Risking it all: Leaving Italy to live in Africa in the 1950s. I was born Maria Martore in 1934. But I have been renamed Iucci by my husband, Eugenio Piergiovanni. He is thirteen years my senior and is fluent in three languages. We have left Italy and the only family I have ever known, to go to Africa, seeking adventures and fortune. Is my husband's dream of selling Italian Haute Couture to expatriates ridiculous? Ciao! WE’RE IN AFRICA recounts the story of Marisa Parker’s Italian parents, who in 1955, emigrate to Salisbury in Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Africa. They open a fashion shop selling exquisite imported Italian clothes. However, it is Eugenio’s charm and astute business sense, and Iucci’s good looks and sincerity, that draws them into the community’s inner circles.
Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to just all come together and head out for a weekend—a group of friends exploring, making no plans—and before the kids came along. My Italian dad and mum loved that aspect of Africa. It’s freedom, the sense of adventure, as a group of Italian migrants gathered together to explore their new country; and, make new memories. This excerpt is taken from halfway through the book, after my dad has somehow managed to convince the receptionist at the swanky Victoria Falls hotel, to allow the tired travellers to sleep in the smoking room, as they had not booked any accommodation. The hotel was full yet, as it was late, my father’s Italian charm has found them a boudoir for the night. He forgets to mention that they also have a puppy dog with them that they slip in through the side door.
If you’ve ever moved to another country, it is exciting but also scary. Imagine what it is like if you don’t speak the language; have a different culture or look foreign. And even worse, you are leaving behind your mum and grandmother, the only family you’ve ever known, to follow your husband of two weeks, as he pursues his dream (crazy idea?) of selling Italian Haute Couture to expatriates in developing Africa. Times have changed since my mum and dad left Italy in 1955; it was a much more daring and risky expedition in those days; it was almost as far-fetched as landing on the moon! Added to that, my mum only spoke Italian at the time…She was plagued with doubt and terrified. Yet, she loved her husband—he was her knight in shining armour—and he sold the idea of an adventure so charmingly. Thankfully, he was also an astute businessman (or had been up until then), and he was fluent in three languages, of which English was one.
Both of my award-winning books are about my Italian family’s story (non-fiction). When I wrote the first book, it was with trepidation. I believed my mum and dad’s story was interesting but, was I capable of sharing this in a way that others would want to read it? Once I started writing about their WW2 experiences, the words literally poured from me. Two years later, I had followed a writing (style) checklist of do’s and don’ts. With the second book published, feedback from readers, is that my mother’s journey (1955-1969) from naïve bride to a pioneering businesswoman, is a joy to behold. Sometimes, this comment is also followed by … how your writing has matured too! I’m delighted that my promise to my readers of writing the best book I can, one that contains interesting historical facts, that depicts characters that develop and resonate with my readers has come true, including a few that have said they cried when (spoiler alert) – the family pet died. The first paragraph in my book was rewritten at least five times. I think I got it right though! I’d love to know your thoughts via a message on Goodreads or my website page. #authorpromise
The ‘Rule of Three’ is not just a fundamental framework for creative writing. Online articles by Brian Clark and Dave Linehan provide interesting insight into how following this will make your writing more engaging and contain the hooks that are needed. In fact, the Rule of Three is relevant in all aspects of life. The most acclaimed speeches use this technique–as far back as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address–and for today’s classic joke structure of set-up, anticipation, and punchline. An academic once told me that if you delete the three sentences at the beginning of each chapter (from your manuscript’s final draft), you will arrive at the sentence that should be the first one. It’s about removing the fluffy stuff and hooking in your reader. What do you think of the beginning of my book, “Ciao! WE’RE IN AFRICA”?
#ReaderLove - Love comes in all forms and sizes and, Oh! The Things We Do for Love (or because of love) … to quote the song by British band, 10cc. In 1957, it had been three years since my Italian parents migrated to Salisbury, Rhodesia. My mother gives in to my father’s manoeuvrings when he organises for a sixteen-year-old boy Paolo, the son of Esther, a close friend and employee in their business, to drive my mother to Johannesburg, South Africa (over 1,100km away). I’d met Paolo and his family many years ago, but we had lost touch. With this book advertised on Amazon, Paolo made contact through my website. How extraordinary to find out that we both live in Eastern Australia. For Paolo, reading my family’s story has brought back many memories. For me, a precious gift of some unseen photographs during that time. An amazing experience and especially emotional for my 85-year-old mum!
Readers of this second book seem to come away with one of two experiences. Either they lived in Rhodesia, Africa between 1950-1980, and the book stirs up fond memories. Or, the reader is a woman, and this story resonates with her, as she empathises with my mother, who has left behind all that is familiar, to forge a new life with her partner, so transitioning from a naïve girl to an assured woman. When I hear either of these reviews, it is most welcome, as I had hoped this account of my parents’ lives would appeal to different audiences. The excerpt I have chosen is from Chapter 3. My parents, Eugenio and Maria (Iucci) are visiting with an Italian couple on their recently purchased tobacco farm in Umtali, North Rhodesia in 1955. The trip proves to be an eventful one.
A timid girl. A young soldier. A love story. GOODBYE TO Italia is an award-winning non-fiction romantic story of Italian drama, courage and humour. It is set in Italy and Africa during World War 2. So as to stay true to the retelling by my mamma and pappa, and to capture the essence of living through those times, the chapters in the first half of the book interchange between the two diverse characters, Mariolina and Eugenio (13 years older than her), as they come of age.
When asked questions about my Italian father’s few years in the World War 2, Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Zonderwater, South Africa*, I become emotional; understandably. As things go, it wasn’t on the horrific scales, as identified in Hillenbrand’s book (Jolie’s movie), ‘Unbreakable’. But it was a POW camp, nevertheless. “Well, wasn’t he lucky not to have faced all the gunfire; ...been in amongst the thick of things; ...been injured?” Such statements are part of what prompted me to write an alternate perspective, insight from someone close, who was on ‘the other side’. I’ve toned down some of the scribblings from my father’s diaries: he may not have suffered extreme physical debasement, nevertheless, he would rather have been on the front line, fighting for his family, his country and his dignity. Suffering comes in a myriad of forms and each person has their limit; don’t you think? The extract is from when the Italian army have been captured in North Africa and after days of walking, they arrive at a site where prisoners will be sorted and sent onto camps. *The biggest Southern Hemisphere POW camp of the Commonwealth forces: https://www.marisaparkerauthor.com/single-post/Walking-in-my-Fathers-Footsteps
My family and I were in Europe over Christmas. Whist in Torino, Northern Italy, where my Italian parents grew up, I followed in their footsteps. We visited, La Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata - the Church of the Most Holy Annunciation, where my mum and dad were married in 1955. As the wedding service concluded, my mum took a small moment to say a prayer at the foot of the statue of Mary (Maria), the mother of Jesus. The extract from my book depicts this. When my family and I visited, I was only given five minutes to explore this exquisite Church and then, my husband hustled me outside. I was cross with him for doing so, but instantly forgave him, upon seeing our daughter’s delighted, albeit tear-stained face, when she exited the Church, with a new sparkling diamond ring on her finger. Her beaming fiancé followed her out and we all exchanged heartfelt hugs and well wishes. How romantic it was of him, to propose in the Church where the bride’s grandparents were married! Surely, this sings to the heart of all romantics?! I wrote a four-part blog series about following in my parents’ footsteps through Italy; it’s available on my website: www.marisaparkerauthor.com/blog
Recently, I was at a bookshop promoting my books. I approached a woman who was flicking through one of them. I introduced myself and after giving my 30-second pitch, I was surprised when she asked whom had published it and how much it cost. Pinned under her direct stare, I answered. Immediately, she told me I had spent too much, and I wouldn’t get my money back. I retorted that sales were promising. She walked off. Sadly, I had foolishly reacted because of her confrontational nature. I later found out that she was a fellow author. In light of this week’s Book Bubble theme, I’ve chosen to look at this in the sense of being prepared and having a good ‘comeback’ when challenged by someone. A wise friend—fellow author and publisher—Ocean Reeve, recommends staying silent for ten seconds to realise that the negative person is expressing their own dissatisfaction. Don’t be drawn in. Respond with, ‘Thanks for your comment’, and walk away. My dad had a most effective comeback when, as a teenager, his mother discovered that he’d carried a motorbike into his bedroom to repair it. She doesn’t hesitate to express her displeasure. The book excerpt is his response.
I dabbled in writing in my teenage years. I loved immersing myself in fictional Enid Blyton stories and then, the J.R.R.Tolkien trilogy. I never considered during my young adult years of undertaking a writing marathon. It was over a cup of tea, however that fate took control. As my mum reminisced about ‘her Italian childhood days’, I suddenly grabbed a pen and a notepad, and started scribbling. Then, faced with all these wonderful accounts, I realized the enormity of the task ahead of me. I had just completed my master’s degree, as a mature-age university student. So, my family demonstrated amazing generosity when I announced my intent to write about my Italian family’s story. What commenced as a romantic quest to create a legacy turned into a burning ambition to research, capture and recreate the lives of my Italian parents during World War 2 in Italy and Africa. With a thirteen-year age gap between them, and the discovery of my father’s diaries that he secretly wrote in Zonderwater, a South African, Prisoner of War Camp, I had ample content to feed my passion. The support of my family through this was extraordinary. Now, with two award-winning books to my name, I have an incredible sense of achievement. #writeyourstory #whatisyourhistory
It is easy to fall prone to thoughts of disappointment and discontent. How much nicer the day is when we smile at a stranger in the street and receive a grin, even if it is gap-toothed! Appreciating the small pleasures in life and taking moments to breathe and just ‘be’, are important reminders for me, so as to celebrate achievements and plan what small step I can put in place to lead me forwards. Both my parents had this ability to grab at opportunities and turn ‘lemons into lemonade’! In 1943, my father turned twenty-one in a Prisoner of War camp in South Africa. His birthday was unremarkable, and he worried that he was beginning to lose his mind. But he rallied and determinedly nudged those voices aside looking for things to do, and how to help others, in a crowded concentration camp of 63,000 inmates.
I cannot imagine what it was like for my mum as a six-year-old in Turin, North Italy in 1940. During World War 2, bombings, a lack of food and intensely cold winters killed a great deal of people almost as bad as if they were fighting on the front line. In ‘GOODBYE TO Italia’, my mum and dad’s experiences interchange during the first half of the book, as they were so diverse. What courage and perseverance were demonstrated by those women and children! How fortunate we and our children are today; we must never forget. #ReaderLove
It was an emotional moment when my mum handed me my father’s bedraggled diaries that he had written whilst incarcerated in the Zonderwater (South Africa), Prisoner of War camp during WW2. I’d been badgering my mum to provide more information about pappa, as the story I was writing about my Italian parents in Italy and Africa, was very one-sided. Needless to say, the diary discovery blew me away. It also meant that it took far longer to complete the manuscript. I had to work through my father’s ineligible scrawls. Not only was colloquial Italian used but different shades of ink or stubby pencil scratching made it hard to interpret. I chose to write GOODBYE TO Italia in alternating chapters: my mother as a young child, and her war experiences and my father, a young army officer. The excerpt I have chosen from the book, is from when my father was captured in 1941.
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