Living Life With a Whisper & A Song

I’m turning this week’s blog over to lovely and talented author Tonia Parronchi.

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Hey, Tonia! I’m honored to have you as a guest today. Could you tell us a bit about “Song of the Cypress” and “A Whisper on the Mediterranean?” What would you like readers to take away with them when they finish your books?

Hi, Stephanie, Thanks for asking me to join you here. When I write, I get completely caught up in the story I am weaving. “The Song of the Cypress” is completely imaginary. “A Whisper on the Mediterranean” is a memoir. So in some ways, the second was easier to write as I could check my diary as I went along. However, “Song” just flowed as I took daily walks through the beautiful countryside in my Tuscan valley which inspired the novel. Certain characters, such as Fiammetta, the old wise woman, took over my life and invaded my dreams, bombarding me with vivid images until I found a scrap of paper and wrote down what they wanted to say! I suppose that what I hope my readers will get from my books is a sense of place. I was an armchair-traveler for years and know how special it is to read about faraway places and add a bit of spice to an ordinary-seeming life (although I believe there is magic to be found anywhere if one opens one’s eyes and looks). If I inspire people to come and visit Italy to experience this wonderful country, so full of quirks and contradictions, that would be wonderful.

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You have amazing versatility as an author. “Song of the Cypress” is lyrical fiction, a poem in prose with a mix of mystery, romance, and suspense. “A Whisper on the Mediterranean” is a memoir. “Poppies” seems to be your life in poems. Do you have a favorite genre, or have you enjoyed writing each of them equally?

There is no doubt in my mind about my favorite genre, either as a writer or a reader, I love fiction. I had fun writing the memoirs (as you say, “Poppies” is a kind of poetic memoir), but I really fell in love with writing during “The Song of the Cypress.” As I said above, certain characters really took over my life. I felt that I was living two lives at times, my real one, and alongside that, my imaginary one. The characters that I created seem quite real to me, as if they are old friends that I have not seen for a while. I have just finished a second novel which has a completely different flavor, and it made me laugh as I wrote it. Fiction gives me a freedom to write whatever I want and it is such fun!

I’m so glad to hear about your new novel. I can’t wait to read it! Could you tell us a bit about it?

My new novel is called “The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow.” It is set in England, in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and follows the adventures of frosty, middle-aged estate agent Angelina Snow and the brave man who falls in love with her, Leonardo Marconi. Mr. Marconi brings Italy into the novel—there had to be something Italian in there after all! Both my main characters are cynical, sarcastic and hard to love. I really enjoyed their verbal battles and finding a way to let them fall in love. I have another novel which is really only vague ideas and a lot of post-it notes at the moment. It is to do with the sea, a woman whose life is influenced by water. There is a mermaid or mythical creature deep within each of us, I think. It is hard to pin down the element of water and fascinating to write about but I am still playing with it

When did you start writing? Was it something that was born in you, or something that developed?

I remember a short story I wrote when I was about 10, about a ghost in a castle. I think my mother still has it somewhere! I was forever scribbling things down, and so I suppose I always wanted to be a writer. It was only when I met my husband, though, and he encouraged me to stop talking about it and start writing that I really began. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What was your first success? And, conversely, did you have any failures?

Getting a publisher (the lovely Sunpenny) for “A Whisper on the Mediterranean” was my first success. Before that I had, as most of us writers do, a nice folder full of depressing rejection letters. I can honestly say that the day I first held my finished book in my hands was one of the best in my life. I kept wandering over to it, picking it up and stroking it lovingly and had a silly smile on my face all day.

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You were born in the UK. What took you to Italy? Do you think of it now as your forever home? “Song of the Cypress” paints a poignant thumbnail sketch of Italy. Is the beauty and drama of the land why you call it home? Or is it some other reason?

I moved here because I met Guido and moved in with him, in Rome in 1990. I feel a bit like a fish-out-of-water in the UK, and Italy, really. I have been in Italy for so long that it has become home, but England is forever in my heart and I don’t fit in either place properly. Maybe that is what allows me to write about both places with understanding and complicity but still be an observer, on the outside looking in. I love dramatic scenery and beautiful locations and am lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. However, my heart often yearns for the countryside of my youth. I could write with the same intensity about the Cornish coast, Welsh valleys, or Scottish highlands. I live in Italy above all because my husband is here. A few years ago we took a trip to Brittany, in France, and I lost my heart to that region. Before we booked the holiday, I was reading a brochure that made me giggle over some of the translations. One description of the Cote d’Armor coast informed me that I would love to “trot myself along the pink the granite cliffs.” Indeed, I loved trotting myself along there. Maybe I could live there one day?

You call your husband an “Italian Action Man.” From “A Whisper on the Mediterranean,” it would seem as if you share a sense of adventure. Were you always adventurous?

Oh, Stephanie, I am not brave or adventurous at all, only very much in love with my husband, who leads me into all sorts of scrapes. I was a tomboy as a child and forever climbing trees—but never getting very high because I am afraid of heights! I sail and fly with Guido (he built a small 2-seater plane in our workshop!), but get tied up in nerves each time. I am, however, very grateful to him because he has introduced me to so many wonderful things that otherwise I would not have tried. Skiing—I do not ski anymore because each time I go I end up injuring myself, as I am not at all sporty. Snorkeling—but I get panicky with the mask over my face. I went up in a hot air balloon and must be the only balloon passenger ever to not to have seen anything of the flight except the inside of the basket and my white knuckles tightly gripping to the edge! With Guido, I have also been to some amazing places and others that I would not want to go back to, such as the cockroach-infested hotel in Kenya. These experiences will surely, one day, be good to write about.

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That’s funny! But I know you are not the first to see only the inside of a hot air balloon basket, I would be the same! My legs would never allow me the courage to stand. I think you are both brave and adventurous, and I love the example you set of loving your husband and being his partner in everything—even if it scares you! But back to your books; being a parent myself, I was alarmed and enthralled reading about your experiences sailing with James when he was a baby. You wrote your fear with such emotion when he almost fell into the engine room that my heart pounded. Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time—would you do it all over again?

I would not change a thing. It is true that I was scared stiff for James more than once when we were sailing, and questioned my own judgment quite harshly then. Now he is 21, and a very independent and interesting man. I think his early experiences helped to form his unique character. I would not change a thing because my experiences are what make me the person I am now. I can honestly say that I am happier with myself now than I ever was when younger and have no wish to go back in time, either to re-live or to change anything. Just keep the adventures coming. I have become a bit of an adrenalin junkie.

What is some parting information about you and your books, or your life in Italy that you would like readers to take away with them?

What I would like to say to anyone who is wondering about changing their lives but scared about it, is this. Do it. If you don’t, you will always regret not trying. I am so glad that I have had a chance to live an integrated life in another country. Learning another language was a big challenge to me but now I am fluent, although I do still make lots of mistakes and am used to my son and husband rolling their eyes and apologizing for me when I come out with particularly strange sentences. They refer to these mistakes as Toniaisms and find them vastly amusing. My Italian friends are warm and loving, the food and wine here is amazing and the countryside and cities exquisite. The politics, corruption and pollution are terrible but that is true in many other countries too. Everyone should visit Italy at least once in their lives. It is a uniquely wonderful country. I also hope that readers of “The Song of the Cypress” will look at nature differently after reading the book. Maybe they will stop for a while in the shelter of some ancient tree and really take time to look and absorb the beauty around them. If they stay still long enough, maybe they will begin to feel the deep connection that runs through all things. Some call it God, others think of it as the universal spirit that flows through life. I think of it as the song, the entrancing music of the shadow lands—just out of sight, almost impossible to hear but strumming the air with an exquisite melody if you open up your hearts to it.

Thank you, Tonia, for that lovely parting thought. It has put a song in my heart today, and I know your unique books will do the same for your readers.

Author Val Poore, Life HER Way

Meet Author Valerie Poore, Living Life HER Way.

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Best selling author Valerie Poore’s books include “Watery Ways,” “Walloon Ways,” “African Ways,” “Harbour Ways,” “How to Breed Sheep, Geese And English Eccentrics, and “The Skipper’s Child.” Her secret to success could be her courage to live life her way, never abandoning dreams no matter how impossible they seem. I am honored that she agreed to share my blog this week.

Val, do you remember what age were you when you decided to become a writer and what inspired you to make that decision? What is the earliest writing success you remember? Have there been any heartbreak rejections? If so…what kept you going?

Oh my goodness, Steph, I cannot remember ever not writing something. I wrote reams of stories as a child and then later, I wrote more descriptive articles. I also had to write for my work as a communications manager, so that meant a lot of copywriting for ads and brochures as well as newsletters. But the actual decision to write seriously for myself started in South Africa. I spent so much time listening to the radio that I decided to try my hand at writing plays for broadcast. Sadly, I never had any luck and had a few rejections from the SABC (SA’s broadcasting corporation) as well as from the BBC, but I did have a short story broadcast on a Christian radio station. It was a story about a minister who finds a kitten and on returning it to its atheist owner, starts an unusual friendship that leads them into all sorts of philosophical discussions. It had a happy and (I still think) rather touching ending.

It sounds like a marvelous story. I would enjoy reading it – but then, I enjoy reading everything you write! Your young adult book “The Skipper’s Child” is fiction, based on history and fact which, I believe, gives it added dimension and interest for readers. It has – along with some of your other books – been a best seller. “How to Breed Sheep, Geese, and English Eccentrics” seems to be fictionalized non-fiction. The rest of your books are non-fiction in the memoir genre. Which do you enjoy writing most and why? Do you have a future writing project in mind that is different from the books you’ve already written? And if so, would you like to discus it?

Well, I’m not sure if you would call any of them real best sellers, but I’ve been lucky enough to have The Skipper’s Child and two of my memoirs at the top of their respective categories for a while, so that’s been a huge thrill. As for the mix between fact and fiction, yes, I can’t seem to get away from fact completely. All the same, I enjoy writing fiction as it allows me the creative freedom to invent things that I don’t have with memoir writing. I have never written anything as completely fictitious as you have though – not yet! My next book is a novel set in Africa but is still based on my life there. The one after that will be much more of a challenge as it involves more research into the history of the waterways than I’ve ever needed to do before and it will be completely fictitious story. I’m really excited about it, actually. The idea is for a novel about a Dutch skipper’s efforts to escape from the Germans during the war. It will start with the bombardment of Rotterdam, which was much more horrific than I ever realised.

What a great idea, Val. Like all your other books, I can’t wait to read it! Now, let me ask this: “Watery Ways,” “Harbour Ways,” and “Walloon Ways” all detail restoring barges and adapting to living on the water. I love what one reviewer said, “Val makes even plumbing interesting.” What are the disadvantages of barge living? Do you expect to always live on a barge or do you want to plant your life back on solid ground someday?

Ah, Steph, I am already in a kind of transitional phase. I don’t spend all the time on my barge anymore as my partner finds it too small and uncomfortable these days, so I live with him in a house at weekends and on my barge during the week when I’m alone in Rotterdam for work. The disadvantages I have are only because of the location of my home harbour, which is on a tidal river in the middle of the city. The challenges come from problems with excessively high or low tides combined with wind, and of noise from being in the city’s social hub. If I were to move to a different location, there wouldn’t be any disadvantages as far as I’m concerned, but it’s not a ‘switch on the light and turn on the tap’ kind of life. You have to sort out your own electrical connections, fix your own plumbing and fill up water tanks on a regular basis. It’s hard work, and I’ve had to learn how to do it all myself, but I don’t see that as a downside. Quite the reverse – it’s all be part of the adventure.

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I love your sense of adventure, Val! Along with brilliant writing, it’s what makes your books so much fun to read. Even though you might deny it, you are also courageous and that pops out from the words on the pages when you detail the difficulty and hard work involved in building your life on a floating foundation. Another question, from “Walloon Ways” and anecdotes about your dog Sindy, and from “How to Breed Sheep, Geese, and English Eccentrics, it’s obvious you love animals. Do you ever plan to retire from your barge and fill your life with animals again? How difficult is it to keep a dog on a barge?

Oh yes, I love animals – probably more than most people really. Having a big dog on a barge was quite a challenge, and when Sindy got old, it was really difficult, especially as she hated being on the move too. Because of that, I won’t have another dog or cat until I lead a more settled life, but yes, I would love to have animals again. I miss Sindy terribly, even now. One day, though, I’ll have another dog, a small one though, and a cat too. I’d really like to have chickens as well. They are the funniest, most delightful creatures to have and to watch – just the job for when I get old and want to stay at home more, and then I can have my own eggs as well!  

I’m sure you will have all of that and more some day. You might even run your own farm when you exchange your watery ways for walking ways. It’s been so much fun having you here today. Delightful. Thank you. Before you leave to get back to your busy life, what would you most like readers to know about you and your books?

Wow, that’s a difficult question, but a good one! I think all I really want people to know is that life can always be an adventure if you just get up every day with a sense of wonder and curiosity, and I hope my books reflect this. Of course I’ve had my ups and downs, but my attitude is always to keep exploring, keep trying new things and keep enjoying every opportunity, however challenging it is. It’s taught me about places and introduced me to wonderful people I might never have encountered otherwise. I suffered from depression and crippling shyness as a teenager, but going to Africa cured me of both. It was the best thing I could have done and I think it’s what taught me to be open to everything and to cherish every experience, both good and bad.

I can’t imagine you ever having suffered from depression and crippling shyness, Val. You have done as marvelous a job of reinventing yourself as you have your lifestyle and your barges. That makes you an inspiration for others, especially those who are facing the same battles in their lives. Thank you so much for joining me today.

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