Today I am thrilled to welcome Clare Pedrick 🙂 Clare is the author of Chickens Eat Pasta: Escape to Umbria, published with Troubador Publishing.
Clare and her house
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book please?
Hello everyone, and thank you Kerry for inviting me here today. My name is Clare Pedrick and I’m a British journalist living in Spoleto, which is a beautiful town in the central Italian region of Umbria. I’m also the author of a book called Chickens Eat Pasta: Escape to Umbria. It’s the story of how I bought a crumbling old ruin outside a medieval hill village some years back, and all that the adventure led to. Now you might think that this sounds familiar. But my tale is rather different from most of the well known books in this genre. That’s partly because it’s also a love story, and it’s written more like a novel than a memoir. I hope that gives it more of a sense of suspense and drama, and I’m told it’s quite a gripping read. The other difference is that Chickens Eat Pasta is not a foreigner’s view through rose-tinted spectacles. It’s quite a warts-and-all vision of life in this part of Italy, especially from a young woman’s perspective, which I was at the time, and some of the experiences described are fairly raw.
Clare’s house, as it is now
Clare’s house, when she first saw it
Where did you get your ideas from?
This was really a book that was waiting to be written, so I didn’t have to look too hard. It tells the story of how aged 26, I left my comfortable life in England, together with a rather good job and a very pretty Regency house that I owned in Brighton, all on a total whim after watching a video showing chickens eating spaghetti in the courtyard of an old but very picturesque Umbrian village. I was on a plane three days later to buy a house – if you can call it that, as it had no roof, water or electricity – triggering a series of events that was to change my life forever. So there was no shortage of material at all, or of colourful characters for that matter. It was really just a question of finding the time to write the book, and doing it in a way that was entertaining, but also moving. I reworked the book five times before it was published, so I hope I got it right.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
Yes, all of them actually! The entire cast is taken from real life, and most of them are people I met once I bought my old house here in Umbria. I had an extraordinary amount of help and was shown great generosity by people who had no real reason to display such kindness. I often wonder why that was, and the only answer that I can come up with is that people felt sorry for me, as I was all on my own, in a very remote part of Italy, at a time when young women simply didn’t do that kind of thing, cavorting around without a family, or at least a husband! That’s the question people asked me the whole time at first. “Where is your husband?” “Or what do your parents think of you coming over here, all alone?” They just couldn’t understand. Of course, as the book shows, there were a few people who tried to capitalise on this, and take advantage of the fact that I was single and vulnerable, but luckily, my new friends always rallied round to protect me.
The village that became Clare’s second home
Just around the corner from Clare’s home
How do you pick your characters names?
Aside from members of my immediate family back in England, I changed all the characters’ names in the book. I thought it was only right, to protect their privacy, as none of them asked to be part of my story. The person I was most worried about was Ercolino – not his real name, but not far off. He is one of the central characters in the book, and many readers have really grown to love him, and his English wife Angela (not her real name either), who virtually adopted me as their daughter. Ercolino is a larger-than-life person, who is also very comical, in an extremely loving way, and I was concerned that he wouldn’t like my portrait of him, or enjoy being thrust onto the pages of my book. But on the contrary, he absolutely loved Chickens Eat Pasta, and always asks me how the sales are going when I see him, which is very often. Sometimes, as we sit and talk over a glass of wine, he will start reminiscing about one of the anecdotes described in the book – and which really happened in real life. And then his eyes almost disappear into the rest of his face as he starts laughing and crying at the same time. He really is quite a character, in every sense of the word.
Ercolino with Mamma outside their house in the village of San
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
As I said, I’m a journalist, so the business of sitting down to write is not a problem at all. I’m used to having deadlines and having to produce a certain amount of words in a given time, whether I feel inspired or not. So there was never going to be any question of the blank page syndrome. But strangely enough, the fact that I write for a living proved a drawback in some ways. After I had finished my first draft of the opening chapters, I sent them to my agent in London and she called me over for a chat. I was rather taken aback when she told me that the story was written too much as a journalist would write it – someone who is indeed concerned with meeting deadlines and getting the facts out as quickly as possible.
“It’s all so breathless,” she told me. So I was sent back to rewrite the whole thing, taking much more time to develop the characters and draw the narrative out. It wasn’t easy at first, but it was very satisfying once I got into the swing of it. And my agent was right. It makes for a much better read.
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
I have a weakness for really good travel writers, so I love Norman Lewis and H.V. Morton, who wrote extraordinarily vivid accounts of their journeys and the people they encountered, including some memorable portraits of Italy. I’m also very fond of the books of British author and – funnily enough, former journalist – Robert Harris, who has a wonderful talent for portraying fictional stories against a historical background. His Pompeii, the story of the eruption of Vesuvius, is quite spellbinding, and really takes you there, even though the actual events happened more than 2000 years ago. I still have a very soft spot for Charles Dickens, whose wonderful characters always bring a smile to my face, or send a shiver down my spine. And my fifth choice would definitely be Graham Greene. I’m just rereading Brighton Rock, and enjoying every minute. His portrait of the main character Pinkie is a mesmerising study of pure evil.
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Well in a way I’m cheating here, as it would be Graham Greene, and I’m proud to say I did indeed meet him, one evening many years ago at a reception when I was working in Brighton as a reporter on the local paper, the Evening Argus. I’m afraid I can’t recall what I asked him, although I know we chatted for several minutes. But I can well remember his demeanour, which was quiet and extremely poised, modest and unpretentious. He made quite an impression on me, and I think his writing is really outstanding.
Were you a big reader as a child?
Yes I always had my nose in a book, even on car journeys, though I’ll never understand how I didn’t get car sick. I read just about anything that I could get my hands on, and luckily there was never a shortage of books in our home. My father was a prolific reader, and always had books piled high on his bedside table, a habit that I have inherited, as has my son. And of course the local library was a wonderfully rich source of books, and one of which I made full use. That’s something I miss greatly here in Italy, for although libraries exist, they are nothing like as well stocked as the English ones.
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
I think it would probably be the ending to One Day, the otherwise captivating best-selling novel by British author David Nicholls. Like many people, I think I felt rather cheated when, after all the trials and tribulations of the on-off relationship between Emma and Dexter, it all ends in tragedy, and rather banal tragedy at that. I hope I’m not ruining the story for anyone – so stop reading here if you don’t want to know what happens. But killing her off in an accident with a pushbike just didn’t seem right, especially when things were at last going well between them. It almost seemed as if Nicholls couldn’t think how to end it and wanted to be done with the whole story. I’m not one for schmaltzy endings, but this one should definitely have been changed!
Is there a book you wish you had written?
A great many, starting with just about any of the books written by my five favourite authors, as described above. But most of all, I wish I had more time to devote to writing, and could sit down day after day and give myself over to planning and researching ideas for a really good novel. But I have to earn my bread and butter as a journalist, which is quite a demanding job that involves travelling from time to time, and I certainly couldn’t afford to give that up. I know some people manage to combine writing and a day job, but I suspect that means giving up your social life and just about any other form of pleasure if you do it for long. As I discovered when I wrote Chickens Eat Pasta, writing a book is incredibly time consuming. If I had known that at the beginning, I might never have started, so it’s just as well that I didn’t.
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
I think that would probably be Marcus Attilius Primus, the young engineer in Pompeii, who arrives in the Bay of Naples from Rome at the start of the book to take charge as hydraulic engineer or aquarius of the Aqua Augusta. This is the aqueduct that supplies water to the many towns in the region, including Pompeii itself. Actually, we probably wouldn’t go for coffee, as I don’t think it existed in those days, so it would have to be a glass of wine, which is fine by me. And I’d probably take him to my local bar in Piazza del Mercato here in Spoleto. These days it’s called the Caffe degli Artisti, but I’m sure there was a bar there even then, as it’s right on the corner of Spoleto’s ancient Roman Forum, so a great location. I’d love to chat to Attilius about his unusual job, and hear him explain some of the astonishing hydraulic engineering feats of those times, which are still in evidence today. Hydraulic engineers like him were responsible for building a network of aqueducts throughout the ancient Roman Empire – many of which were very beautiful architectural constructions in their own right – drawing water from often distant sources into cities and towns, supplying private households, fountains, and of course public baths. The other thing I would like to talk about to Attilius would be his plans for August 24 of that fateful year AD 79. I think I’d advise him to take a break, go on holiday, but at all costs to keep away from Pompeii, which was obliterated when Vesuvius erupted. Spoleto is lovely in August, as it’s in the hills so there is always a slight breeze. They would be very welcome here! I’d also tell him to bring his girlfriend Corelia, who he goes back to rescue as Pompeii is covered in ash and rubble.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
I have a blog, which mainly tells stories from my Umbrian village, or other parts of this beautiful part of Italy, along with showing photos, so that readers have an idea of just how lovely it is. Oh yes, and there are one or two recipes too, as food plays a very important role in this part of the world.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Clare 🙂
CHICKENS EAT PASTA
The love affair between Clare
Pedrick and an old, Umbrian ruin
she bought on a whim that started
a new life in Central Italy
“I am always being asked how I ended up living in Italy and what brought me here in the first place.
Most people assume it must have been a man. But actually it was a love affair with a house – which led to a love affair with a man.”
Clare Pedrick was just 26 years old when she decided to buy a beautiful old ruin in Umbria on a whim after spotting
a newspaper advert one rainy Sunday morning. She was entirely alone when she embarked on her adventure, which
eventually led to a love affair with a man who is now her husband.
Unlike some other 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.
“I wrote the book partly for our children, who have grown up spending their weekends and summers there. The house has been
completely restored – it’s hard for the children to understand how dilapidated and basic it was when I was first bewitched by the place.”
Chickens Eat Pasta is primarily a love story – of Clare’s love for the house that she saw one day and decided to buy, of
the man she met there and went on to marry, of the children that they have and of the country that is now their home.
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.
PUBLICATION DATE 28th July 2015
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