In the beginning were the words. And the words kept coming. Pouring out higgledy-piggledy until there were over 100,000. My wonderful Italian mother-in-law, Giuseppina, had enthralled me with true wartime stories: her experiences as a teenager in occupied Urbino, the partisans that her father harboured in their apartment opposite German HQ. Her courageous father, registrar at the town hall, who changed details of all the Jews living in Urbino to save their lives. Giuseppina talked to me of how she and her mother went into the countryside to hunt for food from the farms; how one day an allied plane flew overhead, how a young German tried to shoot it down. ‘Don’t do that,’ she screeched at the blond young man. ‘They’ll bomb us too.’
‘If I bring down a British plane, then I get ten days’ leave,’ he told her, pushing her out of the way and continuing to fire. She told me she was so terrified that she stuck her head in a haystack, the rest of her body sticking out.
In 1944, at eighteen, she fell in love for the first time. With a British army captain. Out poured more stories of romance under the Italian stars, forbidden dances – out of bounds for her handsome captain – and for her as well. If her parents only knew.
Reader, she married him and came to live in England. More stories of those early days living in flat Fenland, adapting to a different culture, struggling to learn English and our strange ways, strange cooking where potatoes took the place of pasta.
How could I not write her story?
I didn’t know what I was doing and when I used a vanity publisher and the book was published eight years ago, it was full of errors and badly needed editing. That publisher went bust and I somehow lost my rights. A period of self-publishing followed, where I rewrote the book and thought up a new title (such a steep learning curve), followed by a short stint with a publishing company that went into voluntary liquidation. More self-publishing and now I am happily contracted with Bookouture and the book I originally published as Never Forget is now Tuscan Roots and to date has sold 130,000 copies. I am now on book six and have learnt so much.
What advice on writing can I share?
Here are some random thoughts:
- There is no such thing as writer’s block. When you have a contract, you must write. A dentist won’t tell you he or she has dentist’s block. Sit yourself down on your bottom and write. Write anything at first to limber up. An artist practises in a sketchbook. An athlete warms up before his race. As a writer, I need to exercise my ideas, words, turns of phrase. I always carry a notebook and jot down ideas, as far as possible, that come to me there and then. It is so annoying when you can’t remember your brilliant plot twist or perfect word.
- It’s possible to write anywhere if necessary. I’ve written by the river, on a double decker bus, an aeroplane, in bed, on the loo, scribbled down sentences in the middle of an ironing session. But I prefer a dedicated place to write and I need a routine. You might tell yourself that you are not in the mood, that what you are writing is forced, doesn’t come from the heart. Get on with it. You have a deadline. And – the next day, when you read over what you bashed out the day before, you might be pleasantly surprised. I have a noticeboard at the side of my desk and I pin photos of my characters, locations, my writing schedule, inspirational quotes, articles from magazines. It helps me to get in that zone.
- I make sure to have regular breaks. I use a timer and set it for one hour. When the hour is up, I leave my chair (buy an office chair to save your back) and either do Pilates or a little job around the house. Don’t use each break to reach for the biscuit tin. Writing is a sedentary pastime for the most part. It’s better to grow chapters than grow inches.
- Most of my historical novels are written in dual time. I keep a timeline pinned to my desk in front of me and make sure that I am writing in the correct month. I have a list of characters, their names, dates of birth and a basic description. I don’t want Anna to have blue eyes in chapter one and brown half-way through the book. I also keep a running chapter summary, with word lengths. Far easier to use this at the structural edit stage than to hunt through the whole manuscript when I might need to move chapters or chunks.
- Listen to other authors, share ideas. The writing community is very generous. There is no need to compare. We are all different and have our unique voice. There is room for everybody.
- Finally – and this is so important – HAVE FUN with your writing. Enjoy it. Some days will be better than others. Some days the writing will flow, others it will feel cloggy. Pinned next to me are words I extracted from The Dress by Sophie Nicchols that I recently enjoyed. They ring so true for me. “The best words are not chosen. They choose themselves… Let the words find you.”
(c) Angela Petch
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About The Tuscan House:
Corbello, Italy, 1947. A woman and a little boy stagger into the ruins of an old house deep in the forest, wild roses overwhelming the crumbling terracotta walls. Since the war, nowhere has been safe. But they both freeze in shock when a voice calls out from the shadows…
For young mother Fosca Sentino, accepting refuge from ex-British soldier Richard – in Tuscany to escape his tragic past – is the only way to keep her little family safe. She once risked everything to spy on Nazi commanders and pass secret information to the resistenza. But after a heartbreaking betrayal, Fosca’s best friend Simonetta disappeared without trace. The whole community was torn apart, and now Fosca and her son are outcasts.
Wary of this handsome stranger at first, Fosca slowly starts to feel safe as she watches him play with her son in the overgrown orchard. But her fragile peace is shattered the moment a silver brooch is found in the garden, and she recognises it as Simonetta’s…
Fosca has always suspected that another member of the resistenza betrayed her. With Richard by her side, she must find out if Simonetta is still alive, and clear her own name. But how did the brooch end up at the house? And with a traitor hiding in the village, willing to do anything to keep this secret buried, has Fosca put herself and her young son in terrible danger?
An absolutely gripping and heartbreaking page-turner that explores the incredible courage of ordinary people in extraordinary times. Perfect for fans of Rhys Bowen, The Nightingale, and anyone longing to lose themselves in the mountain landscapes and olive groves of rural Tuscany.
Order your copy online here.