Lisa Clifford, and the Art of Writing

It was a night out at the bookshop to learn some tricks of the trade from Lisa Clifford, so not a book presentation, but tips on how to improve your writing, for aspiring writers like myself.

The star of the show was Lisa a long term Florence resident, Aussie at heart, and more importantly author of  4 books. Lisa is a non fiction writer and I am drawn to storytellers, particularly fascinated by stories of times gone by, which explain so much about why Italy and Italians are like they are today.While Lisa’s book – The Promise tells of her years of indecision before moving to Florence to be with the love of her life, her next book Death in the Mountains, a murder mystery, evokes vivid descriptions and customs of a farming lifestyle now lost. So it was fun to hear her recount anecdotes of Tuscan life – where country women supplemented their income by wet nursing babes from the orphanage, or served up a rather gruesome meal to stop their kids from wetting the bed ( you’ll have to read the book to discover what that was!). Her more recent book Naples: A way of  love  has such an great cover that it teases you to be picked up.Lisa Clifford workshop

Last year I took the plunge to enrol in the Art of Writing Workshop which she had organised in the Tuscan hills near Florence, and was truly inspired by the tutors and the content. Creative writing workshops, in English, are not so easily found here in Italy and with a mix of locals and overseas visitors we had an intense and stimulating week. For a beginner like me it was a great experience , and while the book remains smouldering somewhere in the back of my brain, at least my conscience kicked in enough to have me start this blog. Jim Friel was my mentor, a hard task master, with a quick wit and cheeky grin that makes him endearing even when the pressure is on.

And it was not all work…..Lisa Clifford                       Porciano castle

Lisa with cheese maker Lorenzo




Exploring castles, old mills and savouring local cheese and salamis made a great break.Casentino castle

Old flour grinder







The Art of Writing workshops still have some free spaces, so in case anyone is interested more details can be found on the art of writing website

I still have a long way to go but will share one of my exercises of that week.

Strangers in the night.                               Night view CornigliaThe sea below glistened from the moonlight, spreading out slowly like a ripple as the clouds moved on to play hide and seek with the stars. The little villages stood out like islands, bathed in their colourful lights calling out to her to come and join the fun. She thought it was such a romantic time of day and sighed. Her thoughts wandered to the last time he had been with her here, and they had danced; swirling, twirling and entwined to the passionate beat of salsa. The stars had looked kindly on them then as they were madly in love and their gaiety had rung out across the water.

He sensed her despair and moved a little closer daring to think she may not push him away this time. He could feel the warmth of her body even from a distance and sense the yearning in her heart. He had had a hard day, in fact a hard few months where nothing had gone right. It was tough these days. Every day seemed a survival test and he was getting old and his body was slowly wearing out. After that fall the break had never healed properly so he even limped a little now. Still he glided slowly towards her, with hardly a whisper of a limp, so silently she didn’t even stir. He too wanted to be close to her. He dared again and took another step, and brushed her leg and their eyes met as she looked down to pat his head, and he no longer felt like a stray.


Another tough year in Cinque terre

Cinque Terre trailCinque terre trailIt’s going to be another tough year for tourists and locals this year. The Winter just passed has been the wettest we have seen for years and the region has suffered the consequences yet again with more landslides, large and small.

The famous coastal trail (Sentiero 2/Blue Trail)  is currently closed and while parts of it will probably reopen, others will remain closed indefinitely.

fallen wall






It’s like wounds that fester, with no time to heal. The National Park had spent most of last Summer redoing the trail Corniglia to Manarola, quite an engineering feat with two new walk bridges, when ‘bang’ the rest of the slope and part of the isolated house on the trail slid down destroying the trail yet again.

The dry stone walls bulge with the rain, like a pregnant belly, but when the terrain dries out there is nothing left to sustain them and down they go. In years past, locals tell me the walls could sustain the changes in the seasons, but with the extreme climate that we experience today, they are too fragile and easily beaten.Landslide vineyardsTrail landslide





Since the flood of 2011 many areas had massive fencing and whole slopes even ensconced in steel netting. But that it is not necessarily the best solution as I saw in Vernazza where locals were recovering stones from the wall that had slid under the netting.landslide

In some cases the abandoned land covered in blackberries is holding the place together, while well tended vineyard plots slip and slide, and locals look on in despair….and then roll their shirt sleeves up and get on with the repair. vineyard landslide






On the trail from Vernazza to Monterosso another house has been hit and remains hanging in despair.


Trail signsCinque terre







But it’s not all bad news as the vines begin to sprout and the place takes on its Springtime colours. Even the prickly pear makes a show and the sunshine dries out those saucepans nicely!

Cinque Terre cactusFig tree



Saucepans drying






The trail closure has forced people onto the high trails which I can say hold magnificent views and you will not be disappointed. Tread carefully wherever you go and enjoy them. Cinque Terre

Train timetables between each village are available, which helps in planning the day….just double check they have photocopied them correctly! A same way timetable on both sides was pretty useless to me and yet the  Park office staff did not seem too fussed by the mistake.

Cinque terre

Automatic train ticket machines can catch you out as well as they may only take credit cards or if  they do take cash may not give back more than € 1 in change!

Local volunteers have been working hard to clean up the debris washed ashore in Vernazza during the Volunteerswinter. So now all it needs is you!

Volunteerrs clean beach