The Differences Between Men and Women!

From my website blog July 2013.

So much has been written on this topic! Probably because people are constantly stunned by just how different our thought processes are. However, I want to take a moment here to talk about the fine art of suitcase packing.

Whenever we go away I plan my outfits for days, sometimes even weeks, beforehand. Anything I think I might need gets washed, ironed and put away. Then a day or so before we are due to leave I spend ages trying things on to make sure that everything still fits (how I wish it always did!) and that this top goes with those shorts. You never know, there might not be a full-length mirror where we are going and I would hate to be wandering around on holiday looking mismatched!

Then there are the sleepless nights spent wondering how many pairs of sandals are strictly necessary. The silver ones are great but flat, so my white trousers touch the ground – better take the navy ones with high heels. Those will not go with the little black outfit for the evening though so we need black heels too. For walking along the seafront, something comfortable, or maybe two in case one pair breaks.

Another dilema – bikini or costume. I always take some of both but end up only wearing the bikinis so that more of me will turn nicely pink before peeling, even though I know I look decidedly better in a one piece!

The finishing touch is accessories; a few scarves that double as beach wraps or cover shoulders if it gets cool; necklaces and earrings – get every outfit back out of the wardrobe and see what looks best with each.

So now it is the day before we leave and Guido fetches the suitcases down and gives them a dust off when I ask him, then goes back to reading his book while I carefully fold things so that they will crease as little as possible and sort through toiletries for us both.

About an hour before going to bed Guido will inform me that he had better pack. I love to watch this whirlwind moment so prop myself on the bed for a good view. He opens drawers and grabs a handful of beach shorts and boxers and a pair of socks or two. Then, for some inixplicable reason, he always packs 2 white T-Shirt vests, which he never wears. Next comes the wardrobe selection – 2 pairs of shorts, 2 shirts, one pair of long trousers and a sweatshirt in case. Finished. Nothing gets tried on or looked at to see if it matches, he just plucks up whatever he comes across first.

Guido is a true traveller. He likes to travel light. Shame he married me really, isn’t it, since he always ends up carrying my luggage too! Don’t you just love men?



How Characters Come to Life

Taken from my website blog, feb 2013.

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!

Song cover Amazon

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!

Rita’s Gold – the true price to pay

The sun is out in Florence and streets are packed with sweltering tourists wondering how the Florentines manage to look so cool and elegant. Ice creams in hand they walk slowly around the awe-inspiring museums and monuments, gratefully cool off in the sumptuous, incense-laden interiors of churches and art galleries, or stroll around the markets, buying souvenirs and absorbing the atmosphere.
Sooner or later every visitor will end up on the Ponte Vecchio, look down at the torpid brown water with some disappointment but then cheer up again as their eyes are dazzled by the shops lining the bridge, their windows crammed with gold and precious stones. Many will be content to window shop, others will be tempted to buy something truly beautiful, as a reminder of this rich and glorious city.

Ponte vecchio
The shop keeper lays out jewels of every type, on glass counters or plush velvet, hoping for a sale to justify the extravagant rent of such a prestigious location. He points out the remarkable workmanship to the potential buyer, who only really cares about how it looks against their tans.
“Made near here, in Arezzo,” he says but does not add that Arezzo, the “gold city” is suffering the worst crisis ever or that the closure of so many factories has devastated the city and surrounding area. Nor does he mention the numerous workers in private homes who work all day on delicate soldering jobs, for a pittance. The Valdarno has a deeply embedded tradition of working with gold and many private houses in the villages are homes to artisans and piece-workers, something tourists would never suspect as they walk by.

Shop on Ponte Vecchio
Necklace chosen, clasp fastened around a brown neck, the happy tourists continue on their way, discussing what to do next. Dinner maybe, in some chic restaurant? Maybe some more shopping first.
At the same time, in a small village in the Valdarno, 87 year old Rita sits by her window so her eyes can focus better on her fingers. She is working, as she has done all her life in her spare time after finishing the housework and preparing meals for her large family, on fiddly gold chain links. She earns a tiny amount for each chain she completes, which goes to supplement a minimal pension and help her through to the end of the month. Rita goes to mass every morning and her faith sustains her. She offers up the pain in her arthritic joints and fingers to the lord and hopes she will last a few more years to help her family. She puts aside fifty cents every morning, in a purse hidden in a kitchen cupboard, so that at the end of the month she has a precious ten euros to send to the child she has adopted at a distance.
This is the true value of the gold chain glittering enticingly on the Ponte Vecchio.