colosseum, Subiaco, Assisi…He refused to have us penned up in an apartment in the centre of Rome and found us a ramshackle villa on the outskirts of Rome. The garden was stuffed with Roman statues, orange trees and bordered by vineyards and peach groves. How could I, as an impressionable seven year old, fail to fall in love with Italy?  He was self-educated. Today he would have enjoyed a university education but his family were not wealthy enough to support him. I remember him often engrossed in a history book, reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.

I know you can’t say, but I wonder if I can sense your father in Giuseppe…  I am sure that your father would have been so proud of your book.

I would have loved to see him read my books. Undoubtedly, he would have pointed out the warts but I think he might have been proud of me too. He loved Italy and, on my mother’s request, I scattered his ashes on Italian soil.

I don’t need to be convinced but why should I keep your book in my handbag?

If you are the type of person who recognises that understanding the past helps towards an understanding of the future…

If you want to explore a beautiful and little-known corner of Eastern Tuscany…

If you want to read the story of a young boy with a big heart who overcomes adversity…

If you want to weep and smile at Tuscan love stories…

Then, find a space in your handbag for “Now and Then in Tuscany”.

What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook? Angela poured herself another glass of Prosecco and wiped the condensation from the glass. There was a distinct look of mischief in Angela’s eyes as she read the following line:

“…a fluttering of fans from menopausal worshippers, in a church smelling of candle wax and cold, cold stone…”

(For an idea for my WIP, “The Adventures of Mavis and Dot”).

What is the biggest challenge for an independent author?

Getting noticed. To be read in a competitive world where thousands of self-published authors are jostling for space. Engaging with social media has been my biggest challenge but it is the springboard. For a child of the ‘50’s, it doesn’t come easy. I was advised to set up a Twitter account. “Look for like-minded people,” was the advice from a writer friend. So, I typed “Lovers of Italian” in the search bar. I shall leave it to your imagination about the photos of gigolos and semi-naked escorts that popped up. Learning curve is the phrase that is constantly on the tip of my independent author’s tongue.

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

Just write. Get it down, capture your words before they fly away.

Afterwards you will have to check and chop, but just write first. In order to have something to work on, just write. I don’t believe in writer’s block.

I agree with you!  Just let the writing flow and banish writer’s block.  Does the countryside inspire you to write more than the city environment?

I like cities in small doses – for the theatre, concerts, art galleries, museums and monuments – but my heart sings in the countryside. I have played tennis all my life but at the moment I need a shoulder operation, so I can’t. Instead, I go for wonderful walks in the mountains. Better than a sweaty gym, any day.

Following the interview, I meandered down an ancient track. I reflected that we are all influenced by the past and the present. And I pondered whether anyone would make a wonderful art house film of Now and Then in Tuscany – the setting is there waiting to be captured on film. 

 

Please see My Guests for all the authors that I have interviewed.

 

Coraggio (courage) in my handbag

Tuscan Roots

Angela Petch

 

 

 

 

 

On opening this beautiful book, I arrived in the ‘early morning sunshine at Perugia’, with Anna.  I sat back as she drove the Italian car and observed the way that the road ‘…cut its way through tobacco fields sprouting green shoots and [took] a mountain road joining Sansepolcro to Rimini.’  I admired the olive trees and waited as the ‘road climbed’.  It was impossible not to see the ‘lake glistening’ and to imagine the people sheltering in this setting during World War Two.

On arrival at Rofelle, I found my way through the tangle of ivy, listened to the river rushing past the stones and opened the large wooden door to the mill.   The paint was peeling, but the knocker of the lion’s head stood proud; as if to announce the courage of Davide, Ines and their parents.  I opened the door to enter the past, with Anna, through the letters and diaries.  It was wonderful to meet Anna’s mother, in the diaries, but painful to discover that her ‘heart began to shrivel a little each day…’ during her traumatic life.

I stopped at the mill ‘hidden in the folds of the Alps of the Moon, where the sun sets from the jewel red skies behind misted blue peaks.’ Anna’s mother once lived in a mill, and she explains ‘…the old building in ruins, crumbling into nothing seems to mirror what I am leaning of Mamma’s past.’ The Mill is ‘fragile’ and is a symbol of lost history and lost dreams that could be rekindled by the new generation.  Sitting on the steps to read the letters and diaries, I sensed the ‘breeze that dances on the river’.  Listening to the ‘sound of the river and distant sheep bells’, I could feel the loneliness of Ines. I am sure I heard the voices of the German soldiers who would have bathed there, and the whispers of the POWs and partisans hidden in the mountains.

I was completely spellbound by the characters and the clever structure of this novel.  ‘Tuscan Roots’ is a beautifully written novel examining cultural differences, the impact of war and the risks that ordinary people will take.  I was intrigued by the details of post war Britain, but wanted to stay in Italy. The contrast between the two settings and cultures reinforces Ines’ emotional landscape.  The patchwork of history and the present are sewn together effortlessly with Angela’s distinctive prose.  How much do we really understand about our grandparents and parents’ experiences?  Such a poignant message is presented:

‘We should not bury our memories, even if they are painful, even if mistakes were made in those times, which causes us anguish…we must learn from them.’

I discovered Anna’s history, trusted her observations and understood her pain.  I was very fond of the vulnerable, innocent Ines who demonstrated incredible bravery. The descriptions of the setting rooted me to the novel, and made me understand how it bound Ines to her homeland.  I pondered the way that a landscape can remain untouched throughout the generations but people leave clues about the place’s history.  The author examines how war changes circumstances and the simple things that we take for granted.  I was in awe of the people who made sacrifices for others during the war, in Italy. The romance of the setting presents the reader with the hope of love.  The romance in the novel is wonderful, natural and tender. Angela’s writing style is captivating.

The food prepared by the locals, in the Italian Apennines, transcends time and bridges the gap between the generations.  I enjoyed ‘the stuffed zucchini flowers, little squares of crostini topped with spicy tomatoes, liver pate and a creamy relish made from dandelion flowers, roasted bay leaves topped with ovals of melted cheese.’  Food is prepared to celebrate feasts, to welcome people into the home, to celebrate family occasions and to woo.

This novel evokes the senses and leaves the reader firmly fixed in Tuscany.  Not the tourist’s Italy, but rural, down to earth Italy – ‘this landscape feels lived in’, and the author breathes life into ‘the ghosts from the past’.  The story of the POW and partisans provide another dimension to this story, and I was impressed with how this was skilfully woven into the story.

Read Tuscan Roots, and you will not want to leave the romantic beauty of ‘indigo blue mountains’, or the ruins of Il Mulino (The Mill).  You will be impressed with the bravery of the Italian community during the war, and you will not want to leave the blossoming romance. I highly recommend this book!

 

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

Celebrating a slice of Italian history in my handbag

Angela Petch is an author of historical fiction, and she has written two wonderful novels set in Tuscany.  I completely lost myself in both novels. ‘Tuscan Roots’ and ‘Now and Then in Tuscany’ are based on her research into her husband’s family and his family’s region.  Angela and her husband live in Tuscany for six months of the year, thus her novels are written in the heart of the setting and culture. Angela’s intelligent and vivid style of writing is perfectly balanced with cultural and historical information. 

The ebooks of ‘Tuscan Roots’ and ‘Now and Then in Tuscany’ have been snapped up by Endeavour Press.  Angela has published short stories in People’s Friend and PRIMA magazine, and she won the Ip-Art short story award in 2008.

I simply adore Angela’s books and feel as if I have discovered a writer whose work will become classics.  I asked her to introduce the extract of ‘Tuscan Roots’ to prevent me from waxing lyrical for pages and pages. 

Cari lettori (Dear Readers),

It is 1944 and in a remote corner of German-occupied, war torn Italy. Ines, an eighteen year old Italian country girl is helping the partisans hide an escaped British POW. Meeting this young man will change her life forever.

There are two time threads weaving through “Tuscan Roots” and this extract from the story set in the past introduces Ines and Norman – two main protagonists. The diary extract is being read by her daughter, years later.

Saluti,

Angela

Presenting the extract:

“Rofelle, September 8th 1944

The inglese was still asleep on the planks above the cows. The nights were chilly and the animal warmth and dry hay made a comfortable bedroom – much better than mine. I have to share with nonna and she kicks and tosses at night. She snores like the pig we used to fatten for Christmas. There have been no pigs this year. The Germans have ‘requisitioned’ ours and everybody else’s in the area. ‘Pigs eating pigs,’ we muttered amongst ourselves.

Signore,’ I whispered.

There was no response. His face was long and pale, blond curls fell over his forehead which was bound with a dirty cloth. Blood had oozed and crusted onto the material. He was like a big baby.

Signore!’ I said it louder this time. There was still no response. I put the bowl of pasta down and gently shook him.

He opened his eyes, shouted and grabbed me round the neck. I pummelled him with my fists, I could hardly breathe. ‘Let me go, leave me alone!’ I shouted.

And then he recognised where he was and dropped his hands from round my neck. ‘Scusi, scusi. Sorry, signorina.

‘You nearly knocked over the food.’

I was shaking and rubbed my neck. His grip had hurt me. The cows below seemed to sense something was wrong and they mooed and stamped their hooves.

(Extracted from Ines’ diary. Chapter 10 “Tuscan Roots”)

More words about the book from Angela:

Tuscan Roots’ is a story of two women living in two different times. In 1943, in occupied Italy, Ines Santini’s sheltered existence is turned upside down when she meets Norman, an escaped British POW. In 1999, Anna Swill and, their daughter, starts to unravel accounts from assorted documents left to her after her mother’s death. She travels to the beautiful Tuscan Apennines, where the story unfolds. In researching her parents’ past, she will discover secrets about war, her parents and herself, which will change her life forever…

What do the reviewers say about ‘Tuscan Roots’?

It is indeed noteworthy that the ‘Tuscan Roots’ has received over fifty reviews!

“A wonderful read – it is a great combination of a true account and fiction that I truly couldn’t put down” (Elizabeth Pepper – Amazon) ;

Tuscan Roots is so much more than a literary take on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ with its credibly fleshed-out characters, glimpses of life in war-weary occupied territory and dreary post-war London and a plot that keeps you on your toes but is never too convoluted – it’s a love letter to Tuscany.” – Ingenue Magazine. ;

“The way Angela has managed to capture in great detail the amazing natural beauty of this area and the culture of the Tuscan people is incredible.” Amazon Reviewer.

“If you love Italy, you will love this book. If you love history, this novel will show you an aspect of WW2 you may well not have encountered before. Angela Petch brings Tuscany to life; the customs, the people – you can taste the food, smell the wild flowers, see the scenery.” Amazon reviewer

Angela is a natural writer and describes herself as a ‘little bit nosey and always looking for stories’.  This piqued my interest and made me wonder how she had managed to weave such a beautiful story.

The inspiration behind ‘Tuscan Roots: A tangle of love and war in the Italian Apennines’

Tuscan Roots’ is my first novel and I wrote it for my lovely Italian mother-in-law who was ill at the time. She helped me with so many stories from her own life and allowed me to use them. I hasten to add that, although much of the book is factual and based on research, some of the story is fiction.  I missed the characters and so I wrote a sequel so I could mix with them again. Some of the main characters make a reappearance in “Now and Then in Tuscany” and …I am currently working on the third part of my Tuscan trilogy and the younger characters will tell their stories in this.

I cannot wait for the third novel in this series!

See my review of Tuscan Roots.

Angela’s contact detail:
Website: https://angelapetchsblogsite.wordpress.com
Twitter:@Angela_Petch
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AngelaJaneClarePetch/
Email:angela_maurice@hotmail.com

 

Please see all my extracts at Book Extracts and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.