Having been watching BBC 2’s Second Chance Summer in Tuscany, and dreaming of running away to a dream life in Italy, I’ve been looking forward to hosting my guest today, Katharine Johnson, to talk about her upcoming novel’s inspiration…
Hello Jennifer and thank you for inviting me onto your blog. I love reading your Sunday sojourns so it’s a real treat to be taking part in one.
Today I’d like to take you to Tuscany where my psychological/coming of age novel the silence is set.
Most people probably associate Tuscany with the gentle rolling hills, art cities and cypress-lined roads around Siena that we see on calendars and postcards. But the landscape in north Tuscany where my novel is set is wilder and less hospitable with jagged mountains, narrow gorges and thick forests. The hills are crowned by Medieval villages which are enveloped by cloud some of the year and can often only be accessed on foot. It’s a land of myths and magic with stories passed down through the generations about the devils, witches and imps that inhabit the area.
Among the best known of these is the buffardello, an imp who lives in the Garfagnana and Lunigiana. He gets in through keyholes at night, hiding and moving objects, leaving sulphurous smells, shaving men’s beards off, removing bed covers and knotting young girls’ hair and horses’ tails as they sleep. He also sits on sleepers’ chests or covers their mouth to stop them breathing.
Tree spirits also appear at night in the form of lights through the branches. Walnut trees are especially to be avoided. Whoever answers their call falls into a cataleptic state that slowly leads to death.
Some of the stories serve as an explanation for how the landscape was formed. In the mountains of the Apuan Alps between Pania Della Croce and Pania Secca is the Uomo Morto (dead man.) If you look carefully you can see the face of a man lying looking up at the sky. The story goes that a shepherdess was abandoned by her lover who went off to become a sailor. She spent her time staring out to sea from the meadows of Pania Della Croce pining for him. A young man was so struck by her beauty and sadness that he fell in love with her and tried everything to make her happy again. When he realised she would never love him he asked the gods to turn him into a rock that would unite the two mountains and block out her view of the sea forever.
Another story explains how Monte Forato (the holed mountain) was formed. The highest point of the Garfagnana is San Pellegrino in Alpe. It is here that the hermit San Pellegrino met the devil who did everything he could to tempt him. The saint resisted for as long as he could but in the end he lost patience and gave the devil a smack. This sent him flying across the valley into the Apuan Alps. The rock where the devil landed gave way leaving a big hole.
The village of Santa Zita in my novel is entirely fictional but probably contains random bits of lots of places in the area. Some of the residents of Santa Zita still believe in tree spirits and the villa where Abby stays that summer is thought by locals to be cursed. It is hidden by trees in summer and mist in winter so a tragic incident there could remain a secret for many years.
The Silence is a psychological/coming of age story.
Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could destroy everything. When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she is forced to confront the memories she has suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992. A summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity. In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.
About the author
Katharine Johnson is a journalist with a passion for crime novels, old houses and all things Italian (except tiramisu). She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, three children and madcap spaniel. She plays netball badly and is a National Trust room guide.
You can find her online, at the following links: Amazon author page