Come and meet Nina Conte, whose life would be falling apart, were it not for her friends Emma and Jack.
Nina Conte has written three novels and lives in a rambling farmhouse on the outskirts of a beautiful Cornish seaside village with her family and German Shepherd Minnie.
Nina’s life sounds great on paper. Or, more precisely, in her author bio. But, in reality, the farmhouse is crumbling, her gambling ex-husband has run away with all their money, and Nina is just about keeping their (leaking) roof over her children’s heads. The only people she has to count on are her friends, Jack and Emma, the neighbours who live in the houses on either side.
But then her agent and best friend Alice gives her some life-changing news: her very first novel, Written in the Stars, has been picked up by a film producer in Hollywood. And before she knows it, she’s flying her out to LA – kids in tow – to meet the producers.
To Nina’s surprise, Luke O’Hara, Hollywood heartthrob and dashing single dad, is head of the project and he insists on having it his way, or the entire deal goes up in smoke. He wants her to co-write the screenplay with him – and he’ll move to Cornwall with his daughter to do it.
All of Nina’s wildest dreams have come true. But is this new life what she really wants?
An utterly relatable and charming new romance perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Paige Toon.
(or, My Sicilian Nonna Carmelina’s Broom and Cassina)
If you’re of Italian descent like me or have ties to Sicily, then you’ll know that, just like a (good) witch, a Sicilian woman’s power is in, among other things, her broom.
Of course, today modern Sicilian women can run rings around you with their Smart cars, Smartphones and smart wardrobe and are totally into the newest gadgets, fashions and even relationship trends. But their grandmothers- mine especially- were the mistresses of their homes, rising at the crack of dawn to keep their domain clean.
To do so unhindered, my Nonna used to send my Nonno Peppe off to the countryside to work in his artichoke patch and I very distinctly remember him arriving in the evening, tooting the horn on his artichoke-laden moped, as cheery as ever. Some husbands, however, were not as industrious as my Nonno. When the midday heat got too much to bear, other men would hit the piazza, or local square, yacking away about the price of local produce or the new barber until lunchtime.
My oldest memory of Nonna’s house was the fragrance of her polpette, fried balls of meat or potato and sometimes, if it had been a good year, both. A constant ingredient was parsley. It was the fragrance of things made with love.
After lunch, the men and children would retire, while the women continued their housework, and when you saw them finally pouring water from a pail and scrubbing their sidewalks, you knew they were done for the day and that you weren’t allowed inside for at least thirty minutes. Not that you’d be in the street at that ungodly hour when the temperature can reach 45 degrees Celsius.
Not only was Nonna’s broom an instrument of cleanliness, it was an instrument of power. You would know if, like me, you’d been swatted on the bottom with it because you’d been caught with your nose in the special snacks cupboard just before lunch or if you spilled anything on the sofa. No matter how fast you ran, Nonna, despite all odds, could run faster.
Another fond memory is that of my Nonna’s cassina, the forerunner of today’s blinds, also called persiane or veneziane, Italian forPersian or Venetian blinds.
The cassina is simply a sheet of wooden slats strung together so as when it is rolled down in front of an open door, it lets in little light and even less heat. Perfect for those sizzling Sicilian afternoons when everyone is much too weak to stay awake. So down the cassina goes, a sign that you must not disturb that household. It also, incidentally, keeps out bugs.
Some women go half-way, resting a chair under the cassina so that it bows slightly out, leaving you enough room to quietly slip out or family members (or very close neighbours) to slip in without waking the husbands. Great for clandestine relationships if the guy was brave enough to face the heat!
After our afternoon siestas, during the Vespri, I remember, as a child, being told to wash and change into my evening clothes as it was time to entertain visitors.
So we’d whip out our good chairs (all six of them!) and place them on the sidewalk (there wasn’t much traffic back in those days) and wait for our aunts, uncles and cousins (and possibly Salvatore, that hunky friend of theirs!) to come over and chew the breeze. All the Nonnas, mine included, would have their fans at the ready (a smaller, yet still powerful version of the broom) and discuss the latest scandals of the town, halting their talks momentarily to nod to a passerby that was, by a strange twist of fate, the very object of their gossip.
But if you had a good reputation and were popular, stopping to say hello could be a fatal error as a chair would be pulled out for you (the youngest would have to give his/her up) and you’d be offered a lemon granita or a frozen espresso and wherever you were headed would have to wait, as it was rude to turn down a chair.
Being one of the youngest, I’d almost always have to give up my chair for some old dear, but I didn’t mind as I could secretly, from behind the cassina, wait for or watch hunky Salvatore hanging around on his Vespa.
My Nonna’s cassina was different from anyone else’s because hers was not the customary brown or emerald green, but a lovely dark blue. After she died I inherited it (along with her night stand and a silk scarf which I guard with my life) and stashed it in the garage for years. Then one day (it was a very hot day in early July), I unrolled it, dusted it and wiped it down with a damp cloth. All those years of hanging in the sun had faded the lovely blue paint that had set it apart from all the other households. So I went out and bought a small can of lovely dark blue paint and got to work.
Friends, aunts, uncles, cousins (even Salvatore, slightly less hunky today) say, “What are you doing with that old thing? Times have changed, you want to update your house, not make it look like Nonna’s!”
I shrug, not interested in other people’s opinions. So what if my house looks a little retro? The idiots who’d opted for modern, metal blinds are baking as we speak, while I am breezy behind my Nonna’s ancient cassina.
You might think that summer has been long coming where you live, but here in Sicily it is already absolutely baking! It’s not a question of Is it summer again, but, alas, Is it STILL summer?
While my northern counterparts are up there complaining about the cold, the rain and the drizzle and Why the heck doesn’t the weather improve, I’m already in short sleeves and dreading the summer! Not because I don’t like being off from work for a while, mind you, but because of the heat!
And that brings me to the crux of the matter: my bursting wardrobe…
Luckily my house has plenty of wardrobe space so I don’t need to put away my winter clothes to make space for my summer wardrobe.
Having said that, yesterday I counted (no, I wasn’t bored- I was just curious about the sudden drop in my finances!) all my summer clothes/ dresses and I think it’s safe to say that my forty (good) dresses would cover anyone’s summer span, especially in England!
But in Sicily?
In a country that is so fashion-minded, where you couldn’t possibly be seen in the same thing twice, that would only get you through, what- forty days? Namely from 1st April and to 10th May. So what about 11th-31st May? AND JuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctober?
That, my friends, is my argument whenever my husband asks me if I’m wearing yet ANOTHER new dress. It’s so hot here that you need to change at least three/ four times a day:
Here’s a sample of my couture regime on a typical day off in Sicily:
Morning: You need a sundress for your morning stroll through the market in Vittoria to buy fresh veggies (well, that’s my excuse. Then I disappear off to the stalls selling women’s clothing, of course!). By the time you get home you’re soaked, so you change into your house-dress (which is an old rag so doesn’t count. But still…).
Lunch: If you’re going to Ragusa Ibla for lunch, or to Punta Secca for some delicious Sicilian fish, you need another outfit- possibly cool, white linen to fend off the heat.
After lunch and a siesta, you wake up with a hankering for ice-cream, right? So it’s another shower and another outfit change. And while you’re out, you bump into your friends at Edoardo’s ice-cream parlour and decide to hook up for an evening on the town later. But you can’t wear what you’ve been wearing all afternoon, can you? This dress is already old by Sicilian standards! So there you have it- at least three changes a day.
And you can’t wear the same shoes with every outfit, can you? But let’s not even GO there.
Some of you might prefer shoes to clothes, granted, but let me tell you this: ever since I went from a UK size 24 to a 16, you can imagine how I went absolutely mad racing around all the shops, both in Italy and the UK for items I’d only dreamt of buying! Being new to the game of OMG it fits and Do they really have my size, you understand it was difficult to put a stop to all that. And after a lifetime of shop assistants shaking their heads with a “Sorry, Miss, we don’t have anything your size…” Now I want it all!
So as the days grow warmer my wardrobe gets fuller and fuller. Even if, to be totally honest, there are times I prefer to sit under the trees in my garden with my husband, the dogs and a good book and not even bother with the world outside. Sometimes life is better wearing my ancient terrycloth nightie…