Living with art, love, and beauty.

People often ask me, ‘How did your family end up with a home in Italy?’ To cut a long story short, as they say, in 1962 my father Douglas Bland was given a commission to paint a mural for the lobby of the Hong Kong Hilton Hotel. He decided to invest the profit in a place for holidays and, eventually, his retirement. On a visit to Asolo that summer, with my mother, he fell in love with the town. Two years later, he and Mum found the right place: a 100 year-old farmhouse in need of restoration, situated on a hillside with fabulous views.

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And the first stage completed two years later img451

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This pic of the whole property was taken shortly after my father died in 1975

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He never got to live his dream of retirement in Italy. A routine operation, we all thought, but he didn’t come round from it. The house is filled with his amazing art. (These are just a few of the paintings.)

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My mother couldn’t bear to go into his studio, but, after her second husband, a lovely local man, passed away in 1998, she decided to renovate it and this gorgeous little house is where Victor and I now live, with the two cats we brought with us from the UK.

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The frescoes on the walls were originally done by my father, but have since been restored.

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Mum left this world at the end of October 2013. We’d moved here to keep an eye on her, and now we’ve become caretakers of this wonderful place while we wait for a buyer. Life moves on…

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Nearly fifty years since the house was renovated, and the kitchen and bathrooms need a re-vamp, but Casa Bland is filled with happy memories of Mum, Dad, and my step-father, as well as time spent together as a family. We love it and we’re sure whoever buys it will love it too.

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The garden is filled with birdsong.

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The surrounding woodland is ideal for walking.

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There is a wealth of wildlife.

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The views are what sold this house to my parents all those years ago, and those views haven’t changed.

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Apricot sky

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None of us know what’ll happen in the future, but, for now, Victor and I will enjoy the dolce vita here in Italy while we can. Sometimes, though, I sit doing my writing in what was my father’s studio, and I can feel his presence. So sad that fate dealt him such a cruel blow, and his life was cut short at the height of his creativity. I’ll leave you with this pic of him teaching me how to paint when I was about four years old. And I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit to his beautiful house in Italy.

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Monday interview with Teagan Geneviene

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Ever since I read Teagan Geneviene’s post Meet my Main Character Blog Tour, I wanted to interview her and find out more about her and her writing. If you haven’t done so already, please drop by and read about the main character in her WIP, Atonement in Bloom

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which is the sequel to her debut novel, Atonement, Tennessee.

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Teagan writes fantasy fiction, and started her blog as part of her grand experiment in Indie publishing.

Welcome to Douglas Bland Artist’s studio in Italy, Teagan. So glad you can join me in an aperitivo. What can I offer you? A glass of Prosecco? A spritzer? A Bellini? Or perhaps some Pinot Grigio or Bardolino?
Thank you, Siobhan. You’re so thoughtful. On a lovely sunny day like this, I think I’d like a spritzer, please.
Ooh, think I’ll have one too. (Pours a glass). Cheers!

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Okay, darlin’, make yourself comfortable! We’ve known each other for a while now since we met online. I’m so pleased you’ve agreed to this interview and would like to start by asking, ‘What inspired you to become a writer?’
Believe it or not, I haven’t really thought about that. I think you could take that question all the way back to Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone. Naturally any number of television shows (and even commercials) captured my young imagination. However, I think Twilight Zone was what caused me to begin to associate my very active childhood imaginings with the concept of writing stories. I remember being very young and staring up at a small black and white bedroom TV and being utterly fascinated by the stories Rod Sterling presented.
Some years later, as a preteen, I started writing Twilight Zone-ish stories. They were well received by my teachers, but not by my parents. I suppose they didn’t think the attention I was getting was appropriate. I was told to never do that again! I eventually discarded that parental rule. (She grins.)
I loved Twilight Zone too. Really spooky! Teagan, please can you tell us something about your writing?
Whenever I see a thick volume with inspiring cover art by Michael Whelan, my hand reaches for it before I can stop myself. I also enjoy writing that type of story – the kind I like to call “quest-type” fantasy.
Images often inspire my writings. An entire story might be rooted in a single picture. They also help keep me writing. Sometimes, if I’m having a hard time getting the ideas to flow, I can start writing a paragraph about a photo, and in no time I’ll be back into my storyline. (Of course, like everyone else, there are also times when I can be utterly blocked. That happens far too often, when I’m so stressed from my 9 to 5 job.)
Working 9-5 and writing is difficult, I know from experience. You seem firmly rooted in the fantasy genre. Have you considered trying any other genres? If so, which ones?
Through chance, I write serial mystery stories for my blog, Teagan’s Books. When I started the blog, I wanted to write about more than my novel Atonement, Tennessee. So I redesigned a writing exercise that I created many years ago. For the exercise I got friends to tell me three random things, and then I wrote until I mentioned all three. To convert that exercise into a serial for my blog, I have readers everywhere send the three items.
The very first “thing” submitted for a serial was “oscillating fan” – and that took my imagination to a click-clacking antique fan, which created a 1920’s setting. The story quickly took the form of a mystery. I don’t plan the serials at all. Rather I let each word (thing or “ingredient”) inspire everything about the story, characters, and plot.
When I was ready to begin the second iteration of the serial, a friend recommended doing a culinary mystery. Siobhan… I do not see myself as much of a cook. I used to be, but not anymore! However, I saw the value of the culinary angle and decided to rise to the challenge. So now, instead of sending three things, readers send me three food-related items or “ingredients.” We’re now on “Cookbook-2,” the third serial and the second culinary mystery.
Your blog is hugely enjoyable, and I was so pleased when you used my apricots in one of your intalments. How do you set about writing a novel, though? Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’?
The serials for my blog are pure pantser fun. However, for everything else I work with a loose plan. I’m also a bit of a spreadsheet geek. I make spreadsheets to help me keep up with all the details. Since I have extensive experience as a technical editor/writer, I’m accustomed to using Excel and Word in advanced ways. Another thing that helps me is utilizing “styles” in Word for my novels. This automatically gives me an outline that I can keep on the same page by opening the Navigation Pane under the View tab in Word.
I must look into doing that, but I’m a bit of a techno-dinosaur. Tell us, please Teagan, how have you found ‘indie publishing’? Is there anything you’ve done that you’d do differently now with hindsight?
Indie is a very exciting area. I enjoy the control it offers. However, I’m not able to “do it right.” I have a demanding fulltime job. The blog takes all my personal time. So there is no time or energy left over for me to do the promotional work of indie publishing. However, I remind myself that I didn’t publish  Atonement, Tennessee for the same reasons that bring most people to independent publishing. I simply wanted the satisfaction of knowing I had done it.
I felt the same when I published my short story, Mamma Mia! On a personal note, what do you get up to when you’re not writing?
Work… And since this is not my own blog, I feel comfortable adding that I put a great deal of effort into finding a (new/different) job that will let me relocate — hopefully to a smaller city. I don’t discuss this on my blog.
I hope you’re successful in your search, my darlin’. Can you please tell us what are your plans, hopes, dreams and aspirations for the next stage in your writing career?
My fondest dream is to own a lovely cottage, in a charming little town. Of course my two pets are with me in this dream. I’m writing and selling my novels like mad. Maybe I even have cover art by Michael Whelan. My future is secure and I’m respected. And I do NOT need a 9 to 5 job, ha-ha!
(Laughs in sympathy). I wish you every success in achieving your dreams, Teagan.  I’ve really enjoyed our chat. Thanks again for joining me. Before you go, please can you leave readers with three facts that might surprise them about you?
That’s so sweet of you to say, Siobhan. It was truly my pleasure. Three facts? Hummm…
1. I’m a bottled redhead. My natural color is light ash blond. Did you hear that blonds have more fun? No, it’s the redheads!
2. I used to be a Red Hat lady.
3. I’m a certified practitioner of Reiki, but I choose to work with pets rather than humans.
Fascinating! Readers, if you’d like to know more about the business-professional side of Teagan, you can find her on LinkedIn. For more about her novels you can visit her wonderful blog, and she’s also on Twitter.

Fascinating Force

We were due to set off for Force (pronounced For-chay) at around midday, so I spent my last morning in Petritoli trying on hats with sis (she was due to go to a wedding). The road up the Aso valley was quiet and we arrived at our writer friends from China’s house in good time. Great to be back here – we hadn’t visited since their wedding five years ago.

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Hong Ying, the Mayor, Adam Williams, Clio Williams, and bridesmaid Sybil.

Adam and I grew up together in Hong Kong – I’ve known him practically my whole life. He’s a lovely man, a hugely talented writer, and my son’s godfather (I’m godmother to Clio, his daughter from his first marriage).

After parking in the church square, hubby and I made our way to the Palazzo dei Piaceri Celesti, named after Adam’s fabulous debut novel The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure.

Hong Ying made a mouth-watering meal for us, which we ate in the garden. She’s a wonderful writer, and I’d read her debut novel, K: The Art of Love, before I’d even met her.

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Force is perched on a panoramic mountain, and its narrow streets climb steeply between old house fronts in mellow brick. Fascinating!

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After lunch, we went for a stroll, then a drive to Ascoli Piceno, stopping off to take this pic of Adam and Hong Ying’s daughter, Sybil, with Force in the background.

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Another delicious meal, with plenty of chat and wine, followed by a DVD The Grand Hotel Budapest. Tired, hubby and I fell into bed and, before we knew it, the church bells were ringing in the morning. After breakfast, we followed Adam’s car to Sybil’s riding school to watch her walk, trot and canter her pony. Then, tearful lumps in our throats, we said goodbye to our friends, who’ll be returning to China at the end of August. But, they’ll be back in Italy next summer and, hopefully, will visit us in the Veneto.

Our adventures in Le Marche over, the motorway beckoned and, gritting our teeth, we faced the journey home. Not so bad this time, thank God. Back at our little house, the cats looked up at us as if to say, ‘Where have you been?’ or, more likely, ‘It’s dinner time.’ Our lovely neighbours had been feeding them, but the four mouseketeers are always up for a bit more nosh. Life is so ‘dolce vita’, even for the cats, at Douglas Bland Artist’s studio in Italy.

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Monday Interview with Renita D’Silva

My guest for a pre lunch aperitivo and chat today is the lovely and wonderfully talented Renita D’Silva.

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She loves stories, both reading and creating them. Her shorts have been published in The View from Here, Bartleby Snopes, This Zine, Platinum Page, Paragraph Planet, and have even been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net Anthology.

Renita’s novels, Monsoon Memories

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and The Forgotten Daughter

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are available in paperback and e-book, and have received myriad rave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Her third novel, The Stolen Girl, will be published on 12th September 2014 (my late grandmother’s birthday).

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Welcome to Italy, Renita, and what can I offer you? A glass of Prosecco? A spritzer? A Bellini? Or perhaps some Pinot Grigio or Bardolino?

Thank you so much for hosting me. I’ll have a glass of Prosecco, please.

Ooh, I’ll join you (pours two glasses). Cheers!

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Make yourself comfortable, darlin’! We’ve known each other for a while now since we met on Twitter. I’m honoured you’ve agreed to this interview and would like to start by asking, ‘What inspired you to become a writer?’

I have always wanted to write. Writing completes me. But it was only ever a hobby until my children came along and I gave up work to become a full-time mum. When my youngest started nursery, I had a few hours to myself and decided to indulge my creative calling by enrolling in an Adult Education Creative Writing course. That was the first time I dared to share the stories that had populated my head for so long with others – and they loved them! That gave me the courage to send a few of my stories off to magazines and submit to competitions. They were accepted and it went from there …

You’re such an amazing writer, Renita, with a beautiful voice. This is the review I wrote on Amazon for Monsoon Memories, and I meant every word:

I loved this book, quickly becoming engrossed in the story. Like the delightful eleven year-old protagonist, I wanted to solve the mystery at the heart of the narrative. Renita D’Silva cleverly drops clues, but doesn’t give away too much too soon, teasing the reader right up to the end. Beautifully written, Renita’s Monsoon Memories takes you straight to India through the wonderful descriptions, evoking the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this fascinating country and giving you an insight into the culture of Catholic Indians. But it was the characters that engaged me most. I became deeply attached to them, and I’m looking forward to Renita’s next novel.

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Can you tell us something about your second book, The Forgotten Daughter?

The Forgotten Daughter is the story of three disparate women: Nisha – a statistical consultant who sets great store by facts – who finds out that she was adopted, that her whole, carefully ordered life has been built upon a lie; Devi, a spirited young woman who rebels against the constraints of her mother’s stifling love and the restrictions of a culture that suffocates her; Shilpa, a poor woman living in a village in India who does what she thinks best in exceptional circumstances but in retrospect regrets her choices. All three protagonists are embarking on journeys: Nisha in a literal sense, to find her roots and in the process, to unearth the person she really is; Devi on a journey of reconciliation with her estranged mother; Shilpa, on a journey towards acceptance of the choices she made in her life – often with devastating consequences.

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I’m reading it now and I’m absolutely loving it. How does The Stolen Girl differ from your first two novels?

The Stolen Girl is set equally in India and in the UK, unlike my other books which are set mostly in India. I had to do a lot of research for this book, much more so than with the other two. Also, The Stolen Girl is structurally different from my other books in that, although the other two flit between the past and present, The Stolen Girl is divided into parts which distinctly demarcate the past from the present. It explores two very different women and the decisions they make, which unleash a tsunami that rocks their world, the deluge of resulting waves drowning their futures.

Wow! Sounds fantastic and right up my street, as they say. In your writing you seem to gravitate towards family dramas, the secrets we keep from those closest to us and how they affect everyone involved. Have you thought about trying any different genres?

Not really, no. I am intrigued by people, by identity, roots, what makes us who we are. I like the thought that an ordinary person whose life is headed along a regular path can make an about turn based on one choice. One bad turn. I also like how the choices a person makes can echo, reverberate into the future, like an earthquake causing aftershocks both big and small. I like how as humans we are all flawed. We try to do our best but sometimes, our best is not good enough. Sometimes, our best turns out to be the worst thing we could have done. I like delving into what makes us tick. I suppose I will continue to explore that in my books.

Which is why they’re so successful. I’d love to hear about your writing process, and I’m sure my readers would too. Can you give us some information about how you develop your plots and characters? Also, what has been your greatest writing challenge so far, and how have you overcome it?

My stories start as pictures in my head.The pictures take root and over time, they are embellished with detail. I strive to depict in words these images that crowd my head and nag at me to tell their story. And if, whilst reading back what I have written, I can see the picture in my head bloom on the page via the words I have written, then I am happy.

All my books involve multiple narrators and alternating narratives. I like the way different stories converge to one point at the end of the book. So I do a very broad sketch but I don’t like to plan in too much detail. I like my characters to take me by surprise as I am writing the story; I like them to grow a backbone, to stand up to me and say, ‘I wouldn’t do that, this is what I would do.’ It gives me such a thrill when the characters have developed so much that they have their own voice and they tell me what to do rather than the other way round. After that the book takes off, it is out of my hands and in theirs.

 I think my greatest challenge so far has been writing and completing The Forgotten Daughter, my second book. Even though I  had hoped my debut, Monsoon Memories, would see the light of day, when it actually was published and liked by readers, I panicked. I did not know if I could write another book – though of course I wanted to. I worried that it wouldn’t be good, that the first one was a lucky fluke. Also penning the first draft of The Forgotten Daughter was my first time writing to a time frame. I worried whether I would make the deadline. And I tried to incorporate all the bits of feedback from readers regarding Monsoon Memories into the first draft of my second book. On the advice of my publisher and editor, who didn’t give up on me after that disastrous first attempt, I took a step back. Thought hard about what I really wanted to write about. The second draft was better, although not by much. It took three drafts to mine the story I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it.

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Thanks for being so honest with us, darlin’. Please tell us about your road to publication! Is there anything you did that you’d do differently with hindsight and, what advice can you give those of us aspiring to be published?

The process of publication was a huge learning curve. I come from an IT background and did not know any publishers, agents or authors. So, when I penned “The End” on my first draft, I googled what to do next. The one suggestion that stood out, that was reiterated many times, advised new authors to get a copy of The Writers and Artists Yearbook and send off their manuscript to agents who represented books like theirs. And that is what I did. But I was impatient and sent the manuscript off before it was the best it could be. I got some very positive feedback with a few agents requesting the full manuscript but they all came back with, ‘Get back to us when you have worked on it.’ So I worked on it and sent it off again and this time they said it was good but that they were not taking on new authors due to the recession. I had all but given up when I saw an ad for Bookouture in Mslexia, the magazine for women writers. And so I sent my manuscript off to Bookouture. And they said yes!

My advice to aspiring authors would be:

  1. Do not send your manuscript out before it is the best it can be.
  2. Try not to let rejection get you down. Everybody gets rejected., J.K. Rowling got rejected umpteen times before Harry Potter was unleashed on the world.
  3. Believe in yourself and keep trying. The published author is someone who has picked himself up after each rejection and persevered. With the advent of the e-book and Indie publishing, there has never been a better time to be an author. It only takes one publisher to say yes and they are waiting just around the corner. Believe in yourself and do not give up!

You’re an inspiration, Renita. You say you love stories. What books do you enjoy reading most?

I read widely and variedly, across genres. I like books that take me by surprise, that hold me in their thrall from the first page until the last. Favourite authors: Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Arundhati Roy, Chimamanda Ngosi Adichie, Markus Zusak … The list is endless, fluid, constantly growing and changing.

I know what you mean. Same with me and I’m sure with many readers. On a personal note, what do you get up to when you’re not reading or writing?

I work at my daughter’s school and tutor at home in the evenings and on Saturdays. Any spare time I get, I spend with my family.

Juggling work, writing, and family life must be difficult and I’m full of admiration for you. What are your plans, hopes, dreams and aspirations for the next stage in your writing career?

I would love to continue to write and entertain readers.

I wish you every success, Renita. It’s been an absolute joy chatting with you. Thanks for dropping by. Before you go, please can you leave readers with three facts that might surprise them about you?

I hate wearing jewellery. I do not mind spiders but am terrified of lizards. I love winter best, the colder the better…

Thank you so very much for hosting me today, Siobhan. It has been such a pleasure.

The pleasure is all mine. Readers, if you’d like to know more about Renita, you can find her on Facebook, or you can visit her website. And she’s on on Twitter @RenitaDSilva