Angela Petch Author Interview
by Kathryn Bax
Salve! (I’m in Italy and that means hi!) Thank you for inviting me on your site. My name is Angela Petch and I have self-published two novels so far, both set in and around the beautiful Tuscan Apennines. The first, Tuscan Roots was written with my Italian mother-in-law in mind. She was a young war bride, having fallen in love with a British army captain. They moved to England straight after the war and her stories fascinated me. She is now suffering from Alzheimer’s and I’m so glad she managed to read this book before it was too late. The second, Now and Then in Tuscany, continues the story of the same present day family, but dips into the past and the story of the shepherds’ transhumance at the turn of the century. It’s difficult to describe the genre of this novel. Historical-documentary-romance? I also write flash fiction and stories, which have been published in The Writing Magazine, on the MASH web-site, NHS Dying Matters, and, more recently, in PRIMA magazine. (May 2017). I won the Ip-Art Short Story Award in 2008 and that was my springboard.
Who is the real Angela Petch?
I find this question hard. Maybe I don’t like talking about me and prefer to escape into fiction to re-invent myself. I’ll give it a go. Family is all important. I’ve been happily married to Maurice for 40 years…can’t believe it. He’s half Italian and we met in Sicily where we were both employed in the construction industry. I’d escaped from a stupid boyfriend and when we were introduced, I told him I’d given up on men. We are lucky to have a son and two daughters and four little grandchildren. We’ve lived and worked in Tanzania, Holland, Italy and I was born in Germany.
I’d find it nigh on impossible to survive without books. I read all sorts and, surprise, surprise, I love to write. My handbags always have pens and notebooks inside, rather than lipstick and perfume. I love watching and playing tennis competitively but at the moment I’m nursing a shoulder injury so, instead, I walk up mountains. Hard life, eh? Cooking, eating, red wine. What else? My rather wobbly Christian faith is also important to the real me.
You live part of your year in England and the other half in Italy. Tell us about where you live in Italy and how you came to buy property in this secluded part of Tuscany.
We live in a remote corner of Eastern Tuscany, not “Chiantishire” at all. If we live in Italy, we like to mix with Italians and savour Italian life as much as possible. I have had a love-hate relationship with this infuriatingly wonderful country since I was a little girl of seven years old. My father worked in Rome for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and so some very formative years of my childhood soaked up Italy. Hard to shake off. I studied Italian at university and have taught this beautiful language for over thirty years. My husband’s family are from Urbino and after years of camping holidays (which were all we could afford) we dabbled with the idea of a little place in Italy. Urbino was beyond our budget and when we happened on a ruined watermill in this little explored part of Tuscany, we knew it was the place. And, we could afford it.
What do you love about living in Italy and what frustrates you the most?
I love the ordinary people. They are so kind and generous. You can’t visit anybody round here without coming away with freshly laid eggs, a cake, vegetables from their “orto”, wine, warmth, a story and hospitality. The officious bureaucrats are less desirable and the silly rules (that usually get broken anyway) and utility bills that have unexplained costs…and politics. I love the architecture, opera, food (impossible to stay slim), wine, unspoilt countryside in our area where orchids flourish, wolves roam… I do miss our little babies back in the UK but they all come to stay at some stage through the summer.
Your book, Now and Then in Tuscany is a delightful book, well-written and thoroughly captivating. This is the sequel to your book, Tuscan Roots. How much time did it take you to write both books and to do the research?
Tuscan Roots took about three years and Now and Then in Tuscany, five - (hangs her head in shame). When I read of writers producing books every six months, I’m in awe. The research is enjoyable…maybe too much so. It’s learning when to stop and how much to leave out, so that it doesn’t develop into a text book. I had to re-issue Tuscan Roots. Formerly it was called Never Forget – but the publishing company I was with went bankrupt and I lost all rights and royalties to it. The second book took longer to write because we started to get too many visitors and my time disappeared into bed-making, cooking and entertaining. I frantically wrote when I could and the manuscript became bitty and messy. I sought help and paid an editor I know to help me untangle.
You speak Italian fluently. This no doubt helps when it comes to doing your research. When you took the same walk as the locals once did, taking the sheep from the mountains down to the coast each year, as described in Now and Then in Tuscany, was it here that you learned about the history of the transhumance and was inspired to write their story?
Being fluent certainly helps with research. You hear stories from people who include details that you wouldn’t generally find in archives. I learned about the transhumance before embarking on the walk. Maurice and I were invited to go down to the coast on a coach tour with people from our village. During the four-hour drive, they explained how their ancestors used to do the same journey on foot. They shared fascinating anecdotes and took us round the local museum. I was gripped. I just knew I wanted to find out more. Walking the route came later, but it helped me visualise the actual journey better and pick up descriptive ideas and sensations. I loved it and want to do another stretch in the future.
Tell us more about your central characters. From the past, there is young Giuseppe although his character is also linked to the present through his descendants. He is such a courageous young man who has to endure so much. In the present day, you have the feisty ‘plantwoman’ Giselda and the lovely Davide. Were these characters based on folk from the village where you live?
Giselda is loosely based on a local, elderly lady who is the last (childless) survivor from the important landowning family of the area. She is a character and a half and if I ever came to translate the book, I might be a little wary of her reactions to the story. I suppose when we write, we glean a little bit here and a little bit there of the places and people we come across. But she is the only faintly recognisable character. I have tweaked her fictional appearance. As far as the courage of Giuseppe goes, we live in an area that has seen great poverty. My elderly friends, in particular, are very resilient and resourceful and their accounts of how they had to survive are incredible. They hate waste. I suppose Giuseppe is a sum of their parts. We seem to have more elderly friends than young and I love them.
In which country do you write the most and what does a typical writing day consist of?
I have more time for writing in Italy because, apart from the weekends when we do the change-over for our holiday watermill let, (www.ilmulinorofelle.com), life is calm, Italian television is hopeless, so no distraction there - and I can really get stuck into my writing. I have to put a timer on, otherwise I would be at my desk for too long and seize up. (One daughter is a Pilates instructor and she has given me useful exercises). I do write in the UK too – but when I can manage to squeeze it in. In Italy I write all afternoon. And I have a corner in the attic, with my back to the window, so that the view of the mountains doesn’t distract me. I write on an old computer that is not connected to the Internet.
What do you find the most arduous part of putting a book together?
I love the writing part. I find the best approach to finishing and editing is to leave the manuscript to one side for a couple of weeks. Then I come back and sort out the cutting and shaping. That is not always straightforward. But the most arduous part is the IT. So, when it comes to formatting, I can feel myself tense up. I’m always terrified of doing something majorly wrong. But it’s good to have new challenges.
What has been the biggest surprise / highlight for you on your journey to self-publishing?
The biggest surprise is the proportion of time needed to market and publicise. It cannot be overestimated how much time it takes and how necessary it is to get out there to be noticed. I had not realised. I know I should have started earlier in this process. The highlights, paradoxically, come from what I am frightened of. IT - social media is eye-opening in the way it can expand your world. Through the One Stop Fiction Resource Group on Facebook and other sites I have now come across authors and reviewers from all over the place. In my own launch group, I have British, Mexican, South African, American, Finnish and Norwegian members. And I have received encouraging reviews from people who don’t know me. When they like my work, it gives me such a buzz – because I know they aren’t just saying it to please. Similarly, my first blogger (recently) on Twitter made me cry with her lovely review. So IT = necessary evil and a highlight. Is there a formula that could cover that?
Do you have another book idea, and if so, what is it and when can we expect to see it in print?
I am working on ‘something completely different’ (sounds like Monty Python). My best friend, Olga, sadly died in 2006 from ovarian cancer. We used to muck about, trail the charity shops on days out and call each other Mavis and Dot. When she was very sick, I wrote some stories to make her laugh, about Mavis and Dot. They seem to appeal to others too. So, I’m writing them up. My sister is illustrating them for me. The Adventures of Mavis and Dot will hopefully appear early 2018. However, my writing group friends want me to write another Italian saga. Who knows?
Now and Then in Tuscany: Italian journeys
A lovingly researched account, based on true stories, about Giuseppe Starnucci, a young Italian boy, at the start of the twentieth century, as he journeys on foot with shepherds from his mountain village in the Tuscan Apennines to the coast. His adventures are tracked by his great grandson one hundred years later and we learn of present day problems mirroring those of his ancestors. A story of hardship, secrets and romance which brings to light the customs and people of rural Tuscany in a troubled period of history, when the dominance of Mussolini is always lurking in the background. The author's literary style has been praised as: "a great combination of a true account and fiction." This is sequel to the author's first novel, "Tuscan Roots", praised by Julia Gregson for its "vivid, natural and direct...writing. Moving and interesting with lovely touches of humour." Both of these family sagas about Tuscany are stand-alone.
Mavis and Dot: Frolics, foibles and friendships by the seaside
"This book was a total joy from beginning to end" Welsh Annie. Top 500 Reviewer. "What a wonderful feel good read." Sarah Hardy - Top 500 reviewer. 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.
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