In conversation with... Angela Petch

The last, but definitely not least, of my conversations with World War Two authors is with Angela Petch, a writer I know from my Chichester days and who I am delighted to call a friend.

When did your love affair with Italy begin?

I was seven years old when my father accepted a side-ways career move from the Ministry of Defence in London to take up the position of deputy head of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Rome, from where the magnificent cemeteries of Europe and Northern Africa were administered.

They were such formative years. We lived in an old villa on the outskirts of the capital and learned Italian from local children. Each Sunday my father would plan an outing, referring to his battered Baedeker guide, and treat us to lunch in a simple restaurant. Delicious food, fascinating culture, friendly people and stunning surroundings were the starting blocks for my life-long love affair with Italy. As a teenager, I studied Italian on my own to take GCE, went on to read Italian at university, then to work in Sicily where I met my half-Italian husband. We are still exploring Italy and are lucky enough to live in Tuscany for six months each year.

So you know the setting for your books really well then. What was the catalyst that made you sit down to write the first one?

My mother-in-law is Italian. Giuseppina lived through the war in occupied Urbino as a teenager. At a dance, she met Horace Petch, a young Captain with the British 8th Army. Neither of them could speak each other’s languages, but the language of love is universal. They married soon after the war and moved to Peterborough, but holidayed every summer in Italy with their two children.

Over the years, she told me many stories about her experiences during the war. These descriptions, plus other true accounts related by elderly friends in Tuscany, where we live each summer, transported me to another era. I researched about war in our corner of Tuscany and wove in all the stories to self-publish my first novel. Initially I simply wrote for Giuseppina as she was very ill and I wanted to record her story before it was too late.

Never Forget became Tuscan Roots and finally The Tuscan Secret, published by Bookouture in 2019.

You’ve made a very successful transition from indie author to a major publishing house. Do you have any advice for others considering the same path?

Self publishing was very hard work for me as I am not good with technology and trying to sell at book fairs was pretty soul-destroying. The best part was meeting fellow authors. Formatting, understanding how to upload, publish and keep on top of marketing was hard work and with little financial return. When a digital publisher wanted to publish my baby, I was overjoyed, but that enthusiasm palled when I realised how little they were doing for me. When they went into voluntary liquidation, I quickly reclaimed my rights.

I was reluctant to submit anywhere else but was approached by Bookouture and I haven’t looked back. They believe in letting their authors write, rather than market and that is fine by me. In less than one year, my books had sold over 100,000 copies.

It is perfectly possible to go it alone, but you need to know what you are doing.

So what’s next for you?

Bookouture has bought the rights to another of my indie books (Now and Then in Tuscany)  and that will be re-published under a new title in September 2020 and at the moment I am editing the rough draft of a new book. It is another dualtime Italian WW2 novel, based on true stories but this time, set in the immediate post war years rather than present day.