Tag Archives: Zoe Boccabella

With time…

A week ago, this was a scrawny,

three stalks of unopened buds

left at the supermarket that

no one seemed to want,

but today… 🤍💚

 

Hope you have a lovely Sunday. 😊 🌿

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Stars, circles and crosses…

Thank you for joining me here throughout the year – for your wonderful interest in and support of my books and for sharing your own experiences and memories with me.

For me, the best part of writing is the connection when those words are read or heard and that magic happens of a story shifting from one mind to another. I love this also when you share your own stories with me. Grazie e auguri. xx

I understand all too well that this time of year can be one of joy, challenge or mixtures of both and my heart goes out to you all. Whatever your beliefs or experiences may be, I hope this time rests gently on you and that the coming year is a kind one.

Warmest wishes, baci e abbracci, Zoë 💙  x

* Pictured are painted tiles from the San Donato ceiling, 1615, in the village of Castelli, Abruzzo that lies on Gran Sasso, the highest mountain of the Apennines. The 17th century stars, circles, suns and crosses actually go back much further to ancient times in Italian folklore and are part of a little of the magic of the area that I’m hoping to write about in the coming year.

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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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Return to the secret internment camp for the first time – and two new discoveries…

It’s been almost a decade since I headed to Millmerran and Western Creek with Roger to try and find the internment camp where ‘Joe’, Nonno Anni and many other Italian men were held in 1942. Back then, hardly anyone knew of the camp, either authorities or locals, and to find its location I was relying on my grandfather’s memories from decades before and scant information I’d been able to garner. For those who’ve read, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, you may recall I stopped at a spot out at Western Creek largely on a ‘feeling’. It seems absurd, I know, and hardly scientific. However, since then, more research and investigating has been done by others to locate the camp site and I can hardly believe it but the spot I had a feeling about ended up being the exact right location. So wonderful to discover this (and a bit spooky too perhaps!)

Clockwise from top left: Location of the internment camp Western Creek, the memorial stone, internees in 1942 (Nonno Anni standing on right), with Cec at the crossroads near the camp, Nonno Anni there in 1964 and the possible spot now, Western Creek, at the memorial stone, red dot marks the spot. And centre: Roger at the galley cook area find, and how it would’ve looked based on a similar one from the era still standing.

The second discovery we made was while walking around and deeper into the site, this time in search for where Nonno Anni had his photo taken when he returned there in 1964. I’m not convinced we found exactly where he stood, even though there was a stump where the other tree behind him had been, but nearby, we made a new discovery, the concrete slab where the crude, galley cooking area of corrugated iron had been. Again, by chance.

To return to this location, now confirmed, on the 80th anniversary that the internment camp was there, felt very special. I’d been invited to speak at an event for this back in May but it was cancelled due to rain and I felt sad in not being able to honour the internees that day. I’d vowed to still return to the site anyway when I could, just quietly, and I picked some nearby wildflowers (and weeds – but pretty!) and left them at the memorial stone that now marks the site.

It was lovely to share this moment with both Roger and also Cecil Gibson, born and of Millmerran and Western Creek for all of his 86 years. While others later became involved, for which I’m very thankful, Cec deserves special mention because he was the first local to pick up on this hidden history after reading about it in, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, and to contact me. He remained focussed on honouring the history both at the site and the Millmerran Museum, even when much seemed against him at times.

The first internment camps in Australia were established under the Menzies government in 1940 and most of these were full by the time the war really ramped up in 1942 and the ‘overflow’ of ‘enemy aliens’ were interned in unofficial and secret camps in isolated state forest and bushland. While other countries like Canada apologised to its Italian-Canadian WW2 internees in 2021 and the U.S.A. has introduced a Bill towards doing so, Australia remains silent on this. And sadly, most Italian-Australian internees are no longer able to receive an apology. That doesn’t mean it’s not important also for their descendants though and all those others who care deeply for their local history.

To write about this internment camp and what happened to Italian-Australians in the 20th century is the most important part of what I’m fortunate to do. And I don’t think the people of Millmerran were given enough credit with the camp being kept secret from them for so long. All of those I’ve spoken to from the area have had nothing but respect, acceptance and the will to help preserve this history and for that I’ll always be grateful. Zoë x

Thank you if you read until the very end! 😊 I just couldn’t skimp on this one. 💛 xx

Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

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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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limoni e mandarini…

On the kitchen table today… a friend’s home-grown lemons and mandarins on one of Nanna Francesca’s 1950s dinner plates. So lovely when someone brings you fruit and flowers they’ve grown in their garden. To me they’re the perfect gifts. (And the fresh, crisp lemon scent currently in the kitchen is divine!) 🍋

I have to say, we ate off these dinner plates at Nanna Francesca and Nonno Anni’s for decades and it’s incredible how small they are compared to plates these days. That said, I think there were often second, (and even third!), helpings at times. 👀😄 But as is the case when an Italian Nonna has been doing the cooking – no one ever goes hungry!

Hope you have a lovely day. 💛 Zoe xx

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Remembering…

My House, My Truth, 1989 by Mariya Prymachenko (1909-1997). “My house, my truth… my mother did it all and gave me. She sewed, spun, baked bread and pounded millet.” Mariya Prymachenko.

Family. The older generation, having lived life, passes on their experience to their children. Prymachenko’s mother passed on her love for art and taught her to embroider and be herself. – From the Odessa Journal, 2022.

Recently at the charity auction ‘Benefit for Ukraine’s People and Culture’ in Venice, this artwork sold for 110,000 euros to become the most expensive of Prymachenko’s paintings. The entire cost has been donated.

(In the first few weeks of Russia’s war on Ukraine, invading Russian forces burned down the museum that was home to 25 of Mariya’s paintings. The war has now been ongoing for five months with tens of thousands of casualties.) 💛💙🌻 памьятаюші

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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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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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The ghost town after the earthquake…

2005

This is the most recent footage of Fossa since the Abruzzo earthquake of 2009. It is called, ‘Town Disappeared Overnight’ by Broken Window Theory and shows the ghost town that it tragically is today. I admit, I did find it hard to watch at times – the place where generations of my family lived for centuries and many parts of the village where I’ve walked and lived and of course written about in both my books. It gave me goosebumps to see and I felt bewildered, sad, captivated and protective all at once. For this is not just a curiosity, it is where people’s lives were lost and for others where life, as they knew it, ended.

I look at the streets overgrown and neglected and at the same time I see in my mind back when they were well-kept and clean and full of people, cats, dogs, cars and vespas. Incredibly, at 18 minutes into this 20 minute footage, my family’s house with its little balcony fills the screen. It is deceptive because from that side wall the destruction inside the house is concealed. If you have any link to Abruzzo, I warn that this footage may be hard to watch as those filming go right into the most intimate parts of homes, which may just happen to be yours or of someone you know. That said, the young men filming have done so with respect, have only entered houses where the doors were already open and have concealed the name and whereabouts of the village. (Considering my own family’s house is one of those looted since the earthquake, I appreciate this.) By the end, they also appear to be overwhelmed by all they’ve seen.

I’ve always held hope to return to the village and my family’s house even if it is still a ghost town. However, most of all, I hope to see it and the other towns affected by the 2009 earthquake once again as they were. Vibrant, full of people of all ages, cooking aromas, vespas going past, cats asleep in doorways, women shelling peas, tvs blaring, kids playing football in the piazza, birds chirruping among the lanes and the church bell clanging, everything that was beautiful and glorious about Italian village life. xx

To watch footage… click here

For more about Fossa, how it once was and the earthquake…

Mezza Italiana

Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

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Dolci con il caffè…

The dilemma of what to have with a coffee… took this in the gorgeous Gran Caffé, Assisi.

{Music: Coffee Cold by Galt MacDermot.}

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