Vanessa Couchman author of The House at Zaronza, and her husband Per have lived in southwest France for seventeen years. After spending holidays in the area, they decided to make the move from England and live there permanently. They found their house, La Lune, while attending a property exposition in London and it was love at first sight when they visited the property, a beautifully restored old farmhouse, in person.
Vanessa’s interest in Corsica, the setting of her novel, began when she and Per visited the island on holiday in 2003. She has since become passionate about Corsica, its culture and its history. On her last visit she learned the true story of an 1890’s love affair between a village girl and the schoolmaster that inspired her novel. Like their real-life counterparts, the fictional Maria and Raphael in Vanessa’s novel communicate through letters. Vanessa chose to set her story in the early 1900’s using WWI as a dramatic backdrop to the events in her characters’ lives.
We asked Vanessa a few questions:
I started writing when / because… I wrote my first book when I was about seven and illustrated it, too. But I blush to think of it now, so I’ll draw a veil over it. After a very long gap, when schooling and career dominated, I took up writing fiction again in 2010, starting with short stories. I wrote The House at Zaronza in 2012.
The hardest part of writing a novel is… Editing it. I wrote The House at Zaronza during National Novel Writing Month, but then decided I didn’t like either the beginning or the ending, so I changed them both and added about 12,000 words. I also wrote the whole thing in the present tense to start with but realised that didn’t work, either, so I had to go through and change it all into the past tense. That was painful!
I wish I’d written… Great Expectations. Of course, Dickens’ Victorian language is outmoded and a bit ponderous today. But it’s a timeless book and a brilliantly-sustained character study of the main character, Philip Pirrip (or Pip). It ends somewhat ambiguously, too. That appeals to me; many novels end too neatly and life isn’t like that.
If you could have dinner with a writer – living or dead, who would it be? Dorothy Carrington, a fascinating character. Having led a Bohemian existence in pre-war Europe with her third husband, the painter Sir Francis Rose, she first visited Corsica in 1948. She travelled around on her own and befriended native Corsicans. A highly respected scholar of Corsican history and culture, she brought to light both the prehistoric menhirs at Filitosa and the forgotten Corsican constitution that was drawn up during its short-lived 18th-century republic. Her book Granite Island: A Portrait of Corsica is wonderful. The first time I finished it, I immediately started again at the beginning. I wish I could have consulted her when writing my novel – but she died in 2002.
What would you cook for your favourite writer? I think Dorothy Carrington enjoyed the simple but fresh cuisine of Corsica. So I’d start with a tomato salad dressed simply with garlic and olive oil; followed by a seafood platter; Corsican cheeses, which are very strong (I love them); and finish with a chestnut cake. Washed down with a Corsican white wine, of course.
Desert Island book – if you could only take three books to a deserted island what would they be? Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, because of its insights into human nature; Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, because it is a brilliant depiction of the politics of the Tudor Court; and Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, which evokes a rural way of life that is gone forever.
My guiltiest pleasure is… Champagne.
Red or white wine? White as an apéro or with fish; red with meat.
Read our Review of The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman, available in paper or Kindle version from Amazon.