How 1 Euro Italian houses and The Cake Maker’s Wish are Related

Since I started writing The Cake Maker’s Wish (all the way back in 2015), my imaginary idea of reviving a dying little village by importing people from around the globe has gone a little more global (and viral).

Today, you can buy an Italian house for only 1 Euro, in the same country that previously gave away castles, monasteries and towers. Ireland has called for residents of Australia and USA to emigrate to the tiny island of Arranmore. Spain has had a problem of abandoned villages across the country, so the officials from Galicia set about giving away one of these villages. In all of these examples, the goal has been to give the properties to someone who has detailed plans to renovate, restore and add capital back into the local area, to save a dying population and/or economy, and restore economic trade to the local business owners. This is exactly the premise that I used for the setting of The Cake Maker’s Wish, though at the time, I didn’t know it was really ‘a thing’.

Where it all began…

In 2015 I travelled to the UK on a writing trip to meet with my UK publisher and agent, to delivery an author talk in Abergavenny in Wales and to do research to look for a new story. I travelled with my dad, my sister and my sister’s baby (who was 14 months old). As part of that trip, we rented a stone cottage in the Cotswolds where we based ourselves for ten days and travelled the area from there.

I was lucky enough to get to know some of the locals. Two of them—men who’d grown up in the village in the fifties—made me a cup of tea to tell me about what life was like when they were young. In that conversation, they lamented the fact that the village had changed so much from when it was owned by the Lord of the Manor, which had created a unified, collaborated feel through the workers, with a thriving community spirit. Over time, as the village was sold off, wealthy investors from the city would buy up cottages as holiday homes, but that meant that most of the properties were sitting empty for most of the year. The village couldn’t function as it used to, no longer community-sufficient, with people having to travel further and further away to find work and services and the house prices forcing workers out of the market.

I was really touched by their sadness and went back to my rented cottage and sat down with a notebook and pen and thought, well, I’m a writer, surely I can bring this village back to life on the page. And that’s how it started.

And now…

I confess to being truly delighted that my imagination has conjured something that isn’t completely out of the box at all, that its themes and efforts of small communities trying to survive and hold onto their connections is very real, and that equally real efforts are happening around the world right now to save them. In my heart, I am a girl from the village. I may have been born in Brisbane but I have now spent almost fifteen years living in small country towns. I know the huge beating hearts that live in them and how important it is to support them and celebrate them. This is exactly what my new novel does.

The Cake Maker’s Wish is out 2 June but you can pre-order it now from all good bookstores and online retailers. I look forward to sharing the imaginary village of Stoneden in the Cotswolds with you very soon!

 

The Beekeeper’s Secret has taken flight!

I am so very proud to let you know that my third foodie fiction novel, The Beekeeper’s Secret, has taken flight and is now out on the shelves around Australia and New Zealand (and will be out in the UK/Ireland in July).

I had a great time down in Sydney last week launching this book and was thrilled to be invited to Booktopia to sign a couple of hundred books (which you can order your signed copy here). And I was very blessed to have my friend, Ashley Jubinville, to accompany me, spending an extraordinary number of hours creating a stunning beehive cake for the morning tea spectacular with my publishers.

Thank you to everyone who has bought the book so far and for those who’ve sent me great feedback and/or taken the time to write reviews online. It is much appreciated.

Fly free, little book xx

For St Patrick’s Day: A Tale of My Irish Past

Like many Australians, there are a lot of Irish personalities in my family tree history (on both sides). But these two are my favourite. John and Ellen Clare met on the ship from Ireland and fell in love.

John and Ellen Clare met on the ship from Ireland and fell in love
John and Ellen Clare met on the ship from Ireland and fell in love

Their names are John Clare and Ellen O’Laughlin, from County Clare in Ireland. Ellen was young (nineteen or twenty) and John a bit older (around thirty) when they each boarded a ship leaving Ireland for Australia in the late 1800s, seeking a new, more prosperous life. They met on the boat and spent the months that it took for them to reach Australia falling in love. They married in their new country and went on to have nine Catholic babies, one of which was my great-grandmother, Hanora (Nora) Clare. They ran a pub in the town of Toowoomba and by all accounts were a very happy couple. John died first and left Clare to run the pub on her own while bringing up all those children.

Nora Clare went on to marry Edward Jackson, who was from County Armagh in Northern Ireland and unfortunately it wasn’t the love story her mother had. Edward was a heavy drinker and a violent man. Nora and Edward had ten children, one of which was my grandmother, Jean. Jean grew up in the small town of Yarraman in Queensland, a town I lived quite near to until recently, while Alwyn and I resided in Blackbutt for six years. The very same pub that Edward used to frequent in the early 1900s is still there. According to my grandmother, Edward would stumble out of the pub and onto his faithful horse, who then carried him home in the dark and stop at the front gate and whinny for Nora to let them in.

Nora Clare (Jackson), my great grandmother
Nora Clare (Jackson), my great grandmother

Nana moved to Brisbane for work and lived up in the hills of Paddington in a workers cottage, when workers cottages were in fact inhabited by the less fortunate. And it’s in Brisbane that her children were raised.

I went to Ireland in 2003, and truly, the only way I can describe the feeling was like coming home.

I wonder about Clare and John, whether they were excited to leave Ireland or desperately sad, whether they wanted more for themselves once they got to this country or whether they were ecstatic that they got more than anything they’d hoped for. I can’t even imagine taking such a tremendous leap of faith and saying good-bye to my homeland, family, friends and everything I knew for a strange, hot, snake-infested, wild country on the other side of the world, called Australia. I feel so sad for Nora, raising ten children with an alcoholic and violent husband, trying to keep them all safe, living with the terror in her house, and for her daughter, Jean, my grandmother,who was irrevocably changed because of it.

Nana had four children, the first of which was my mother, Geraldine, who had two children with my father, Brian.

They were all so very brave. And I am here because of them, with the good fortune of being able to choose to have just one child, with my red hair and freckly skin. And so is my son, named Flynn (a good Irish name), who demanded potatoes all day, every day while he was renting my womb for nine months. People frequently tell me he looks like a little leprechaun. So the Irish spirit continues in us all.

In honour of the many thousands of Irish men and women who came to Australia, happy St Patrick’s Day.

p.s. Thank you to my mum and my aunt Christine for organising photos for me at the last minute! xx