I always love this time of year when the flurry of activity leading up to Christmas is over, the large family gatherings in our family, although always wonderful, are done and I can just take a breath, relax and look to the year ahead.
With the pace of life slowing down, I’m happy to hibernate at home with my family around me, reading and cooking for pleasure, watching good movies and series with them, enjoying their reactions to those I’ve already seen and playing the odd board game or cards as a family. For me, this time is all about connecting with my own family.
Family has always been important to me, the central pillar of my life. It’s no surprise then that family is always a strong theme in my books. My next book set in Southern Italy which I’ll be working on and refining during the year ahead, is no different.
The inspiration for this story comes from my father’s side of the family who hails from Calabria in Southern Italy. Only a few years ago, I learnt that my grandfather fought in the war with Ethiopia, then called Abyssinia in 1935 and also fought in Albania before World War Two.
My story begins in 1936 as Italy has begun its colonial expansion into East Africa, invading Ethiopia. It follows Giulia and her family through Mussolini’s fascist regime, Italy’s involvement in WW2 and alliance with Germany, the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, the role of the partisan resistance and the ensuing civil war between the puppet fascist state in the north and Allied occupation in the south.
I never imagined how complex Italy’s war really was and how the country was torn in two as a result, but I knew even less about Calabria’s role in this war. I was fascinated to learn how the isolation geographically and politically from Rome and the wealthy, industrial north, affected southern attitudes to war and to oppression and exploitation, with a number of peasant revolts and the formation of shortly lived independent southern Italian and Sicilian communities. The south had resisted the idea of unification and never truly felt part of the Kingdom of Italy ever since its declaration in 1861.
I’ve loved researching and exploring the connection between family, religion, medicine/healing and the ancient Greek and Byzantine roots of this part of the world that have been preserved for centuries. This land was once called Magna Graecia and settled in the 8th Century BC. I have the strong and feisty Giulia, spending time at an ancient Byzantine monastery in the rugged mountains of Calabria, learning herbal medicine and taking part in the annual spring festival dedicated to the Madonna.
But the most wonderful part has been reconnecting with family and friends, hearing their stories about Calabria, sampling gorgeous Italian cooking and food and even getting my hands dirty and learning how to make Italian salami! It’s been fascinating to explore the rich and ancient cultural influences of the region, and even though my trip to Southern Italy this year was cancelled, I still feel the connection to the mountains and coast of the very tip of Italy where my story is set. I was lucky to spend a few weeks there as a teenager, in a village that hasn’t changed too much since the war years, or probably for hundreds of years in some respects.
I’ve always loved family stories and in the process of revisiting this part of my heritage, I’ve been reminded how strong family ties are in determining who you are and the person you become. My love of family has come from my own background and I can’t wait to share this story of family with you all when my next book hits the shelves later this year.