In Nicky Pellegrino's new novel, Italian food settles four restless friends.
When I started writing fiction a decade ago, I never imagined for a moment that one day I'd see the publication of my seventh novel. But here it is, The Food Of Love Cookery School (Orion), a tale of four women from different parts of the world who meet on a food holiday in sunny Sicily where they learn far more than how to cook pasta.
Poppy is newly divorced and looking for links with the past. Valerie is in her 60s and believes the best of her life is behind her. Tricia is running away from success and everything it brings. Moll has a secret. And the owner of The Food Of Love Cookery School, handsome but troubled Luca, is going to fall for one of them although it's the last thing he's planning.
People often tell me I'm living the dream, but mostly a writer's life doesn't feel that way. Producing a novel means long, solitary hours at my desk trying to push the story onwards and make words behave the way I want them to.
I don't believe in writer's block, but this approach can mean that often I'll hit torturously slow patches. At one point my characters got stuck in a piazza having coffee for days and days - of my time, not theirs. I just couldn't seem to make them leave. And sitting in my writing hut over a blustery Auckland winter, trying to think myself into a hot Sicilian summer also proved a challenge.
But the research for this book, now that really was living the dream. Since I had never been either to Sicily or on a food holiday, that's what I headed off to do in May last year.
In the baroque town of Modica, in the craggy south of the Italian island, I stayed with Katia Amore who runs Love Sicily food holidays (www.lovesicily.com). My days were spent visiting vineyards and olive estates, kneading pasta dough and simmering sweet-sour dishes of chocolate and chicken. At that stage I wasn't sure there was a novel in what I was doing but I took notes and lots of photographs, opened myself up to new ideas and impressions, tasted every dish that came my way and hoped for the best.
Back in New Zealand the characters came to me gradually. I'd describe it as a bit like making a patchwork quilt. Scraps of ideas are gathered from here or there - something a person might say to me, or I read, or perhaps feel - and stitched together into a whole. At some point they start to feel very real and I think about them obsessively as I clean, cook, walk the dog, drive the car.
And now the book is finished, printed and in stores. I hope The Food Of Love Cookery School takes its readers to Sicily, that they feel like the fifth person on the holiday with Valerie, Poppy, Tricia and Moll, that they almost taste the flavours and feel the sun on their faces.
If I've succeeded in writing a book that does all that then possibly I really am living the dream.
WIN: Nicky Pellegrino will be in conversation with Living food columnist Grant Allen at Whitcoulls Corner, Queen St, Auckland, at 6pm on Thursday, October 10. There'll be drinks, nibbles and treats.
Tickets are $10. Call (09) 984 5400 for more info.
Living has five copies of The Food Of Love Cookery School, worth $37.99 each, to give away, along with 15 double passes to the October 10 event.
To be in the draw, visit winwithheraldonsunday.co.nz and enter the keywords , along with your contact details. Entries close 11.59pm, September 25.