Saturday, 31 December 2011

Lentils mean money

An Italian traditional New Year's Eve meal is not complete without a serving of lentils. In fact last night we learned of a dilemma on the local news: 'cenone' (mega dinner) or discothèque? We were amused. People were interviewed in the streets of Cortina and answered earnestly, faces hard. What will we do? Are we doing the right thing? (Cameras swerving from portions of 'zampone e lenticchie' to flashing disco lights over bronzed babes.)

Eating lentils on New Year's Eve ensures that the next year will be full of money, lentils representing riches. Of course every second uncle will lament that he has consumed lentils by the bucketful and failed to increase his bank account. But lentils will always be on the menu. Growing up in Australia I don't remember any tradition other than the campfire down on the rocks by the lake, and the lazy beer-soaked hours ticking by until fireworks sprouted up miles away on the coast. One by one we would trail off to bed.

Tonight, in this mixed-blood household, I'm not sure who is off skiing, or drinking and partying. But I do know that I don't want much fuss. Other years when my kids were younger I used to party hard, way hard. I would tuck in their warm bodies then drive off into the night to a party in an alpine village, hot dancing in a snow-drifted hut, a sweet boy and a drunken sled ride through empty streets; then driving away at dawn under the heave of the mountain.

Is it really going to be 2012? I feel such trepidation before the New Year. Perhaps that it why I used to happily get so drunk. All the things that could happen, that will happen. It makes me feel as doubtful and restrained as ever, hoping for goodness and strength, hoping that it will all hold together, that we will be safe in our beds.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Be My Guest

As the silly season rushes to its peak I have some good news to share. I have an interview up on Novel Spaces, thanks to Liane Spicer, where I talk about the long wait for this book to come out. This is another 'unknown' in the life of most writers - the months of waiting while editing, cover work and promotion come together. No use in getting impatient, just hold on for the ride. I am thankful my editor and I didn't tear each other's hair out, and could probably still throw back a kir royale together in France where he lives. I love my cover with its racy blond posing before a Baroque Italian church, with the retro in tasteful pink leopard skin (since when is leopard skin tasteful, well, since now!) Then in the New Year when advance review copies go out, I will enter a new phase, and probably have to write a lot more fretful blog posts and do a lot more hopeful interviews. I do hope things go well. For such a long time I have felt as though I am dangling here.

Thanks so much to readers and commenters. The blog world is a marvellous thing really, who would ever have have imagined it could be possible to reach out to other writers in faraway places, or even around the corner, who share the same frustrations, ups and downs, defeats and victories. It helps, doesn't it?

The other great piece of news is that Ether Books are putting me on their Advent Calendar tomorrow (24th December) so do have a look if you'd like to. Ether vigorously support short story writers and have given the form a classy boost.

Grazie Bea at Ether and Liane at Novel Spaces! Best wishes to you and your families for this festive season, and good luck and good health in 2012.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Caffè corretto

Though my kids all grew up in the tropics we now live in northern Italy where there is a sweltering summer and a foggy freezing winter. I don't mean Siberian freezing, but Venetian fog that will not leave our valley for entire weeks. Suggestivo for someone on a writing streak, but not good for the bones or a seratonin fix.

My ex considered himself a mountain man and dragged me up to the Dolomites a few times before we had offspring. It was when I thought I was a chic Parisienne. I remember my Aussie toes turned blue and I counted the hours before I would be back inside the stuffy warm car driving home. I didn't fall for the cold, the peaks or the ski instructors.

Zap ahead to a divorcée trying not to go nuts in Italy after ten tropical years in Ghana. Those first winters, come January and I would have sold a child to clear the sky, to see some sun, to work up a sweat. That was when I discovered skiing.

What a wonderful way to round up the adolescents, keep them off the streets, spend heaps of money on 'necessary' equipment and cool gear, and watch the winter dissolve. I quickly found mountain folk to be very warm inside, like their pine-panelled homes and hand-carved chairs, their lovely canederli and addictive grappa al carugo. And fitness. In truth I come from an entirely sporty family, waterskied as a kid and did swimming training. It has been a smooth transition. From Africa-babe to powderhound in a few years. Now I telemark or free-heel ski with the local crazies and it's a far cry from designer shop sales in town or Ikea on weekends (swearing, assembling cupboards) or merciless long Sunday lunches in trattorias.

The first run every morning is preceded by a caffè corretto (in my novel this becomes Marilyn's preferred poison for facing her Milanese mornings) - which is espresso with a splash of local grappa to warm up wooden legs and ease shoulders, to deepen the glow in red cheeks. Then skis on shoulders and up to the lift, a slow rise to the top, a gliding towards the peaks.

I am hooked.

** ** **

ps: waiting for my dummy book copy to arrive; my ears ache from straining to hear the postman...

ALSO on 24th December I am on the Ether Books Advent Calendar with the title story of my just-accepted collection 'Pelt and Other Stories'. The story is called 'Pelt' and tells of a pregnant Ghanaian woman trying to lure back her lover from his German ex-wife.

Buon Natale a tutti!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

An Overwhelming Affair

Last Thursday was the Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione and while for some that meant a visit to church, for my clan and I it meant a huge twenty-one-people lunch at Annalisa’s. Two of her brothers celebrated nearby birthdays and arrivals to the house were determined by distance from town, fog, baby’s naps and party animals oversleeping. Midway through the meal I answered my phone and checked my email quickly. There was a note from my publisher. Mmmm. That could only mean one thing. The story collection I had sent him with my heart stammering must have been swiftly rejected. How many times had I heard it: Lovely work but stories don’t sell. Bring on de novel.

I wandered out onto the terrace with the smokers pausing between courses and sat down to read it. And reread it.

..loved the stories.. would like to proceed with this project in addition to ‘Divorced’.. looking forward to working with you on this...

My heart sailed out to Mary, born without the stain of original sin (no it didn’t really, but I’ve always had a weak spot for the true Madonna) and for the past few days I have been smiling at everything – filthy floors and animals in the house, stoned sons, cranky daughter, cool friends, the electricity men, my muddy surrounds. I mean, these are the contours of absolute bliss no?

Short stories. I have always written and published stories except for the long and depressing stretches (months, years!) when I have been writing novels or back at work or reproducing or in flight from everything. My dream has always been to have a book of stories with my name on it. The thought of it! And now I have ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’, which I just had to write, coming out in April, and the stories in 2013. I am certainly going to have to crank up my other blog and – oh! the relief – I won’t have to write a query letter for a good while.

My publisher said I could shout it from the rooftops.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Love and String Theory

For some reason every time I open this computer the date is 1st January 2004. What does that mean? What was doing that day? It wasn't so long ago. Would I like to go back there and check myself out? Noo wayy! I don't think I would go back to any of my recent incarnations - crazy divorcée, off-beat beloved, insane mother, depressed diplomat's wife, besotted skinny lover..

This year that I have sworn off love and other things I don't understand (string theory, just try it) I have had some weird encounters. The latest, in the supermarket car park on Friday night, where I had a mile-high trolley. I mean, did I look like I needed cracking onto? It wasn't debauched shopping either, you know, oodles of drink and snacks and cheeses and condoms and clinking wine bottles, it was hardcore mothershop: toilet rolls, milk and cereal, dog and cat food, frozen pizzas, cheap beer for the stoners, minimal fruit (I do that at the market on Sunday morning), more milk and cereal, oh and yoghurt. Honestly, dear fellow, when the greatest satisfaction I had looming before me was the idea of sitting down, throwing my legs out and not having to drive another teenager or fight for the tv remote, DO YOU THINK I WANT TO BE CHATTED UP OR AM LIKELY TO HAND OVER MY CELL NUMBER?

Now some of you may say, and I do feel it in a remote pocket of myself, just be humane girl, remember how many times you've put yourself out on a limb, blushed, tried to get the words right. But does getting older, and having being bruised and trampled and revived and trampled and bruised etc again in love, mean you just don't have the patience for it?

I used to think my gay friends had some answers. Use and abuse. Well, they were so light about it all, so detached. But they were so screwed up, for God's sake they killed themselves! And then African women, I learnt a lot from them about running the show, about networks of women and secrets, about 'African love'. But where does that leave a Western woman who wants some peace, and yet a piece of the action?

Back to string theory.

PS Do check out my interview with poet John Siddique 'Calendar Guys: A Naked Muse for all Seasons' on