Fancy a Writing Retreat in Tuscany? This might be your year!

As some of you may know, I discovered the story for Three Gold Coins while I was on writing retreat in Tuscany in 2016, with fellow writer and friend Vanessa Carnevale. Vanessa is once again running writing retreats in Tuscany this year and you have the chance to go! I asked Vanessa to tell us a bit about her, her work and the value of writing retreats.

Can you tell us a bit about your connections to Italy and what you love most about Italy?
I met my husband in Florence while holidaying over there in the late 90s and ended up living there for several years in my early twenties. I had a job in the city centre and started doing some freelance writing in addition to that. I’m enamoured by the history, the art, the culture, the food, the people! There’s always so much to learn and see over there and one of the things I love most, is the relaxed and much slower paced lifestyle. I’m very lucky that having family over there allows us to travel back as often as we can.
 
Your first book was set in Italy and your second in Australia. Would you like to share a little about the books and the research for both?
My debut novel, The Florentine Bridge, is set in Florence, and is about an artist by the name of Mia, who travels to Tuscany to find her passion for life again after experiencing a life-changing illness. The setting and its characters were informed by my time living in Italy. So I knew the Tuscan setting very intimately and while the characters, love story and storyline are completely fictional, writing the book was like taking a trip back down memory lane as I wrote about the places I had visited. I spent quite a bit of time researching renaissance art and painting which I love.
The Memories That Make Us, my latest novel, is set on a fictional flower farm in Victoria and is about Gracie, who after an accident, is left unable to recall most of the elements of her life, including her late mother and her fiance, Blake. It’s a story of self-discovery which follows Gracie’s journey as she rediscovers who she is after this big moment which turns her life upside down. For this book I did lots of lovely research into flower cultivation and the way flowers have a positive impact on emotion. Bonus for me is that I now have a beautiful flower garden and can enjoy freshly cut blooms any time I want!
What do you love most about writing retreats and how do you think they help writers?
Writing retreats are a wonderful way to nurture creativity. Getting away from the daily grind, and into an environment where you’re spending time alongside other writers who understand you is so refreshing and re-energising. For me personally, I find that supporting other writers gives me a deeper sense of purpose and in helping others I find my passion for writing amplifies. It’s a total joy and I am so proud of the writers who come along. I love being part of their cheer squad as they go on to make progress with their writing. For some writers, coming to a retreat might be a way of prioritising and taking action on a lifelong dream to write, and for others it might be a way of stepping away to fully immerse oneself in writing without interruption in order to make significant progress on a project.
Can you share a bit about your upcoming retreat(s) and how people can find out more?
I’m leading another two writing retreats in Tuscany this September and have availability for the second week which is from the 24th Sep – 1st Oct. They’re week-long retreats and we stay in a gorgeous 17th century villa not too far from the centre of Florence. Anyone who reads Three Gold Coins will be able to experience some armchair travel there! 😉
[Jo: This is true! The pictures here in this blog post come from the very villa I stayed in and used as inspiration for the setting of Three Gold Coins!]
Writers can come along and attend the workshops on offer and largely spend uninterrupted writing time against a gorgeous backdrop of olive trees and undulating hills. There’s also the opportunity for sightseeing and Chianti tours for those who would like to do that. We also have a swimming pool. It’s gorgeous! It’s a beautiful week away that does wonders for our creativity!Anyone interested can find out more on my website: www.yourbeautifulwritinglife.com
Quick five: Favourite Italian word? Where do you want to travel next? One thing from your bucket list? Last meal? Favourite childhood book?
1. L’amore – love
2. New York. I’ve always said I want to travel to NY in 2019 for my 40th!
3. I would love to renovate a cottage in the country and use it for writing weekends away. THE DREAM.
4. Yoghurt and muesli for breakfast
5. The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton
_________________
Vanessa Carnevale is a freelance writer and novelist who has contributed to The Green Parent, The Huffington Post, Muse, and Italy magazine, among others. Her debut novel, The Florentine Bridge, was published by MIRA in Australia in 2017. She was a finalist in the Best New Author category for the AusRom Today Readers Choice Awards 2017. She lives in Australia with her husband and two children.

When not writing, Vanessa loves to travel and often finds inspiration for her stories in locations outside her hometown of Melbourne. She is also the creator and host of Your Beautiful Writing Life retreats held in Australia and Tuscany, Italy. She loves tea, and flowers, and often dreams of escaping to the country.

Tuscan White Bean Soup — Recipe from Three Gold Coins

This is one of my favourite recipes that I developed while researching and writing Three Gold Coins. Perfect for these cooling nights!

Tuscan White Bean Soup

Ingredients

1 large leek (or 2 small ones)

2 garlic cloves

1 potato (I use Dutch Cream potatoes all the time, just because I love them the best)

1 parsnip

Half a head of cauliflower

1 carrot (optional… it will change the colour of your soup, but it’s a good way to use up vegetables in your crisper!)

2 cans of cannellini beans

4 cups stock (I use lamb bone broth)

Salt and pepper to taste

The leaves of a few sprigs of fresh thyme (just pick them, wash them and use your fingers to strip the sprigs)

2 Tbs lemon juice

Method

Chop all your vegetables.

  1. Fry your leek and garlic in olive oil under fragrant.
  2. Add the rest of the your chopped vegetables and mix thoroughly, allowing to cook for a few minutes.
  3. Add water just to the top of the vegetables and simmer for ten minutes.
  4. Add your stock and cook for ??
  5. Allow liquid to reduce a little if it seems to watery, otherwise proceed to blending.
  6. Blend half your soup until creamy then return to the pot. (Or blend three quarters, or even the whole lot. It depends how you like your soup.)
  7. Add your salt, pepper, thyme and lemon juice and heat through.
  8. Serve with sprigs of thyme for garnish and a side of crusty bread

Where Do Characters Come From?

Right now, I’m looking for characters. I have a new, delicious novel a-brewin’ and I’m looking for people to fill the pages. But where do they come from?

Main characters I have known and loved…

Kate Fullerton, the main character of The Tea Chest, arrived between the time it took for me to sniff a selection of teas in a tea shop and the two hours it took me to drive home. Her personality was pretty easy to pin down, which made life simple.

Maria Lindsay, the main character of The Beekeeper’s Secret, was such a strong ‘force’ that she pushed aside the novel I was trying to write and instead demanded a whole novel all to herself. She was a dream character, always on my shoulder, always ‘there’ in the space, waiting to talk. She made writing that novel the easiest of all my novels so far.

Tansy Butterfield, the other main character of Beekeeper’s, was based on a woman that sat opposite me on a ‘coast to airport’ shuttle bus I once took. I sat on that shuttle for several hours and she was diagonally opposite me and I had so much time to observe her that I created Tansy around her. The woman was tall, with long limbs, a long nose and dark hair, and she looked like a runner or a ballerina. She was around the right age (29) and I jotted down notes on my phone as we zoomed the highway.

Christmas Livingstone (main character of The Chocolate Promise), on the other hand, took a lot longer to come into ‘view’ and was in fact the third iteration of that character for that book, although she chose her own name very strongly when, one day, I asked her, ‘What is your name?’ Quick as lightning, I heard “Christmas Livingstone” in reply. I said, ‘Really? That’s your name?!’ But it had been delivered so decisively that I couldn’t tell her otherwise.

Supporting characters I have known and loved…

Supporting characters are generally my favourite ones to work with. They tend be the most clearly defined, often larger-than-life, and bring humour, or deep pain, or great adversity. I find that it is often the relationships between my main characters and supporting characters that allow us to see extra dimensions and great truth in our heroes, who will often speak of the unspeakable with a supporting character when it’s too difficult to do so with a close family member, for example. In my first draft, my supporting characters are generally a bit quiet, but start to really find their stride around the third draft, bringing so much more depth and richness to the story.

Often, supporting characters just ‘turn up’ as I’m writing, with little to no forethought at all. Caesar, the Golden Retriever in The Chocolate Promise was a great example of that. I was writing a scene between Lincoln and his father when suddenly I ‘heard’ a scratching on the back door. I thought, ‘What is that?’ So I sent Lincoln over to the door to open it to find a hungry, unloved old dog there. It was as though I saw it happening in the same time zone as Lincoln did. Caesar was a total star character, one who stole every scene he was in, I think.

One of the greatest joys I have with supporting characters is that, as they often turn up unannounced, I might not know why they are actually in the story at all until I’m halfway through the book, or later, and then all the threads come together and I have a truly satisfying moment of thinking, ‘Ohhhh, that’s why you’re here!’ I had that moment recently, while writing the first draft of The Tuscan Feast (to be published April 2018), with Sven, a young Swedish man who turned up unannounced and then later earned his place in the story so perfectly.

Lulu Divine, a fierce and fabulous nursing home character in The Chocolate Promise, was actually sixteen years old and a trick rodeo rider last time I’d ‘seen’ her. She was a character in a Young Adult novel (set in 1958) that I wrote many years ago (but was never published) and one day just popped up in a scene I was writing, surprising me greatly, both because she had walked so unexpectedly into a different novel but also because that wasn’t how I’d ever imagined her life would turn out!

So where do characters come from?

In short, characters come from anywhere and everywhere. They might pop out of the ether, like Maria Lindsay did, or they might be awkwardly wrangled out of thin air and onto the page and then worked and worked until they are ‘real’, like Christmas Livingstone. They might be someone on a bus who catches my eye, who I then take a mental picture of, like a template, and then build from there, like Tansy Butterfield. Writers always have troves of stories that have never made it to print and these can be absolute diamond mines of fully formed characters just waiting their turn for the right story, as was the case for Lulu Divine.

And then there is this man.

old man

I found myself walking behind him in the streets of Rome on my way to the Trevi Fountain and there was something (something!) about him that made me pull my phone out and take a photo. A week later, sitting under the trees out the front of a sixteenth century villa in Tuscany, the memory of this man came back to me.

Samuel.

Samuel was the way into the story of The Tuscan Feast for my main character, Lara Foxleigh, who finds herself following him on her way to the Trevi Fountain.

But that’s as far as my journey and Lara’s journey went together. After that, it was up to Lara to lead the way out of Rome, and a whole novel rolled out in front of me.

 

 

 

Tuscan White Bean Soup

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It’s been really cold (relative for the Sunshine Coast) and wet here lately so yesterday I made my first warming soup for the season and boy was it good! So I thought I’d share it with you.

This is my Tuscan-inspired white bean soup and I am declaring it my best soup ever! The lemon and thyme together just bring this soup to a whole new level. Enjoy! xx

 

Ingredients

1 large leek (or 2 small ones)

2 garlic cloves

1 potato (I use Dutch Cream potatoes all the time, just because I love them the best)

1 parsnip

Half a head of cauliflower

1 carrot (optional… it will change the colour of your soup, but it’s a good way to use up vegetables in your crisper!)

2 cans of cannellini beans (drained of juice)

4 cups stock (I use lamb bone broth)

Salt and pepper to taste

The leaves of a few sprigs of fresh thyme (just pick them, wash them and use your fingers to strip the sprigs)

2 Tbs lemon juice

Pecorino cheese (optional)

Method

Chop all your vegetables.

  1. Fry your leek and garlic in olive oil under fragrant.
  2. Add the rest of the your chopped vegetables and mix thoroughly, allowing to cook for a few minutes.
  3. Add water just to the top of the vegetables and simmer for ten minutes.
  4. Add your stock and cook for up to 30 minutes, until all vegetables are well cooked.
  5. Allow liquid to reduce a little if it seems to watery, otherwise proceed to blending.
  6. Blend half your soup until creamy then return to the pot. (Or blend three quarters, or even the whole lot. It depends how you like your soup.)
  7. Add your salt, pepper, thyme and lemon juice and heat through.
  8. Serve with sprigs of thyme for garnish and a side of crusty bread, and grated pecorino cheese if using.

My Chocolate Tourism Bucket List

Do you love your chocolate? Me too! And other than combining chocolate with a good book, I can’t think of too much better than pairing chocolate with visiting a new place of interest.

While writing my latest novel, The Chocolate Promise (also called The Chocolate Apothecary in the UK), researching and taste-testing chocolate pretty much took over my life—and my dress size! And my palette for chocolate has changed. Only the finest will do these days. So now, I’ve begun writing myself a ‘Chocolate Tourism Bucket List’, to continue my love affair with this heavenly food.

Here are my current Top 5 locations:

  1. Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. This is the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily. Let’s just consider that for a moment: chocolate + Sicily. It’s a no brainer, right? Top of my list.
  2. Puyricard. This French chocolate artisan store is located just outside of Aix-en-Provence in the south232323232fp93232>uqcshlukaxroqdfv67-35;5=3427986;494<24-ot1lsi of France, which is where the main character of The Chocolate Promise spends time with a master chocolatier, roams the beautiful countryside and encounters unexpected romance. I soaked up the research for this part of the novel and am positively salivating to go there in person and enjoy the delights of Provence, including this chocolate store.
  3. Chocolate Walking Tour of Melbourne. A little closer to home for me, this would be a delightful weekend treat. Melbourne is known by many to be the food capital of Australia and I’ve no doubt the chocolate on this tour would leave a lasting impression. I only hear good things about this one. Definitely a To-Do, sooner, rather than later, I think. (At least the plane flight would be a quick one!)
  4. Rococo. I certainly couldn’t comprise this list without including a visit to Rococo in London. You’ll find an acknowledgement to Chantal Coady (founder of Rococo) for her inspiration that influenced The Chocolate Promise and for good reason. I pored over her book, Rococo: Mastering the Art of Chocolate, as research for my novel. I even imported some of her creations. (The milk rose is my favourite.) I think I’d like to rent a flat just around the corner and simply hang out there every day, breathing it all in.
  5. Cailler. I’ve been to Switzerland but only once and I would love to go back there. (I’ve even been trying to work in some sort of Swiss plot into a novel so I can have a tax-deductible reason to go.) And this factory has some pretty great architecture to go with the experience.

So there’s my shortlist to get me (and maybe you) started. I’m sure there are dozens of amazing places around the world that would keep me entertained on my chocolate tours. I’d love to hear your recommendations if you have any?

p.s. Here’s a recipe from Chantal Coady for Chocolate Ganache Teacups, which fortuitously combines two of my favourite foods: chocolate and tea!