The Wild Magic of Winter


When I was writing “The Song of the Cypress”, part of my daily writing routine was walking the nearby woods with Stella, our German Shepherd dog and the inspiration for the dog, Luna, in the novel. Since she died I had found it hard to walk the much-loved paths, without her tail spiralling madly in front of me and her constant checking to make sure I was keeping up.


Yesterday I walked with little Drake, who at 4 months is fast becoming my best friend. It is not the most spectacular season for walkies but I love winter and delighted in Drake’s enthusiasm.


Here are some photos of my Tuscan woods. It’s the tiny details that draw me, the iced-over puddles, the bare trees decorated with soft moss and pale lichens.


I found that my heart was opening up again as I responded to the beauty around me. With the cold fizzing on my cheeks and the wind tugging my hair and clothes, I felt truly alive to the magic of nature. Drake felt it too. His soft ears flopping madly, he charged towards me then raced off again, nose to the ground. Amazingly he listened to my NO, and didn’t run off to find the wild boar or leap into the puddles.


The wild magic of winter!



New Year Inspiration

Happy New Year to all.

I was very pleased today to find an e-mail from a reader. She mentioned a few points that other people have commented on too, so I thought I would post it here with my replies. I am so grateful to every reader and very touched that some feel a connection which inspires them to write to me. This happens with both books but more with The Song of the Cypress and that feels right as the story is all about deep connections.

Song cover Amazon

“I am sorry to say I finished reading Song of the Cypress.  I didn’t want it to end.  Please write a sequel.  I want to continue knowing Annie and Joe and now their little daughter.”

Although I feel that all the characters in the book are members of my extended family, I think that if I did write more about the Cypress it would be Fiammetta’s story. She was not always a wise, witch-like old lady. Once she was a beautiful and passionate young woman and I like the idea of exploring what made her change and become a kind of hermit, living deep in the woods and dedicating her life to the Cypress and its healing ways.

“Tonia, your writing is so visual.  You write the way an artist paints.  I’d be willing to bet your friend Caroline who paints those gorgeous paintings I love, has told you the same thing.  Your description of nature, of the insides and outsides of Annie and Joe’s home, are so vivid I’m right there with them in every scene. Can you picture this on the big screen someday?  I can.”

Well, I adore Caroline’s paintings too and we often discuss how we view the landscape here, as a force that cannot be measured. She is a very spiritual woman as well as an amazing artist.

Two of Caroline Zimmermann’s wonderful cypress paintings

I am not sure about a film, certainly I saw the book unfold a bit like a film in my imagination but I would hate it if someone tried to cast an actor I did not think was right or if they wanted to change bits to make it more commercial.

Something I find fascinating is how we all view life differently. I speak to friends of mine who are artists and musicians and they fix moments in their memories in visual or audio ways. I look at nature as I walk and, as well as imprinting what I see on my inner eye, I also describe that scene to myself. I have a constant dialogue going on inside my head as I fix impressions with words. Later I jot those words onto bits of paper and later still flick through those notes and recreate my memories from them.

Seagull rock

My obsidian is a lot bigger than the one Annie gave Joe!

“Also, now that I’ve gotten to know you a bit through facebook, I saw you so often in this re-reading of Cypress.  I loved yesterday reading your post about the obsidian Annie got Joe for Christmas after only a day before seeing your picture of your obsidian by your fireplace and reading about how Guido got it for you.  I really do hope you’ll write a sequel to Cypress.  I even want to know how the tree itself is faring these days!”

Facebook is great. It lets me keep in contact with people from around the world and also to reconnect with my readers and let them know what I am up to.

Annie is not me. There are certain facets of her which are similar to me but others which are very different. What I do with my characters is give them certain stories in their lives which are real fragments from my life or the lives of friends and family. That way the characters seem more real. The scene in the book where one of the old Italian men tells a story about when he was a prisoner in England during the Second World War and helps a small girl whose bicycle had broken is real. She is scared of him and runs off and he feels bad about it. This is actually my mum’s story. She was the little girl and she has always remembered the kindness of that prisoner of war and wondered why she ran away.

The stories that Rita, Annie’s old friend from the village, tells about her wartime experiences are also based on what my real friend has told me. Luna the dog is of course based on my adorable Stella.

As for the cypress, there is no cypress. At least there are many wonderful trees but none quite like my fictional one. Having said that, there is magic in the air when I walk my hills and woods and the trees, the cypresses and oaks do sing to me and weave their ancient stories into the landscape and my mind as I pass.

Tree San Galgano