Not just another romance, but a story of escapism, coincidences, friendship, luck and most of all… love.
Chickens Eat Pasta is the tale of how a young Englishwoman starts a new life after watching a video showing a chicken eating spaghetti in a mediaeval hill village in central Italy.
“Here I was, 26 years old, alone and numb with boredom at the prospect of a future which until recently had seemed to be just what I wanted.”
Unlike some recent bestsellers, this is not simply an account of a foreigner’s move to Italy, but a love story written from the unusual perspective of both within and outside of the story. As events unfold, the strong storyline carries with it a rich portrayal of Italian life from the inside, with a supporting cast of memorable characters. Along the way, the book explores and captures the warmth and colour of Italy, as well as some of the cultural differences – between England and Italy, but also between regional Italian lifestyles and behaviour. It is a story with a happy ending. The author and her husband are still married, with three children, who love the old house on the hill (now much restored) almost as much as she does.
Chickens Eat Pasta is Clare’s autobiography, and ultimately a love story – with the house itself and with the man that Clare met there and went on to marry. If you yearn for a happy ending, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a story that proves anything is possible if you only try.
I hope you will enjoy this interview.
1. When and where do you prefer to write?
My favourite place to write is the setting for my book – my house just outside the tiny mediaeval hill village of San Massano in southern Umbria. That’s partly because there is total peace and quiet there, so it’s the perfect place to collect your thoughts and write, undisturbed by anything at all. It’s impossible to describe the level of calm and tranquillity, and everyone who visits feels the same, even if they are not writers. But I also enjoy writing there because, as I say, that is the setting for Chickens Eat Pasta, so it just feels absolutely right, and there are the most incredible views from the window, every time I gaze up from my keyboard.
2. Do you have a certain ritual?
I’m a journalist by profession, so one of the very first things that I learned was not to be afraid of the blank page, and by extension, not to be too precious when it comes to conditions for writing. If you have to get a story out within a certain deadline you can’t afford to get worked up about outside factors, such as the ambient noise, the time of day, your mood, or anything else. In a way this has been a great help to me, as it has taught me to just sit down and write regardless, though of course some days it turns out better than others.
3. Is there a drink of some food that keeps you company while you write?
Depending on the time of day, it might be tea – which I buy in large quantities every time I go back to England since Italian tea is pretty awful – or coffee, which of course in excellent in Italy, or a glass of wine. It goes without saying that the wine here is superb, and also very inexpensive. A 5-litre flagon of extremely good local red or white wine costs the equivalent of £8, and because it’s produced locally, it isn’t full of chemical preservatives, so you don’t have a dreadful headache next morning.
4. What is your favourite book?
That is a difficult question, but very high up on the list – so much so that I have bought dozens if copies and given them to various friends – is Pompeii by Robert Harris. It is set in the summer of AD 79, and paints a glorious picture of life in the wealthy resort of Pompeii, in the run up to what would become the cataclysmic eruption of Vesuvius. Harris very cleverly tells the story through the eyes of a young engineer called Marcus Attilius Primus, who notices peculiar problems on the Aqua Augusta, the enormous aqueduct that brings fresh water to a people in nine towns around the Bay of Naples. I won’t spoil the story, though of course we all know what happened to Pompeii itself, but the book is a wonderfully atmospheric account of something that happened more than two thousand years ago, replete with real historical facts and characters, including Pliny the Younger , who witnessed the tragedy but lived to describe the conflagration.
5. Do you consider writing a different genre in the future?
Technically speaking, Chickens Eat Pasta is a memoir, though I think that sounds rather pompous, which is not the spirit of the book at all. But although it is written in the first person, I went to considerable trouble to make my book read more like a novel. And although I am, I suppose, the main protagonist, there are a great many characters, all based on real people, who are probably more memorable than I am. I found this process intriguing, and would very much like to write a real novel in the future. Of course, that too would probably be partly based on first-hand experience, but I think it would be liberating to be able to explore events and characters quite outside my own personal realm.
6. Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
All the characters in my book are based on real people, and I would say that 90 percent of the content is based on real fact. I changed the names of most of the people, as well as the village itself, out of respect for them and the place that has been their home for generations. One of the main characters, called Ercolino in the book, was absolutely thrilled when I gave him a copy, and very quickly worked out who was who, behind the invented names. He was immensely proud of his role in the book, and as anyone has read it would know, he is an extraordinarily engaging character. That was a huge relief to me as I hadn’t been at all sure how he would take it.
7.Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
I used to, but I now find that my phone works just as well, and is often much quicker. I either jot down ideas in the Notes app, or I dictate them into the voice recorder app. Of course, you have to be careful not to lose your phone afterwards, but the same goes for a notebook, and at least with these apps you can forward the content to your email address as a back-up, which I find extremely useful.
8. Which genre do you not like at all?
I’m not mad on sci-fi, though I do make an exception for Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451 is one of my all time favourites, and I am actually developing quite a taste for dystopian novels in general. I am particularly fond of the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
9. If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
That’s an easy one. It would be with Colleen MacMahon, the very talented artist who painted the watercolour that forms the cover of Chickens Eat Pasta. Colleen is one of those extraordinary multi-talented creative people to whom I instinctively drawn. As well as being an accomplished artist she is also an actress, and narrated the audiobook version of Chickens Eat Pasta, and as if that weren’t enough she is an award-winning short story author in her own right. We go back a very long way, and were at junior school together in Bath, where we were inseparable. One of my fondest memories is of sitting next to Colleen in class, and whiling away the boredom of Maths lessons by co-writing an endless epic poem. The game was to each write a stanza, and pass the book back and forth without being spotted by the teacher. So there is no doubt in my mind that co-writing a book with Colleen would be both highly productive and great fun.
10. If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
Well of course Chickens Eat Pasta is set in a foreign country, though it has since become my home, and I can’t think of anywhere that I would rather live. Italy has its faults, and living here is not always easy, but it is a country of great natural and architectural beauty, rich tradition and incredible human warmth. I recently took out Italian citizenship, though I am still English of course, and it was a very proud moment for me when I was handed my huge, beautifully embossed certificate. Of course setting the book in Italy has created a few practical problems, especially for the audiobook version. But Colleen and I got round that obstacle quite neatly by devising a system whereby I dictated all the Italian words and phrases as an audio message on WhatsApp, so that she could practise them before she did the recording. I have to say she has done a remarkable job.
Thank you, Clare Pedrick and Rachel’s Random Resources.
About the author
Clare Pedrick is a British journalist who studied Italian at Cambridge University before becoming a reporter. She went on to work as the Rome correspondent for the Washington Post and as European Editor of an international features agency. She still lives in Italy with her husband, whom she met in the village where she bought her house.
Read her blog about life in Umbria here