Christina here and today it is my very great pleasure to have my friend and fellow UK author Sue Moorcroft as my guest – welcome to the Word Wenches, Sue!
Thank you, Christina. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Sue writes contemporary romance and her latest book, Under the Italian Sun, is out on Thursday this week. I had the great honour of reading an ARC and I can safely say it’s absolutely fabulous and the perfect spring/summer read! Please tell us a little bit about this story.
Thank you so much for your kind comments! I’m delighted you enjoyed Under the Italian Sun.
Zia’s search for her unknown father and the truth behind why she apparently has two mothers carries readers off to a rocky plateau above an Italian vineyard. Zia’s relationship has ended and her best friend Ursula’s on a break so it seems a good moment to leave England behind and try to discover why Zia’s family has apparently been keeping secrets about her past. She finds a woman who shares her name and Piero, who’s fighting to keep his home.
You have set several books in Italy and in particular the Umbria region – what is it about that part of the world that is special to you?
I’ve been lucky enough to run courses or retreats for Arte Umbria for the past seven years. The retreat is on an estate – or ‘tenuta’ – that’s wild in places. I love sitting on the terrace to watch the sunsets or to look out over the valleys and the mountain peaks. I’ve also got to know nearby places such as Orvieto and Perugia, both of which have historic quarters. Montelibertà owes something to them. I planted a vineyard, Tenuta Domenicali, just outside town.
You love the Mediterranean and especially Malta, I believe – how did this come about? As a typical pasty-skinned Brit I’m not a huge fan of sun and heat, but you are, right?
I’m a typical pasty-skinned Brit too but I was brought up mainly in Malta and Cyprus until I was eight-and-a-half, as I was an army kid. Yes, I adore hot weather. I think I must be part lizard. To sit out in the full sun on that Italian terrace and weave a story about Italy is bliss. I do wear Factor 50 while I do it and drink a lot of fluid!
The heroine of Under the Italian Sun has a very unusual name (which rhymes with mine actually 😊) – how did you come up with this? (I love it BTW)
Her full name is Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers. ‘Zia’ actually means ‘aunt’ in Italian but in the UK it’s a name. Zia’s long name is part of the structure of the book as she’s named for a woman called Lucia Costa who, she’s told, was kind to her mother. When Zia’s mum first heard her boyfriend address Lucia as ‘Zia Lucia’ she thought that was her full name, not that he was actually saying, ‘Aunt Lucia’. I hyphenated ‘Zia-Lucia’ to make it cute and to distinguish Zia from Aunt Lucia. Throughout the book people keep saying to her, ‘Do you know “Zia” means “aunt” in Italian?’
Zia’s in search of her roots and I think we can all empathise with that – everyone wants to know where they’ve come from and who their parents and relatives are. For poor Zia, things don’t exactly turn out the way she’d thought though – in general, do you think it’s better not to go dredging up secrets from the past or to find out and try to come to terms with whatever it is?
It’s a good question. My friend Maureen was kind enough to help me in the research for this book. She found her birth parents and it led to a lot of heartache. If I’d been writing a thriller I might have stolen her entire story! Yet Iain Cunningham, the filmmaker who searched for information on his late mum (see the documentary Irene’s Ghost) also talked to me to offer insight, and he gained comfort from the process. He felt closer to his dad and got to know one of his mum’s friends, which gave him insight into his mum. I suppose the answer is: it depends upon the secret you dredge up. Like Zia, I don’t think I’d be able to resist trying to find out more.
Let’s talk about the hero – I mean Italian, gorgeous, skilled joiner (so good with his hands) and definitely not on the look-out for a permanent relationship or – god forbid – marriage! The perfect challenge for a heroine?
Does Zia see Piero as a challenge? Not consciously, I don’t think. She sees him as good ‘first sex after relationship goes wrong’ material, a role he’s pretty happy with at first. Each becoming attracted to the other when they don’t want to be turns out to be the challenge.
There’s something very special about a love story where the hero is totally against anything other than casual flings and then suddenly falls completely in love – do you, like me, revel in his surprise and, dare I say it, downfall (in the best possible way)? The “reformed rake” type hero is one of my personal favourites.
I suppose I must have that subconscious preference, yes. It also makes a good plot! Piero’s falling in love is complicated when his ex turns up and he at first thinks explaining things to her might be the best long-term strategy. Turns out Zia does NOT agree! Piero probably has to admit to himself that he’s falling in love before he admits it to Zia.
Research can be boring at times, but perhaps not when there are vineyards involved? Or gorgeous Italian food and a chance to explore new places?
I was incredibly fortunate that this book was already planned when travel became difficult. As I’d visited Umbria so many times and had a personal library of photos to consult, and I’d already set a book in Montelibertà, I could go ahead. And the five times I’d visited vineyards became research retrospectively. I must have been fully engaged with those trips because I remembered a lot of detail. On the whole, I don’t find research boring, and I also have a brother who helps me enormously by finding answers to questions or linking me to what I ought to be reading. I want to return to research trips as soon as possible.
You and I went on an epic research trip together to Sweden last year, which I very much enjoyed. Do you always set your stories in places you have visited yourself in order to be able to describe it authentically?
I enjoyed that trip enormously, too. Yes, I love to visit a place and soak up the atmosphere. I know that some authors do a great job of doing all their research on a country on YouTube but I don’t feel I can do my best job that way. Also, I love to travel, so why not? Our trip to Sweden was really special and you were a fantastic tour guide/researcher/historian/PA. The book that came out of that trip was Christmas Wishes but how could I have understood so much if you hadn’t taken me to meet an ice-hockey player, teenagers in the education system and friends who’d moved to Sweden to live? And that ice hockey match your mum took us too was fantastic. I was writing a scene in my head as we sat there.
We have to mention cars, and specifically Formula 1, as I know you are a huge fan – what started your fascination with motorsport? (For me, at first it was a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, as my husband is a fan, but now I love it too)
It was bizarre, really. I was the odd one out in a family of sports lovers. I used to hate Saturday afternoons because my brothers and parents would be swapping between Grandstand and World of Sport and expecting me to be quiet. As you know, ‘quiet’ isn’t my natural state. I hated all sport. However, I knew who driver Graham Hill was because he was sometimes funny on chat shows. Fast forward to 1994. I happened on a race on TV and heard the name of Damon Hill, the son of Graham. I began to watch. And I was hooked!
I also know you have your own way of alluding to your love of F1 in your books – want to share?
I ‘borrow’ names from the world of F1. Sometimes they’re obvious, such as naming a dog McLaren (after the racing team) or Button (after world champion Jenson Button). Often they’re less obvious. I know you picked up surnames Domenicali and Binotto in Under the Italian Sun, after Stefano Domenicali and Mattia Binotto, who are CEO of Formula One and team boss of Ferrari respectively. There’s also a Riccardo as a nod to driver Daniel Ricciardo. My favourite example came after a testy exchange between driver Mark Webber and his then team, Red Bull. I named a village Webber’s Cross.
LOL, love it!
Not really. I come from a background in writing for magazines when the norm was to get your Christmas stories in in June and your summer stories in December. Also, writing a book takes several months so it’s usually the correct season for some of the time.
Finally, can you share a short extract from your book with the Word Wenches’ readers please?
My pleasure. This is the scene where Zia answers the door to Lucia and the first of the secrets of Zia’s past comes out:-
She’d just poured when an urgent blam-blam fell on the front door. ‘What on earth?’ she gasped. Bouncing to her feet she raced to answer the summons, half-expecting there to be a fire. She flung open the door to find Lucia Costa on the dusty paving, sweat beading her forehead, thick silver-streaked waves flying in the breeze, a sheet of paper clutched in one hand.
‘Zia-Lucia,’ she whispered.
Zia’s heart somersaulted as she realised the paper Lucia was gripping was the printout of her passport’s photo page. She stared into Lucia’s dark, emotion-filled eyes and, wordlessly, their gazes locked. Piero jogged up, eyes wary, with portly Durante puffing behind.
‘Cosa c’é? What is the matter?’ Durante gasped and twitched the paper from Lucia’s hand. He skimmed it. Then, slowly, he turned to gaze at Zia with wide, astounded eyes. He grasped Lucia’s arm. ‘I didn’t read it! I just scanned the page for the authorities.’
Piero got his arm beneath hers. ‘Zia, perhaps if you were to let Lucia sit down . . .?’
Blood hammering in her ears, Zia shook herself from her stupor. ‘Of course. Yes. Come in.’ A voice inside her said, It’s the right Lucia! She felt as if her head and her heart were trying to meet in her throat. Desperate yearning to know whatever Lucia knew warred with an equally desperate fear that Zia would be worse off for knowing.
Ursula, her own woes set aside, cleared things from the seating area and, like obedient children, Zia and Lucia plummeted onto opposite sofas. Durante took the space beside his wife, linking his fingers with hers and staring at Zia with stunned brown eyes. Dimly, Zia was aware of Ursula whispering, ‘Do you want me to go? I could sit on the patio and you call me if you need me.’
Piero, his gaze flicking from Zia to Lucia to Durante, evidently had no intention of leaving Zia alone with his friends. That, together with his insensitivity in the gazebo, made her mutter through numb lips, ‘Stay, please.’ Ursula sank down at her side.
Piero perched on the arm of the other sofa. They were like two teams, staring at one another, the low table between them.
Lucia spoke first. ‘Are you Tori’s daughter?’
The words ripped through Zia, the possibility she hadn’t wanted to face suddenly feeling like the truth. ‘I don’t know,’ she whispered. ‘Am I?’
I so want to go to Italy now! Huge thanks for being our guest today and best of luck with your new story!
Thank you very much. I’d love to go to Italy, too. Maybe soon we can go together …
Sue will be giving away a signed paperback copy of Under the Italian Sun to someone who leaves a comment, asks Sue a question about this interview, or answers one of these questions:-
Have you ever been to Italy, and if so, what did you enjoy the most? Or if not, where in Italy would you like to go?