My thanks go out to the lovely Katie Olsen from ‘Little Bird Publicity‘, who organised for me to read this intriguing and interesting sounding book and who arranged for me to ‘meet’ with author Rhys Bowen as part of the promotional tour for ‘The Tuscan Child’.
So, without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Rhys…
Hi! My Name Is RHYS BOWEN
The British climate forced me to escape to Australia, where I worked for Australian Broadcasting before meeting my future husband, a fellow Brit who was on his way to California, which is where I settled, raised my family and have lived ever since, although I now spend my winters in Arizona.
My books have made bestseller lists, garnered many awards, nominations, and starred reviews. I am a New York Times bestselling mystery author, winner of both Agatha and Anthony awards and have been nominated for the Edgar Best Novel.
When I am not writing, I also love to travel, sing, sketch, hike and play my Celtic harp.
Keep up with all the latest news on my website
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‘THE TUSCAN CHILD‘ is my latest stand alone novel
In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal.
Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation.
Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now…
IN CONVERSATION WITH AUTHOR RHYS BOWEN
Q: This novel takes place in both the 1940s, where readers get glimpses of Hugo Langley’s experience as a soldier in World War II, and the 1970s, where we follow Hugo’s daughter Joanna as she tries to unpack the mystery of her father’s life. Where did you get the idea for this two-part, multigenerational narrative, and how did you go about balancing the narrative between the two difference eras?
A: I have always loved books that take place in multiple time periods, but this was a challenge for me, as I’d never tried to write that kind of story myself. But I’d been dying to write about Tuscany, where I was writer-in-residence last summer and will be again next summer. So the place is already special to me, and I thought it would be fun to write a mystery about what happened to Joanna’s father in WWII.
As to balancing the narratives: I wrote Hugo’s story first, then Joanna’s story. Then I physically placed the chapters in Joanna’s story all the way down my hallway and decided where to slot in Hugo’s chapters. It worked well!
In fact it is Hugo’s story which opens the book, so here are the opening lines which ‘Fiction Books’ shared in ‘Book Beginnings On Friday’
He was going to die, that was quite obvious. Hugo Langley tried to examine this fact dispassionately.
The left wing of the Blenheim bomber was on fire and flames licked at the cabin. Behind him, his navigator, Flight Lieutenant Phipps, lay slumped forward over his instruments. A trickle of blood ran down one side of his face, seeping from under his flight helmet. And Gunner Blackburn was already dead, shot in the rear gun bay by the first wave of Messerschmitts.
Hugo wasn’t sure whether he himself had been hit. Adrenaline was still pumping so violently through his system that it was hard to tell. He stared down at his blood-spattered trousers, wondering if the blood was his own or came from Phipps.
Q: Joanna is a wonderful female protagonist. What was your inspiration for her character, and how does she differ from some of your other leading ladies?
A: Some of my leading ladies have been feisty and had great support groups. Joanna is different in that she’s more vulnerable: she has grown up without a mother, in a difficult environment, and we meet her at a low point in her life. So the challenge was not to make her a victim but to allow her to rise and triumph through her own efforts.
Q: Much of this book takes place in Tuscany in the 1940s and 1970s — what kind of research did you have to do to write about this area and those time periods authentically? Did you travel to Italy while doing research for the novel and if so, what did that involve?
A: I’ve been to Tuscany several times, starting when I travelled with my aunt first in my teens, then my 20s. So I had actually been in Italy around the time Joanna visited. I stayed with my husband in my college friend’s flat near Cortona one year and played at being an Italian housewife (which worked well until I went to the butcher to order a chicken, and I got the whole bird, including head and feet!) And as I mentioned, I was writer-in-residence conducting a workshop in Chianti last year. The professor who runs the workshop is from an old Tuscan family, so I used him to check my facts.
As for getting everything right about WWII, I stayed with other college friends in Lincolnshire and visited WWII airbases that are now museums. I looked at planes, parachutes, letters home, helmets, and flight suits, and I met experts who told me more than I actually needed to know about the Blenheim Bomber (experts are always keen to share their subject!).
Q: Your last novel, In Farleigh Field, also focused on World War II. What do you find so fascinating about that period in history, and why do you think it makes for such a rich setting for writers of historical fiction?
A: I have always found the era fascinating, I suppose because I was born in the middle of it and my family had to endure it. I grew up with tales of bombings, of my father’s experiences in Egypt with the Eighth Army, and I was always impressed with how matter-of-fact the stories were. People were so brave and took it for granted that they should do “their bit” to win the war, whatever it took.
I think it resonates with readers particularly now that we are going through a troubled time. Many people feel insecure, and we don’t know where our world is heading. So it’s comforting to read about a period when the good guys did win!
‘IN FARLEIGH FIELD‘
World War II comes to Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the estate. After his uniform and possessions raise suspicions, MI5 operative and family friend Ben Cresswell is covertly tasked with determining if the man is a German spy. The assignment also offers Ben the chance to be near Lord Westerham’s middle daughter, Pamela, whom he furtively loves. But Pamela has her own secret: she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking facility.
As Ben follows a trail of spies and traitors, which may include another member of Pamela’s family, he discovers that some within the realm have an appalling, history-altering agenda. Can he, with Pamela’s help, stop them before England falls?
Inspired by the events and people of World War II, writer Rhys Bowen crafts a sweeping and riveting saga of class, family, love, and betrayal.
Q: While this book is part historical fiction, it also involves a mystery and a long-buried family secret. What do you most enjoy about blending genres like mystery and historical fiction, and why do you think they pair together so well?
A: History and mystery are a perfect blend! Think of the foggy streets of old London, misty castles, the terrific motives for murder: “I love another, but I am not free!” In this case we have the heightened drama of war: small human interpersonal conflict against the background of world conflict. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Q: When people think about World War II, they often think about it in terms of what happened in Britain, Germany, or France. Italy, on the other hand, is often considered the forgotten front of WWII — what made you want to write a novel that dealt with WWII Italy in particular?
A: I remember visiting a small town that had a memorial to the townspeople massacred by the Germans for hiding partisans. A whole town gunned down! That stuck with me. And I think we tend to forget that Italy suffered twice. Under Mussolini they were sent to fight in Africa and were invaded by the Allies, and then when the population turned and refused to help the Germans, they were literally starved to death and had awful punishments inflicted upon them, while their towns were bombed by the Allies.
Q: We have to ask — what are you working on next?
A: In the New Year I begin yet another stand-alone novel for Lake Union. This one is not about WWII but about WWI. It’s about a young woman who becomes a land girl, against the wishes of her parents, and about a group of women who have to adapt and take over men’s jobs after their husbands and sons are killed on the front. Its title at the moment (which might change) is The Healing Garden.