What has led you to write the ‘Lost and Found Life of Rosy Bennett’?
From schooldays on I’ve always enjoyed writing. I remember going on an Arvon Foundation writing course many years ago at Hebden Bridge with Elizabeth Jane Howard and Nell Dunne. Great fun.
What happened after the Arvon course?
I returned to London and met my husband. After our first son was born I went on to have twins which meant we had three boys under three. I started a business selling Italian shoes at charity sales in private houses and looked after our boys but got fed up with looking after small children. So, I took a BA (Hons) Art History degree with the Open University. I especially love the Italian Trecento and could never classify looking and learning about all those scrumptious paintings as work.
Where do you find it easiest to write?
A decade ago we bought a house in Umbria, and we try to spend as much time there as possible. It’s a wonderful place with glorious, sweeping views and sitting writing on the terrace with my laptop is magic. I have no excuse not to sit down and write when I am there. I usually think of a few though.
Is the Lost and Found Life of Rosy Bennett your first attempt at being published?
No, I had an idea a few years ago that got nice comments from agents and publishers such as ‘It’s totally gripping’, ‘deserves to find a publisher’, ‘tremendous pace and verve’, ‘there is enormous readability in your writing’ – this last comment was from Transworld – but nothing happened! I am now determined and at last, have the time to make it happen!
Having made the move from London life to country living, what do you think is the biggest challenge when doing so?
The biggest challenge would have to be finding the right house to live in! It takes a while to find that special place where you walk in and instantly know you’ve found a new home. Once you do though, it takes less time to decide on a house than buy a new pair of shoes.
For us, we’ve moved from one urban area to another and whilst we’re in a rural community, we live in a small, pretty town. We can still walk to the shops, the station, restaurants and pubs; probably more easily than in Wandsworth.
Umbria of course is different. That’s most definitely ‘country living’. Although our village is nearby, the supermarket, the bank, the shops – all the necessities of everyday life are thirty minutes away by car. The biggest challenge is the language. No matter how generous the Italians are putting up with my dreadful linguistic skills, they don’t seem to improve. Not much has changed in the landscape since Perugino and Pinturicchio were painting there in the fifteenth century. As you can see from the pictures it’s very beautiful.
What did you miss most about city-life?
What I miss most is sushi, especially Itsu, the opera and walking across London bridges seeing Big Ben, St. Paul’s, the Shard; all the landmarks that make the city so great with such a special buzz.
What one piece of advice would you give to any urban city-dweller moving to the countryside?
First: as I found in Sherborne, slow down. You don’t have to walk at breakneck speed and you mustn’t get stressed when those in the supermarket queue ahead of you, when asked to pay, take ten minutes fumbling around for their purses. I fail on both these counts.
Second. And this is Umbria, make good shopping lists. It is not to be recommended to get back home and find you’ve forgotten the milk.
How did you research alpaca farming? What was the most interesting thing you discovered about alpacas?
I took a Beginner’s Course at an alpaca farm near Pangbourne and totally fell in love with them. I only wish I could have a small herd but our lifestyle doesn’t permit it. This, combined with getting to know the local alpaca farm in Umbria all helped with my research.
What was the most interesting thing you discovered about alpacas?
For me, their most heavenly trait is pronking. It’s a behaviour of certain quadrupeds where they spring into the air and lift all four feet off the ground simultaneously. Springbok are also good at pronking, in fact the very word comes from Afrikaans and means literally ‘to show off’, from the Dutch pronken ‘to strut’. Alpacas often have a mad half-hour in the evening when they leap about the place, pronking madly. They’re enchanting to watch.
Where did the idea from this book stem from?
I knew I wanted to write about the contrast between city and country life and involve alpacas in some way, if I could. I don’t know where the story came from. Probably chatting to my husband over too many bottles of wine.
What advice would you give to other authors who are working on their first book?
Don’t give up! I have been very lucky to have a husband who has encouraged me at every turn. Without him, I don’t think I would have got this far.