Saturday, 25 February 2017

Interview with Tonia Parronchi, author of Whisper on the Mediterranean

To continue our series of interviews, we are delighted to present Tonia Parronchi, author of Whisper on the Mediterranean, a gorgeous memoir about sailing off the Italian coast. Like many of our authors, Tonia's home is in a beautiful and special location. She lives in Tuscany, Italy with her husband, Guido, her son and a gorgeous puppy called Drake. She is joining us today to tell us something about her adoptive country and how it inspires her in her writing


SP: Tonia, could you tell us something of your background and how you came to be living in Italy?


TP: Hi Val, I have a bit of a gypsy soul. I moved house and changed jobs and men many times before meeting my husband and moving to Italy.


I grew up in England and lived there until I was 27 but travelling was always what made me happiest. I met Guido when I was in Cephalonia; living unhappily with a Greek man and already thinking about moving back to the UK with my tail between my legs. Guido had sailed there to recover from his divorce. So we were two unhappy people who were definitely not looking for love! He invited me to visit him in Rome for a week and 27 years later he still hasn't managed to get rid of me! In Guido I found my soul mate and best friend. He loves travelling as much as I do and has done far more of it than me. When he took early retirement (at 48!) we bought a sailing boat and set off around the Mediterranean with our 14 month old toddler, which is where my memoir "A Whisper on the Mediterranean" comes from.



Tonia's lovely memoir


Tonia and Guido on their sailing boat

SP: That's so romantic, Tonia. Like a fairytale! What do you most inspiring as a writer about living in Italy?


TP: I love Italy in spite of its various problems with politics and corruption. I don't think it is the only country to have these problems either but certainly Italians have been suffering from these things openly for far too long. I love the people, food, wine and the relaxed atmosphere. It is not perfect here but I don't think paradise exists anywhere on earth.  I am very lucky to live in Tuscany now, in a beautiful valley which is a constant inspiration to me and the setting for my novel, "The Song of the Cypress". I observe nature in minute detail as it unfolds around me, season by season and take such joy in the small changes which consequently make their way into my writing.


Right now, winter is almost over and I can feel spring in the air. There are no visible buds on the trees yet but the branches seem to be swelling and subtly changing colour so there is a sense of ripening everywhere. However, nature can be observed anywhere and you asked when it is about Italy that inspires me - maybe it is the fact of being an outsider. I am still different even after all these years. The way of living here; the small rituals, celebrations and mindset still sometimes surprise me. I find this a constant source of amusement and wonder. It's the little things such as their connection with the land. I live in a country village and things would be different in a city but here people often grow their own fruit and vegetables, keep chickens for food as well as eggs and make their own wine. So, they are aware of the seasons and eat appropriately. The mushroom season is a moment of fervent excursions into the woods on secret mushrooming missions. Never disclose the exact location of your porcini patch!




Beautiful Tuscany
SP:  It all sounds just wonderful - the stuff of dreams! But what prompted you to start writing? How long have you been writing?

TP: I've always scribbled, but until I lived in Rome, I had never thought about really writing a book. My husband encouraged me to start and I wrote a story which I will probably never publish because it was very unpolished but I fell in love with writing and now it is part of who I am.


SP: It's always there somewhere, isn't it? What do you prefer writing? Fiction or fact and why?


TP: Hard to say! Writing memoirs is probably easier because one has a diary or memories to work from. However I think I enjoy fiction most. It allows me to exercise my imagination. I certainly prefer reading fiction and exploring different genres.


SP:  Then do you write anything other than fiction or memoir?


TP: I write poetry too but this tends to be very personal and mostly I prefer to keep people outside my head because it can be a bit of a mess in there!


SP: OK, here's a standard question we ask everyone. If you had to give the readers here a tip about how to get started on a book, what would it be?



TP: I suppose to just start. Also, to not worry about whether it is "good" or not. If you have something you want to express, sometimes it is enough just to put it down on paper for yourself alone.


SP: That's a good idea. Don't get it right; get it written! What do you feel is your greatest strength in life? And then (of course) what do you see as your weakest point?


TP: From a writer's point of view I think that being able to see things from other people's perspectives is very valuable. It helps me to get inside my character's heads and imagine them as whole people with varied reactions to situations. At the same time this is maybe my weakest point too because, being able to see life through other's eyes often means that I do not press home my own opinion because I can understand theirs. This does not mean that I don't have strong opinions, just that I am able to see things from the opposite side. Guido says that I am good at working out problems, although he specifies NOT technical ones :) I am absolutely useless at anything technical!



Tonia's family: her son, Guido & Drake the 
new furry addition to the Parronchi household

SP: That's what you have him for, isn't it?  If you had to live for a year with only one book, what would it be? And do you have any favourite authors? If so, why do you admire their work?


TP: Wow, that is a hard one! I have so many that I love and take down to read again. I have many favourite authors and these tend to change as I grow and discover new ones and new facets of myself reflected in their words. I was in love with Somerset Maugham when I was a teenager and got misty eyed over the poetry of Yeats. I really enjoy books by Joanne Harris, with her "everyday magic". I like books that make me laugh and ones that make me cry, as long as they trigger real, strong emotions.

You can see I'm trying to avoid being forced to choose one book for a year!


Let me cheat and say that I would have two books, one factual and one fiction. The factual one is easy, my old book on aromatherapy which I have read so often that its pages are falling out and which has helped me many times, to ease someone's pain or scent the house for a special dinner party. It links words with plants and the healing power of nature.


My fiction choice (can I choose a trilogy? That way I can start the first again when I finish the last?) "The Crystal Cave" by Mary Stewart. I first read this when I was a girl too. I fell in love with the beautiful way she writes about Merlin's life as he grows from a boy to an old man, showing him as a real person rather than a magician, bringing the past alive and at the same time allowing a bit of magic to remain.


For me the best writers manage to reveal a little of the deep connection that exists between us fragile humans and the universal force that nourishes our souls. What I call magic. What leaves us tingling all over and a little breathless with the joy of that connection.


SP: Well, I suppose we could let you have those, but you realise that's four books, don't you? Are you writing anything at the moment? Can you tell us what it is?


TP: I've just finished a humorous novel called "The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow" and I am working on two projects. The first is a book about how to live a life you really want called "Uniquely You". I'm not sure if I intend this to ever be published. It is maybe more a guide for any future grandchildren that I might have, to help them cope with the difficulties they will inevitable encounter on their journey through life and encourage them to live bravely, not as other's want them to but to follow what makes their own hearts sing. The other is a novel in its infancy, to do with the siren call of the sea, the effect of water on our minds and bodies ...


SP: Wow! That all sounds very exciting. Can I ask this: if you had a bucket list, what would be in the top three positions?


TP: I have never drawn up a bucket list. There are many things that I would love to do, places to travel to, things to experience. One thing I am certain of, anything sporty would not be on my list! I leave all sporting activities to my husband.


Life has a way of surprising us, heading us in a direction that we could not have anticipated and I am learning to let it take me where it will and enjoy what I can from each new experience. Even the darkest ones leave some gem in their wake which, with time, one can learn to treasure.

However, I would like to:

* Travel on the Orient Express, indulging myself in that opulent elegance of bygone days.

* Live by or on the water again, either on a sailing boat, a barge or a houseboat.

* Take a very long journey to Australia and New Zealand so that I can spend time with our son who lives in Sydney and who I miss enormously.



SP: What a lovely set of ambitions! Tonia, thank you so very much for joining us on the Sunpenny blog today; it's been a real pleasure to talk to you about your lovely home and your inspirations.

For anyone interested, Tonia's Amazon links can be found here
And her personal website and blog are here