This week I have had three unexpected comments about my work. One was a lovely plug for "The Song of the Cypress" on Essentially Art's website - thank you very much for that. The second was from a friend of my mother's who had just finished reading the book. Of course family and friends are bound to be a bit biased but thank you anyway, dear Auntie Norma. She actually said something in a letter to my Mum which I really would like to enlarge on. She said that she assumed that I had drawn on my experiences as an English girl living in Tuscany when writing. That is both true and untrue at the same time. Living here gives me a realistic viewpoint and the ability to describe the area in accurate detail. However, none of my characters are based on myself. The third comment I had was from a lady I met who had read my book. She amazed me by launching into a detailed discussion of the plot and characters as if they were real people - a bigger compliment I cannot imagine! She asked me if my heroine was based on me and my reply was, absolutely not. There are only two characters who have some basis of reality, Rita, who is a neighbour of mine and a wonderful source of stories from the war years and Luna, the dog. Luna looks different from my Stella but every delicious doggy moment in the book is based on her. Now that she is no longer with us, every time I reread bits of the book I want to laugh and cry at the same time - I miss her so much!
However, the characters in my book grow with me as I write. So much so that sometimes I have to go back to the beginning and rewrite scenes to add details about them that I did not know when I began. Fiametta is a classic case. In the first version she existed only briefly in chapter 3 but that magical old lady refused to be forgotten. She plagued me as I lay in bed at night, forcing herself into my mind until i had to get up, find a scrap of paper and jot notes. Her voice in my head, cackling with laughter, was so real that I believed in her myself. In fact, now that the book is written Fiametta, Annie, Joe and the others seem like real friends, who I know very well but have not seen for a while.
At the moment my head is full of new characters. I am not at the sleepless-night phase but the washing-up gets frequently interupted as I dash to dry my hands and write down some new idea that presents itself to me from within the soapsuds. I love this process, this complicated double life I live where my new "friends" seem almost as real as my family at times.
One thing I want to make very clear here is that, as Auntie Norma pointed out, there is no resemblance between Annie's mother in the book and my own mum. I am lucky enough to have the most wonderful mother that anyone could wish for. She always gave me love, laughter and endless encouragement and whatever I am now is due to her loving care and a happy childhood. Thank you so very much Mum!