Today I’m pleased to welcome Clare Pedrick to the blog. Clare is the author of Chickens Eat Pasta, the true story about her move to Italy, which was published in 23 July 2015. Clare kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Chickens Eat Pasta.
Chickens Eat Pasta is really my story, and I think it’s quite an intriguing one, though it’s written more as a novel than an autobiography. It’s certainly an unusual story. It’s the tale of how one day, completely out of the blue, I made the rather strange decision to buy a rambling old wreck of a house in what was then a very little known and quite remote part of Italy. And although some readers may think that sounds familiar, it’s not at all the same as Under the Tuscan Sun or any of the other books written about foreigners moving abroad. For a start, I was very young at the time, just 26, and completely on my own. And although I was totally bewitched by this house – or what was left of it because it had hardly any roof, no electricity and gaping holes where most of the floor should have been – it wasn’t an easy experience at all, and some of the situations I encountered were really very raw and challenging. But I was incredibly lucky, and met some wonderful people who took me under their wing and helped me in the most extraordinary way. So the book is also about these unexpected friendships, and some of the very colourful characters who I met along the way. And it’s about a way of life in rural Umbria that was, and to some extent still is, light years from anything most English people have ever seen. And of course, it’s also a love story, with a man I met there, and all that it led to. But I don’t want to spoil the story…
2. Looking back on your move to Italy and the adventure that followed, do you think you were prepared for what could possibly happen when you took the plunge and moved?
No definitely not, and I think that’s probably just as well. On the face of it, what I did made no sense at all. I had a good job as a journalist on a newspaper in Brighton and a promising career mapped out for me. I had a lovely house in England, with a roof that had no holes in it, as well as central heating, hot and cold water, a washing machine and a dishwasher. I had good friends and a pretty decent social life. Then for some bizarre reason that I still can’t really explain I gave it all up to go and live in an old ruin where the only place you could cook was over an open fire and there wasn’t even a fridge. The village women did their washing in the fountain in the piazza, and although people think of Italy as a hot country, this was high in the Umbrian hills, so it was really very cold in winter. And I was totally alone, at least for a time.
3. What tips would you give to anyone looking to make a move abroad?
Well of course it depends where they are moving to. I suppose the sensible answer would be to advise them to check out what it’s really like to live there, and to research very thoroughly the downsides – because there will inevitably be some. For example, people who go on holiday to Italy often think of it as this wonderful dreamy place, where you eat marvellous food and where the sun shines day in, day out. But of course it’s not all like that, and there are some aspects to life in Italy that are really infuriating, such as the grinding bureaucracy and the endemic corruption. So doing your homework would be the smart answer, but that’s not at all the path I took, and to be honest, if you think too carefully about moving abroad or taking any life-changing decision, it may put you off altogether. There’s a part of me that believes that it’s sometimes better to just follow your heart, and I think that message comes over quite powerfully through the story that I tell in my book.
4. What did you find out about the publishing process that you wish you had known before you had started writing?
I rather wish I has known more about self-publishing, as I wasted a great deal of time waiting for commercial publishers to give me a decision. Some of them came very close, as they said they liked the book enormously, but just weren’t prepared to take the risk. That’s when I started investigating indie publishing, which I think quite wrongly was tainted by a very negative image for a long time. It’s true that some self-published books are of poor quality, with rather ropey covers, and lots of spelling mistakes, but I was determined to avoid those pitfalls and produce a top quality product, which I think I did. I had my book professionally critiqued and I actually rewrote it five times before I was happy with the final version. I’m not saying that it has all been plain sailing, and that there aren’t aspects to self-publishing that I find quite maddening – not least the cost – but overall I am very satisfied and I think it’s fantastic that authors who want to get their book out there, for whatever reason, can now get on and do it.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Writing aside (and working as a journalist and running, not always very well, the household for my husband and three children), the other great passion in my life is horses. I have always ridden since I was a child and the countryside here in Umbria is glorious. I keep a horse at a stables 15 minutes from my house and I also organise riding holidays for foreign guests, which are a lot of fun. I take them out on rides into the spectacular hills, and we have picnic lunches and sometimes go camping with the horses. It’s a wonderful way of getting out in this beautiful unspoilt corner of Italy, where time really has stood still.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
That’s a very tough one! If I’m only allowed one book then it would have to be something that bears reading over and over again, and it would also have to be quite a long one – otherwise I’d finish it too quickly. So at the end of the day I would probably choose The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. I love travel writing, and this has to be one of the best travelogues ever written, though of course it’s fictional, albeit based in very real places in England. So for me it ticks all the boxes, including satisfying the nostalgic side of me that misses parts of England. And I find Dickens’ characters so superbly drawn and his comic style so extremely funny that I know I would be happy to go back and read this book many more times.
7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I suppose I wish you had asked me about the cover to Chickens Eat Pasta, as I think it’s gorgeous. I know that many readers think the same and it has attracted a great many compliments. There is a rather lovely story behind that too, as it is taken from a watercolour done by a very dear childhood friend of mine. Her name is Colleen MacMahon and when we were at school together – in those days she was Colleen Harbottle – she and I would spend hours scribbling stanzas of epic poems in our jotters and passing them to and fro between each other, mainly during Maths lessons, as I recall. She left to go to drama school and we lost touch for ages as our lives went separate ways. But then about five or six years ago, we suddenly got back in touch and met up again. And it was as if all those intervening years had simply never happened. In the meantime, Colleen had become a very accomplished artist, as well as a writer herself, and she painted this watercolour when she came to stay at my house in Umbria. So when I finally got my book finished and ready for publication, there was no question of what I would use for the cover. The painting itself is on my bedroom wall in my house and it makes me happy every time I look at it.
Thanks for answering my questions and appearing on the blog.
Thank you for having me Janet. I have very much enjoyed it!
About the book
‘Not just another romance, but a story of escapism, coincidences, friendship, luck and most of all… love.
Chickens Eat Pasta is the tale of how a young Englishwoman starts a new life after watching a video showing a chicken eating spaghetti in a mediaeval hill village in central Italy.
“Here I was, 26 years old, alone and numb with boredom at the prospect of a future which until recently had seemed to be just what I wanted.”