Regular blog readers will know I love travel almost as much as books so I am delighted to host a guest post from Clare Pedrick, author of ‘Chickens Eat Pasta: Escape to Umbria’ as it is an area I have yet to visit. ‘Chickens Eat Pasta’ was published by Troubador on 28th July 2015 and is available for purchase direct from the publishers here and in all the usual places in both ebook and paperback.
‘Chickens Eat Pasta’ is the tale of how a young Englishwoman starts a new life after watching a video showing a chicken eating spaghetti in a mediaeval hill village in central Italy. “Here I was, 26 years old, alone and numb with boredom at the prospect of a future which until recently had seemed to be just what I wanted.”
Unlike some recent bestsellers, this is not simply an account of a foreigner’s move to Italy, but a love story written from the unusual perspective of both within and outside of the story. As events unfold, the strong storyline carries with it a rich portrayal of Italian life from the inside, with a supporting cast of memorable characters. Along the way, the book explores and captures the warmth and colour of Italy, as well as some of the cultural differences – between England and Italy, but also between regional Italian lifestyles and behaviour. It is a story with a happy ending. The author and her husband are still married, with three children, who love the old house on the hill (now much restored) almost as much as she does.
‘Chickens Eat Pasta’ is Clare’s autobiography, and ultimately a love story – with the house itself and with the man that Clare met there and went on to marry. If you yearn for a happy ending, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a story that proves anything is possible if you only try.
Clare’s Guest Post
A journalist isn’t necessarily a writer!
The house when Clare first saw it
When I first started to write the story about how I’d bought an old ruin in the hills of Italy – and all that it led to – I naively thought that it would be quite straightforward. In my day job I’m a journalist, so I rather assumed it would be fairly simple to get the tale down on paper in a more or less readable form, though I knew that finding a publisher was likely to prove very difficult indeed. When I say getting it down on paper, that’s because my first efforts did indeed involve using my old but trusty typewriter to bash out Chapter One. At the time, I had only just bought the house, and I’d had had a fairly rudimentary renovation done to make it habitable, by which I mean putting in plumbing and electricity and adding a roof and some floors where they were missing, which was in most of the rooms. So I sat in my kitchen for a couple of hours each day, looking out over the glorious rolling hills and valleys, and started to write my book.
As I say, I am and always have been a journalist, and my reporter’s nose told me that this was a terrific story – not just the fact that I had suddenly decided to leave my comfortable little Regency house in Brighton and pack in a promising career to move to a crumbling wreck in the spectacular but remote foothills of the Umbrian Appenines. But because all the characters who lived in the mediaeval hill village where I had bought my house were straight out of a Fellini film. You couldn’t have invented them if you tried. But at that stage, there was no love interest in the story, and I remember going to see a literary agent in New York – where I spent several months helping to set up a news agency not long after I bought the house in Umbria – and she was incredibly enthusiastic about the idea of my writing a book recounting my Italian adventure.
“The only thing that’s missing is the love interest,” she said. “It would be so much better if it had one.”
I was single at the time, and licking my wounds after a very painful break-up with a long-term boyfriend in England, so, as I told the agent, there was absolutely no chance of any love interest in my Italian tale. That was just a few months before I met a handsome young man from Naples, in the very village where I had bought my house – whose total population was 43 by the way – so fairly soon, my agent’s wish was granted, and although I don’t want to spoil the story, it was certainly a love story with plenty of ups and downs.
Going back to the fact that I was a reporter, that side of things soon started taking over my life as I became quite a successful journalist, writing mainly from Rome, but also travelling a fair amount. And so the draft of that first chapter was stuffed into a manila envelope and hidden in a drawer in an old wooden table in my Umbrian house, in readiness for the moment when I would have time to get back to it. As it turned out, that time didn’t come for several years, although I always had a nagging feeling that I really should fish out the envelope, and friends who came and stayed with me were always trying to persuade me to get on and write the book, though funnily enough hardly any of them knew I had actually started it. A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun came and went, and I realised that I had seriously missed the boat, which was very foolish as I could be rolling in cash by now and afford to give up the day job forever!
My agent in New York gave way to an equally enthusiastic one in London, and it was really she who galvanised me into action and told me that I just had to get the book out there. So I took her advice and went back to Chapter One, and fiddled around with it quite a bit before adding several more, and then I went to London to see what my agent thought. Her name is Heather Holden-Brown and I owe her a great deal, because the manila envelope would probably still be in a drawer if it hadn’t been for her. Anyway, I hadn’t found the writing particularly difficult, because, as a journalist, I’m used to having to get a story out as quickly as possible. The blank page holds no fear for me and writer’s block is something I have never had to contend with. I remember working on a daily newspaper in Brighton where I had to phone the story over to the copytaker from the courthouse after covering a big case. There wasn’t even time to write the article down in my notebook if I was going to be in time for the evening edition. So I was rather surprised when I walked into Heather’s agency after sending her the draft chapters and was given the bad news that writing a novel, or a travel memoir as mine is usually described although it reads much more like a novel, was very different from writing a feature article or a news story.
“Your writing is fine and you really convey a sense of the place and the people, but it’s easy to tell what you do for a living,” she said, trying to sugar the bitter pill. “We often find this with journalists. You just don’t know how to draw things out. It’s all so breathless.”
Of course she was right, and I must admit that my own reading tastes reflect this professional quirk to some extent. When passages in a book get too long-winded and descriptive I become impatient and I find my eye wandering ahead sneakily, trying to find out what happened. But for a book such as mine, which tells the tale of a young woman doing up an old ruin in a remote corner of central Italy, description and mood were critical in setting the scene and accompanying the story itself as it moved forward. I got there in the end, but I have to confess that it took me no fewer than five drafts before Chickens Eat Pasta was finally ready for publication. It’s just as well that I didn’t know how long and laborious the whole process would prove, or I would probably have left that manila envelope in the drawer forever.
The house today
About Clare Pedrick
CLARE PEDRICK is a British journalist who studied Italian at Cambridge University before becoming a reporter. She went on to work as the Rome correspondent for the Washington Post and as European Editor of an international features agency. She still lives in Italy with her husband, whom she met in the village where she bought her house.