Friday Night Drinks with… Stefania Hartley

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Another weekend rolls around. Is it me or is this month going really, really slowly? At least it’s time for another Friday Night Drinks feature to cheer me up. Tonight I am delighted to be joined by author… Stefania Hartley.

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Welcome back to the blog, Stefania. Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what is your tipple tonight?

Hi Julie, thanks for inviting me again. It’s lovely to be back with you and to be out for a drink, even if only virtually. I’m having my favourite drink:  elderflower pressé.

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

We’d be off to Verona to watch the opera, as per your bucket list, but first we would have a nice meal in a local restaurant and I would order the delicious, super-fatty burrata (an enormous mozzarella-like ball with a creamy center)

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Perfect! I’m still hoping I’ll get there for my 50th next year. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

I’d love to meet Andrea Camilleri, a fellow Sicilian and author of the Commissario Montalbano detective crime series. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. And, for a thoroughly book-ish night out, I’d invite Elena Ferrante, the author of the Neapolitan novels.

There’s only a little problem. Nobody know who she is. I take my hat off to her for managing to keep her identity secret for so long, in this day and age!

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I always have many projects on the go because I get easily bored and I love changing. So when I need a break the work-in-progress novel, I write short stories for The People’s Friend. The novel I’m working on now is different from my previous ones, and I need to keep reminding myself of the proverb ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. I started it as a non-fiction project years ago, the whole thing stalled and I left it in the drawer until now, when I’ve turned it into a fiction project.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment was seeing my name in print for the first time. My biggest challenge is always to keep working on projects that I’ve been commissioned to do (I retell fairy tales for an Italian publisher) even when I feel like having a break and do something else. When you have a deadline, you just have to stick with the work and keep ploughing through it until it’s done. Typically, this is when your mind comes up with all sorts of exciting new ideas that you’re desperate to start working on immediately!

I know that feeling! What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

I’d like to make a living out of my writing. Maybe it doesn’t sound very ambitious, but all the surveys of authors’ income suggest that it’s very hard for an author to make a living out of writing alone. I’ll stick with this dream for now.

I’m sure you will get there. What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I am really looking forward to visiting my parents in Sicily and, perhaps, do a bit of sightseeing in Sicily or other parts of Italy. And call it ‘research’, of course!

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I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

My absolute favourite place is the Marine Nature Reserve of the Zingaro. Some of the settings of my new novel, Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea, are inspired by this place. As a child, I spent all my summers there. We stayed nearby and my grandfather would take us all on a rubber dinghy to one of the beautiful white shingles beaches. Memories of turquoise sea, family happiness and Grandma’s biscuits (much sweeter after tasting seawater!) are all intertwined.

Top of my bucket list is a hiking tour of the Sicilian hinterland. I’ve always been a sea girl, but I’ve heard that the mountainous hinterland of Sicily is very beautiful too.

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’m quite a boring person (to me, at least) so I can’t think of anything other than perhaps the fact that I spoke hardly any English when I came over, as an Erasmus exchange student, in my early twenties. During one of my first dates with my future husband, I thought that I said, “Rain makes me curly”. Apparently, I said instead, “Rain makes me cuddly”.

Rain also makes me cuddly! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

I’m a very slow reader, and I’ve only recently managed to catch up on some of the English language books that I had missed growing up in Sicily, like the wonderful Bridget Jones’ Diary and Adrian Moles’ diaries. So I’m sure that you have read everything that I could recommend, and much more!

Looking at more recent books, if you like to smile, I recommend The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, by Joanna Cannon. If you like serious books, perhaps my must-read is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I listened to the audiobook and it was beautifully narrated too.   

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England,1976.

Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.

And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

I have read Hamnet, it was one of my Top Twelve Books of 2020 so I agree with you on that. I have a copy of Joanna Cannon’s book on my TBR. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Very good question for a teetotal like me! I don’t like the taste of alcohol so I’ve never been even a little tipsy and anything stupid I’ve ever done, I’ve done it while completely sober! Well, if this isn’t a…sobering thought.

But Italian remedies for a hangover are drinking plenty of water, avoiding coffee and tea, which are diuretic and make you more dehydrated. Artichoke and milk thistle are good against a hangover. Milk, antacid and olive oil and honey are good too. I’d definitely go for milk and honey, yummy!

Great, useful advice. After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

On a good weather weekend, I would love to go on a walk in the woods somewhere beautiful and wild, but not so wild that I can’t find a nice pub or restaurant for a hearty brunch.

On a rainy weekend, I’d curl up with a good book and read until I was called for lunch and then dinner. In this ideal parallel world, the children would serve me and my husband all the meals and clear up too. And nobody would try to talk to me until I’ve finished the story!

Sounds marvellous! Stefania, thank you for joining me, it is always a great pleasure to chat to you.

Stefania’s latest book is called Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea and you can buy a copy here.

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Sicilian marine biologist Serena Ingotta has never understood men, but when she uncovers a mafia factory polluting the sea, it only adds to the things that confuse her.

Twenty-four-year-old Sicilian scientist Serena Ingotta has always misunderstood men, from her workaholic anti-mafia judge father to the Catholic seminarian she’s hopelessly in love with. Interning in a marine biology lab alongside her irritating colleague Enrico, she discovers an illegal polluting factory that is possibly connected with the mafia.

When it turns out that their boss is going to cover up the story, she publicly denounces him at a science conference and gets expelled from the lab. Alone and ostracized, Serena’s attempts to find love and expose the factory seem to be failing epically until she finally realizes that everything she has been searching for was just under her nose.

Stefania Hartley, also known as The Sicilian Mama, was born in Sicily and immediately started growing, but not very much. She left her sunny island after falling head over heels in love with an Englishman, and she’s lived all over the world with him and their three children.

Having finally learnt English, she enjoyed it so much that she started writing stories and nobody has been able to stop her since. She loves to write about hot and sunny places like her native Sicily, and she especially likes it when people fall in love.

Her short stories have been longlisted, commended and won prizes. Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea is her second novel, after Sun, Stars and Limoncello.

You can find out more about Stefania on her website, Facebook, Twitter, blog and her podcast

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