This is the article I wrote for the Dorset Echo and Bridport &Lyme News recently. It’s about the research I did in the Italian Riviera for The Lemon Tree Hotel – all extremely hard work of course… (The lemon tree is holding me upright!)
Vernazza is one of the cinque terre villages on the stunning Italian Riviera. I first visited this magical place in 2001. It’s become much busier since then, but it was still the perfect setting for The Lemon Tree Hotel.
These five villages with narrow cobblestone streets and tall skinny houses of dusky pink, ochre and earthy green are built on terraced hillsides where villagers have grown vines and harvested olives for centuries. It’s a tough living, but now a protected environment – they need to ensure they are helped rather than destroyed by tourism.
The Lemon Tree Hotel itself is sadly fictional… I wanted it to be a restored convent set amidst an olive grove – easy, since most of the hillside is one big olive grove – and so we set off on the coastal path to Corniglia (another of the cinque terre villages) find the spot and take photos of the hotel’s potential view. The scent of mountain thyme is in the air, and below the juniper and prickly pears, the Mediterranean sea glitters invitingly. If this hotel really existed, you wouldn’t be able to drag me away.
From here, we walk down the steep path through chestnut trees to the clutter of rooftops that is Vernazza. At every twist and turn, we catch a tantalising snatch of the clear blue ocean. Vernazza has a tiny harbour and a rocky bay with a patch of sand where local children play football. The main piazza is harbourside, a glorious square of cobbles, orange parasols and tamarisk trees. Boats, not cars, are parked in the streets.
If it’s not too hot, it’s wonderful to hike up to the Sanctuary of Reggio, along an ancient pilgrims’ route dotted with shrines which winds uphill to the church. There’s a sense of tranquillity here that seems to hang in the air amidst the wise olive trees. High above, stands a magnificent spread-eagled oak tree where you can sit and admire the view – or write a scene for a novel maybe?
It’s been a lovely spring so far with lots of fabulous reading as ever. Here are a few of my favourites:
Bitter Orange by Clare Fuller
Ill and dying, Frances Jellico is looking back on her life – particularly to an eventful summer in 1969. Having been her mother’s carer for some years, after her death, Frances goes to live at a run-down manor house (Lyntons) to provide a detailed report on the architecture there for the American owner. But she is not alone. At Lyntons, she meets an intriguing and bohemian couple, Cara and Peter; the man tasked by the buyer with evaluating the contents of the estate. Frances is awkward, naïve and totally bowled over by the two of them throughout this long, hot summer. This may be a chance for her to release the tyranny of her life with her mother and let go at last. But Cara and Peter’s relationship is complicated and as Frances is drawn into their circle, her relationship with each of them becomes equally so. Meanwhile, she also becomes friendly with the local vicar who intriguingly is also there at her bedside as she reflects on the past and what she has become.
The story is told from the point of view of Frances and explores issues of loneliness and belonging. But can Frances really belong in Cara and Peter’s world in 1969? Perhaps not. The book is character driven and Fuller draws some fascinating portraits that leap off the page. The plot has some twists and turns as all is gradually revealed but it is a book to savour. It is sometimes unsettling, always thought-provoking and stayed with me long after I had finished reading.
Believe Me by JP Delaney
Who to believe? This is another fascinating story by one of my favourite authors exploring the world of acting and make-believe. What is real? What is pretence? What is imagined? Most of the time in this book, it is impossible to know.
Claire Wright is training to be an actor in New York but her lack of a green card has forced her into the rather more unorthodox job of catching out husbands who have the intention of being unfaithful to their wives. She is very good at this – mainly because of her immersive acting skill. But things get a bit more complicated when there is a murder – and since she has done a job for the victim, Claire is one of the suspects. But her name must have been cleared – why else would she be trained to work undercover in order for the police to find out the truth?
Also under suspicion is the victim’s husband – the one ‘good guy’ who didn’t fall into Claire’s honey-trap. But is he a good guy – or not? And is Claire telling the reader the truth – or not? Fortunately, after a roller-coaster drama which is emotionally gripping and will certainly keep you guessing, we do find out. Highly recommended.
I Let you In by Lucy Clarke
If you are thinking about renting out your house on Air B & B, probably best not to read this one – or maybe you should… Lucy Clarke’s latest novel is psychological suspense at its best – I defy you not to feel chilled.
Elle Fielding’s first novel was a runaway success and the proceeds have helped her to turn a little cottage on a cliff in Cornwall into a light, airy and beautiful house with far-reaching views over the Cornish countryside and sea. It has the advantage of being close to her sister Fiona and her family and Elle should be loving it. But her life is not quite as easy and magical as it seems. She is struggling with her second novel and she has run out of money, while still owing the bank and the builders. What should she do? Well, she decides to rent out aforementioned dream home on Air b&b in order to earn some much-needed cash while she is away on a writing retreat. When she comes back however, she feels that her house has not only been entered, but somehow violated…
Whoever has got into the house then proceeds to try and get into Elle’s head – while she desperately tries to meet her writing deadline against all the odds. No spoilers here – but the plot twists and turns very satisfyingly until the final and shocking denouement. The characters are all three-dimensional and interesting, the setting is wonderful and the tension never lets up. I loved it. Highly recommended for all psychological suspense fans.
The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies
Belle Hatton is working as a nightclub singer in 1930s Burma, and determined to find out what happened to the sister she has only recently found out she had. Why was she never told about the existence of Elvira and who was responsible for her disappearance? But when Belle starts asking questions, she is confronted with unsettling rumours, malicious gossip, and outright threats. She is drawn to Oliver, an attractive, American journalist, but can she trust him?
Dinah Jefferies captures the atmosphere and culture of 1930s Burma with her usual consummate ease. And especially the different layers of colonialism – the country may be vibrant, colourful and exotic, but behind the glamour there is a much darker side…
An interesting aspect of the story is the author’s exploration of family relationships – especially Belle’s well-established view of her mother – what she has been told, what she has experienced and how these ‘truths’ contradict the reality we seem to be given in the other narrative – her mother’s story of the previous decades. So what is the truth and whose memories are the accurate ones? The blurred lines are well handled here – family relationships are generally complicated!
As always, Dinah Jefferies draws her reader into her story with fluency and a natural and authentic voice. Atmospheric and evocative – a hugely enjoyable read.
The Fear by CL Taylor
This story deals with some dark issues – in particular the subject of grooming and how traumatic this can be for the victims of such a crime. And the victims are not just the obvious ones – there are family victims too on both sides.
Lou Wandsworth, the initial narrator, looks back to this time in her life (in one strand of the story) when she was fourteen and went to France with her karate teacher Mike Hughes, thinking it was just for a romantic weekend and convinced he was the love of her life. But Mike wasn’t what he seemed and he left her psychologically traumatised. Since then, Lou has been unable to trust or maintain a relationship with a man.
We also have the contemporary time narrative when at 32, Lou discovers that Mike is once again involved with a teenager. Determined to prevent him from ruining another young girl’s life, Lou confronts him – with surprising consequences.
CL Taylor brings plenty of twists into this story and broadens and deepens the tale by including the viewpoint of the other young girl, Chloe, and another narrator, Wendy, who is also a victim. It’s perfectly paced and another chilling, compelling read from this author.
And Then It Happened by Linda Green
This was another one I couldn’t put down. It starts off in quite an ordinary way – Mel is married to Adam, they have one daughter and they are one very happy family. But Linda Green manages to make this quite chilling – the reader is waiting for something to happen (which is why this is such a good title). Mel is convinced that something so good can’t last forever (why would she though?) and of course she is right. When it does… Everything changes.
Mel is also given a ‘dark secret’ which helps build the tension, but when the secret was revealed, it was a bit of an anti-climax for me.
This one is so hard to write about without giving any spoilers. I found Mel a little annoying at first but as the book developed, my feelings changed. Adam’s narrative is that of two people (which will make sense when you read the book) and each one is convincing.
Linda Green has used her imagination a lot in this story – but clearly, this is based on significant research. Is this how it would be? Well, maybe so. Although the pace of the story can be a little slow at times, this is no problem for me – I enjoyed having the time to get to grips with the characters’ lives and emotions.
An emotional, gripping and thought provoking read.
- Summer Reading – 8 books to add to your summer tbr pile
- Self-Promotion – how ready are you to shout about it?
- Featuring The Lemon Tree Hotel
- On the Scent of a Storyline
- Location for The Lemon Tree Hotel
- Spring Reading 2019
- March Madness
- The Books I Read this Winter (so far…)
- The Books I Read this Summer…
- My Summer
- Sense of Place
- Winter Reading 2017
- Planning or Pantsing…
- Summer Reading 2017
- Another Little Theatre by the Sea
- Give Bosa a Hug From Me
- Spring Reading 2017
- How Bosa became Deriu
- Whose Point of View? (Most of what matters…)
- Winter Book Reviews 2016
- The Flavour of the Place
- Summer Book Reviews
- Everybody’s Going to Havana
- American Classic Cars in Havana
- Spring Book Reviews 2016
- First Sighting of ‘Last Dance’.
- Rosanna’s Winter Book Reviews 2015/6
- Rosanna’s Autumn Book Reviews
- Creative Writing in Bridport
- Writing at Finca el Cerrillo – 2015
- Great Summer Reading 2015: Rosanna’s Reviews
- Dear Saffron Trail
- Three great books that I have read in the past few months and enjoyed… Happy Spring Reading!