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Monday, 30 November 2015

Chickens Eat Pasta - Author Q&A with Clare Pedrick

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. 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.

Q&A with Clare Pedrick

Hi Clare and welcome to Sincerely Book Angels
What was the inspiration behind this novel?
Well first of all, in the very strict sense of the word, this isn’t a novel. My publisher bills it as a travel memoir, and it is sometimes classified as an autobiography, which makes it sound rather heavy and pompous, which is definitely not the case. In actual fact, Chickens Eat Pasta is my story, the tale of how I bought an old ruin in a remote part of central Italy as a young woman, and the love story that ensued – with the house itself and with a man I met there. Having said that, I went to great pains to write it more as a novel, with supporting characters and quite a bit of suspense. I would say the book is 95 per cent based on true facts, but I tried very hard not to make it too self-centred, and some of the other characters are so much larger than life that they almost take over the story at certain points.

Did you always want to be a writer?
In a sense I always have been a writer, because I earn my living as a journalist, and that’s a job I have done ever since I left university. Although of course, depending on your point of view, you may say journalists are not writers at all, but just hacks! As I soon found out, writing a novel, or travel memoir, or whatever you want to call it, is very different from writing an article for a newspaper, and a great deal more challenging. Though I never imagined it would be quite as demanding until I actually sat down and tried. The minute I bought this beautiful old house in Umbria, I realised that I would absolutely have to write a book to tell the story. As things turned out, it was to be a long time before I finished the book and got it published, and by then, events had taken over and it had turned into a love story, as well as the tale of my adventures in this spectacular, but very isolated part of Italy, where time has really stood still.

What other jobs have you had? 
As I said, I have been a journalist ever since I left university, although thinking carefully, that’s not completely true. Getting my first job on a newspaper was no easy task, and while I was waiting for my big break, i.e. for an editor to take me on as a trainee reporter, I needed to make some money to keep body and soul together. Then a job offer came from a very unexpected quarter. I was living in a rented cottage with my boyfriend on a gorgeous but quite out-of-the way farm estate in Cambridgeshire, complete with moat and peacocks in the grounds. And one day the owner told me that a Chinese man who rented a warehouse on the estate wondered if I’d like to work for him growing beansprouts! This Chinese guy was a real techie and had rigged up an ingenious electronic timer system that ensured his beansprouts were automatically watered at exactly the right time every few hours. My job was to keep an eye on all the switches and then harvest and pack the sprouts once they were ready and drive him and his beansprouts to Chinese restaurants to deliver them. I remember he was always invited in to lunch, and I was made to sit in the van while they brought some Chinese food out for me in a polystyrene dish. I was over the moon when a big newspaper group based in Bedford finally took me on and I was able to leave the beansprouts, and the unfriendly Chinese restaurant owners, behind.

The other job I do, as an (unpaid but hugely enjoyable) sideline to my journalism, is organising riding holidays here in the beautiful Umbrian countryside. I’m a qualified guide and take groups out for treks up into the rolling hills here, and although it’s extremely time-consuming, it’s a wonderful contrast to the hours spent sitting in front of a computer screen.
Lake Piediluco where I kept my rowing boat

How did it feel when your first novel was published?
Well of course I was extremely happy. I think any author gets a tremendous kick out of seeing their book in print at last, and I was particularly thrilled with the cover, which looked better than I had ever dared to hope. It’s taken from a beautiful watercolour of my house, done by a very dear childhood friend called Colleen MacMahon, so it meant a great deal to me to have it as the cover. But I also felt rather vulnerable when the book came out, and perhaps a little foolish. I suppose that’s because a very important part of my life is laid bare in the pages of Chickens Eat Pasta, and I have always been quite a private person. Luckily, people have been extremely warm and genuinely appear to have enjoyed reading my story. But when you write a book and put it out there for public consumption, you really are sticking your head above the parapet. That’s something I hadn’t bargained for, and it’s taken quite a bit of getting used to.

Have you ever had writer's block? If so how did you overcome it?
I’ve never suffered from fear of the blank page, or writer’s block in any form, and I think that’s probably because of what I do for a living. When you are a journalist, there is no question of sitting and waiting for inspiration. You have an allotted word count to fill, and a very strict deadline to meet, and however you are feeling, you just have to get on and get the story out. So when it came to writing my book, finding the words was never an issue. What certainly was problematic was finding the time and the peace and quiet that I needed to immerse myself in the story and do it justice as a writer. I have a husband and three children, so there was always a lot going on and the house could become pretty noisy. I would often get up early to work on the book before anyone was awake, especially in times like the Christmas holidays. But at a certain point, I think you just have to make a commitment to finishing a book, or at least to writing a certain number of chapters so that you can then start touting it to publishers. Otherwise, there will always be a hundred reasons for being distracted and the book just remains a dream in the back of your head. I know so many people who have had an idea for a book, but have never managed to get as far as writing The End. That’s a great shame, as it’s an extraordinarily satisfying experience.

Do your characters moods ever affect your mood and vice versa?
Oh very definitely! I should first explain that although on the surface, Chickens Eat Pasta sounds like the classic formula of foreigner-moving-to-another-country, in the vein of Under the Tuscan Sun, it’s not like that at all. For a start, there is nothing at all sugary about the way I have presented my experiences. On the contrary, I had some very difficult times, probably because I was only 26 and all on my own -- very unusual in that part of the world – so I was seen as easy prey by some people. When I was writing about some of these episodes, especially the charmless father and son who tried to cheat me out of part of my property, I felt my anger and disgust brimming over. Luckily, I also made some extraordinarily generous friends in this tiny mediaevel hill village, and they protected me and looked out for me in a way that I could never have imagined. Writing about them always brought a smile to my face, especially Ercolino and Angela, an Italian and his English wife who virtually adopted me as their own daughter – my own parents were dead – and saved me from countless scrapes, but always with great warmth and humour.
My house now

What three pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Quite simply, I would say if you have an idea for a book, then make a start, be determined and carry on writing whatever the distractions. And finally, make sure you get it published. These days, with self-publishing, it’s so much easier that there’s really no excuse for not getting your book out there. If you can’t afford all the bells and whistles offered by some of the self-publishing companies, then you can turn out a very decent DIY product as an ebook for a trifling investment. Of course in all cases, there is a massive amount of work to be done after publication, in terms of marketing and running social media campaigns, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. But if you really are determined, becoming a published author has never been easier.

Which authors inspire you?
I love the travelogue style of Bruce Chatwin, H.V. Morton and Eric Newby, amongst others. The latter two wrote about Italy and I am a particular fan of Eric Newby’s Love and War in the Appenines. It’s the story of how Newby was captured while serving in the Special Boat Service in Italy in 1942. He remained a prisoner-of-war until 1945, but in the end he managed to escape, with the help of a young Italian woman called Wanda and her family. I hope I’m not spoiling the story by telling you that he goes on to marry Wanda. It’s a fantastic book that I never tire of reading. In fact, it’s time I read it again.
The village that became my second home

What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading The Violet Hour by Katherine Hill. It’s the story of how a relationship that seemed perfect unravels and falls apart, which I think is a very interesting theme, as I’ve noticed that couples who seem to have the ideal marriage often have dark secrets. On the whole, the book isn’t as enthralling as I had hoped, but I have decided to stick with it, though I have long ago decided that if a book doesn’t engage me – if I don’t actually care about the characters – then I’ll simply put it down. I’m making an exception in this case because the author paints an incredibly vivid portrait of marital infidelity by the leading female character, and it’s really very compelling indeed.

If your book was made into a film what song would you choose for the opening credits?
I love Ludovico Einaudi. He’s an Italian composer and pianist who writes and plays the most haunting songs. He’s done quite a few concerts in England, for example at the Royal Albert Hall, and I think if you heard his music, you might well recognise it. Quite a few of his songs have been used as film scores, so I’m sure I would be on the right track here. I’d like to think that he’d write a special one just for my film, but if not, Divenire (Becoming) would do very nicely. You can find it on YouTube here, so I strongly suggest you and your readers listen to it. It sends shivers up my spine every time I hear it.

Who would you choose to play your favourite character in the film of your book?
As you may already have guessed, my favourite character is Ercolino, which isn’t his real name by the way, although it’s not that dissimilar. Ercolino is quite simply unique, so finding someone to project his very unusual mix of warmth, generosity and ability to work himself up into a frenzy at the drop of a hat – usually because of something I had done to infuriate him, such as order a cappuccino at the wrong time of day – would be quite a tall order. Whoever it is would have to have those laugh lines around his eyes, as Ercolino’s eyes virtually disappear into the rest of his face when he smiles, which is very often. He’d also have to be extremely small, as Ercolino only comes up to my shoulder. Dustin Hoffman would be perfect, or maybe Robert de Niro, though of course it should really be an Italian actor. I’m glad to say that Ercolino is still around, and he still gets cross with me and starts spouting torrents of malapropisms, the more worked up he gets. For some reason, he always speaks to me in English, and he loves telling me that I drive him ‘up the bend’ or that I’m a ‘bloddy pain in the harse’. You couldn’t have invented him if you tried.
Ercolino with Mamma outside their house

Thank you so much for joining us on our blog today and good luck with the book.
It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you so much for having me!
Click here to purchase

Book Angel x

About the Author

Clare and House
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.

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