Author Angela Petch is in The Hub
We are delighted to welcome best-selling author, Angela Petch to The Hub. Angela shares her year between the Tuscan Apennines and West Sussex and admits to having a love affair with Italy, where some of her books are set. Research for her Tuscan novels is greatly helped by her knowledge of Italian and her love affair with Italy.
Lets find out more about this talented author...
Angela, welcome to The Hub!
In the beginning ...
Can you share your background and what started your journey into the world of writing novels?
Like many other writers, I’m a bookworm and have enjoyed scribbling stories from a very young age. When I was nine, my father accepted a job with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, whose headquarters for Europe, Turkey and North Africa was in Rome. That was in 1961 – only sixteen years after the end of the Second World War and bodies of soldiers were still being found (and still are) around the countryside. As children we were taken to visit the cemeteries – like Monte Cassino, hugely dignified and overwhelming. Even as a little girl, I was impressed by their sad beauty. He also took us each Sunday to tour special sights around Rome: Hadrian’s Villa, the Tivoli gardens, the Appian Way as well as the famous monuments in the Eternal City. This was usually followed by unforgettable meals in little country restaurants.
To cut a long story short, Italy sprinkled its fairy dust on me from a very young age. I went on to study Italian at university, worked in the European department of The Times and then found a job with a construction company in Sicily. I met my half-Italian husband there and the dice was cast.
I self-published (badly) my first novel because I wanted to record some of the incredible stories of my wonderful Italian mother-in-law who had come to England as a war bride. She is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s now and I am pleased that I’ve penned some of her accounts before they were forgotten. The title was “Never Forget”.
The vanity publisher I used went bust. I lost royalties (not huge anyway) and the book was then published (with a new title of Tuscan Roots) by another company that went into liquidation. When Bookouture approached me, asking if I would be interested in publishing under yet a new title, with some structural edits, (as well as writing a second book for them), I declined at first. I was disillusioned with publishers. Thank heavens I changed my mind. My first novel, now called The Tuscan Secret, has now sold over 100,000 copies and Bookouture has renewed my contract for three further books.
Tell us about your books including the latest book, The Tuscan Girl.
The Tuscan Girl was published in February 2020. It is another dual time story, with World War II featuring strongly. I was inspired to write it as I walked around our very unpopulated area of Eastern Tuscany. There are many ruins and I wanted to find out who used to live in them and why they left. Another major influence that inspired one of the main characters, was an encounter with a charming elderly gentleman called Bruno Vergni. He was pruning an apple tree and after a short conversation in Italian, he responded in English. He went on to tell me that he had been a POW in Nottingham for most of the war and I was able to research that story further. Bruno was tweaked and Massimo was born for The Tuscan Girl. I love to delve into the past and winkle out facts at the same time as creating new characters and ideas. Bruno died this June at the fantastic age of one hundred and I have dedicated The Tuscan Girl to him and my lovely mother-in-law – both children of the 1920s.
Another self-published book (formerly called Now and Then in Tuscany) is now published by Bookouture with the new title of A Tuscan Memory. I am delighted that this story will reach a wider audience. The farmers and peasants from our area used to leave our mountains for five long months each year because of harsh winter conditions. They took cattle and sheep down to the Tuscan Maremma coast for better pastures.
I researched a lot for this book, by talking to my elderly friends, visiting the Maremma region, reading old documents in Italian and I am pleased that I’ve recorded this tradition of the transumanza which stopped in the 1950s.
I’ve threaded in themes of loneliness, mystery, abuse and bullying as well as romance - which we all know makes the world go round.
Mavis and Dot is completely different from my Italian novels. Set in a Sussex seaside town, starring two ladies who have recently retired and, featuring their occasionally disastrous escapades, the book is sold to raise funds for research into cancer.
I wrote it in memory of my best friend Olga who died of ovarian cancer. We used to call each other Mavis and Dot on our charity shop outings. When I have time, I will enjoy writing a sequel.
You spend half the year in Italy – can you describe your homes / have you a favourite?
Twenty years ago, we bought a ruined watermill in a remote corner of Tuscany, along the river Marecchia. In 2010 we retired slightly earlier than planned and renovated an old stable nearby so that we could let out the mill for holidays. The setting is idyllic, tranquil; there are wolves in the woods, an abundance of wild flowers in the meadows and we feel very fortunate with our dream life.
We moved to Sussex to be near our five grandchildren and our home there is a cottage near the sea and the Downs. The coastline is quite busy and very different from the Tuscan Apennines and we love the contrast.
It’s hard to pick a favourite!
Do your homes inspire your stories?
Absolutely. In Italy our home is situated along what was known as The Gothic Line – a defensive barrier (part man-made, part natural) constructed by the Germans to attempt to stop the allies advancing northwards. The trenches and signs of gun emplacements are still visible in the unspoiled countryside and there are still vivid memories of occupation amongst elderly locals.
Our cottage in Sussex is called “Smugglers Cottage”. And there are so many interesting retired characters in the area – I enjoy catching the Coastliner bus and eavesdropping on conversations – some of which were used in Mavis and Dot. Authors are nosy creatures.
What is it you most enjoy most about writing?
Escaping to other worlds and discovering more about them in order to share. Since The Tuscan Girl was published, I have received several letters from readers whose Italian grandparents went through similar experiences to one of my main characters. They have thanked me for explaining facts of which they were unaware. (There were over 175,000 Italian POWs in Britain during the war.)
How long does it take you to write a book?
My Italian novels take me a year as there is a lot of research involved. And, although I try so hard to stick to my plans, I sometimes tangle myself up when writing in dual time and this takes time to unravel. My editor is very patient and lovely.
Do you have any tips for new novelists?
Simple as that.
Write and write and write. And read, read, read. Don’t put it off. All the excuses in the world won’t amount to a book being written.
Do you have any rituals when writing?
I need to write in silence. My desks in both houses are positioned so that I can’t see out of a window. I use a stop clock to time myself because I need to get up and move after an hour. My daughter is a physiotherapist and has given me exercises to do for my stiff shoulders and upper back. I reward myself with a cube of dark chocolate if I reach a writing target. I read over what I’ve written on the following day. Next to my desk is a noticeboard where I pin photos of characters and locations to spur me on and stick notes when something occurs to me to include. And I try to imagine my story like a film while I’m writing.
If you could make a dream come true, what would it be?
We lived in Tanzania for three years immediately after we married, and I’m very aware of the disparity and inequality of so many people’s lives, especially in the third world.
A dream come true would be to somehow help improve people’s living conditions everywhere. I think Covid-19 has highlighted this divide. We are not doing so well in Europe either.
My dream would be to make us all realise that we need to help one another more.
Angela, thank you for chatting to us in The Hub - we are sure that your fascinating story will inspire many writers. We wish you continued success with your wonderful books.
All about Angela...
Angela Petch shares her year between the Tuscan Apennines and West Sussex.
Her love affair with Italy was born at the age of seven when she moved with her family to Rome. Her father worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and he made sure his children learned Italian and soaked up the culture. She studied Italian at the University of Kent at Canterbury and afterwards worked in Sicily where she met her husband. His Italian mother and British father met in Urbino in 1944 and married after a wartime romance.
Her first book, Tuscan Roots was written in 2012, for her Italian mother-in-law, Giuseppina, and also to make readers aware of the courage shown by families of her Italian neighbours during WW2. Signed by Bookouture in 2018, this book was republished as The Tuscan Secret in June 2019. The Tuscan Girl followed in February 2020.
Now and Then in Tuscany, was self-published in April 2017 and features the same family. The background is the transhumance, a practice that started in Etruscan times and continued until the 1950s. Bookouture has since acquired the rights, and under a new title, A Tuscan Memory will be released on September 7th 2020. Research for her Tuscan novels is greatly helped by her knowledge of Italian and conversations with locals.
Although Italy is a passion, her stories are not always set in this country. Mavis and Dot, published at the end of 2018 and sold in aid of research into a cure for cancer, tells the story of two fun-loving ladies who retire to the Sussex seaside. They forge an unlikely friendship and fall into a variety of adventures. Ingenu/e Magazine describes it as: “Absolutely Fabulous meets Last of the Summer Wine… a gently hilarious feel-good book that will enchant and delight…”.
A prize-winning author and member of the RNA, she also loves to travel and recently returned to Tanzania, where she lived at the start of her marriage. A keen tennis player and walker, she enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren and inventing stories for their entertainment.
Her short stories are published by PRIMA and the People’s Friend.