This week I’m delighted to feature author Angela Petch. Angela is an award-winning and bestselling writer of fiction – plus the occasional poem.
Every summer she moves to Tuscany for six months where she and her husband own a renovated watermill which they let out. When not exploring their unspoilt corner of the Apennines, she disappears to her writing desk at the top of a converted stable. In her Italian handbag or hiking rucksack she always makes sure to store notebook and pen to jot down ideas.
The winter months are spent in Sussex where most of her family live. When Angela’s not helping out with grandchildren, she catches up with writer friends.
Over to Angela,
Which 5 pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
This was the most difficult question to answer as I listen to so much music and have quite an eclectic taste.
I find Ludovico Einaudi so relaxing to listen to, and of course, he is Italian and Italy features strongly in my life. I lived in Rome as a child, have a degree in Italian, worked in Sicily where I met my half-Italian husband. We married in Italy. I can’t write with music on in the background but doing anything else, Einaudi’s ISLANDS is the one for me.
His music is uncomplicated. Here is a snatch of the man talking about his work. Even his talking voice is mesmerising, don’t you think? ludovico einaudi islands – Bing video
Leonard Cohen takes me back to my student days but I still love listening to his raspy, deep, mysterious voice. The lyrics to his songs are poetry. Perfect for a writer to listen to. My favourite song is Suzanne.
I like to dance around my kitchen to anything that the Rolling Stones continue to come up with. I had a disco boyfriend at university – it was purely platonic and we only got together to dance. I can even remember being slim enough in those days to dance in his velvet bell bottoms 😉. Aftermath was the first LP that I ever bought, so this brings back happy memories and keeps me a little bit fit while stirring up chocolate cake mixture and flapjacks.
The first time I went to an opera was when I worked in Sicily in my early twenties. Up until then, opera had seemed silly to me: overweight males lusting over bosomy women and singing in high voices. But going to the opera for the first time was an amazing experience and in Italy it is not an expensive night out. Lucevan le stelle from Tosca’s Aida, sung by Pavarotti, brings me out in goose bumps and can make me cry too. I love it.
Any Nocturne by Chopin. In another life, I would persevere with the piano lessons I took until I was fourteen. How about Nocturne Op 9. No 2 (for starters 😉)?
What 5 things (apart from family and friends) you’d find it hard to live without.
My goodness – another hard one. We are spoiled in this world of ours, aren’t we?
Pen and paper. To pin down ideas. Writing is the way I explain life to myself.
Books/Kindle (is that two things?) Not having a book on the go feels like missing a limb.
Walking boots. I walk each day.
Tea. I have to start the day with a strong cuppa. Nowadays, it has to be decaff, but if I feel like spoiling myself, proper tea in a pot is a luxury.
My slow cooker. If mine broke, I would immediately replace it.
Can you offer 5 pieces of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Develop your confidence: you are as good as the next person. You can do it, so believe in yourself. Be proud of who you are: “This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day” (Polonius in Hamlet by William Shakespeare). A favourite mantra.
Listen more to your parents when they talk about their past. It might seem boring at the time but it really isn’t. Later on, you will regret not asking them more questions.
Say no when you want to.
Don’t put off your dream to write a book. Write your heart out and pursue that dream.
Believe your elders when they tell you that time flies.
Tell us 5 things that most people don’t know about you
I spent an uncomfortable night in a Tanzanian prison cell five years ago.
When I was twenty-one, I applied to become a WAAF but decided it wasn’t the career for me.
In the same year, I turned down an opportunity to work in Indonesia for VSO because of a boy I thought would become my husband. Later, he cheated on me but I had already lost the posting.
I dubbed for an Italian film in the film studios of Cinecittà in Rome when I was ten. It was my first paid job.
I worked at a mission school in Tanzania, East Africa for three years without earning a salary. The reward was to visit places I would never have otherwise been to: a witch doctor’s hospital, a maternity hospital for Masai women, run by three Italian nuns, amongst other treats.
Tell us 5 things you’d like to do or achieve.
Visit Ireland and find my mother’s relatives. We were going to do this last spring before Covid happened. It’s on my bucket list.
Learn to play the piano again – but first, I need a piano. We gave ours away on one of our many moves.
Dance the tango with my husband, who detests dancing. I’d love him to suddenly want to learn. There are so many chances to dance in village squares during August in Italy. Even little children know how to (and educated fleas).
Conquer the ridiculous fear that I have developed about riding my vintage Vespa. I have fallen off several times.
Have my Italian historical novels translated into Italian, So far, this has happened in Hungarian and Bulgarian, but my Italian friends keep pestering me to read the books that I have set in their beautiful region.
Thank you so much for sharing with us today Angela. It was lovely to listen to the Tosca piece again, like you it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck and also cry – a beautiful, moving piece of music. Books/Kindle definitely counts as one in my book (excuse the pun), and ideally read with a cup of tea! I so agree with listening to your parents (and I’d add grandparents) I have so many questions now that I’ve started researching my family history and there’s no-one to give me any answers. You’ve certainly had some fantastic experiences – not sure whether that’s the right description for a night in a cell, but what stories you can tell. I really hope you get to Ireland, I married into an Irish family so have visited many, many times, it’s a beautiful place – with lovely people. Here’s hoping for those Italian translations too, what a shame your friends can’t read them.
The Tuscan Secret (previously published as Tuscan Roots)
Il Mulino. An old crumbling mill, by a winding river, nestled in the Tuscan mountains. An empty home that holds memories of homemade pasta and Nonna’s stories by the fire, and later: the Nazi invasion, and a family torn apart by a heartbreaking betrayal.
Anna is distraught when her beloved mother, Ines, passes away. She inherits a box of papers, handwritten in Italian and yellowed with age, and a tantalising promise that the truth about what happened during the war lies within.
The diaries lead Anna to the small village of Rofelle, where she slowly starts to heal as she explores sun-kissed olive groves, and pieces together her mother’s past: happy days spent herding sheep across Tuscan meadows cruelly interrupted when World War Two erupted and the Nazis arrived; fleeing her home to join the Resistenza; and risking everything to protect an injured British soldier who captured her heart. But Anna is no closer to learning the truth: what sent Ines running from her adored homeland?
When she meets an elderly Italian gentleman living in a deserted hamlet, who flinches at her mother’s name and refuses to speak English, Anna is sure he knows more about the devastating secret that tore apart her mother’s family. But in this small Tuscan community, some wartime secrets were never meant to be uncovered…
A Tuscan Memory (previously published as Now and Then in Tuscany)
Italy, 1923. In a tiny hamlet nestled in the Tuscan mountains, farmers gather after a hard day in the meadows, and children’s laughter rings across the square: but one little boy does not join in their play. Behind his deep brown eyes hides a heartbreaking secret…
Ninety years later. When elderly Giselda Chiozzi discovers a lost little boy, curled up asleep in the beech forest outside her grand but empty home, she can’t help but take pity on him. It’s been a long time since she had a visitor. Waking up to her kind smile and the warming smell of Italian hot chocolate, Davide soon blurts out what drove him into the cold Tuscan night: how he’s different from everyone else, he’s never belonged anywhere, and now his beloved mother is ill.
Giselda promises to help Davide trace his family history – she knows better than anyone that connecting with your roots can ground you in the present – and hopes it will make Davide realise that home is where he truly belongs. Together the unlikely pair discover the story of Davide’s great-grandfather, Giuseppe Starnucci, a young boy who spent his days milking cows, helping with the harvest, and hammering horseshoes in the forge. But after a terrible incident that changed his life forever, Giuseppe also ran away.
David is overjoyed to find a connection with someone from his family at long last, but when Giselda uncovers the shocking reason why little Giuseppe fled to start a new life, she has an impossible decision to make. Telling Davide the truth about his great-grandfather could persuade him to go back home where he belongs. But could it also tear the family apart? All Giselda knows is that she must save this lost boy before her own time runs out and he is left alone for good…
The Tuscan Girl
She ran away through the pine trees when the soldiers came. Staggering into the hiding place, she felt a fluttering in her belly, like a butterfly grazing its wings, and knew instantly she had something to fight for.
Present day: When her fiancé is tragically killed in an accident, twenty-six-year-old Alba is convinced she’s to blame. Heavy with grief and guilt, she flees to her childhood home – the tiny village of Rofelle, nestled in a remote Tuscan valley. Out hiking one day to fill the long, lonely hours, she finds a mahogany box filled with silverware, hidden near the vine-covered ruins of an isolated house left abandoned after World War II. Could finding the rightful owner ease Alba’s heartache, and somehow make amends for her own wrongs?
In search of answers, Alba meets Massimo, an elderly man who wants to spend his final years pruning his fruit trees, alone with his painful memories. His face turns pale when Alba brings up the war, but she senses that their shared grief connects them. An unlikely friendship grows as little by little Massimo speaks of Lucia: a wild young girl with sparkling eyes who fell in love with an enemy soldier, bravely stole precious Italian treasures back from Nazi occupiers, and whose selfless courage and sacrifice altered the course of the war – and Massimo’s life.
With each visit, Alba gets closer to unravelling the mystery of the silver, and they both start putting their ghosts to rest. But there’s one part of Lucia’s story that Massimo might never be able to share – and he’s running out of time. Has Alba churned up emotions that are too painful to ever confront? Or, will unearthing a wartime secret that has lain buried for generations finally bring Massimo peace?
Mavis and Dot
Introducing two eccentric ladies who form an unlikely friendship.Meet Mavis and Dot – two colourful, retired ladies who live in Worthington-on-Sea, where there are charity shops galore. Apart from bargain hunting, they manage to tangle themselves in escapades involving illegal immigrants, night clubs, nude modelling, errant toupees and more. And then there’s Mal, the lovable dog who nobody else wants. A gently humorous, often side-splitting, heart-warming snapshot of two memorable characters with past secrets and passions. Escape for a couple of hours into this snapshot of a faded, British seaside town. You’ll laugh and cry but probably laugh more.”This book is quirky and individual, and has great pathos…[it] will resonate with a lot of readers.” Gill Kaye – Editor of Ingenu(e). Written with a light touch in memory of a dear friend who passed away from ovarian cancer, Angela Petch’s seaside tale is a departure from her successful Tuscan novels.
All profits from the sale of the books will go towards research into the cure for cancer.