Today I’m delighted to welcome Vanessa Couchman, author of THE HOUSE AT ZARONZA. Vanessa lives in France and is passionate about French and Corsican history and culture, which provide inspiration for her writing. The House at Zaronza is based on an intriguing true story that she came across when holidaying on the beguiling Mediterranean island of Corsica.
She is working on a sequel, set in World War II, and another novel set on Corsica during the 18th century.
Book description of The House at Zaronza:
Rachel Swift travels to Corsica to discover more about her forebears. She finds a series of passionate love letters and the story unfolds of a secret romance in the early 20th century between a village schoolteacher and Maria, the daughter of a bourgeois family. Maria’s parents have other plans for her future, and she sees her dreams crumble. Her life is played out against the backdrop of Corsica, the “island of beauty”, and the turmoil of World War I.
In the extract, Maria’s father has told her she must marry her cousin Vincentello to keep the family possessions together. She is carrying on a secret relationship with the village schoolmaster and reacts vehemently against her impending marriage. Her mother tries to get her to “see sense”, illustrating the Corsican attachment to family honour and the futility of struggling against it.
My father stamped down the corridor, his heels ringing on the flagstones. The front door stuck and grated as usual on the uneven floor. The knocker banged on the door, such was the force with which Papa slammed it.
Maman sank down into the chair opposite me. She looked at me for a moment and a fleeting glimpse of something crossed her face. Sympathy? Understanding? I couldn’t tell, but it seemed unlikely. She sighed.
“Maria, you know your father always does what’s right for you, for us all, for the family. You can’t expect to love your husband at first, but it will come. Papa and I married because our families agreed it was in everyone’s best interests. I have never regretted it, even though… even though I have never been able to have any more children.”
She glanced away for a moment. Despite my own problems, I glimpsed the sadness behind the façade.
“But, Maman. You and Papa talk as if I were goods to be parcelled up and sold, like a barrel of olives. As if I had no will or wishes of my own. What about my feelings? I can’t love Vincentello. I never will. When I marry I want it to be to a man I love and have chosen myself.”
“Maria, stop being so unrealistic. You’re a woman. Women have little choice in these matters. And you know that once your father has made up his mind he won’t change it. You would do much better to reconcile yourself and prepare yourself for your marriage. So that you and Vincentello can get to know each other a little better, we have invited him to spend Christmas Eve with us. Your father and I expect you to be hospitable and agreeable towards him.”
Christmas Eve! But that was only two days away. What was I going to do? I had to get a message to Raphaël in his village. But how? The posts were unreliable at the best of times.
“And now,” Maman said. “I’ll leave you to think about all this. I must admit that your father and I find your response to this good news very disappointing. I hope that, on reflection, you’ll realise your good fortune and thank your father for having your best interests at heart.”
She left me and went back to the kitchen.
Interests, interests. That was all anyone could talk about. What about love? What about feelings? Was life just to be reduced to a series of financial transactions? I thought of Vincentello and his thin, cruel lips. Papa said he would respect me. I wasn’t so sure. I had heard the stories about the way he treated his mother and sisters after his father’s death. His sisters got away by marrying, his mother by following his father to the grave. Why hadn’t Papa heard about these things? Or maybe, in the family’s “interests,” he had just shut his mind to them.
I dragged myself upstairs, heavy as lead. I didn’t have the energy to fling myself on my bed but sat down on the edge of it like an old woman, worn out. Even the tears didn’t come, just a cold numbness that weighed me down. Now the mist that obscured my future had cleared away and I saw it stretching before me. But instead of a warm, sunny prospect, a stony, frozen wasteland spread out without end.
Vanessa Couchman lives in France and writes for magazines and websites about French life and writing. Her short stories have been placed and shortlisted in creative writing competitions. The House at Zaronza is her debut novel set in early 20th century Corsica and at the Western Front during World War I.
Vanessa describes herself as a “young” author, having been writing fiction since 2010. Her short stories have won, been placed and shortlisted in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies and online.
She runs a copywriting business and also writes magazine articles on French life and the art of writing.
You can find out more about Vanessa and her books on her Website and blog: http://vanessacouchmanwriter.wordpress.com
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vanessa-Couchman/e/B00LQM4T9O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
Why not check out her Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/houseatzaronza.vanessacouchman
Follow Vanessa on Twitter: @Vanessainfrance