Today’s interview is with Clare Pedrick. Welcome to the blog, Clare. Tell us something about yourself.
Thank you Lela. My name is Clare Pedrick and I’m a journalist, and I am originally from England. But then, one rainy November day in the town of Brighton where I worked as a young reporter, I saw an advertisement in a newspaper for a house in Umbria. Actually, it was a rambling old ruin, though incredibly beautiful, at least in my eyes. So I got on a plane and three days later I bought the place. What followed was my adventure to restore the old house on the hill, some of the extraordinary people I met there and who helped me along the way, and a love story, which was to change my life forever. Chickens Eat Pasta tells the story of this journey, with all the culture clashes, colourful characters, joys and frustrations, love and heartache that I experienced along the way.
At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?
To be honest, I’ve always been a writer, since I’ve been a journalist all my life. But of course that’s a very different type of writing, as I was to find out to my cost when I first started writing my book. My journalist’s nose told me it was a good story, and I knew I had to write it. Then a literary agent I met in New York – I was working there at the time for a features agency having reluctantly left my Umbrian idyll for a while – persuaded me to get started.
“The only thing that’s missing is the love interest,” she said. “It would be so much better if it had one.”
I was single at the time, and licking my wounds after a very painful break-up with a long-term boyfriend in England, so, as I told the agent, there was absolutely no chance of any love interest in my Italian tale. That was just a few months before I met a handsome young man from Naples, in the very village where I had bought my house, so fairly soon, my agent’s wish was granted, and although I don’t want to spoil the story, it was certainly a love story with plenty of ups and downs.
Getting back to the writing part, I didn’t find it particularly difficult, because as a journalist I’m used to working with words. But what I had never considered was that journalists are trained to get a story out as quickly as possible, without too many frills. It took me quite a while to shift from my breathless reporter’s style to a more measured, descriptive pace, which was critical in creating mood, setting the scene and accompanying the story itself as it moved forward. I got there in the end, but I have to confess that it took me no fewer than five drafts before Chickens Eat Pasta was finally ready for publication.
I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you?
Oh thank you! I think I will thoroughly enjoy the break. I love anything to do with the outdoors, and camping is my idea of heaven. I’ve never slept in a log cabin (I so hope it’s a log one?), but I have always wanted to. We often go camping with the horses here in the Umbrian hills – books aside, the other great passion in my life is horses and I organise riding holidays for foreign guests here, which are a lot of fun. I think I’d be pretty good at fishing, though I wouldn’t enjoy killing the poor things, and of course organising a cool place in the stream or lake to stash the beers that I am sure you are going to leave me. If not, I will definitely be bringing some of my own. I think I’ll take a hammock (I have one here), which I find a wonderful place for relaxing and reading. Also a very good camera, to take some great shots of the beautiful landscapes and hopefully some wildlife. As for books, it had better be something meaty if I’m going to be there for a month. So I will certainly take some Charles Dickens, especially The Pickwick Papers, which never ceases to make me smile, then Ulysses by James Joyce and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, whose romance and tragedy would carry me far away when life in the cabin got too lonely. I’m actually going through a bit of a Russian phase right now, so I would probably put Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Stalin in my bag too. That’s sitting in my pile of books to read, but it’s more than 700 pages, so it’s hard to find the time in my normal routine.
Talk about your book individually.
Chickens Eat Pasta is really my story, though it’s written more as a novel than an autobiography. It’s the tale of how one day, completely out of the blue, I made the rather strange decision to buy this old wreck of a house in what was then a very little known and quite remote part of Italy. And although I was totally bewitched by the 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. 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 or American 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…
What do you want readers to think or feel after reading your book?
I would like them to care about the characters in the book – and that doesn’t just mean me, by the way, as there are a number of other characters who more or less creep onto the stage and almost steal the show. For me, that’s one of the litmus tests for any book I read. If I care about the people who I come to know in the pages, whether they are good, bad, funny or tragic, then I am far more likely to keep on reading and to remember the book afterwards. I would also like readers to imagine that they are there in this spectacularly beautiful, though quite remote and at times forbidding, corner of rural Italy. And I would be very happy indeed if anyone felt inspired by my story to try changing a part of their lives that they no longer found satisfying, or do something life-changing on the spur of the moment, as I did. Judging from some of the comments and reviews I’ve had so far, I think I’ve managed to achieve most of these goals for quite a few readers, and I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful that feels.
What influenced your decision to self-publish?
I had quite a few small, independent publishers in the UK who said they were interested in the book. But the whole process dragged on and on, and I think the traditional publishing industry has become very tame, and really only interested in surefire commercial successes. Of course there are trends too, and I was told more than once that I’d missed the moment after books such as A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun. That’s my fault for not getting my act together earlier, but I had a busy career and a young family.
Actually, Chickens Eat Pasta is very different from the Under the Tuscan Sun kind of book. That’s partly because I was so very young when I started on this adventure – just 26. And it’s partly because it’s more of a warts-and-all account of my move to another country, not a syrupy tale of unblemished happiness. I had some extraordinarily happy times, and met some truly wonderful people, many of whom have become lifelong friends. But there were also some quite dark moments and situations, especially for a young woman on her own, in the middle of nowhere. And the sun doesn’t always shine in that part of Italy. In fact, in the winter, it can be really quite bleak and extremely cold, though always unfailingly beautiful.
Going back to your question about publishing – at the end of the day, I got to the point where I just wanted to get the book out there. It was my agent who recommended going down the self-publishing path. At first, I was slightly reluctant, as I associated it with vanity publishing. How wrong can you be! Things are changing in the publishing industry and I am very happy indeed that I made that decision.
What do you find to be the greatest advantage of self-publishing?
Self-publishing, of course gives you tremendous freedom, and also a far greater degree of control. If you think a passage or a character in your book should stay the way it is, there is no question of it having to be changed, because you are in charge. The same goes for the cover, and for how it is marketed, although of course that is rather a double-edged sword. I think the truly liberating thing is that the shame has gone out of self-publishing. Everyone is doing it, and some highly successful authors now start out that way. So that is really good news for the creative writing sector per se, and especially for authors, many of whom have terrific products to offer but were being stifled because they didn’t tick the right box or fit into the publishing trend of that particular moment.
Conversely, what do you think self-published authors might be missing out on?
As anyone who has self-published is painfully aware, the downside is that you are left very much on your own when it comes to selling the fruits of all your hard work. When they write ‘The End’ on the last page of their book, I don’t think many authors immediately reflect on the very hard slog that awaits them to get the book known, and therefore bought by the general public. This problem is definitely compounded by the fact that most writers, like many creative people, are not given to trumpeting about their own achievements or making canny commercial decisions. Fortunately, there is an incredibly supportive community of book bloggers and other social media outlets, which is developing in tandem with the self-publishing industry itself. Tapping this rich source is probably an indie author’s best option these days, but it’s a steep learning curve, and extremely time consuming, as I myself have discovered.
Who designed your book cover/s?
This is rather a lovely story in its own right, and I am happy to say that I have received a great deal of compliments for the cover. 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
Do you believe that self-published authors can produce books as high-quality as the traditional published? If so, how do you think we should go about that?
Yes I do, absolutely, at least if you are talking about the production side of things, as opposed to the content. I have no patience with poorly presented written work of any kind, and I don’t see why self-published books have to be full of typos, or have hideous covers. I went to great lengths to ensure that my own manuscript was perfect, and with spellchecking and editing tools, there is really no excuse any more. I also went to quite a lot of trouble to find a publisher who would produce a professional product, by which I mean quality paper and an attractive typeface, a good binding – so it doesn’t all fall apart after a few days – and of course a well designed and produced book cover. It may mean paying a little more, but I am convinced it’s worth it. And I see that quite a few indie publishing companies are now getting very choosy about what they will and won’t take on, as they don’t want their reputation soured by shoddy products.
Where can readers find you and your books?
Facebook book page https://www.facebook.com/Chickens-Eat-Pasta-376747612525269/?ref=hl
Blog (about the story behind the book): https://chickenseatpasta.wordpress.com/