Sometimes in the least expected place and at the least expected time you’ll find romance.
Write your heart out in Italy
May DeLory discovers after bad timing, missed opportunities and twenty-five-years, it’s never too late to tackle a romance novel. Just like in a good book, there are a few twists and turns before the satisfying conclusion!
It’s spring. I’m in a sleepy little place in Italy. I’m attending a five-day writing course at the Watermill in the village of Posara. The three-storey Tuscan house is named after two watermills from the 17th and 19th century that were once used for making precious olive oil and for producing wheat, maize and chestnut flour. No television, telephone or Internet here—just the opportunity to sink your teeth into getting serious about writing, and to eat the most tantalizing local food imaginable.
The fast flowing stream beneath my bedroom window emits negative ions. I push open wider the very old window frame. I look down at the stream. Freshly washed sheets hang to dry on a thin rope line to one side of the courtyard below. I feel tipsy with joy; or, is the high spirit due to my being in Tuscany — land of milk and honey — Frances Mayes country, author of Under the Tuscan Sun.
Tuscany is still considered the most authentic of all the regions and the land where you’ll most likely hear pure Italian spoken. Language of pure romance, I wager. I also try to push back again the nagging thought that since I’m not at the moment in love with a man that I shouldn’t even be thinking of writing a romance novel. But I cannot help but remember what it felt like to be in love. And then I think that yes I am in love at this precise moment and have been for a very long while: I love blue skies and I even love stormy skies. I love the air I breathe and the land beneath my feet. I love learning something entirely new; and, I love learning about people and their culture. Yes, I decide. I am in love right this second.
Soon I find myself in a classroom. A dozen women and I hang off every word uttered by Sharon Kendrick, creative writing instructor at the Watermill and author of over 70 titles for Mills & Boon—the UK arm of Harlequin. Harlequin Enterprises is the world’s leading publisher of books for women. Sharon is a striking woman in her 50s, a retired nurse who runs mini marathons in the fragrant Tuscan hills just outside our classroom windows while we her students try to write blistering sex scenes between classes, sipping wine and eating chocolates. “Famous UK romance writer, Mary Wesley, didn’t start writing until she was 70,” Sharon says.
I used to write romance stories for fun – the sort of story one reads between the covers of a Harlequin novel. In the 90s, I was programme director of the Canadian Authors Association and a member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and its Toronto Chapter, where I won a synopsis writing contest. Had I taken a course such as Kendrick’s 25 years ago, I might have zeroed in on some of the pitfalls made by most beginning writers. I, too, might have recognized the importance of an editor’s letter, offering suggestions for improving my manuscript for possible publication. As it were, I mistook the constructive criticism as failure, shoved the manuscript into the bottom of a drawer, and began another story without really knowing what I was doing wrong.
We’re a motley group, ages 30 to 70 reaching around the globe. One dream has brought all of us together: to be published romance authors. There’s not a male among us; although, the Watermill creative writing course welcomes male writers with open arms. Towards the end of the week I learn two of the women taking the writing course are staying on at the Watermill to take a watercolour painting course. The Watermill offers several private rooms and a very large main floor apartment with balcony. Accommodation is offered when painting and writing courses are not in effect…so, the Watermill is an excellent spot to make as homebase for touring Tuscany.
We’re here to learn the art of chapter-by-chapter plot construction and character analysis. By the end of the week we’ll have a full-blown outline for a Harlequin Mills & Boon Presents novel. “Readers love sex scenes,” says Sharon, pointing out that a Presents hero is wealthy, gorgeous, sophisticated, cynical, bitter, rude, nasty when he has a reason, and irresistible to women.
“This thing you wish to tell me….” His voice was as hard as the marble he knew so well. He said nothing further, waiting for Kate to respond. When she said nothing, Marco’s hands were on her shoulders, twisting her without formality to face him. “Face me when you want to tell me such a thing.” (written by May DeLory, at the Watermill.)
Bring it on! I say to myself. Let the adventue begin. Even if you don’t come prepared with a story in mind, the side trips to restaurants and sightseeing excursions will soon engage your creative spirit. The week I visited the Watermill we took the train to the walled city of Lucca, known both today and in ancient times for fabulously adorned villa gardens. In Lucca our group dined outdoors on the patio and enjoyed a fresh fish lunch with salad and wonderful wine — both red and white at Ristorante del Teatro on the Piazza Napoleone. I usually don’t drink Chianti but when in Italy…! I loved the Fiorino 2008 Chianti. The white wine was excellent, too…a Montecarlo Bianco 2008 (Fattoria Il Poggio). The table beside ours ordered a Chianti Classic Villa Vistarenni 2007 red wine and said they were very, very pleased with the wine. We enjoyed many fine restaurants throughout Tuscany and enjoyed excellent local wines from the Val di Magra (Bianco; Rosato; Rosso in the styles normale and Novello) produced in the province of Massa Carrara. Carrara is where the famous marble is quarried. Lucca is a wonderful city where you can enjoy long walks and take in opera seven days a week at 7:PM at the local church.
One thing to keep in mind when taking a course of any kind far from home: what’s included in the cost of the course? At the Watermill, accommodation, meals, snacks, wine, day trips and course instruction are included. Even return transportation from Pisa to the Watermill is included. Just pay for your flight. Of course the Watermill is only too happy to explain everything to you. I hope you find your dream story at the Watermill…I know I did.
If you enjoy writing, then keep at it, encourages Sharon. “Age is no barrier to talent,” she says. “If you can write and convey a fantastic story that your reader cannot put down, that moves her, that makes her laugh and makes her cry, and makes her feel the story, then it is never too late to write your story.”
www.watermill.net Sharon’s course: Saturday 4 May to Saturday 11 May 2013 AND Saturday 22 June to Saturday 29 June 2013.
www.lufthansa.com Canada to Frankfurt, Germany. Take connecting flight Frankfurt to Pisa. Watermill staff will pick you up at the Pisa airport for transport to the Watermill.
http://www.versiliaffari.com/dettaglio_azienda.php?ID_azienda=66699 Ristorante del Teatro in Lucca, Italy. (excellent seafood, pasta and wine.)
http://www.ilbardellino.it/ Ten-minute drive from the Watermill (dine out evening). We enjoyed 2007 Val di Magra Rosso wine.
http://www.alvecchiotino.com/ Ten-minute drive from Watermill. Just one of the dine-out evenings our writing romance class enjoyed while in Tuscany. Excellent restaurant with the Apuan Alps in the near distance. Ask for fresh blood orange dessert. Al Vecchio Tino, rated 4.5 of 5 on TripAdvisor and ranked #1 of 7 restaurants in Fivizzano.
Lucca, Italy: Gelateria and Wine Bar (just down the street from Ristorante del Teatro, Lucca).
The Apuan Alps in Tuscany for skiing and other pleasures.