"Of cypress song and forgotten gods
these hills of mine are wrought"

These lines sum up the magic in the hills where I often walk. Long before we moved to this valley, when we still lived in Rome, the thought of having children was not even in our minds and we were newly in love, Guido brought me to visit his family home in Tuscany. It was very beautiful and, when I woke around 5am and could not get back to sleep, I decided to leave Guido in bed and walk up the wooded hill about 200m away from what is now our home. Guido later was quite cross with me since I had gone without being armed with a stout stick to ward off fierce wild boar or potentially dangerous, mushroom-hunting peasants!
It was summer but cool enough at that hour to need a light jacket as I set off. The woods were quite dark, still in that strange pre-dawn light that fades colour out of the landscape. Cobwebs laced across branches and path and with the birds still roosting there was a deep silence whenever I stopped to breathe deeply the scent of sweet broom, leaf mould and dew. A soft light began to seep into the shadows and dapple the ground and as I turned a corner I saw a mother deer and her fawn daintily eating at the side of the path. I stopped and stood as still as possible, thrilled to be so close to such unexpected beauty. I was so reluctant to disturb them that after a while I quietly turned and took another path. It was this new path that led me to the avenue of ancient cypress trees that made such a huge impression on me that later I was to write a book to celebrate them, The Song of the Cypress.
I walked uphill for about twenty minutes before coming to a country road that crossed the path. I undid my jacket to let the cool air in and wondered whether to go back and make myself some breakfast but something made me close my eyes and feel which direction I should take. I turned left, wishing that it was not so steeply uphill but drawn in that direction somehow. After a few minutes I left the shelter of the wood and there was a wonderful view across the valley to the Pratomagno Mountains. I sat on a rock, mottled with moss and lichen and felt the early sun warm my shoulders. Then I looked ahead and saw them, a line of dark sentinels on the left of the path that then became an avenue marching up to the top of the hill.
As I walked between these magnificent trees, some so old that their girth was enormous, I had the sensation of entering a cathedral. The vast dark fronds twisted upwards as if reaching to touch the pale sky and the power that strummed through me was potent and uplifting. I sat, leaning against the rough trunk of one giant, stroking its bark and the soft star-moss that grew at its base. I do not know how long I sat there simply absorbing that incredible energy. It seemed a timeless moment. Eventually the growling in my hungry tummy made me turn back to the village but I walked slowly, reluctant to break the spell that I was under with human contact and unnecessary words, even for a much needed coffee and toast. I knew that this would remain forever one of my special memories.
Some years later we were sailing from Fiumicino to Ponza with our small son helping his dad at the helm. This gave me a chance to let the ever-changing seascape mesmerise me. I was pondering the book that I had started to write. I had some characters I liked, the setting of our Tuscan valley was perfect but the magic was missing. Suddenly the memory of those cypresses filled my mind and the idea of using a cypress to bring the magic to my story formed. It seems strange to think that the book, which is centred around Annie's guardian tree and her mystical connection with it, could have begun without that essential ingredient. Once I opened up to the magic and otherworldly energy that emanated from those trees, drawing me towards them, the book wrote itself.
I used that sensation to describe how Annie found her new home. She arrives in Pisa airport, hires a car and without knowing exactly where she is going starts to drive;

"On impulse, I turned off the main road onto a tiny lane, little more than a dirt track really, that cut through brushwood and then plunged into a dense woodland of oak trees. I slowed right down and rubbed my tired eyes with one hand as the car bumped over the boulders and lurched across potholes. After about half a mile, the wood thinned and receded until I was driving between tall cypress trees that lined each side of the road in graceful formality.

There was something about that cypress-lined track that drew me to it, tempted me further along it, in spite of the rough road surface that strained the car’s suspension to the limit. I began to feel strangely elated, my early tiredness slipping away. I unwound the window to let the dusty air bring the scents of spring woodland to me and I laughed out loud. It was like being on a ride at the fair, bumping over stones and swerving around the torturous bends while breathing in unfamiliar scents and a general air of excitement.

I came to a fork in the road and stopped, unsure which direction to take. As I hesitated, an old woman stepped into view, startling me as she emerged from a half-hidden track in the undergrowth. She stared at me piercingly with clear blue eyes set in a maze of sun-baked wrinkles. She looked such a part of the landscape, in her faded brown dress, her white hair shimmering in the sun like fluffy dandelion seed, and I was so taken aback by her sudden appearance, that I just sat and returned her stare. The sound of the engine idling quietly seemed to echo the beat of my heart. There was no other sound, no birds chirping, not even a soft play of breeze through the leaves. It seemed as if a stillness had descended on the land with the appearance of the old woman and, although she was a stranger to me, there was something so familiar about her that I was utterly transfixed. The moment dragged out, until at last, with a mischievous grin, the old woman raised her arm and pointed a gnarled finger to the right, where the road wound uphill. I thanked her with a nod and drove on. When I checked in the mirror, she had already vanished back into the forest. I was a little unnerved. I knew that I had never seen her before but she had seemed like a part of my past, like a memory that I could glimpse but not quite put into focus. Looking into her remarkable, slightly mocking eyes, I had felt a connection deeper than any I could remember, as if she knew me so well that she could read my thoughts and see deep into my soul."