Christina here and today I'm delighted to have Sue Moorcroft as my guest.
Welcome back to the Word Wenches, Sue, it’s such a pleasure to have you here again!
Thank you very much for inviting me. I always enjoy the Word Wenches’ wonderful blog.
You have a new book out tomorrow, An Italian Island Summer, which I absolutely loved! Tell us a little bit about it, please.
Thank you! It’s set in Sicily, mainly on Ortigia, the old city of Siracusa, joined to the main city by two bridges. It’s a gorgeous place, with ruins such as Apollo’s Temple alongside the daily market. Ursula needs a fresh start, and via the mischievous meddling of her bonkers uncle Gerry, secures a morning job in a family-owned hotel to leave her afternoons free to study ceramic art. It’s quite a change from being a tattoo artist in Brighton, but after a drug assault in a nightclub that left her with trust issues, she’s keen to leave behind that life – and her ex-husband Stephan. She settles in at Residenza dei Tringali with Agata, Nanda and baby Marilù, until the son of the household, Alfio, returns home to help his family – only to find Ursula filling the role he’d seen for himself and even ensconced in the room he’d assumed he’d occupy.
Distrust soon turns to desire, but just when their affair is at its height … secrets of the past burst out to threaten their future.
So what made you choose Sicily as the setting? It did sound divine and I’m so longing to go there now!
A previous book, Under the Italian Sun, had a heroine called Zia, and Ursula was her best friend. Readers and reviewers asked for Ursula to be given her own book. I was happy to comply, and it meant I already knew something of her. One of those things was that she’d enjoyed a ceramic art course with Zia’s aunt, which is why she chooses it for her new career. I’d already set two books in Umbria on the Italian mainland, and I wanted to visit Sicily, which is famous for ornamental ceramics, so the choice was made.
I know you like to visit the places you use as settings for your books – have you ever not done that and managed with just descriptions from books and the internet? (For example, during the Covid lockdown when it was difficult to travel).
I didn’t visit Ursula’s hometown of Swords in Ireland. Her visits were brief, and the scenes largely took place in people’s homes. It wasn’t hard to sketch in a walk past the park, for example, and a friend from the area helped me with details. When I couldn’t travel, I set books in places I already knew and had photographed – Under the Italian Sun was set in the same area as One Summer in Italy; and Summer in the French Café was set in the French region of Alsace, like Just for the Holidays. It was a relief to be able to travel again, though.
As you mentioned, Ursula is the best friend of the heroine of Under the Italian Sun, Zia. Do you often find yourself wanting to tell the stories of secondary characters? (In my experience, they do tend to start bothering our subconscious and insisting on getting their time in the spotlight and sometimes they’re hard to ignore.)
Yes! And it’s nice to have the earlier characters pop up in the new book. My books aren’t in series, but there are links between some of them. When Ursula leaves Ortigia to lick her wounds after the spilling of a big secret that everybody seemed to know but her, Zia’s house in Umbria is the perfect refuge. It’s nice to see how she and Piero were getting on, but An Italian Island Summer does stand alone.
There are quite a few Italian words and phrases in your book – how did you make sure they are correct and authentic? (I don’t believe you speak Italian yourself.)
No, I don’t, I’m afraid (though I always find ways of ordering food and drink). I use Google Translate then my Italian friend, Isabella, who is a fantastic research resource and who reads the manuscript for me, amends it to real Italian.
The internet is wonderful for things like this, but I also discussed names with Isabella, and then she consulted friends in Sicily. The short name for Alfio is Faro and I couldn’t make up my mind which to use, so I asked my street team and the majority favoured Alfio. It was funny to travel to Sicily and discover a statue of the river god Alpheus from Roman mythology and a nearby restaurant called Alfeo.
My favourite name is for baby Marilù, which is a common contraction of Maria Luisa, and very pretty, I think. Agata is a common name throughout various European countries, and Nanda is short for Fernanda, popular in Sicily.
I am interested in names, as you are, too, I know.
I know you write one summer and one winter book each year, and with publishing schedules the way they are, you must often be working on them at the opposite time, ie. writing the winter book during the scorching hot summer days. Does that make things difficult for you?
I’m used to it, especially with my background writing short stories for magazines, when it was common to submit Christmas stories in June and summer stories in December. However, part of each book is always written in the correct season and/or weather, which does help. Photos of the correct season help, too. Looking back at photos of Sicily bathed in sunshine evoke the temperatures, sounds and sights.
A lot of romance authors seem to be turning to crime at the moment, as in writing crime fiction. Have you ever been tempted to do that? Do you read that genre?
The twisty plots must be quite tricky, if you don’t have a natural aptitude for it. Also, I’m a wuss, and don’t like to read about scary things. I do read romantic suspense, but that has a sizzling love affair along with the gritty stuff, so I can cope.
My mood is easily influenced by what I read, so I prefer happy, uplifting stories – usually romantic – and a few biographies.
The heroine, Ursula, is learning to paint on ceramics and you describe the process beautifully. How did you research this for your book?
Again, the internet was useful for basic information. I also visited a ceramics studio in Ortigia, Ceramiche Artigianali Dolu, run by an artist called Domenica. She was wonderful! Luckily for me, she’d spent lockdown improving her English, but we used Google Translate a few times, too. I also visited a ceramics shop, where the manager was a font of useful information. I won’t publish the shop’s name as I never really mentioned that I was researching a book. I did buy things in both places.
As always, there are some serious issues as part of your story. One of them is being “roofied”, ie. possible date rape. Did you talk to anyone who had experienced this in order to really understand the feelings this would give rise to?
Not in person. I read a lot of personal stories and my heart went out to those victims. I decided not to use the term ‘date rape’ as some drug assaults are not about sex. They’re about having the power to incapacitate someone. For Ursula, wondering whether anything happened to her, other than the perpetrator messing with her life, was part of the nightmare. Her ex-husband Stephan didn’t cope well with the uncertainty, blaming Ursula for not looking after her drink properly, which was another common feature of the drug assault stories I read. Victim-blaming is a real thing, sadly.
Of course! This is the point where Ursula and Alfio begin to get along better:
‘Anyway,’ he continued easily, his arm brushing hers with one of those zing things again as he swerved a group of people meandering along in the opposite direction. ‘I am not important enough to make such decisions. Mamma is in charge, then Nanda, then Marilù, and then me.’
Smothering a giggle, Ursula tilted her nose in the air. ‘I’m glad you realise it.’
He laughed. ‘Tonight, you are very—’ he whipped out his phone and consulted it, tapping the screen with his thumb ‘—pert.’
‘Pert?’ Ursula did giggle this time.
‘Wrong word?’ he guessed, moving close to her again, this time to allow a couple past them. His elbow brushed her upper arm. Ooh, skin tingle . . .
‘It fits,’ she admitted, thinking about how long it was since a man’s skin on hers had evoked the response that Alfio’s did. ‘It’s just not heard in conversation very much, I suppose.’
‘What would you say?’ He tilted his head quizzically.
‘I’d say someone was sassy. Or cocky.’ Hmm. She kinda wished she hadn’t said that last word. She hurried on. ‘I’m feeling “pert” because I’ve had a great day. Fab has passed my work as fit to go out into the world and now I know I’m going to see Zia. She’s pregnant, so it’s a lovely time, and nice of them to want me to have a little share in it.’ She gave a little skip. Her turn to brush against him, this time.
The lamps of the marina area and the noise of the nearby restaurants created their own little world around them as he said, ‘I like you like this.’ His gaze felt warm upon her.
‘Pert?’ she queried, grinning.
He was smiling too, eyes glittering under the curls that fell over his forehead. ‘Laughing. Smiling. Carefree. Teasing me. It’s a side of you I have not seen so much.’
‘Really?’ she asked. ‘Funnily enough, I was thinking the same about you. You seem less wound up than when I first met you.’
‘The magic of Ortigia, perhaps,’ he said. They rounded a beautiful dark pink building. After a few statues and the stalls selling costume jewellery, hats, crystals, fans, illuminated balloons and yo-yos they passed into a small shady garden with massive trees, where aerial roots hung down like plaited beards amongst banana plants. At Fonte Aretusa, they joined a row of people hanging over the railings around the great basin of water, gazing at the illuminated statue of Alpheus chasing Aretusa, its bronze green with age. The brackish water was filled with strange, spiky, fluffy plants, the lantern light lying on the surface like floating clouds. White ducks paddled lazily, gazing up at the humans gazing down.
‘Alpheus,’ he said, pointing at the statue. ‘Alfio, like me. You see, I am a god.’
Ursula snorted. ‘A god up to no good, chasing poor Aretusa about.’
He shook his head in pretended sorrow. ‘Aretusa got into the water wearing no clothes. She tempted me.’
‘Ha,’ she scoffed gently. ‘Aretusa tempted Alpheus. Eve tempted Adam. It’s never the man’s fault.’ But she could see why Aretusa might do a bit of skinny-dipping if there was a handsome god about.
Huge thanks for visiting us today, Sue, and happy publication day for tomorrow!
It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.
Sue will be giving away one copy of her book to someone who comments below – winner to be chosen at random.
An Italian Island Summer is published by Avon tomorrow, 25th May 2023. Here is the blurb:-
Will one summer in Sicily change her life for ever?
After her marriage falls apart, Ursula Quinn is offered the chance to spend the summer working at a hotel on a beautiful island off the coast of Sicily, Italy. Excited by a new adventure, she sets off at once.
At Residenza dei Tringali, Ursula receives a warm welcome from everyone except Alfio, son of the Tringali family. He gave up his life in Barcelona to help his mother Agata with the ailing business, and is frustrated with Ursula’s interference – and she in turn is less than impressed with his attitude. As they spend more time together, though, they begin to see each other in a different light.
But what with Ursula’s ex-husband on her tail, family secrets surfacing and an unexpected offer that makes Alfio question his whole life, there’s plenty to distract them from one another. Can she face her past and he his future, and together make the most of their Sicilian summer?