Today’s Guest Angela Petch tells me her love affair with Italy was born at the age of seven when she moved with my family to Rome where they lived for six years. Her father worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and made sure the family learned Italian and visited many places during that time.
Later on she studied Italian at the University of Kent at Canterbury and afterwards worked in Sicily, where she met my husband. His Italian mother and British father met in Urbino in 1944 and married after a war-time romance.
Could you tell us a little more about yourself?
Angela Petch lives half the year in a remote valley in the Tuscan Apennines and six months by the sea in West Sussex. She has travelled all her life: born in Germany, she spent six years as a child living in Rome, worked in Amsterdam after finishing her degree in Italian, moved to Sicily for her job, then to Tanzania for three years. Her head is full of stories and she always carries a pen and note-book wherever she goes to capture more ideas.
How long have you been writing?
All my life, but I only started in earnest once my three children left home and I had more time to seriously write. I started by following an Open Arts Writing Course by correspondence and that gave me the confidence to test the waters. Then I won a short story competition at the Ip-Art festival. That was the kick start I needed.
Tell us about one of, or your most recent book?
The first, “Tuscan Roots” is a Second World War story of romance, partisan activity, hardships of ordinary people caught up in the cruel tangle of battle and the difficulties of a mixed marriage in grey, post-war Britain – all pieced together from diaries. My own Italian mother-in-law was a war bride and the book is laced with research, memoirs and embroidered with fiction. From our watermill by the river in Tuscany, I can walk up the mule tracks to ruins of the Gothic Line, a defensive barrier constructed by the Germans during the last years of the war. The area resonates with history.
What do you love about writing?
It helps me engage with the world – if that doesn’t sound daft. When I’m writing, it’s as if my senses are on alert and I observe, hear, smell everything around me more. My writing doesn’t always flow, obviously, but when it does and I feel as if I’ve written something worthwhile, then it gives me such a high.
How do you get inspired/ where do you get your ideas?
In Italy, where we live, it is easy to be inspired by the location and rich history. But I am also fascinated by characters, especially older people who have experienced so much in life. I feel it is important to record their accounts before it is too late. My own Italian mother-in-law is ninety-two now and suffering from Alzheimer’s. I’m so pleased I managed to record her amazing life accounts before it was too late.
Do you have a specific writing process?
I wish I was more disciplined and could treat my writing as a day job, but I have other commitments that do not allow this. We have four grandchildren (just learned this will be five) and in Italy we run a holiday business, so I write when I can. This is usually in the afternoon and I try to write 1,000 words a day. They might be rubbish but at least I have something to work on. I always carry a notebook with me wherever I go and I find walking helps me sort out my writing projects.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
First of all – do it! Just write. Don’t put it off. Follow your heart. Join a writing group and get feedback. Read, read and read. Try and work out why a book works for you. Without taking away from the enjoyment of reading, dissect the book to understand the craft. Accept that social media is a part of the business of writing but be disciplined in your engagement.
What are you currently working on? How long before release?
I am working on a completely different type of book from the two I have written so far (which are historical novels set in Italy). “The adventures of Mavis and Dot” is a gently humorous account of the escapades of two retired ladies who retire to the seaside. This was inspired by some short stories I wrote for my best friend when she was gravely ill with ovarian cancer. We used to call each other Mavis and Dot when we went out and about and she laughed at what I wrote. Sadly, she passed away eleven years ago and I’ve now resurrected them to develop into a novella. The profits will go to Cancer Research. I intend to publish mid-November 2018, but there is a lot to do beforehand. I need to finalise the illustrations too.
What are you currently reading?
I read a mixture of genres. At the moment, I am enjoying a light romance set in Italy (surprise, surprise) and it is making me giggle. Laughter is a great medicine. “The Olive Branch” by Jo Thomas is the story of a girl who bids in successfully (in a drunken moment) for a house in southern Italy. All kinds of problems arise.
Who are your favourite authors?
Anthony Doerr, Lisa Jewell, Amanda Hodgkinson, Maggie O’Farrell, Sarah Winman, Erica James, Andrea Camilleri, Donna Leon…and many, many more.
Do you have any favourite fictional characters?
There are none who spring to mind. That seems odd to me, but there you go…
Any fun facts about you that you would like to share?
Don’t know if it is fun – but I ended up in a Tanzanian prison after an amazing month’s drive across Africa… something I do not ever want to repeat (the prison bit, I mean). My husband and I lived in Tanzania when we were married (forty years ago) and three years ago we returned for a trip of a lifetime. Let’s just say rules and regulations about camping have changed in the interim. Whereas we used to pitch a camp in the safari parks wherever we liked, light a fire for cooking etc. tourism has moved on. (I admit for the better). I would just advise against picking up ANYTHING – even a leaf, sea shell, seed pod. You might be arrested and heavily fined for…poaching. A night on a cold floor in a jail is not fun when you are over sixty. Or missing your aeroplane and having to buy a new (expensive) ticket. I shall write it into a book some day.
A fun fact could be my present of a Vespa on my sixtieth. Not so fun is that I keep falling off it! I’m a danger to the mountain roads in Italy…wobbly Granny on a Vespa.
Thanks so much, Roger, for the chance to appear on your blog. It’s such fun to engage with other authors. Good luck with your own writing.
I always enjoy reading Angela’s interviews – always something new. I have read The Olive Branch too and it is a fun read. Have you read Oyster Catcher, by Jo Thomas? 1000 words a day is a great target!
A lovely interview! I’d definitely recommend Angela Petch’s writing.
Another writer recommendation for you: Jennifer Johnston. Absolutely sublime (start with “The Railway Man”) x