The Art of Writing

A Writers Retreat in Tuscany

Tag: cultural differences (page 1 of 2)

Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.

I am enormously fortunate to live a life rich with pickings for my writing. Scene ideas for my novel are never far away because for an Australian girl, everything I live here in Tuscany is unusual and interesting.

Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.Last weekend I went up to cousin Vanni’s farm in Casentino, the mountains of Eastern Tuscany. We made sausages, pancetta, capocollo, capaccia, salami, ribs, pork fillet, prosciutto and cotecchino. We spent the day making these ‘salumi’ using every part of half a pig. The process we used has not changed for millennia, apart from the meat grinder – a mincer that in the old days was cranked by hand.

Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.So here’s the tip: in every story something happens. Writers are always looking out for how and where a certain plot event can happen or evolve. I plan to use our ‘salumi’ making scene as an occasion where action takes place. While making our sausages, I took notes, but not your typical notes. My records center on the senses. What we smelt, heard, tasted and the scene’s atmosphere. These are the nuances we forget when we finally have time to sit down and write the scene we witnessed, sometimes even years beforehand.

Here are some of my notes as an example:

  • Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.The smell of wine, vinegar, spices, cinnamon, raw garlic.
  • Cognac like tea drizzled
  • Red wine bubbles with garlic in an ancient pot on the austere stove-top
  • Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.Silence punctuated by steel tubs being rinsed
  • The men hum
  • Bay leaves crackle
  • Fennel sticks and fennel seeds
  • Air is pungent, thick with these smells
  • The men work quietly, humming or breathing heavily through their noses as they work with their tube of sausage, twisting and knotting it into four finger lengths.
  • The women chatter in the kitchen as they pull pasta, mash potatoes with conserve and cinnamon.

This is just a simple example of what you can draw from, later, when you’re ready to write your scene. Can you do this too? Do you do this? Write the smells and sounds to keep ready for when you’re ready to structure your action scene?

Using my own Tuscan life in my new novel.

Why every writer should join a writers group.

There are no excuses anymore. By joining my little writers group in Florence I must write, must edit and must listen to my fellow writer’s thoughts and advice. Why didn’t I do this earlier?

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.My writers group lets me know what is not clicking. So often we think our readers will understand, that they will ‘get’ what we’ve written. But my writers group lets me know that, actually, they didn’t pick up the thread because I wasn’t clear enough, or didn’t explain enough. Yes, it’s a little daunting, scary, being picked apart but it’s so good for your work! Your writing group sees where you can extrapolate. They let you know whether your story is engaging or not. My last question to my fellow writers this week was ‘do you want to know more?’ and that, as a writer, is what we are aiming for, no? Are you hooking your readers? Are they bored? Overwhelmed? Disinterested?

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.I must say, I had put off joining any kind of writers group for years. It’s my first time. Funny, huh, after four books and finally on my fifth that I now know I need fresh takes, readers, second opinions. Probably because this is my first Fiction book, while the others were all Creative Non-Fiction. I cannot recommend sharing with a writers group highly enough. Especially if you are embarking on a new form of writing, like I am.

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.Am I being narcissistic also adding that the thought of plagiarism within writers groups also scared me? I had heard of writers sharing their work, only to have ideas copied, concepts imitated and phrases plagiarized. But I flattered myself. Their work is fantastic! Who did I think I was? They’re amazing! My work is paltry compared to theirs.

Check your library or local arts group for any writers that meet up. Start a Google Docs Sharing session so you can all post your work, and pick the month to upload your work.

Go on, do yourself a favor and force yourself to diarize, write, share and enjoy writing with other people. Regularly!

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.

How to make strong, memorable characters your readers won’t forget.

Make strong, memorable characters your readers won't forget.When writing Death in the Mountains, I made sure to give each member of my 1907 poor Tuscan family a characteristic or quality that made each person memorable.

  • Bruna liked to touch things. She was so in sync with the land and farming environment around her that she was tactile with the things she grew, made and created.
  • Artemio had bandy legs, a leftover from soft bones due to a lack of Vitamin D and rickets in his youth. He was swaddled and left inside for months without the sun. A common disorder of Tuscan babies in the past.
  • Fiamma was a fire brand, like her name which means flame.
  • Mario was violent and exuded anger like a perfume. Because of this characteristic he ultimately beat up the farm’s overseer. You can imagine the problems that caused!
  • Maria was beautiful.
  • Silvio hated wearing shoes.
  • Pasquale was only ever mentioned as ‘baby Pasquale.’

Make strong, memorable characters your readers won't forget.And onwards for each character within the pages of Death in the Mountains.

Giving each character at least one mannerism is a process that many writers follow. It helps writers dig more deeply into a character, enlarge upon or extrapolate the person or the location. It also helps readers remember your characters, no matter how big or small their part in your story.

What mannerisms or habits have your protagonist’s history given him/her? What kind of impact does that have on your story or scene?

Make strong, memorable characters your readers won't forget.The Italians are fascinated by beautiful women, more so than other nationalities that I have encountered. They LOVE a beautiful woman; they venerate ‘bella.’ Making Maria absolutely drop dead gorgeous helped me examine the Italians attitude to beauty. It helped me form Maria’s character; it even helped me create the narrative and plot line for the book. Who could fall in love with her? What impact would that have on the family? How did Maria feel about being so beautiful? Did she see the impact that she had on people? How did it feel for her father, Artemio, to go into town or church with a daughter that everybody stared at and talked about? How would Mario, Maria’s aggressive, troubled brother feel about her beauty? Was he protective of her?

Make strong, memorable characters your readers won't forget.In the end, giving Maria that physical characteristic of beauty helped me write a much better book. Her beauty gave me ideas, outcomes, reactions, actions, scenes.

In my next Blog I’ll look at the difference between superficial and deep characterization.

Follow me on Facebook and Instagram too for my new #WriteTipWednesday! Every Wednesday I’ll give a writer’s tip and then examine the issue more deeply with my Friday Blog.

If you’re interested in reading more about the rural life of Tuscany’s past, check this post out on Nonna.
Make strong, memorable characters your readers won't forget.

Keeping a character bible is the only way I can truly know my characters.

thumbnail_b2918e19018fad4042214c815df298c6Thriller and suspense writer, Conrad Williams, ran a fabulous class on character building during The Art of Writing this June. It was especially helpful for me because my two protagonists are American and, being Australian, it’s not easy to really know them instinctively, intuitively, and innately.

Enter the Character Bible.

Character defines us, helps us understand motive and convinces and persuades our readers. If we don’t know our protagonists deeply, the story becomes unbelievable and flawed. Character is what observers see in us. And it’s one of the first things a literary agent or publisher will look for in your manuscript – believable characters that respond and react according to their character.

Here is a quick checklist that doesn’t focus on the obvious. Do you know the answers to ALL these questions? How well do you know your character?

  • What kind of house do they live in?thumbnail_432374eeb9e5095840cabc53e59d2c5c
  • What kind of car do they drive?
  • Are they overweight or underweight or fitness freaks or lazy?
  • What kind of food do they like?
  • Kids? Strict? Easy going?
  • Their key relationships are with? (Very important because it can help with plot)
  • Education?
  • Work history?
  • Hobbies?
  • Birthday? How would they like to celebrate? How do they celebrate?
  • Special present they give? Like to receive?
  • Religion?
  • Profession?

thumbnail_art-of-writing-affirmation-03I didn’t know the answers to a lot of these questions and frankly, as I work through my new book, I am still looking for the answers to these questions (watch out American friends, I’ll be emailing you with questions). Unless my publisher advises me to make this protagonist couple Australian for marketing purposes, they will remain American. Till then, I’ll continue to track down a good understanding of them.

Do you have any other character traits to add to this list? Would love to hear your thoughts!

DESC: Agriturismo Corsignano ARTICLE NAME: USAGE: PRESS USAGE: 1st published DATE: TERRITORY: Australia and its territories ONLY PUBLICATION: MAGAZINE © 2009 Vincent L Long (PRESS USAGE: 90 days from date of first publication date ONLY) NB: Images may not be stored digitally, either in original format OR as a copy and must be removed from publisher’s archive immediately after publication. Image files may not be placed into publisher’s stock libraries or sublicensed or onsold to any third party libraries and are supplied for one time editorial use ONLY. Reproduction fees must be agreed with Vincent L Long BEFORE USE. Usage Rights subject to FULL payment of relevant invoice(s) MANDATORY ACCREDITATION MUST READ: © Vincent L Long

Food, Florence and Photography. How did Emiko Davies wind up writing a cook book?

Food, Florence and Photography. How did Emiko Davies wind up writing a cook book?

It’s not every day that a friend publishes a gorgeous cook book on all things Florentine. But Emiko Davies has done it! With a superb take on dishes like gnudi, papa al pomodoro, panzanella and patate alla Contadina, Emiko is working right now on her second book, Maremma. Not only is she creating and styling everything in her kitchen, Emiko is also doing loads of the photography for both books herself. No small feat.

But how does writing and photographing a cook book happen? Looking back on life, what ingredients made Emiko’s journey into a recipe that ultimately equipped her for the perfect moment to write and shoot a cook book? It’s something that fascinates me. How our lives, whether we know it or not, are preparing us for wonderful opportunities. Loved talking this week to Emiko about her voyage into the world of cooking.

All photos are copyright Emiko Davies. For information on how to buy her book, visit her website at

Food, Florence and Photography. How did Emiko Davies wind up writing a cook book?Have you always loved cooking?

As long as I can remember I’ve always loved eating and cooking, equally. I was never a fussy eater and I have always loved doing things with hands (my educational background is in Fine Art, more specifically etching and art restoration, which I feel like are things that are as technical but also as creative as cooking is). I feel very comfortable in a kitchen, it’s the space I most like to sit in whether at home or on holiday or in someone else’s house!

Food, Florence and Photography. How did Emiko Davies wind up writing a cook book?

Emiko Davies

Can you think of a time in your early life when you realised that your career would be so food oriented? A food story of some kind that was your epiphany?

Earlier in my life I thought I’d perhaps be an artist. Or maybe a photographer. As a child, though, for a time I wanted to be a writer and an illustrator. Food was in the side lines, something I loved and turned to when I needed to relax, have fun, make new friends or impress boyfriends. I have moved from country to country my entire life (Australia, China, Japan, the US, Italy) and I always found cooking, comfortingly, something that could connect people across languages and cultures. When it changed from being just a passion to being something more serious was when I started writing my blog five years ago. At the beginning it was just for fun, an outlet that I needed at a time when I was in a real job and identity rut in Florence and things just took off from there.

Food, Florence and Photography. How did Emiko Davies wind up writing a cook book?How/where did you learn to take such gorgeous photos of your dishes? Where did you learn to cook?

I took photography as an elective during my four years at art school (Rhode Island School of Design in Providence), which involved mostly mucking around in a darkroom and occasionally producing something properly exposed. It wasn’t until I dove into a more intense photography course, still black and white film and still focused on darkroom photography, in Florence in 2006, that I really began to fully understand how to use a camera. I was using vintage cameras from the 50s and even the 1920s. When I decided to start a blog, I knew I’d had to make the jump and the investment to a digital camera — it was, still is, a huge learning curve, especially the editing side of things (so far I am fully self-taught!). Learning to cook was easier. I can remember standing on a stool next to my grandmother at her stove in Sydney, while she showed me how to make scrambled eggs — proper butter, and remove the pan from the heat before it’s finished cooking so the eggs don’t overcook. I was given my first cookbook as a child, and many a picnic was inspired by it. I devoured cookbooks and cooking magazines throughout high school and university. I just always loved being in the kitchen, making things.

Food, Florence and Photography. How did Emiko Davies wind up writing a cook book?

What inspired you to write Florentine, as in, why Florence?

Food, Florence and Photography. How did Emiko Davies wind up writing a cook book?It really was Florence that inspired the cookbook. I had lived there nearly 7 years when the idea for the cookbook came about. It was the place I had lived longer than any other city in my life, the place where I met my husband, where we got married and where I started the blog. It was the place where I fell madly in love with Italian food culture. In short, the place where it all started. It was also the topic I felt most comfortable with. Also, a properly written cookbook about Florence, only Florence, had never been done in English before. I wanted to write that book.

Food, Florence and Photography. How did Emiko Davies wind up writing a cook book?Looking back in retrospect, what was the work opportunity that changed your life?

I had just finished a three year degree in book and paper restoration at Palazzo Spinelli in Florence when I was given a job as a conservator at the Alinari Museum archives, one of Europe’s most important photographic collections. It seemed like a dream come true until the head conservator suddenly quit one day, and I was left looking after it all, on my own — but with an intern’s salary, which couldn’t even cover my rent. A few months later, I was forced to quit the job to work behind a reception desk — an easy, well-paid but soul-sucking job. I spent the days bored out of my mind, looking forward to what I was going to cook for dinner, or planning what winery or beautiful town with their wonderful local dishes to visit on the weekend. It was being in this situation and needing a creative outlet and something to look forward to that made me decide to start a food blog. I think if I had been doing something more fulfilling, I may never have bothered to start my blog.

Food, Florence and Photography. How did Emiko Davies wind up writing a cook book?How did you go about getting this book published?

I was sitting in my kitchen one day (it’s where you will always find me), when I got an email from a publisher in London who had read my blog asking if I’d like to write a cookbook. I couldn’t believe it. It took months of emailing, a visit to London and a pitch (Florence, of course) with recipes and chapters and photographs to illustrate what I had in mind. Six months later, I signed the contract with the Melbourne office of the publisher, Hardie Grant.

Over the next 18 months, the book was made, with my photographs of Florence (many black and white film — I couldn’t help myself), plenty of historical anecdotes and research, family recipes and favourite trattoria or bakery dishes, along with beautiful food photographs by Lauren Bamford, made pretty by Deb Kaloper (dishes that I was busy cooking in the kitchen with Marco, my husband, and Caroline Griffiths, a home economist in Melbourne). It was pretty much identical to the original pitch I sent them.

Learn more about Emiko Davies’ cookbook at


Buzzed to read out loud.

images (1)

After five days in Fez, Morocco, living in a restored riad (typical Moroccan house) in the ancient medina (centre) with a writer who has penned twelve political thrillers, all of them set on the international stage, I was buzzed to get back home and get back into my new book.

Why? Because often my writer host, Sandy McCutcheon, would read his new book to me. We would sit in the blue and white tiled courtyard of his Moroccon home, sometimes with the Islamic call to prayer in the background and Sandy would read his new manuscript out loud.


The wonderful process of reading work out loud was one I had entirely forgotten. It’s incredibly rewarding to both the writer and listener to hear the pages. I know it can feel embarrassing, even odd, to give voice to new words but if we can overcome the awkwardness the writer is rewarded with many benefits.



A writer benefits from reading their work aloud because they:

Understand with fresh insight whether their structure and syntax is working or not


Hear the rhythm of their phrases, punctuation and how it’s all working with sentence construction

Get the sense of whether their suspense is paced correctly

Appreciate more fully whether character development is rational and believable or contrasting and contrived.

Reading aloud encourages, inspires and motivates all concerned.


In writing news from Florence, an on-line magazine for Tuscan based writers has been established. Called The Sigh Press editors are looking for Italian themed and Tuscan based stories.

Read more about Sandy and the Art of Writing retreat in Fez planned for November.



Great time to be an expatriate writer


About seven years ago I wrote a story for Newswrite on how being an expatriate writer was not all it’s cracked up to be. The article focused on the silent, negative aspects of living and writing overseas because at the time non-fiction tales of leaving home and relocating to far-away lands stacked slush piles and crammed book shelves. It seemed then that no-one was being truly honest about the complexities and challenges of writing from deep within another culture.

It is wonderful now that technology has totally revolutionized every single one of the down sides listed all those years ago. Compared to a decade ago, expat writers are connected, supported, driven, social and competitive. All this because we are probably more plugged into the web than any other writing community.

My former article looked at several long distance issues, especially loneliness. And I am not talking about the David Malouf kind of Tuscan expat writing, where he says that ‘taking himself out of ordinary daily life’ helps him to see things more clearly. I’m talking about writers who make their livings whilst based permanently overseas. At the end of David Malouf’s foreign sojourn, he goes home. For David, ‘aloneness’ was sought, for long-term overseas authors genuine loneliness was a big problem. And technology has all but eliminated it.

After four books, countless articles and sixteen years writing alone in my office in Florence, Italy, I now belong to several expat writers’ internet networks. Before this new ease of communication my enthusiasm would often flag due to little contact with the English world. Now however, it feels as though the members of Facebook’s Florence Writers, #Xpat Writers Network (in Italy) and Creative People in Florence are with me at my desk, cheering me on. Our professionally based on-line friendships have resulted in the Florence Writers Group, where we support and encourage each other as well as invite English speaking authors to talk. English speaking Literary Lunches are normal enough at home, but were only dreamt of in Italy because of the lack of connection between writers.

Sydney born, France based author of Harper Collins’ Escaping and Lavender and Linen, Henrietta Taylor says her major communication problem is language. Henrietta suffers from a common, long term overseas resident’s affliction; she’s losing her English. ‘My difficulty is that I speak French most of the day so when I am writing I have to constantly read in English and watch English TV to get back into the groove of finding words that are hidden in the drawers in the back corners of my brain.’ Podcasts, Book Show video interviews, vlogs, blogs and Iphone Talking Books help us maintain our mother tongues now. Obviously English writers in non-English speaking backgrounds read a lot to avoid vocabulary recall erosion but it used to be impossible to quickly locate and buy new English books – for leisure or research. Kindle has resolved that problem.

Foreign isolation affected Australian born Michelle Lovric too. Author of five novels and New York Times bestseller Love Letters, Michelle lives in Venice. Although she cannot easily do promotional tours, writer’s talks or book presentations, distance has not affected her book sales. ‘My last novel, The Book of Human Skin, was a TV Book Club pick. It received a huge number of reviews on Amazon and was a book club choice.’ Michelle says internet technology made her book more visible than if she flew home for interviews.

Another challenge overcome is that there is now far more leniency towards non-Australian residents entry into Australian literary competitions. Entrants must be Australian citizens but there is not as much exclusion of those who live overseas. The internet has opened up a large number of web based literary awards too and the content brief is far broader. In electronic competitions there is no focus on fostering Australian talent by demanding Australian content – a pulse long term non-residents lost years ago – so we are matched fairly on-line.

Former ABC journalist and author of twelve novels, Sandy McCutcheon loves being immersed in Fez, Morocco, where he moved seven years ago.  He says his greatest relocation problem was technological. ‘Internet cafes afforded the only way of getting on line. Now, thankfully, that has changed. Even in the deep Medina our house has been rewired to provide WiFi in all the rooms as well as the larger courtyard and two terrace spaces.’

Sandy McCutcheon adds that many expat Australian and New Zealand writers and artists choose to live outside their home countries because there is great value in immersing yourself in other cultures. ‘It affords the writer a fresh perspective, new material and a chance to reflect on their own culture from a distance.’ His sentiments are in harmony with a great many Australian expatriate writers, who say they need to disconnect, to go away. Living in another world provokes fresh observations, feelings and story lines. For those who chose to leave home either for a short term or long term overseas writing experience, the technological support to achieve your writing dreams has never been so great.

Stairs Flier 2014 LOWRES

Need to feed, healing through food. minestrone hearty

I am a feeder and being a feeder is different to being a good cook. Firstly, I admit to finding great joy in feeding people, whilst I would never say I was a great cook. Secondly, being a feeder is about knowing that the feedee is being nurtured, comforted, cared for, full, content and healthy. Great cooks like that feeling too but I think while a feeder enjoys the process of preparing the food, their real satisfaction comes from watching the feedee eat the food, rather than in the actual preparation of the meal.

It could be argued that living in Italy has made me more of a feeder than if I had always lived in my home country of Australia. I may have ended up being a feeder but never, and I am positive about this, to the same extent.

My Italian mother-in-law lives food. Food dictates the unfurling of her day. Cooking creates the structure of her day. The lunch and dinner menu is discussed at breakfast. Then what is needed to feed the family is bought today; yesterday’s menu plan is reorganized so that left-overs fit today’s recipes and tomorrow’s meal needs are anticipated.

It seems I have absorbed the Italian way of food and feeding with no conscious striving or understanding.

With dad in hospital, I take him food. Oddly enough it’s Italian food he craves. Salami, pizza, soups and crusty bread with cheese.

A fixation with cauliflower and leek soup soon enveloped me. The cauliflower soup obsession was shortly followed by a fresh chicken noodle broth fixation then a lentil and minestrone passion. Like nonna, I had to structure my day around shopping for these dishes, cooking and feeding them to dad. As they cook, a feeder envisions their feedee sitting up in bed growing strong on their food. Dad gained comfort from being fed but I wouldn’t be surprised if I gained more comfort from feeding him.

Maybe all this feeding is simply maternal or paternal extinct. Why a person needs to feed doesn’t matter in the end. What really matters is that food helps heal my father. And it also helps heal me.

To tell you the truth…


To be honest, I am in Australia to see my father. The dreaded phone call, the call that every expatriate fears, came through last week. ‘Come home, dad’s had a fall, broken his hip and he’s not doing well.’ Coupled with his cancer, dad’s fall clearly had serious health consequences.

Within twenty-four hours of the call I was on a plane to Sydney, tears falling as the plane taxied out of Florence, Rome and then Hong Kong. Finally thirty-seven hours later, I was in Australia.

For all our love of living in Italy or France or wherever in the world you feel you’ve found your heartfelt peace, leaving your elderly parents for a faraway land is more difficult than can be imagined.

Stents around the heart and a hip replacement later, Dad is, thankfully, fine now. He’s a battler. The kind of old school father that doesn’t complain. He worries more about you flying out from Italy than about his difficulty breathing. The kind of man who wears jaunty red cravats, uses handkerchiefs rather than tissues, enjoys a good hat, a fine whiskey and an excellent documentary about either war, dad’s generation is disappearing. The dignity, distinction, poise, manners and charm of the men born in the first three or four decades of the twentieth century are fading away. Their kind will never return.

Someday soon we will see dad and his old fashioned, gentleman kind of contemporaries only in movies and books. They are the Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, Walter Matthau and Leo McKern characters of our lifetimes. And it’s the end of that era.

I am blessed to have that kind of man in my life.

App Writing prompts could they work? Art of Writing


Working with emerging and established writers for The Art of Writing retreats I am always on the search for new ideas that help us with our stories and words. Then, this week whilst browsing writers blogs I stumbled across this feature;

10 apps to Help You Stay Focussed on Your Writing.

The feature was in one of my favourite Blogs; Writing, Reading and Publishing in the Digital Age, by Jane Friedman.

Jane’s collection of writing apps was a guest post by Frances Caballo, a social media strategist and manager for writers, and the author of Avoid Social Media TimeSuck, among other titles. Such a great title for a book so how could I resist checking out the apps?

The writing App that hooked me (you’ll will find one that works for your individual needs), was the Character Prompt. No doubt because I’ve been blogging about Character Development. But an App to help you develop and know your character? Incredible! Imagine if I showed this App to Henry James? Am reading his Turn of the Screw right now so he springs immediately to mind. I wonder what these wonderful writers of classic literature would have thought of all the instant help we can access at the touch of a button. But I digress.

The App asks you questions about your character, such as, what is their bad habit? Fashion style? Hobby? Favourite saying? D.O.B? And on it goes – 150 questions to help you flesh out and understand your character.

You might like to check the Apps out and give one a go. Building a book takes time. I find I am constantly reflecting upon my new book. It’s all consuming. So when you’re sitting on the train, stuck in a traffic jam, having your Sunday morning coffee or waiting for your kids to finish swimming it might be good to have some prompts. I am going to buy the character prompt because I think it might flow onto scene and dialogue ideas that will help flesh my ideas/book out. For example, if my character’s bad habit is constantly jiggling the change in his pocket how does he feel about money? Is he skint, tight, loose with his money? How can that push my story along?

Also, if you missed it on my Facebook page, join in with The Art of Writing Give-Away. Share the Art of Writing poster as much as you can on Facebook and I will send you a signed copy of The Promise. Nonna will draw the winner next Thursday.

Stairs Flier 2014 LOWRES

Older posts

© 2017 The Art of Writing

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑