My first novel, The House at Zaronza: A Tale of Corsica, was first published by Crooked Cat Publishing in July 2014 and was reissued in April 2018 with a new cover and minor editorial changes. Set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front in World War I, it follows the fortunes of Maria Orsini, a young Corsican woman who becomes a nurse during the war.
The story behind The House at Zaronza
A visit to Corsica provided the inspiration for my novel. We stayed in a B&B in a small Corsican village on the coast of Cap Corse. On the walls hung framed love letters. We asked the owners about them and learned that they were found in a box when the house was restored, walled up in the attic.
They were all that remained of a doomed love affair in the 1890s between the daughter of a bourgeois family, who lived in the house, and the local schoolmaster. Since her family would have disapproved, she and her lover met en cachette and communicated via a secret letter drop.
The daughter had to marry a relative to keep the family possessions together and the schoolmaster eventually left the village.
Only the schoolmaster’s letters – the ones found in the box – have survived. We don’t know what became of the young woman’s letters to him. His letters are faded and stained with age, but they are still mostly legible. They are written in refined and polished French and there are plenty of hints that the relationship was a stormy one.
The stuff of novels indeed!
Why did the young woman hide his letters (assuming it was she who did)? Did she still hanker after him even after her marriage? What was her arranged marriage like? What was it like to be a young woman in Corsica in the early 20th century? These were the questions that jostled each other in my head and wouldn’t leave me alone until I had devised my own answers to them.
Back home in south west France, I developed the characters and the plot. I also had to carry out research about Corsica during that period and, later, on nursing in World War I, since my main character, Maria, becomes a nurse.
I wrote the bulk of the novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNo for short) in November 2012.
Then I entered the Flash 500 Novel Opening Competition, run by author Lorraine Mace, in which The House at Zaronza was a very close runner-up. The judges, Crooked Cat Publishing, asked to see the whole manuscript and the rest, as they say, is history.
Purchase The House at Zaronza
The new edition of The House at Zaronza is available in paperback and ebook formats from Amazon and from bookstores.