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Look Inside | Reading Guide
Apr 26, 2005
| ISBN 9780345478801
Dec 10, 2008
| ISBN 9780307492197
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Apr 26, 2005 | ISBN 9780345478801
Dec 10, 2008 | ISBN 9780307492197
Oh, the dream of escaping to Italy–and the nightmare of reality. . . .Belinda Smith has found her very own Tuscan valley in the sun, having abandoned a dreary cheating husband and an even drearier English town. Running Casa Mia, her own too, too divine bed and breakfast, everything is coming up sunflowers and olive groves for La Contessa of the Valley. Life couldn’t be more perfecto! Until, that is, the arrival of Lauren–a beautiful, feisty Wall Street ball-breaker who has the gall to announce her plans to open a new B&B. A place just like Belinda’s–only much more glamorous. Even worse, Lauren, whose charmingly calculated smile Belinda recognizes as quite like her own, threatens Belinda’s existence as the epicenter of all things ex-patriot in the valley. Have Belinda’s fabulous days of ruling supreme in this corner of the world come to an end? Will the carnivorous Lauren consume Belinda’s dreams al fresco? Will Lauren’s gorgeous son Kyle steal Belinda’s lovely, overworked daughter away from home and hearth (who will do the cleaning, for God’s sake?). War has come to lovely Tuscany–let the fur and focaccia fly!
Imogen Edwards-Jones is the author of Shagpile, My Canape Hell, Hotel Babylon, and The Wendy House. She has edited the anthologies Big Night Out and Girls’ Night Out/Boys’ Night In. She lives in England.
“Absolutely hysterical. I could not put it down.” –Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City
A Conversation with Imogen Edwards-JonesQ: Tuscany for Beginners is told from two vantage points—we hear Belinda’s version of the events that unfold in Val di Santa Caterina, and then we get the “real” story.How did you decide to tell the story with these alternating narratives?A: I like the idea of artifice, of lying, not only to everyone else, but also to one’s self. A certain type of Brit is very good at putting a gloss or a brave face on things. And Belinda typifies this. She is a woman who is obsessed with the idea of not losing face. She has been humiliated once before and she is determined that it will not happen again. I thought it would be more interesting, and hopefully amusing, for the reader to be able to see this right from the start. Belinda tells lies all the time, and she is kidding no one, least of all her audience. Q:You’re an Englishwoman who spends a fair amount of time in Tuscany, right? Is that how you were able to capture the details of the Italian people and the towns in Tuscany so authentically? How much of what you write about comes from your own experience in Italy?A: My mother has lived in Italy for nearly twenty years, and I spent most of my late teens and early twenties traveling back and forth, so I have experienced first hand quite a lot of what Tuscany has to offer. Hopefully all this stood me in good stead when it came to writing the book, as most of the characters, festivals, and fantastic food mentioned are inspired by the people and places I have come across. Particularly the handsome Gianfranco Bianchi—there is someone rather like him near mymother’s place!Q:Was the character of Belinda inspired by an experience of a less-than-pleasant B-and-B owner? I’ve been told that Italian B-and-Bs are wonderful.Are there any you can recommend in Tuscany? Any Italian wine recommendations? A: Fortunately I have never met anyone running a B-and-B as unpleasantly as Belinda.The inspiration for her was the idea of a misanthrope who is forced to work in the service industry. Italian B-and-Bs are indeed wonderful, and I could heartily recommend my mother’s (www.stoppiacce.com), which is in the hills outside Cortona. As for wine,Tignanello is delicious, if rather expensive, or you could try a Montepuliciano.Q: Is Val di Santa Caterina a real town in Italy? If not, is it based on a real town?A:Thankfully, it is not a real valley, nor is it based on any place.Q: Tuscany for Beginners is almost a parody of the stereotypes that exist of people from other countries. Belinda is a bit cold, unwilling (or unable) to express her inner feelings and very aware of the image she conveys; Lauren makes a big, brash, very American-like entrance and wants to fight her way to the top. Were you conscious of these common stereotypes as you wrote, or did the characters come to you fully formed, warts and all? Do you think there’s anything to the stereotypes of Americans, the Brits, and the Italians? A:We all conform to certain stereotypes.The English are usually polite and love to form a queue; the Americans tend to not speak terribly quietly; the Italians, more often than not, produce a nice dinner; and the Japanese photograph everything. Obviously there are many exceptions to these rules, but when it comes to writing comedy, stereotypes are essential. Grotesques are usually much more amusing than well-rounded, reasonable people.Q: Let’s project into the future a bit. Is Belinda still running the B-and-B? And has her Italian improved?A: Belinda’s Italian will never improve, as she is convinced that she speaks it fluently already. She will most certainly be running her B-and-B but she will have updated it a bit, having stolen as many ideas as she could from Lauren. Q: How about Mary and Kyle? Have you thought at all about what happens to these characters in the years to come? What about a sequel?A: I would love to do a sequel, as I did rather fall in love with the characters when I was writing the book, particularly Belinda, whose company I enjoyed hugely.As for Kyle and Mary, I am not sure.Kyle is Mary’s first true love, but I have a feeling that Kyle is a little more worldly. I would love to write a sequel if only to see exactly what happened to the two of them.Q: There’s a great comic flair throughout Tuscany for Beginners—many tongue-in-cheek, laugh-out-loud moments. Have you always written comic novels? Are there any comic novelists that you admire or were influenced by? Who are your favorite authors?A:You are very kind! Tuscany for Beginners is my fourth book in a line of, hopefully, comic novels. I have always favored comedy over any other genre, as I like to be entertained when I read. I loved Jay McInerney’s Story of My Life when I read it a long while back, I think it is hilarious. But the greatest influence for this novel was E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books.They are little works of genius not too dissimilar to Evelyn Waugh’s. I have even set the initial opening scene in Tilling, which is the small town Benson writes about. Q: What are you working on now?A: I am working on a nonfiction book at the moment that, as an ex-journalist, I tend to do from time to time. But I have another novel up my sleeve that I am planning to start toward the middle of this year. I also have a baby to deliver at the end of May!
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