My childhood summer holidays in Italy inspired me as an adult when I began writing novels. But it wasn’t the idyllic picture-postcard place you might imagine. Every country has different sides to it after all. Here’s an article I wrote to time with the publication of Under Italian Skies which is all about my Italy http://www.noted.co.nz/culture/books/under-italian-skies-by-nicky-pellegrino/
Stuff I've been reading, thinking & eating
A little while ago I had a Facebook message from someone who said she needed to earn some extra money and was thinking of writing a novel and what did I think of the idea. NOOOOOOOO! While a few writers make pots of money, most earn a pretty modest amount. Here’s me being brutally honest about it in an interview I did last year click here
As well as being a novelist I have another life as a freelance journalist. I write for a variety of publications in New Zealand and occasionally for titles in Australia and the UK. It’s a bit of a juggle trying to fit everything in (have I started my next book yet? nope and that’s why) but I get to write about really interesting things and I thought I might start posting links to some of them here so you don’t think that all I do all day is waft about the house waiting for inspiration to strike. Recently I interviewed Michael Mosley about his crusade against Type 2 diabetes. Since I love eating…but I also like being healthy…it’s armed me with some helpful knowledge. And it doesn’t involve a single green smoothie! Read it here
Life is so cluttered isn’t it? As an author I’m meant to be promoting myself on Facebook, Instagram and twitter etc, keeping my website up-to-date, blogging here, there and everywhere….oh and also write a book.
Well I may not have been that great at the self-promotion of late but I have written something. My new novel Under Italian Skies is out in April. It’s about a woman who gets completely involved in someone else’s life. Oh yes and it’s about food, friendship, happiness, change and all the other themes I find myself returning to.
People often tell me I’m prolific but the truth is I spend a lot of time in my writing hut and there are days when I write and delete the same paragraph for hours. In fact during the creation of Under Italian Skies the delete key fell off my laptop!
And I have to shut out the clutter, ban myself from Facebook, not answer my phone, and submerge myself in the world of my story or else it doesn’t work. I used to turn off my Internet connection and leave my phones in the house but then one day a cyclone passed by really close and I didn’t notice until I looked up and saw bits of people’s roof insulation all over my lawn so now I stay loosely connected to the world just in case!
But the clutter; it hurts my head and it exhausts me. And it only seems to be increasing. To sit down in a peaceful place with a really good book and plenty of time to enjoy it seems such a luxury.
By now we know what to expect from a Margaret Atwood novel: a dose of dystopia, a bleak scenario that seems scarily feasible, a commentary on societal ills veiled in fiction. But within that framework the Canadian author always comes up with something good and The Heart Goes Last is no exception.
It is a fast-paced blend of the sinister and the farcical set in the near future. With the US economy failing Stan and Charmaine are unemployed and reduced to living in their car. Perky Charmaine tries to keep her spirits up but it isn’t easy. So when they hear of a social experiment called the Positron Project that will ensure them a comfortable home and financial security for life, Charmaine is keen to sign up.
Their new engineered lives in the town of Consiliance involve a spending a month in suburban bliss and then a month in prison while another couple, their Alternates, take over their home. Even if the things Charmaine has to do as part of her work are worrisome; it’s worth it for the stability. But then she and Stan become involved with their Alternates and discover all in Consiliance is not what it seems.
With a gaggle of Elvis impersonators, robots built for pleasure and Atwood’s caustic, clever mastery over the chaos she creates; The Heart Goes Last is a playful exploration of human failings.
The typical Kiwi holiday in Europe is a whirlwind of trying to see and do as much as possible in the time you have. Cruising the Rhine with Uniworld turns out to be the complete opposite of that. As our riverboat glides soundlessly past picturesque windmills, half-timbered buildings and towering castles there’s little to do but take in the sights and be pampered.
Our floating hotel the SS Antoinette sets sail from the Dutch city of Amsterdam. This is a well-appointed vessel. On-board there are two bars, a swimming pool and gym, a cinema, a viewing deck and two dining areas. But my favourite place to be is wrapped in a rug beside the open window of our stateroom watching the banks of the Rhine slip.
There is something so magical about falling asleep in one place and waking in another. On my first morning I open my eyes to find myself in Germany where our first port of call is Cologne, famous for the cathedral that took 600 years to build. Being on the boat is so relaxing it’s tempting not to leave but guided walking tours are part of the package. Since there is excellent shopping in Cologne as well as impressive Romanesque churches I force myself down the gangplank. After all I need to hit chain store Zara to buy something to wear for the night’s Welcome Dinner.
Many of the towns and villages we visit on our way up the river are fairytale pretty. In Koblenz we stand at Germany’s most beautiful corner where the Mosel and Rhine rivers meet. And in Boppard we explore narrow lanes filled with ancient houses.
However the Upper Middle Rhine is the part of this journey that really takes the breath away. Here the landscape is rockier and more dramatic. Vineyards climb up steep slopes and colourful houses line the riverbanks. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this area is home to more than 40 castles. While not all of them can be seen from the Rhine it seems there’s another round every bend in the river. Some loom from rocky outcrops while one of the most famous, Pfalzgrafenstein, sits on its own island. These days many are used as hotels or youth hostels but back in the Middle Ages they were the homes of bishops and barons and there are stories aplenty that our cruise manager Christine is happy to share as we sail.
We stop at a village called Rudesheim where you can take a cable car up through the vineyards and admire the views, then walk back down in time to wander the cobbled streets and visit the year-round Christmas shop. We taste locally made wines and vinegars, specialities like sausages and black forest gateau.
With three gourmet meals a day supplied, plus afternoon tea, snacks at cocktail time and jars of cookies and lollies everywhere you look I’m relieved to discover there are bicycles on-board although it’s pretty gentle exercise bowling along the tow paths and through the forests particularly as there is often a beer garden to stop at along the way.
We leave Germany and cross to the other side of the Rhine to visit Strasbourg, France. This is my favourite place so far. Everywhere you look is ridiculously gorgeous from the houseboats we pass on our canal cruise to the half-timbered houses where leather-makers once plied their trade and the spire of the Notre Dame cathedral.
River cruising with Uniworld is a far more boutique experience than a trip on a huge ocean liner. With a maximum of 130 guests the atmosphere is friendly and the service very personal. By the time we arrive at our final destination, Basel in Switzerland, we feel like a little community and it’s bittersweet saying goodbye to such an exquisite taste of luxury living and walking down the gangplank for the very last time.
After his huge success with debut novel Before I Go To Sleep, which was adapted into a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, UK author SK Watson follows up with Second Life another slick read about a woman in crisis who isn’t sure who to trust.
Julia Plummer was once a wild young thing but is now leading a vanilla life with her surgeon husband and Connor, the son of her wayward sister Kate, who they have been raising as their own. When Kate is murdered in an alleyway in Paris, Julia begins to learn more about who she really was and, in a bid to track her killer, enters her world, a louche one of virtual sex and casual encounters. Inevitably her relationship with a man she meets online progresses to something else. And inevitably things start spiralling out of her control. Too late Julia discovers she’s risked more than she ever imagined.
SJ Watson saves his plot from predictability but only right at the end, with a twist I didn’t see coming. This is a multi-layered thriller, suspenseful and filmic with a foray into Fifty Shades Of Grey-style sex. For me it went on a tad too long and, while I thought the finish brave, some will feel cheated by it I’m sure.