Today we welcome Leonie Mack, author of Italy Ever After. Leonie What was the inspiration behind your book? Can you tell us a little about it?
I like to write what I’m passionate about and feedback on my first book, My Christmas Number One, was that the music scenes were particularly strong – because they had come straight from my passion. I wanted this time to explore a different aspect of being a musician, drawing a bit on my years of choir singing and my experiences of music as a young person. The first idea to form fully was the character of the love interest, Nick Romano, who is a music teacher at a primary school. His character had been in my mind for a few years, actually – ever since I walked past a primary school and heard a violin ensemble rehearsing. From there, the dynamic of the romance between a recently-divorced mother and her daughter’s teacher, flowed quite naturally. And the perfect way to throw them together, and involve an amazing location, was to create a music camp in the summer. The camp is for gifted students, which led to the theme of talent and what makes us extraordinary and from there I had the other hook of the book, which is the character Lou’s quest to find some kind of talent. Add in a competition to up the tension at the end and the book came together nicely.
How did you decide on the names for your characters and the setting for your book?
It seems lots of people were longing to visit Italy last year, because there are quite a few books (many by RNA members!) about Italy coming out. It’s the classic location for armchair travel: beaches, mountains, rural idyll and urban chic and amazing food!
The names of my characters I think I do unconsciously pinch from various people I’ve met over the years, although the characters are not based on anyone real! So, someone who knows me, might notice little details of my life creeping in, but that’s more for expediency, rather than those people truly influencing the story. I have also recently noticed I’m using names associated with Absolutely Fabulous, which has also been quite unconscious and coincidental. In this book, Lou’s surname is Saunders, which I think I unconsciously stole from Jennifer Saunders. And I have a character called Saffron in my next book! But it’s coincidental, I swear!
For characters from different countries, I often look at local businesses in the area and search for the names of the people who run them. Then I double check names I like against local statistics to see how popular they are.
How long did the book take to write? How much re-writing do you do?
This was my first experience of writing a book that had already been contracted with my publisher, Boldwood Books. I’d agreed the synopsis with my editor and then I had to pause for two months while I did the structural edits for My Christmas Number One. By the time I started writing, at Easter 2020 (writing about northern Italy while the first wave of COVID was dominating life there), the characters had been living in my head for three months, which I found incredibly helpful. I had a 4,000-word synopsis to work from and the story flowed from there. I had a first draft by the end of June. I have a few amazing beta readers (shout out to Lucy Keeling, Lucy Morris and RB Owen), so they gave me feedback and I submitted it to my editor in the middle of September. My editor, Sarah Ritherdon, is fantastic at tightening up my writing. I’m an overwriter, so my drafts always come in long, and she can see immediately what needs to go. The collaborative aspect is so important to me, I find.
Where did your research for the book take you?
I wish the research for this book could have taken me to Lake Garda, but, of course, I wrote it in 2020, so no dedicated research trip was possible. The upside is, I wasn’t limited to places I remember, because I needed to research everything remotely anyway. There is such a wealth of resources online. One important location in the book is the former convent where the group of students stay on the camp. I invented the convent itself, influenced by two real monasteries in the area and the various monasteries and former monasteries I’ve visited in the past. There were so many photos online that I was able to gather experiences from many visitors to the area and not just my own experiences. I find even when I write about places I know well (London tends to feature in my books as well), I have to go back and check locations and details.
What I couldn’t research online was the feeling of standing at the top of a mountain, holding onto a croce di vetta, the cross at the summit. But luckily, that’s something I’ll never forget!
When did you realise you wanted to be an author?
I remember writing stories as soon as I learned to write. I have a clear memory of writing something long (and probably boring) on dot matrix printer paper in school when I was seven. I always said I wanted to be an author when I was a child, so it was quite surreal to hold my first book in my hands last year when my debut, My Christmas Number One, came out—nearly thirty years after that story on dot matrix paper! I’ve written over ten novels, now, but only two have been published so far (and the others possibly won’t see the light of day).
Who were your favourite childhood authors?
I enjoyed reading mystery and fantasy as a child. I loved the Enchanted Wood (Faraway Tree) and the Wishing Chair books by Enid Blyton and I notice their influence on my writing style and humour to this day! My sister and I also had at least fifty Nancy Drew books.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write what you’re passionate about and be patient. Book deals usually take years to materialise. It might not happen with your first book, but you’re learning all the time and the chances of it happening eventually are pretty good if you just keep writing. The process of getting your book out there is quite emotional and you need to believe in what you’re writing, so that’s why I also say to write what you’re passionate about.
Leonie Mack is an author of romantic comedies with great locations and big feelings. She loves a happy ending and shares that love in every book she writes!
Leonie is a journalism graduate, a language nut and loves to travel, particularly on foot, by bike and by train. After growing up in Australia and living most of her adult life in London, she now lives in Germany, among the vineyards on the Main river.
TV journalist Lou feels battered and bruised after her divorce from Phil, the father of her daughter Edie. Her confidence and sense of fun have steadily been drained away, and she isn’t sure who she is any more.
When the opportunity arises to accompany Edie on a music camp in Italy for a month in the summer, Lou jumps at the chance for new adventures, new horizons and new friends. The hazy warmth of the summer sun, shining brightly over the stunning Lake Garda, slowly brings Lou back to life.
Nick Romano, Edie’s music teacher, loves being home in Italy, but coaching his students for their concert in Milan, is bringing back difficult memories. His blossoming friendship with Lou is the perfect distraction, although a summer fling would be easier to conduct without the scrutiny of his mother Greta, not to mention the interference of his extended Italian family.
As the summer passes, full of sunshine and breath-taking scenery, gelato and delicious feasts, Lou and Nick get ever closer. But as the time for farewell creeps up on them, will they be able to say goodbye and leave their memories behind in the Italian sun, or can a summer romance last a lifetime?
‘Wonderfully romantic – the perfect summer read’ Sandy Barker
Escape to the sun and head off to Italy, with the wonderfully warm and ever-so-page-turning Leonie Mack!
About the interviewer.
Catherine Lawless lives in Hertfordshire with her husband, daughter and their three border terriers. She writes novels, journals and children’s books. Catherine’s career started out as a singer/songwriter in a rock band. She toured extensively throughout Europe and the UK before settling down and following her childhood dream of writing books.