This week on Mystery Mondays, lets take a trip to Tuscany. We have Angela Petch, author of Tuscan Roots, here to share her thoughts on why setting is so important to a novel.
An Observation About Setting by Angela Petch
I was up front with Kristina when she accepted me here for Mystery Monday. My first novel is not a mystery novel in the truest sense of the word. But there is plenty of mystery involved: a young woman, Anna Swilland, is at a difficult stage in her life. She’s tired of being a mistress to a married man, she’s lost her job and her mother has just passed away. Anna inherits a diary in her mother’s will. She decides to travel to Italy to her mother’s birthplace – a village nestled in the Tuscan Apennines. There she begins to piece together unimaginable parts of her mother’s life that she could never have dreamt of. Anna falls in love with her new location and stays longer than planned…and the mystery of her background unfolds.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the beautiful settings where I live, and I recently came across a Southern American writer’s observations on the subject.
Eurora Welty said, “Every story would be another story, and unrecognisable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else…Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, what happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming…”.Writers describe the world they know. Sights, sounds, colors and textures are all vividly painted in words as an artist paints images on canvas. A writer imagines a story to be happening in a place that is rooted in his or her mind.”
I’ve come to realise that location plays a huge part in my writing: the way it impacts on my imagination, research, descriptions and ultimately my characters.
And this past week I’ve been confused.
Why? Let me explain: I live a “bi-life” – that’s how best to describe it.
I’m so lucky to live and work for six months of the year in a breathtakingly beautiful corner of Eastern Tuscany. Then during the winter months I live by the sea in Sussex, England, which is equally as stunning but very different. This week my routine suddenly changed and my location switched from Italy to England.
Having just launched my second novel “Now and Then in Tuscany”, the characters from this story are still very much with me… I see them when I walk up the mule tracks or shop in the village piazza. I see what they buy, watch them tend their vegetable plots and guide their sheep to the meadows. Ten days ago I ate in a house in the village of Montebotolino, where I’m convinced my main character, Giuseppe, lived.
In this narrow stone building with wide oak floorboards I shared wine, ate soup made from nettles gleaned from the hillside and frittata seasoned with Old Man’s Beard – surprisingly tasty fruits of the land. The window was ajar on a panorama of hazy blue Apennines, a nightingale provided song and I imagined Giuseppe outside, leaning against the warm stone walls. Was he waiting there to tell me of inaccuracies in my book? Or did he want to pass on the latest news of his wife and son?
But this week I’ve walked along the shingly flint-scattered shore of southern England and Giuseppe isn’t there beside me. Instead, two new personalities are dawdling in front of me, picking up shells, gossiping, nudging each other as they make their way to the café for tea and scones. And they are characters from my WIP.
It begs the question – is my imagination by itself – powerful enough to transport me where I need to go in a story? Or do I need to be in that location to kick-start my writing? What would I do if I were imprisoned in a tiny cell, with no window to look out over the world? Could I do it?
In fact, last year I did end up in a police cell in Arusha, Tanzania and I’d managed to smuggle in my pen and diary…and I scribbled down some thoughts while the guards weren’t looking… But that story is for another day.
WHO IS ANGELA PETCH?
I’m an award winning writer of fiction – and the occasional poem. Now that my children are independent I am freer to dive into my writing and have begun to extend my readership through social media. I find this hard but also weirdly exciting in the new horizons it offers. I’m a child of the 1950’s and free time was spent with my nose in books. My three year old grandson loves books too but he is much better than I am with an I-pad. “It’s never too late,” whispers a voice in my head as I merrily tweet or press “Like”.
Every summer I move to Tuscany for six months where my husband and I own a renovated watermill which we let out to holidaymakers from across the globe. When not exploring this unspoilt corner of the Apennines, I disappear to my writing desk at the top of a converted stable.
In my Italian handbag or hiking rucksack I always store notebook and pen, for I never know when an idea for a story might strike and I don’t want it to drift away.
The winter months are spent in England, on the Sussex coast where most of our family live. When not helping out with grandchildren, I catch up with writer friends and enjoy walking along the shore, often moody and squally in the winter months. But very inspiring.
I’ve lived abroad for most of my life, including several childhood years in Italy. After graduating with honours in Italian from the University of Kent at Canterbury, I worked for a short spell for The Times newspaper, before moving to new employment in Amsterdam. The job relocated to Sicily, where I met my half-Italian husband. We married near Urbino and then went to live for three magical years in Tanzania. Wherever I travel I store sights, sounds and memories of those places for stories I feel compelled to record.
“Tuscan Roots” is my first novel.
First published in 2012, as “Never Forget”, my publishing company went bankrupt and having lost control of my book and all royalties, I was forced to edit and reissue under this new title in 2016.
Inspired by the true story of my Italian mother-in-law, Giuseppina Micheli, who met and later married a dashing army captain in 1944, “Tuscan Roots” combines their story with the events that took place along the so-called Gothic Line. This defensive barrier crosses the area where the author lives. It is still possible to visit gun emplacements and remains of fortifications scattered across the hills. A fluent Italian speaker and graduate of Italian literature and language, I was able to interview local people for their memories of the war years.
“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 Swilland, their daughter, starts to unravel accounts from assorted documents left to her after her mother’s death. She travels to the breathtakingly 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…”
PRAISE FOR TUSCAN ROOTS
“…moving and interesting” – Julia Gregson, bestselling author of “East of the Sun”.
“The fascination of this extremely readable novel is how the author deftly handles the multifaceted cultural differences: Italy of the 1940s and today but also between Italy and England of yesteryear and the difficulties encountered by the war brides coming to a cold and distant land and finally, the experiences of the heroine, Anna, who even today is plunged into a different world on her ‘time travels’ which will change her own life completely.” John Broughton – Amazon reviewer.
“There are small echoes of Forster’s “Where Angels Fear to Tread” and of Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. The book’s essential of discovery and revelation through “diaries” is reminiscent of Victoria Hislop’s successful and moving “The Island”, but “Tuscan Roots” is better written and a much better book. The characters are very real…” Amazon reviewer.
“Once I started to read I simply couldn’t stop and fell in love with the location and the characters. Tuscan Roots has a little something for everyone. As far as history is concerned it certainly it has a fascinating insight into the war years in Italy and its immediate aftermath in England. There is sadness, there is drama and absolutely there is a love story. All with the most beautiful descriptions of a country that the author both knows and loves. Can’t wait to read her next book. Highly recommended. Vivienne Wendy Jones – Amazon reviewer.
“A feast of a book. Angela writes with assurance and a descriptive power which transports you to Tuscany; the taste; the scenery; the history. It comes from a deep love and knowledge of the area.” Rosemary Noble – GOODREADS
(The sequel to “Tuscan Roots” was launched on April 30th 2017. “Now and Then in Tuscany” is available on Amazon, in Kindle and paperback: http://bit.ly/NTuscany)
WHERE TO FIND ANGELA
Arun scribes – Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1124757317646074/
Il Mulino: www.ilmulinorofelle.com (where I live in the summer)
Website – (Under construction but to be published soon)
Link for “Tuscan Roots”: mybook.to/TuscanRoots
Link for “Now and Then in Tuscany”: https:bit.ly/NTuscany