Written by Penny Feeny
My thanks to Aria Fiction for inviting me to take part in this Blog Tour .. I regret I couldn’t manage to read and review
Ten-year-old Lily and family arrive for their annual summer holiday in Sicily. Adopted as a toddler, Lily’s childhood has been idyllic. But a chance encounter with a local woman on the beach changes everything…
10 years later…
Ever since that fateful summer Lily’s picture-perfect life, and that of her family, has been in turmoil. The secrets of the baking hot shores of Sicily are calling her back, and Lily knows that the answers she has been so desperately seeking can only be found if she returns to her beloved island once more…
Fans of Victoria Hislop, Rosanna Ley and Domenica de Rosa will fall in love with the stunning and evocative Italian backdrop to this sweeping family epic.
Why aren’t more novels set in Sicily? I find this really puzzling. Italy is obviously a huge draw for sunshine lovers, but while there are plenty of books set in the gorgeous Tuscan or Umbrian countryside, around the Italian lakes or on the fabulous Neapolitan riviera – Amalfi, Positano and Capri are all names to conjure with, oozing with glamour and romance – Sicily seems unfairly neglected. There’s Inspector Montalbano, of course, and thrillers telling Mafia stories, but not much about ordinary Sicilians, who are the most welcoming people you could meet, or about the incredibly beautiful island that’s their home.
It’s always seemed to me that despite its perfect location on the Med, its layers of history and different cultures, its amazing food and stunning scenery, Sicily has been surprisingly undeveloped and unspoiled – which adds to the attraction! The Mafia are partly to blame for this – through corruption as much as through violence. Things are improving these days, but one of the most notorious examples came in 1968 after an earthquake which devastated the Belice valley in the south west region. The government handed out passports and train tickets to persuade people to leave, but hardly any of the funding for rehousing reached the victims. Those who stayed behind ended up living in tents and caravans for over a decade.
One of the towns affected, Santa Margherita, was the country residence of the author of what is probably the most famous Sicilian novel: The Leopard. He was Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Duke of Palma, but his status didn’t help him find a publisher, although he spent years trying. Sadly he died before his book was accepted, so he never knew of its success. Shortly after it came out it was made into a sweeping historical film, starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale, and in sixty years it hasn’t gone out of print. I was on the trail of the book’s locations when I went to Santa Margherita to visit what remains of the palace where the two lovers in The Leopard meet. This was also destroyed by the earthquake and all that’s left is the façade – rather like a stage set. And on the other side of the piazza, the buildings that were abandoned sit cheek by jowl with new homes.
It’s impossible not to feel moved by these ruins. In the UK they would have been cleared away, but here they are a constant reminder of what happened. The tumbled stones might look as ancient as some of the classical sites, but then you stumble across relics – a rusty pram, some broken china, a plastic toy – which make you realise this is within living memory. The atmosphere is so powerful I knew I had to set my third novel there. As with Italy, some locations in Sicily are more glamorous than others – Taormina and the Aeolian islands, for instance, where the rich and famous hang out – so it might seem perverse to pick a region which sees few tourists. But I couldn’t help wondering what it must have been like for the people who suffered in the disaster and there’s more scope for invention in a place that isn’t well-known. And so my main character, Lily, was born.
She’s still a baby when she loses everything in the Belice earthquake – including her identity. The novel actually starts nine years later, after she’s been rescued and is living happily with her loving, if unconventional parents. I’ve invented the seaside resort of Roccamare where they spend their summer holidays, but the nature reserve where the children play and build their dens really exists; as does the pretty island of Favignana where they go on their fishing trip. And the gargantuan country feast they enjoy at Ferragosto in the middle of August is an annual tradition. It’s been a great joy to relive the idyllic sights and flavours of this fabulous island, while I’ve been writing Lily’s story. My computer is in a room with no view so the images in my mind can take over and at the end of the day I feel as if I’ve been away on holiday myself. I hope readers will find Sicily as glorious as I do!
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Meet the Author
Penny Feeny has lived and worked in Cambridge, London and Rome. Since settling in Liverpool many years ago she has been an arts administrator, editor, radio presenter and advice worker. Her short fiction has been widely published and broadcast and won several awards. Her first novel, That Summer in Ischia, was one of the summer of 2011’s best selling titles.