I am always being asked how I ended up living in Italy and what brought me here in the first place. Most people assume it must have been a man. But actually it was a love affair with a house – which led to a love affair with a man.
Clare Pedrick was just 26 years old when she decided to buy a beautiful old ruin in Umbria on a whim after spotting a newspaper advert one rainy Sunday morning. She was entirely alone when she embarked on her adventure, which eventually led to a love affair with a man who is now her husband.
Unlike some other recent bestsellers, this is not simply an account of a foreigner’s move to Italy, but a love story written from the unusual perspective of both within and outside of the story. As events unfold, the strong storyline carries with it a rich portrayal of Italian life from the inside, with a supporting cast of memorable characters.
Along the way, the book explores and captures the warmth and colour of Italy, as well as some of the cultural differences – between England and Italy, but also between regional Italian lifestyles and behaviour. It is a story with a happy ending. The author and her husband are still married, with three children, who love the old house on the hill (now much restored) almost as much as she does.
I stumbled across author Clare Pedrick on Twitter one day – as you do – before getting to know her a little better through Book Connectors. She was looking for readers and reviewers for her book Chickens Eat Pasta, published by Troubadour on 28th July – available for kindle, via iTunes as an iBook, and in paperback – and it immediately captured my imagination. Until I read and review her book – which I will very soon – I’m delighted to welcome Clare to Being Anne to tell us a little more about her book and her fascinating life.
Welcome Clare! Would you like to start by introducing yourself?
Thank you! I suppose the most accurate way to describe me is as an English journalist who has made her home in Italy, and specifically in Umbria, which to those of you not familiar with the area is in the centre of the country, slightly north of Rome. I am married to an Italian – though that is not why I came to live here. On the contrary, I met him once I’d bought the old ruin in the hills that brought me to Italy in the first place. But I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone thinking of reading my book.
The more I read about your book, the more I want to read it. Tell me a little more about it…
Chickens Eat Pasta is really the story of how when I was a young woman, I made the strange decision to come to Italy to buy an old house just outside a remote Umbrian hill village. Actually it wasn’t so much of a decision as a whim, and I still can’t explain why I did it. One day I was looking at a newspaper advert in my house in Brighton, and three days later I was signing the contract for this beautiful house – or what was left of it – that I’d only seen for ten minutes. It was love at first sight and I’ve never for a moment regretted it. And then I met a man there, right in this tiny village, where there were only 43 inhabitants. So it’s also a story about love and coincidences.
|My house in the hills now|
Who would enjoy your book? I don’t usually read autobiographies, but it does sound like a reader of novels would enjoy it…
The publisher has billed the book as a memoir and an autobiography. But I went to quite a good deal of trouble to write it more as a novel, and I think this makes it a more compelling read. So it’s not just about me and what I’m thinking or doing, which would probably have been rather boring after a while. I’ve tried to inject suspense, so that readers are kept on their toes, and there are quite a few colourful characters who come to play a very important role as the story unfolds. And of course there are descriptions of the rambling old ruin, the beautiful landscapes and a way of life that was and still is extraordinarily raw in many ways. For all these reasons, the book is not classic chicklit, though women will probably enjoy it. I’ve had some very favourable reactions from men too.
Why the title Chickens Eat Pasta?
That is a reference to what really started me off on this extraordinary adventure. The estate agent in England, who I went to see the very next morning after reading the advertisement, played me a video that showed chickens eating spaghetti in the cobbled alleyways of this small hamlet. I don’t know why, but it really caught my imagination, so when it came to choosing a title for my book, there was no contest. By the way, chickens really do eat pasta in this part of Italy (and so do dogs – there is even special pasta for dogs sold in some shops!). And in case you don’t believe me, here’s a video to prove it!
I’ve been researching you on Google, and found wonderful pictures of your home. The scenery is absolutely breath-taking! Is it really “living the dream”?
|The beautiful lake where I keep my rowing boat|
Tell me more about Umbria… I’m guessing you’re now in love with it, so tell me why…
Yes I do love Umbria, and especially this corner of southern Umbria, which is very much off the beaten track. It’s strange, but time has stood still here, and it’s very empty, which is wonderful if you like space and vistas, as I do. Unlike Tuscany, which is highly manicured and quite chocolate boxy – albeit very beautiful – Umbria has an edge that I find captivating. It’s not particularly wealthy and the hill villages in the area where I live are still working villages, not places for tourists. People here still live according to the seasons and get up early to work the land and tend to their livestock, or chop wood for the coming winter.
Italy to me is always synonymous with wonderful food. Is there much food in your book – and what are the particular regional specialities that you like to eat?
Food does feature in my book, since eating, and in this area finding food such as the wonderful wild asparagus that grow on the hillsides, is such an important feature of everyday life. Most people in this part of Italy still sit down to eat a serious lunch and then dinner in the evening.
This is the only region of Italy with no access to the sea, so products from the land reign supreme here. One of them is truffles, which are delicious grated and served with olive oil and a little garlic on tagliatelle or bruschetta. I’ve been told there are truffles on my land, but I need a truffle-hunting dog to find them! This is also an area with lots of wild boar (cinghiale), and there are some very good dishes, such as pappardelle al cinghiale (wide home-made ribbons of pasta with a sauce made from wild boar, tomatoes and garlic) and wild boar salame.
My husband Mario is actually from Naples, and luckily he is a very good cook. He first won me over with his bucatini all’amatriciana, which he cooked for me in front of the open fire one of the first evenings we spent together. He also cooks quite a few fish and seafood dishes. For example, last night he made pasta and fagioli con cozze – pasta, beans and fresh mussels. Scrumptious!
Tell me more about your path to publication. Did your journalistic background ease the way at all?
I have been writing this book for a long time, but often got distracted by having to earn a living and bring up three children. I had a great deal of support from two literary agents – one when I was living in New York where I was working as a journalist. Then more recently from a London-based agent. Both of them urged me to write my story, and now that I finally have, I’m very glad that I did.
Funnily enough I always thought that being a journalist would make it easier to write a book. But while it helped in some ways, in other ways it proved a handicap. Journalists are so programmed to get the story out in the most direct, fastest way possible that they sometimes forget to dwell on descriptions and character. I really had to discipline myself to change the way I approached writing when it came to Chickens Eat Pasta.
Has it been difficult getting the word out there without the support of a major publisher?
I didn’t manage to attract a commercial publisher, although several came very close to accepting my manuscript. A few of them told me I had missed the boat in the Under the Tuscan Sun genre, though as some of my reviewers have pointed out, my book is very different. It’s not a sugary account of life in Italy seen through rose-tinted spectacles. Much of the book is about some of the many triaIs and culture clashes I encountered during my adventure, and parts of it take quite a warts-and-all look at life here. In the end, I decide to go down the self-publishing path, which was probably the best thing I ever did. But of course that rather leaves you on your own when it comes to marketing and publicity.
And now you’ve told your story, what next? Are you writing again?
To be honest, when I started writing my book, I had no idea it would be so much work. It’s less than 122 pages long, but I really wanted to do a good job, so with one thing and another, I ended up rewriting it five times. Now, as I’m fast discovering, the work is far from over, as there are interviews to do and guest blogs to write, all of which are extremely enjoyable.
So for the time being I just need to catch my breath, and of course carry on making a living as a journalist. I’m also enjoying the last few days of a truly glorious summer up here in the Umbrian hills.
|Wild flowers in early summer|
The leaves in the woods that I can see from my window will be turning red and gold soon, which is quite spectacular when it happens, but for now the sun is still warm and the sky is an almost cloudless blue. It would be madness not to make the most of it!
My thanks to Clare – and her book is steadily climbing my “must read soon” list!
Clare Pedrick is a British journalist who studied Italian at Cambridge University before becoming a reporter. She went on to work as the Rome correspondent for the Washington Post and as European Editor of an international features agency. She still lives in Italy with her husband, whom she met in the village where she bought her house.