Category Archives: books + writing

Handed-down stories…

Paperback copies of, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar have currently sold out but there is another reprint underway so they should be available again by early December. Thank you to all of you who’ve embraced, Joe’s over many years and to those who’ve recently sent me messages wanting to read it but unable to get a copy. If you’re after a copy, please order one through your local bookshop or online as they’ll definitely be coming in 3-4 weeks (and in time for Christmas too!) 😉 If you’ve been following my website here for years or even just a short time, you’ll know I never ‘sell’ my books and I hate even sounding so. I just wanted to let you know if you’re interested in Joe’s that it’s definitely coming back. For me the main thing is sharing the story of Nonno Anni’s life and those around him, because so many elements are all of our stories really and precious and my one hope is to preserve them.

It was actually Nonno Anni who originally gave me the idea for, The Proxy Bride. When I was talking to him about his life for Joe’s, he mentioned by chance that during WW2 when he and other Italian men were taken from farms around Stanthorpe and sent to internment camps, the women and children suddenly left alone did it very tough. He later heard they were given no assistance and with curfews and restrictions weren’t allowed to drive, many didn’t know how to use the farm equipment or ride a horse and faced poverty and starvation. He mentioned this group of women who banded together to keep their farms going. That really struck me and I felt I’d come back and write about it. When I learnt that some of these women were also proxy brides, it opened up more to the story.

It seems all my life Nonno Anni was telling me different stories, usually at a table after a meal together. Perhaps when I was young, he saw in me that I might write them down one day, even before I saw that in myself. I chose this photo as it’s such a lovely one of him, though I feel unsure at sharing this one of myself in pigtails but trying to look sophisticated, haha! 😄 It was the ‘80s and I was about 13 and my favourite things were roller-skating, dancing and writing stories (yes, even then!) Nanna Francesca took this photo of us after a stop at Lake Jindabyne during a summer road trip. I spent some time with my grandparents every school holiday and while at times I took it for granted or wished I was doing stuff with my friends (yes, just like Sofie in Proxy Bride), I really appreciate those times now and the precious stories they both gave me. Zoë ❤️ xx

Zoë Boccabella books…

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The Proxy Bride sneaks onto bestseller list…

The Proxy Bride has snuck into no.9 on the bestseller list for Top 10 Historical Fiction! A huge, heartfelt thank you to all of you for supporting my first novel. I’m very grateful. The list came out in The Weekend Australian and it’s such a privilege to be among these established and talented authors. It’s still sinking in to be honest! (I’ve been worried it might’ve been too much of a risk switching from non-fiction to fiction for this book.)

Also, since I mentioned in my last post that Nanna Francesca would’ve been especially happy to see, The Proxy Bride in the Australian Women’s Weekly, I thought I should mention the same might’ve been for Nonno Anni regarding a recent article about my books appearing in the Italian Australian newspapers, Il Globo and La Fiamma (full article in Italian online). I have lovely memories of him at the kitchen table often reading one of these newspapers with a morning coffee (International Roast boiled on the stove in the enamel pot, of course!)

I have to say too that seeing, The Proxy Bride on the same page as a Patricia Cornwall book reminded me of a time, almost thirty years ago, when I dreamt of having a book published. I was working during the day as a clerk doing mainly filing and data entry while also waitressing several nights in a Chinese restaurant and on other nights trying to write (when I wasn’t exhausted!) One lunch hour, I popped out to buy a book to read on the train home and someone had recommended Patricia Cornwall. When I think of the different jobs I’ve had over the years and all the types of writing I’ve done to this point, I definitely don’t take any part of this for granted. Thank you again for embracing these stories. I appreciate it very much! Zoë xx

The Proxy Bride

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Extract in the Australian Women’s Weekly…

The Australian Women’s Weekly has chosen, The Proxy Bride to feature in their latest issue – out today! I just picked up a copy and still can’t quite believe it. I thought it only fitting to share with you it sitting on Nanna Francesca and Nonno Anni’s pink-marble Laminex 1950s kitchen table. (The table from their very first house in Wyandra Street – yes, I’m so fortunate to be its current custodian!)

In almost 30 years of writing for all different organisations and publications from academic journals to tv ads, I didn’t expect to have something I’d written featured in such a long-loved institution as the Women’s Weekly. I have to smile as I think this is the one that definitely would’ve resonated for Nanna Francesca compared to all the others. And considering all those years ago her birthplace of Palmi in Calabria was unheard of in Australia – who’d have thought it would ever appear in the Women’s Weekly let alone my writing along with it! Deepest thanks to the AWW for choosing an extract of The Proxy Bride for their December issue. (Nanna Francesca especially would’ve been so happy too!) Zoë xx

The Proxy Bride

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Melanzane fritte and a cornicello…

Melanzane fritte – made with eggplants from the backyard vegie patch, just like the crumbed, fried eggplant slices that Nonna Gia and Sofie cook together in, The Proxy Bride. I’ve put these ones on one of Nanna Francesca’s plates and next to them is a little pot I bought in Italy to stand in as a ‘chilli pot’ (though I confess mine has salt in it at present!)

I hadn’t planned to include recipes at the end of this book but when I was writing about the food in it, I found myself cooking many of the dishes to remind myself of them. Since the way I learned to cook from my grandmother was mostly by watching and tasting, measurements were always a ‘handful of this’, a ‘dash of that’ and if I asked, ‘But how much?’, the answer would be a shrug and something like, ‘Just enough, of course, see?’ It was certainly interesting to try to pin down exact recipe measurements and in the end I thought it might be lovely to share these too.

You might also recognise the cornicello, that amulet of luck that can only be given as a gift, never bought for oneself. A symbol of the earth, fertility, healing and protection that’s endured from as far back as 3400BC in a long-held connection with and reverence for nature as well as humans’ reliance on it for food and survival. Looking at this picture I have to smile – eggplants, a cornicello and handed-down recipes, that’s certainly a little bit of southern Italy going on in northern Australia. 💛 Zoë xx

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Four generations, 100 years and one significant change…

Four generations of women in my family, 100 years and one significant change…

In southern Italy’s turn-of-the-century poverty, and as an eldest girl needed to help at home, my Bisnonna Cesca was denied school and being able to read and write. While Great-Granny Maddalena was so proud to get two or so years of school in this era when educating poorer people was discouraged, especially girls. (Granny said if she’d had a daughter, she’d have named her, Flavia, after her schoolteacher, which perhaps says a lot.)

By the 1930s, both my grandmother’s, Francesca and Lorna, got to high school in Australia but again were persuaded to leave early to work – a few years after, Nanna Francesca was also married at 17, a mother by 19. And while Mum graduated from Teachers’ College in the 1960s, she could only work until she got married and then was required to resign (unlike my father, also a high school teacher). She also didn’t get to finish her university studies as he did.

Perhaps that’s why, when I completed high school and considered taking a break from study, it was Mum who really urged me to take up the place I’d been offered at university. Being young, (I was sixteen, having been put up a grade – not something I’d recommend in hindsight!), at the time I didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity I had. Or then how significant it was to be the first female from either side of my family to graduate from university, to be in an era that I could do so.

In retrospect, it can’t be only by chance that in a century and four generations, women in my family have gone from being unable to read and write to writing books. And so, on today’s 10th anniversary of the UN’s International Day of the Girl, I’d say that it’s so important to keep supporting and encouraging girls to learn – a basic human right. It can truly change lives. Today, 130+ million girls are missing out on going to school. Whether in places like South Sudan, Afghanistan or in migrant and indigenous communities in ‘richer, peaceful’ countries. Financial hardship, early marriage, trauma, cultural barriers and favouring of boys being educated still among the main reasons. Looking back at the generations of women before me, knowing the drive, aptitude and potential they each showed, like so many women of their eras, I consider how much more they might’ve been able to do had they had the chance, and what they may have decided to do in their lives if they’d had the choice. Zoë x

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The Proxy Bride book launch…

Thank you all of you who came along to join me last night in toasting the women who were proxy brides! And also those who wanted to be there and sent me the loveliest messages. I’ve been told more than a hundred turned up to celebrate and am still feeling amazed and overwhelmed to be honest! I wish I could’ve chatted to each of you for longer – it was such a busy night! And I’m stunned to learn the books all sold out, I’m sorry if you missed out on a copy on the night. More people were there than the bookshop expected!

Thanks to those who sent me some photos. I’m told it was difficult to capture everyone who came along but some of you may find yourselves pictured here. I can’t bear seeing myself in photos so I empathise if anyone else feels the same! I also included the beautiful flowers from my husband, Roger and also my publisher, Rachael Donovan as the bunches were both so stunning and unexpected.

I hope the food was delicious (I didn’t get a moment to grab a morsel but I’m happy to hear it disappeared so it must’ve been good!) and the bar was almost drunk dry so I’m hoping too that means everyone had a wonderful time. I heard one fellow singing Volare along with Livio playing the piano accordion at one stage and like the lyrics to that song, the night seemed to really fly! Thanks again for all your warmth and support for the books. Zoe 💕 xx

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The Proxy Bride book out today…

Today’s the day! The Proxy Bride has arrived and is in book shops! Kind of incredible to be holding it in my hands. For many decades the term, ‘proxy bride’ has been whispered, rarely spoken of, let alone written about – a long-hidden part of our history. It’s unlikely we’ll see Italian-Australian proxy marriages again and I wanted to write about them because these women especially were remarkably brave and their stories deserve more than a whisper.

It was actually Nonno Anni who set me to writing this book. When I was talking to him about his life for, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, by chance he mentioned that during WW2 in Australia when he and other Italians got sent to internment camps, the wives and children suddenly left alone on the farms did it very tough and almost starved. But a group of them banded together, he told me, and kept their farms going. That struck and I knew I’d return one day to write about it.

When I learned some of these women were proxy brides, it opened up even more to the story. Of course, this is just one part of, The Proxy Bride. There’s much more including some laughs, cooking, music inspired by Nanna Francesca’s 1950s stereogram, secrets and quite a few Italian brands and traditions you may recognise! I hope you enjoy reading it.❤️🍝🎶 Zoë x

Available today in paperback and ebook in book shops, department stores and online. (Will let you know when there is audio book news.) Thanks to all those at HQ Fiction and HarperCollins who helped bring this about and to you for your lovely ongoing support for all my books. So very much appreciated! Zoë xx

Click for booksellers…

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Book Week reception at Government House

Last night I found myself at Government House attending a cocktail reception along with other authors and dignitaries invited by the Governor of Queensland, Dr Jeanette Young AC PSM in celebration of Book Week 2022. Her Excellency gave a warm speech about books and the importance of literacy – something close to my heart knowing recent generations of women and men in my own family were denied schooling due to being poor and other circumstances, especially the girls. Every day when I sit at my desk to write, I’m conscious of how fortunate I am to do what I love and to have had the opportunity of school and university, that at times when I was young, I took for granted regrettably, as I’m so grateful for it now.

It was a lovely event and I can happily say that Her Excellency approached me for a personal chat, especially about, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, and I thanked her for her difficult work during the pandemic, for which she was very modest. As well, it was really great to meet and chat to other authors from all different genres and backgrounds.

Unfortunately there were no photos allowed inside Government House but Roger took this one of me out front before we all went in. I was trying to recall the spot where Nonno Anni stood outside Government House in 1977 when he received a British Empire Medal for help and support to the migrant community. I didn’t quite get the exact spot but I have to laugh at the two photos, as obviously we were both battling bright sun and it was breezy – not the greatest shot for either of us (Nanna Francesca even got the camera strap in his! – smiling). The funny thing is, by chance it just happens to be 45 years since Nonno Anni received that honour at Government House, so it’s a nice serendipity to be there on the anniversary of it.

World Literacy Foundation     Indigenous Literacy Foundation

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Article by Il Capoluogo news in Italy…

A lovely surprise to hear of this article in Il Capoluogo that talks about my books. You may read it in Italian via this link or the English-translated version below. Some of the translation from Italian may come across a little differently in English. Interesting to find out how some of my posts are interpreted from afar, especially in Italy. (And in line with the article’s title, I can say that despite earthquakes, pandemics and all else that has kept me from the family house in Fossa, I still love the beauty and history of Fossa, the Aterno Valley and Abruzzo and now that I’ve finished, The Proxy Bride, I’m delving back into this remarkable area of Italy and some unanticipated family trails for my next book.) Many thanks to giornalista, Sergio Venditti for the article.

PERSONAGGI

Zoë Boccabella, the Australian writer in love with Fossa and its Abruzzo.

by Sergio Venditti

In 2022, not only Italy, but also Abruzzo begins to emerge from the “shadow cone” of marginalisation and irrelevance in a society with a strong Anglo-Saxon imprint, such as Australia. In fact, in this magical year a real political-institutional miracle took place with the election as Prime Minister of that great country the Hon. Anthony Albanese, son of an Apulian from Barletta (known only in 2011) and raised by a single mother. An outcome that was not taken for granted, with the victory of Labor, after a decade under conservative leadership, but who wanted to experience change in the post-pandemic. The Albanian government has thirteen ministers, even with a representation of Islamic faith. At his oath, the Prime Minister declared, “I am proud of my government, which reflects Australia in its inclusiveness and diversity”.

Of course, half a century has passed since that film by L. Zampa (“A Girl in Australia” starring C. Cardinale and A. Sordi), which made an era: “Handsome, Honest, Australian Emigrant would marry a respectable countrywoman”. The critic G. Grazzini wrote about the film: “It is not only fun, it evokes the nostalgia for the distant homeland…. where everything is possible “. In fact, in recent decades the Italian community has conquered, with tenacity, a central space in Australian society, as already highlighted in all fields.

This is also the case for an emigrant like Annibale, who arrived in the country from his small village of Fossa in the province of L’Aquila. Childhood memories of him are now inspirational for his granddaughter, Zoë Boccabella, an emerging author. The latter reports her family background in the book: “Mezza Italiana“, featured in a 2019 interview (to Abruzzo Economia): “I grew up as a descendant of Italian immigrants in the 70s and 80s, when having Mediterranean origins it was not as well regarded as it is now”.

In this autobiographical book, Zoë describes her discovery of Abruzzo and her home in Fossa (damaged in the same 2009 earthquake). In these memories, Boccabella touches the central heart of the return to the origins: “The first time I travelled to Abruzzo, where my paternal grandfather comes from, I had the feeling of returning home”.

Thus visiting Calabria itself, from which her grandmother came. And again memory becomes writing: “Walking through villages, hills, woods and abandoned castles, I felt that Abruzzo was a unique land” and … “I was reflecting more and more on my life experience … and on how I felt divided in half, as if I did not entirely belong to either culture”.

A journey to rediscover her origins as Zoë (with her husband Roger), after a childhood in which she was sometimes harassed at school, in Brisbane (in the north-eastern state of Queensland), insulted as a “Wog“, for non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants. “I started writing what would become ‘Mezza Italiana’, while I was sitting at the kitchen table of our family house in Fossa”. Still in the kitchen, this time in Australia, Zoë describes: “pumpkins, which we bought from a farmer, along the road, near Esk”. And after also their symbolic role in the land of the ancestors: “For centuries in Abruzzo pumpkins have remained a significant part of folklore and the agricultural calendar, with late autumn, which was a moment of reconciliation and gratitude at the end of the harvest” … “With the end of the seasons the arrival of the moment of gratitude for those who preceded us, who have now disappeared”.

“The cocce de morte” (heads of the dead), are carved in the pumpkins and inside with a lit candle to illuminate, welcoming the loved ones of the past, to join those present and their homes “. In this, Zoë Boccabella represents a cultured writer (with a degree in Literature and Sociology, with a master’s degree in Philosophy), determined and coherent in her narrative plots.

Now she announces her third book, forthcoming, entitled The Proxy Bride, which takes up the old custom of proxy weddings in a foreign land. An extraordinarily lively novel, “About family, secrets and adversity, imagining marrying someone you’ve never met. How she arrived in Australia on a bridal ship, among many brides by proxy, knowing little of the husbands they had married from afar, most of them coming to find someone, very different from what was described “.

The author recalls the same added value of feminist culture, in “Three Shades of Mimosas“, as a symbol to celebrate the first International Women’s Day, in 1946. A shared appeal also to denounce the Russian invasion, the loss of many paintings by the Ukrainian artist M. Prymachenko (1909-1997), with her symbolic work, A Dove Has Spread Her Wings and Asks for Peace, 1982. Yet a great Russian literature like F. Dostoevsky wrote: “Man loves to build and trace roads, he is peaceful. But where does it come from that you also passionately love destruction and chaos”.

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Coming soon…

Just under a month until, The Proxy Bride arrives on 7 September. With it being on the way for a little while now and drawing nearer, the time feels somewhat like the time it took for the ship journey from Italy to Australia. Such a journey of anticipation, fear and excitement for so many migrants but perhaps even more so for the women, the proxy brides, destined to meet husbands, many of them, for the first time. It makes me feel even more admiration for these courageous women who took that journey on what were called ‘bride ships’.

I must admit to feeling a bit of trepidation myself as the book date approaches while at the same time looking forward to sharing it with you. Thank you to so many of you who have been steadfast in the years of my researching and writing to share these stories, it is truly wonderful to have you here in this little corner of the world and I love how you share your own sentiments and stories here too.

You may notice here that the book also includes a dozen recipes. I didn’t plan this but then, considering there is a fair but of cooking and eating along the way in this story (and it’s such a part of Italian life!) it seemed right to include them. I think the names of just a few might start to reveal a little more of the book… ‘Angry Spaghetti’, ‘Mixed Grill’ and ‘Crostoli in Cioccolato’, recipes passed down, connecting different generations, countries and stories, sometimes with a bit of an unexpected twist too… Zoe x

More about The Proxy Bride

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The Proxy Bride – new book coming

Four months until, The Proxy Bride is out and the book cover has landed at my desk. It’s always interesting to see what the publisher creates for a cover and even though this is book three, each time it still feels astonishing to see my name on the front!

For this book it’s been an honour to write about a part of our hidden history – the courageous women who married by proxy and travelled to the other side of the world to husbands they’d mostly never met. And also of the Italian wives left behind on farms in Australia after their husbands were interned during WW2 and how these women banded together to survive against tough odds and much hostility towards them at the time.

Not least, it’s also about Nonnas and granddaughters in the 1980s when those stories and secrets from the past began to emerge and cultures clashed along with old Italian traditions and Australian life. Of course, while it’s a novel, so much of this book is inspired by true happenings, family stories and even a bit of my own experience as a teenager in the ’80s. Looking forward to sharing it with you! Zoë xx

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Next book out in September…

HarperCollins have released the blurb about the next book! The Proxy Bride will be out on 7th September and I can’t wait to share it with you. 

“In 1939, Giacinta sets sail from Italy to Australia. Decades later, a granddaughter discovers the true story of her family… A stunningly crafted novel of family, secrets and facing adversity.

Imagine marrying someone you’ve never met …

When Sofie comes to stay with her grandmother in Stanthorpe, she knows little of Nonna Gia’s past. In the heat of that 1984 summer, the two clash over Gia’s strict Italian ways and superstitions, her chilli-laden spaghetti and the evasive silence surrounding Sofie’s father, who died before she was born. Then Sofie learns Gia had an arranged marriage. From there, the past begins to reveal why no-one will talk of her father.

As Nonna Gia cooks, furtively adding a little more chilli each time, she also begins feeding Sofie her stories. How she came to Australia on a ‘bride ship’, among many proxy brides, knowing little about the husbands they had married from afar, most arriving to find someone much different than described.

Then, as World War II takes over the nation, and in the face of the growing animosity towards Italians that sees their husbands interned, Gia and her friends are left alone. Impoverished. Desperate. To keep their farms going, their only hope is banding together, along with Edie, a reclusive artist on the neighbouring farm and two Women’s Land Army workers. But the venture is made near-impossible by the hatred towards the women held by the local publican and an illicit love between Gia and an Australian, Keith.

The summer burns on and the truth that unfolds is nothing like what Sofie expected …

The author of Mezza Italiana brings to life a unique point of migrant women’s untold experience, in a resonant novel of family, food and love.”

The Proxy Bride…

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Hidden history honoured…

A memorial stone and plaque are now in place at the site of the secret internment camp at Western Creek. It’s been quite a twisting trail to get to this point – from writing about my grandfather being an internee there in Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, after years of research and almost a detective hunt in putting together the information and many brick walls from authorities, some refusing to believe the camp that detained hundreds of innocent men during WW2 even existed (despite photographs and other clues).

Then there was the unexpected letter I received from Cecil Gibson, a Millmerran local who’d read my book, and who, together with other members of the Millmerran Museum and Historical Society, sought to also honour this, until then, mostly unknown local history. As I said, it’s been a twisting trail, especially in pinpointing the exact site, uncovering remnants of decades old testimony and even discovering the odd, old WW2 land mine left behind in the area (since cleared)!

I’m so pleased this has all come about, most of all for the young men interned, the army guards who treated them with respect and the women and children left to fend for themselves, many on farms, who did it tough in the absence of their men and workers.

Original post… Hidden history at Western Creek

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Sneak peek… next book

The Proxy Bride is a novel inspired by true stories and set between the 1940s and the 1980s in Italy and Australia. There will be angry spaghetti, mixed grills, mixed tapes, Dean Martin on the 1950s stereogram and plastic on the lounge suite and, above all, hopefully characters you may come to love who band together amid tough times for a new life.

To be released 7 September, 2022…

The plaited chillies hanging in the kitchen are on their way!
Buona settimana!  💛🍝 Zoe x

About The Proxy Bride…

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Book news and the first day of spring…

New season, new month and very happy to say… a new book on the way! I’ve recently signed a contract with HQ Fiction – HarperCollins for book three. It’s very early news but so many of you over the years have asked with such warmth and kindness when the next book is coming, I wanted to share this with you straight away.

One unexpected catch, it will be more than a year or longer until it is in print due to delays like covid. Still, I’m so grateful to be getting published in such times and am now working on book four. It’s too soon to reveal much more just yet, including the title, but I will do so as soon as I’m able to.

Most of all, I wanted to thank you for your encouragement and thoughtful words over the years between books. It really does keep me going throughout the lengthy writing process. I can’t wait to share this new book with you! Zoe xx 💛🌿

(I took this photo last summer but a bee in flight and the happiness of yellow flowers seemed perfect to celebrate the first day of spring.)

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From one hand to another…

I’m so thrilled that, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar has now been translated and published in braille. In a way, the story is completing a lovely circle in travelling from my mind to be written by hand then to be read by hand and to another mind.

Thank you to all those at Braille House who made this possible. It really feels very special! 💙 Zoe xx

[Image descriptions: Image 1: blue book cover with braille along the spine and a black and white photo of Joe and Francesca and their little boy, Remo in front of their 1950s milk bar.
Image 2: a braille alphabet.]

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Mezza Italiana on ABC Nightlife…

From this week until early January, ABC Nightlife in Australia is broadcasting the Mezza Italiana audiobook read by Marcella Russo (pictured). This is one for the night owls as it may not be on until around midnight, although I’m told apparently it will have quite a large audience of half-a-million nationally! Many thanks to Bolinda audio, ABC Books and Nightlife. So lovely to think Mezza is still out there reaching people. ❤🍅 xx

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/nightlife/

https://geni.us/MezzaItalianaaudiobook

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Some book news…

So pleased I can share with you that Mezza Italiana is going to be broadcast on ABC radio’s, Nightlife from early December and into January. The audio book is voiced by actor and voice-over artist, Marcella Russo, who was fantastic to work with. I also recently found out that, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar is to be translated into braille, which is a wonderful surprise. A few years back, I had the opportunity to do a literary talk at a luncheon at NSW Parliament House to support the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children and I’m really thrilled that this translation has come about.

In other book news I’m gradually coming toward the end of what has been a massive project of writing two books back-to-back including a lot of research over the past few years. I’m not yet sure what effect the current pandemic situation is going to have on this and to be honest it does feel a bit overwhelming and uncertain to be in the arts at present, but when the time comes that I have more news I can share with you, I will do so straightaway! In the meantime, I hope you are well, especially those who have been enduring longer lockdowns than others. My heart and thoughts stay with you and am wishing you hope, more fortitude and some light in your day, even if it is something as small and special as a bird popping by the window. In bocca al lupo. Zoe xx

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Reading aloud…

My Dad shared a sweet story with me today… in the Italian class he teaches, a student told him they’ve lent my book to a friend and each night the husband is reading it aloud to his wife. What a lovely thought! I felt really touched to hear this. (And in a curious twist, today happens to be “Read Aloud Day”.) I loved it as a child when one of my parents read aloud to me each night and I always begged for ‘another story’ rather than go to sleep.

The Enchanted Wood was a favourite read to me and then I read over and over myself. I still have this 1956 edition Mum’s father gave to her when she was eight. Mum then gave it to me at about the same age, but when I was older and moved out of home, I left the book with her, knowing how she treasured it. Then, just two months before she died, Mum gave me this book again, wrapped as a present on the night I graduated from my Masters degree, and I can’t tell you how precious it is to me, even if very marked and foxed and falling apart!

(If only my name inside in my grade 3, ‘running writing’ – yet to graduate from pencil to pen – was as elegant as my grandfather’s cursive script. Mine’s really only got worse, not better!)

Happy reading aloud!
Zoë xx

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Saluti a Nonno Anni…

It’s Nonno Anni’s birthday in a few days so there was once a time when all the family would be getting together this weekend at my grandparents’ house. Several tables would be pushed together, Nanna Francesca would cook huge bowls of pasta and either polpette or cotolette, and of course there’d be cake, champagne and maybe Franjelico, or Sambuca with a coffee bean lit on top.

Although Nonno Anni has been gone some while now, I still miss him terribly but I’m so grateful for the times we had and so on October 21st will raise a glass, or a polpette, to Annibale (Joe) who continues to inspire me. xxx

(For the record, that air-conditioner behind Nonno Anni in this photo is the one I wrote about that Nanna Francesca refused to let me turn on even on the hottest days because it created a ‘cold draught’!!) 😊

Buon compleanno, Nonno, con amore sempre. Tante cose belle. Zoë xx

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un viaggio in Italia…

So lovely that Mezza Italiana has been picked in conjunction with Amazon US as one the best books to inspire a trip to Italy. Especially to be in the company of some great authors. Many thanks to Red Around the World. xx

 

31 Of The Best Books Set In Italy To Inspire Your Next Trip

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Abruzzo Economia interview…

Italian magazine, Abruzzo Economia, recently interviewed me for their Lifestyle section and it was lovely to speak to Raffaella Quieti Cartledge about Abruzzo and writing Mezza Italiana, including some questions I’ve never been asked before about the area. The article in Italian may be read here…

Abruzzo Economia – Una scrittrice australiana Mezza Abruzzese

or you may read an English version below…

An Australian writer who is half-Abruzzese…

by Raffaella Quieti Cartledge

Australian and author of the autobiographical book, Mezza Italiana, Zoë Boccabella describes her discovery of Abruzzo, her familial origins in Fossa (AQ), and her subsequent trips to the region and the rest of Italy. The memories of her grandfather’s stories come to life in the family home while Abruzzo reveals a part of itself that will transform her forever.

What inspired you to write the book?

The first time I arrived in Abruzzo where my family came from, I had a feeling of coming home, even though I had never been there before. I stayed in the house in Fossa that had belonged to my ancestors for centuries and my grandfather, Annibale, who was born in Abruzzo, told me stories of when he grew up there, the history of the area where he lived and how he left part of his heart behind when his father sent for him to join him in Australia in 1939. The experience had such a profound effect on me. Walking around the villages, hillsides, forests and deserted castles, I felt at once that Abruzzo was a very special place. Each time I returned and explored the area more, I wrote down family folklore, village stories and began to think more about my experiences growing up as an Italian-Australian, how I felt ‘half and half’, not like I fully belonged to either culture.

Who is your main audience and please tell us about them.

I began writing what was to become Mezza Italiana at the kitchen table in the house in Fossa, not thinking it might become a published book one day. Over time, I added more research and stories as I discovered them. Then the 2009 earthquake occurred in Abruzzo where my family’s village was and it was important to include this too. Especially when I saw how the Abruzzese handled the tragedy with such grace, strength and forbearance.

I wrote what I saw and felt, rather than thinking about who might read it one day. And because I grew up as a descendant of Italian migrants in 1970s and early 80s Australia when it wasn’t as accepted to have a Mediterranean background like it is now and migrants weren’t always treated well by everyone, I did come to hope that by sharing my story perhaps just one person who read it, who was a migrant descendant and feeling confused or ‘half and half’, might not spend decades surrendering part of themselves as I did.

Are you going to have the book translated in Italian and how many copies have you sold so far?

It has been such an unexpected and lovely surprise that Mezza Italiana has become a bestselling book in Australia and the best part of that has been hearing from so many different readers who shared similar experiences to mine. It has recently also become available in Italy, the rest of Europe, the UK and US as well.

What is it of Abruzzo that strikes you as different from other regional characters?

Secluded by the magnificent Apennines, in many ways Abruzzo remains untamed, natural, beautiful, but still accessible, with wonderful, down-to-earth people, talented artisans in centuries-old crafts and culinary traditions, and medieval architecture unchanged. When writing both my books, I travelled throughout Italy from the north to the south and in between and whenever Italians in other regions asked where my family came from and I mentioned Abruzzo, their responses were very positive with much respect for Abruzzese, who are well known to be forte e gentile – strong and kind.

What do you think is Abruzzo’s main resource (in every way, geography, people) and what do you think Abruzzese should do to stimulate its economy – attract niche tourism?

Because I live in Australia I can only answer from the perspective of a visitor to Abruzzo, even if that includes staying with family there. For me, the charm of Abruzzo is its many untouched landscapes and traditional ways. I understand it is important to be economically strong in the best interest of the Abruzzese people while protecting its valuable assets of the natural beauty and historical art and architecture of the region, so there is a fine line. To me, Abruzzo’s great strength is having more green space than almost any other region of Italy, as well as its fauna. This is a great tourist enticement.

A popular, growing part of tourism is photography tours where serious photographers are led by tour guides to photograph wildlife, flora and scenery. I believe Abruzzo’s renowned national parks, lakes, mountains and forests, brown bears, chamois, eagles and wolves among other wildlife are a superb attraction.

Abruzzo has a very rich art history and again this would suit tailored tours as well as culinary tours that could include local feste, not so well-known and waiting to be discovered.

In the past, due to its untouched areas and medieval buildings, areas of Abruzzo have also been used as locations for films, including Hollywood’s ‘spaghetti westerns’ and films such as, In the Name of the Rose, Ladyhawke, The American and The Fox and the Child and the region could continue to be a place that hosts international and local film locations.

Should the region establish better contacts with the descendants of Abruzzese ’emigrati’ abroad through their associations and bring them over to visit the land their grandparents came from?

This is an interesting question. Visiting the region did strengthen my ties to the area and prompted me to encourage more people to discover it too. For descendants of migrants, it can be such an enriching, valuable experience to see where their parents or grandparents came from. Some in Abruzzo may not be aware that many migrants in Australia continue to carry on traditional Abruzzese and Italian ways to this day – bottling their own passata, making pasta alla chitarra, sausage making, and celebrating traditional festive days – all to respect and keep alive their heritage.

How did the discovery of your grandfather’s region change you?

The first time I went to Italy I was unaware Abruzzo was about to have its way with me. As I journeyed up into the Apennine Mountains to L’Aquila and then Fossa, it was as though the Italian blood in me suddenly surged with recognition and I couldn’t resist the magnetic pull the place had on me. Abruzzo completely exceeded my expectations in its special beauty and gave me a sense of ‘coming home’ and belonging. Family history and ancestral links have an instinctive pull and over the next two decades I felt compelled to return to the house that had belonged to my family for centuries and for longer periods of time.

Curiously, as much as Australia is my home, going to Italy felt like going home too and each time I returned with my heart more open. It made me feel proud of my Italian heritage when I was back in Australia and of course to write about that and to share it with others. When I first stepped onto Italian soil, I was hopping off a train and a bird dropping landed on my shoulder. This is meant to be ‘a positive sign’ according to Italian folklore and I guess for me it truly was!

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Stanthorpe Border Post article…

For those in the Stanthorpe area or with a connection to it, the Border Post interviewed me recently about parts of the books set there. It was a pleasure to spend time in the area when researching the books, especially going back to where my family’s orchards stood, and always such a privilege to interview older, local people and learn their stories. xx

Click to read article…

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conca d’Abruzzo in Australia…

Received this lovely gift from a reader, Augusto (who doesn’t mind me sharing that he lives in Australia, was born in Fossa, Abruzzo and was pleased to discover the books). At 80, for the first time he’s learnt copper smithing and made me this little, copper conca and ladle, like those larger ones traditionally used in Abruzzo to collect water (women like my bisnonna Maddalena carried them on their heads).

Thank you to Augusto, such a beautiful kindness. I will treasure it always! And many thanks to all who’ve connected through messages and letters. It’s such a pleasure to hear from you. What most drives me to write is to preserve experiences of ‘everyday’ people and their often overlooked yet I believe significant parts of history. Thank you for your interest (and I’m working hard on the next book!!) xx

 

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Mezza Italiana released in the US!

Mezza Italiana has been released in paperback in the US! With many thanks to HarperCollins 360, Mezza is now available at US bookstores, online or to order in.

So lovely and incredible to think this book that was first written on a kitchen table in Italy has made its way across another ocean! Thank you for embracing it!

Tante belle cose, Zoë xx

 

 

 

 

Mezza Italiana

 

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“Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar” broadcast…

From tonight, ABC Nightlife will broadcast the audiobook of Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar read by the very talented, award-winning actress, Daniela Farinacci (who was absolutely lovely to work with!)

Many thanks to Bolinda audio, ABC Books and Nightlife.

 

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Reading about Abruzzo…

Quite a thrill to see Mezza Italiana among such good company – thank you Life in Abruzzo!

A Traveller’s Companion: Top 15 Books on Abruzzo

 

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New year harvest…

Buon anno a tutti and warmest wishes!

The new year was generally start of harvest time at my family’s Applethorpe farm, with various fruit and vegetable picking over the first four months or so. Seeing photographs of that time, I’m taken by the generous camaraderie that comes across among the hard work and summer heat, especially knowing family and friends came from near and far to help my great-grandmother, Cesca and her youngest two left alone on their farm after her husband Mico’s sudden death at fifty-three.

At my desk again for the first time this year, while I await the next step on book three I am making a start to some research, a bit like ‘harvesting’ snippets and stories, that I hope (and I can’t believe I am writing this) will become book four!! Again, best wishes for the year and tante belle cose. xx

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From that first trip to Fossa…

With Nanna Francesca and Nonno Anni outside the family house in Fossa when I arrived there for the first time all those years ago (bearing in mind by then I’d been travelling and living out of a backpack for several months!!)

Little did I know how much this first trip to see where in Italy my family came from would come to have such an effect, and when this was taken I certainly didn’t imagine that Mezza and Joe’s would follow. Have just completed work on the next book (fingers crossed!) and wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for joining me here along the way. It’s so lovely to have your support and to know you a little through your messages. Thank you!! Xx

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sign of the old shop…

In this photograph of my family’s fruit shop and milk bar in its earlier days, it’s apparent how it began very modestly with my grandparents standing on the footpath in Ann Street selling produce from a ‘hole in the wall’ before they expanded the space to include a milk bar. Visible in the top left is some of the sign that hung over the footpath from around the early 1950s. It was white with ‘milk bar’ in red Perspex letters and lit up at night.

Below is the only part of the sign we managed to salvage after Brisbane’s 2011 floods (and happens to be the bit seen in this photograph taken almost 70 years ago!) It might be broken but it’s one of only a handful of items my grandparents kept when they closed their milk bar and with now no trace that it ever existed, it seems lucky to have this piece left.

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the gentle work of nest building…

Have some long, solitary hours ahead for a little while as I do the edit on the next book… so it was lovely to sit at my desk this morning and look out into the tree to see a honeyeater building a nest right by my window. I may even get some baby birds for company come spring!

A while back I read in a book (Nest: The Art of Birds by Janine Burke) that as well as using their beaks to build their nests, birds also press their breasts against the inner wall to make it round, imprinting their shape on their home and forming it with their beating hearts. As I sit here I can see the bird doing just that! (Apologies the picture isn’t better but didn’t want to move too much and scare her off.)

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spaghetti per cena…

This is one of the first photographs I chose that I hoped would make the cover of Mezza Italiana (it’s on the back). Taken in the 1960s, it was dinner for my uncle’s birthday and one of the rare times the family got to eat together since one of my grandparents were usually doing a shift at their milk bar.

I love how the young, fair-haired friend (second from left) looks happy to be at the dinner table eating spaghetti among three generations of an Italian family (reminds me a bit of how Roger was when he first came to eat at my grandparents’ house). And of course that is my Dad in the front right corner, being his usual larrikin self!

 

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Mezza Italiana to be released in the US next year….

I’m thrilled to say that in 2018 Mezza Italiana will be available in the US  in paperback and ebook.

Many thanks to ABC books, HarperCollins AUS and HarperCollins360 US.

More closer to the date! xx

 

 

 

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From a laneway in Fossa…

I took this from the tiny balcony of the house in Fossa. As Roger walked along the laneway below on his way to the Boccabella shop and passed someone on their phone, he had no idea I was taking a photograph from above.

It is some years ago now, at a time when we were staying in the family house at the village in Abruzzo for a month and I was starting to write Mezza Italiana. It feels so strange to know that the damaged house now stands empty and the village a ghost town since the earthquake.

But I also feel so fortunate and grateful for the times I got to the experience the village at its happy and lively best, the connection it gave me to family and for the stories it has given, and hopefully will continue to give.

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Books update…

Mezza Italiana and Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar are both now in bookshops in Italy!

It is such a thrill, especially to think back to when I first started writing Mezza in a notebook on the kitchen table in the Abruzzo house of my family. What might the generations who sat there before me have thought?!

Thank you to all of you who have shown such affection and support for these books (and to those who’ve messaged me after spotting the books already in Milan and Florence!) I am very grateful! Tante belle cose, Zoe xx

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Books update…

Mezza Italiana by Zoë BoccabellaMezza Italiana now available in the UK

Including at bookstores such as Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith and others as well as online stores.
It is available in paperback, ebook and audiobook.
Many thanks to ABC Books and HarperCollins 360 UK!!

________________________________________

 

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From 6th June, 1946…

Annibale, Francesca and Remo outside shopToday it is 70 years since my Italian grandparents, Nonno Anni and Nanna Francesca signed the lease on premises to start up their fruit shop and milk bar in Australia.

And so began many years when they opened the shop from 7am until 11pm, only the two of them working there (with a baby in tow) and closing just two days a year at Christmas and Easter.

Thinking of them with much gratitude for all their hard work and sacrifice to make it such a success.

 

 

 

 

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Hand-bound books…

bookbindingIn Bendigo not long ago, I came across a bookbinding shop that is the most similar I’ve found in Australia to the one I came across in Florence (p.212 Mezza Italiana). I couldn’t resist these handmade books and the owner kindly offered to emboss my name on them.
I wrote the first draft of Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar longhand in foolscap exercise books. The pens I used were cheap, plastic biros. The ink ran out in close to a dozen by the end. Mezza Italiana also began in longhand, at the kitchen table in my family’s house in Italy. That time I wrote in several diary planners that were out of date, with similar plastic biros.
These hand-bound books are so beautiful I feel almost afraid to write in them!

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milk bar glass, circa 1950…

milk bar glassAn original glass {circa 1950} from Nanna Francesca and Nonno Anni’s milk bar. These were mostly used for my grandfather’s sought-after, homemade orange drink but customers would also request milkshakes in them too if they preferred glass to one of the metal canisters.

The milkshake flavours available at the time were chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, custard, lime and caramel, with chocolate always the most popular. The only flavours I had in the house to make this one were maple syrup and vanilla bean, which turned out quite delicious. And yes, that is an old-style, waxed paper straw!

Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

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Italian internees, Australia 1942…

Internees and tent at Western CreekItalian internees at the ‘secret’ Western Creek internment camp in 1942. My grandfather, Annibale (far right, standing) was 18 years old and working as a farmhand at Applethorpe when he was interned.

Those familiar with Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar will know that despite much searching I have to date been unable to uncover any document that officially shows this internment camp existed. This is despite much anecdotal evidence gathered from internees, a guard and residents of the nearby Queensland town of Millmerran. As well as photographs taken inside the camp (see tent to left) and a tiny newspaper article that appeared in The Western Star and Roma Advertiser in 1942.

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Joe’s milk bar, circa 1950s…

Annibale and Vitale in milk barOne of the very few photographs taken inside my family’s milk bar in the 1950s (and also one of my favourites). Nonno Anni is behind the counter and Bisnonno Vitale is leaning on it.

This is the era when my grandparents were working 7am-11pm, 363 days a year at their fruit shop and milk bar. My great-grandfather Vitale helped out at the busy times yet continued in his own job at the Brown and Broad sawmill beside the Brisbane River in Teneriffe.

Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

 

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Stonehenge Boarding house…

Stonehenge 157 Leichhardt St BrisbaneStonehenge Boarding house at 157 Leichhardt St, Spring Hill, Brisbane, where three generations of my family lived during the 1940s. It is amazing to see how steeply pitched the roof is considering my father climbed to the top of it when he was not quite three and a half and my Nonno had to get him back down. Sadly, this house, built circa 1859 of convict-hewn stone, was demolished in the 1950s.

 

Photograph courtesy of the Fryer Library, University of Qld and http://www.yourbrisbanepastandpresent.com/

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the first copy…

First copyAn advance copy of Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar arrived on my doorstep today… It is quite incredible to hold the book in my hands, flick through the pages and smell the scent of the paper. I have known since I was teenager that this was a book I one day hoped to write so in essence it’s been 25 years in the making! I also received some posters like the ones that will appear in bookshops, which makes it all feel that bit more real. Only three weeks until Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar will be on bookshop shelves!

 

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the Book House…

book house malenyHappened across this gorgeous Little Free Library in Maple Street, Maleny where you can leave a book and swap it for another. Such a lovely idea. I’m definitely going to take a couple of books to leave there next time…

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the art of birds…

“Birds don’t only use their beaks to build: they press their breasts against the inner wall to make it round, imprinting their shape on their home, an interior formed by the steady rhythm of their beating hearts.”

Janine Burke
from Nest: The Art of Birds

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Castrovillari, Calabria…

I first learnt of this town when reading Old Calabria by Norman Douglas (published 1915), and on the map it looked a good halfway point to stay between Palmi and Pompeii. This part of the old town reminded me of some of the lanes in Fossa, (not so the 40 degree heat at the time) and even though it appears not to have changed much over the years, the town was quite different to the one Douglas had encountered about a century before when brigands were still imprisoned in the castle.

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a beautiful place to sit and read, or lie and daydream…

Painted by Estella Canziani (1887-1964) who wrote {as well as drew and painted the illustrations for} one of my favourite books on the Abruzzo about her 1913 travels – Through the Apennines & Lands of Abruzzi.

She painted this picture {oil on paper} from inside her house in London at 3 Palace Green in 1922. The white bird in the painting one of the many birds she rescued and cared for.

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little free libraries…

Love this concept of the ‘Little Free Library’ – “take a book, leave a book” structures built with recycled materials and popping up beside footpaths, coffee shops, houses and parks around the world….

http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/

little free libraries

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un amour des livres… a love of books

Miniature book art by French artist: Marc Giai-Miniet

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Lightly, lightly….

Life Behind by Maki Horanai

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days…Lightly, lightly—it’s the best advice ever given me. So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly, my darling.”

Aldous Huxley

From ‘Island’, 1962

 

Related articles: Watching Over

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Writing and witches…

Perhaps because my great-grandmother Maddalena was known as the village witch, there is something that appeals immensely about Italy’s most prestigious national literary prize, the Premio Strega being named ‘the witch prize’. In 1944 , Maria and Goffredo Bellonci began hosting at their house in Rome, Sunday gatherings of writers and artists that became known as the Amici della Domenica, or Sunday Friends. This resulted in 1947 the Belloncis, together with Guido Alberti, owner of the Strega liqueur business, inaugurating a prize for fiction, the winner being chosen by the Sunday friends.

Winners include Italian writers such as Umberto Eco in 1981 for Il nome della rosa – In the Name of the Rose and Giuseppe di Lampedusa posthumously in 1959 for Il gattopardo – The Leopard.

Liquore Strega has been distilled since 1860 in the town of Benevento, located roughly between Rome and Naples, the place where witches from all over the world gathered (and still do at a certain time of year). There is an old legend, still very much alive, this drink was a love potion witches created to forever unite couples who drank it. Strega liqueur continues to be tied to the sorcery of its origins. Some modern covens use the liqueur in their rites, burning it in bowls for various purposes.

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Estella Canziani bookplate…

Bookplate: Estella Canziani {1887-1964} artist, writer and folklorist, London {by Frank Brangwyn}, c1919, woodcut, 10.2x9cm.

 

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