Ferring author Angela Petch evokes a slice of Italian social history in her new book, Now and Then in Tuscany.
A retired further education tutor and translator, Angela lives in Ferring for half the year; the other half she spends in Tuscany with her husband, who is half Italian.
There she talked to locals and researched archives to produce the story of a young boy’s journey with shepherds from his mountain village in the Apennines. Nearly one hundred years later, the great grandson’s family trace this annual transhumance.
“The book is the sequel to my first book Tuscan Roots, but it can be read in its own right. It’s about an Italo-English family that lives in Tuscany and start doing research for a little boy’s school project into something called the transhumance – a posh word for when the shepherds use to drive their sheep down to better pastures. In Italy, they used to take the sheep and cattle down from the mountain for five months in the winter. The winters were very harsh, and this would happen until the 1950s. In our area, I talked to quite a few elderly people living in the area who remember it.
“The book is the story of the great-grandfather of the little boy that does some research into the drovers. Concurrent with the modern story, I write about the past and what happens socially. It is not chick-lit. I suppose I would call it historical romance. I got quite into the historical side. I hope it doesn’t interrupt the narrative. I just thought it was important to write about it.
“Five months is a long time for the families to be separated. In the mountains it can go down to -15 in the winters, and there is nothing for the sheep and cattle to graze on. They used to drive the sheep and cattle down on an eight-day journey to the coast where there was green for them to feed off. The women and the children used to stay in the mountains in the winter, and the men and the boys used to go down and camp there and live in fairly-primitive conditions from October to May.
“When they were away from each other, all sorts of things would happen, and that’s what whetted my imagination. There was the hardship in the mountains, and then when they all got together again in May, it was a question of getting to know each other again.”
Angela added: “I have always loved writing. I am a book worm. I can’t live without a book on my bedside table. I used to love English at school, and I wish I had done English at university, but I didn’t think it was something you could study. I was always writing little plays when I was a girl, and then I had three children and that took up all my time, but when the children started to leave home, I did a writing course and I have won a couple of things which has given me confidence. I get little prods of confidence, and I just love writing. And if I can touch just one person with my writing, then that’s great.”
Angela added: “My love affair with Italy was born at the age of seven when I moved with my family to Rome where we lived for six years. My father worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and he made sure we learned Italian and visited many places during that time. Later on I studied Italian at the University of Kent at Canterbury and afterwards worked in Sicily, where I met my husband. His Italian mother and British father met in Urbino in 1944 and married after a war-time romance.”
Angela is one of four West Sussex writers who invite you to join them for a glass of Buck’s Fizz as they launch their latest books on Sunday, April 30 from 10am-1pm in the Jubilee Gallery at the Arundel Museum.
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