In conversation with... Dinah Jefferies

Hi Dinah! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Tuscan Contessa! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you. The Tuscan Contessa is set in stunning parts of Tuscany during WW2. It’s the dramatic story of two women, one an American journalist turned British agent, and the other a member of the nobility, who both try to save the ones they love against incredible odds. The capacity to survive and the power of the human spirit is a major theme in the novel; no matter what hell I put my characters through, I always try to give them, and my readers, a note of hope to finish with.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: Oh, goodness, no. I had a synopsis, but changes happened as I wrote. For me, a manuscript gains its own momentum as I go along. I’m just not able to think of all the possibilities beforehand, and I love the thrill of new ideas popping into my head as I write. And sometimes they keep me awake at night so I always sleep with a notebook under my pillow.

Why the choice of Tuscany as the setting for your novel? How important is location for you?

A: Location is incredibly important for me. I’ve written six bestsellers set in the Far East and the Indian Sub-Continent but, for The Tuscan Contessa, I wanted to focus on Europe. I’ve always loved Italy and especially Tuscany. I lived in San Gimignano many years ago, but knew nothing about what had happened during the war years. So, this was my chance to discover incredible stories of bravery, and to make several research trips in search of wonderful locations. My Contessa’s village the Castello de’ Corsi was an amalgamation of two I found. The first was the Castello di Gargonza, an atmospheric hilltop village a few miles outside Monte San Savino in the Province of Arezzo. And the other was Lucignano d’Asso. I fell in love with this peaceful little hamlet overlooking rolling hills and surrounded by cypress trees.

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the roles of Sofia and Maxine?

A: To be honest, I haven’t a clue. Ideas anyone?

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: A scene that takes place in Buonconvento was truly heart-breaking to write. It’s a pivotal moment for my Contessa Sofia, where she really begins to choose to fight back against the Nazis who are harassing her. Buonconvento is a marvellous red-brick medieval place and I settled on this as the nearest larger town in the book. It’s gorgeous, and bursting with moody atmosphere. Perfect for one of the most life-changing and dramatic scenes in the book. 

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A:There are always bits and pieces. The biggest change in this one was to write a more uplifting ending and the other was the deletion of a third point of view character. Never fun to do but needs must.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: WW2 France. A story of a family. Their loves and their heartache at a time of war.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: I’ve just finished The Glass House by Eve Chase – a fabulous book. She is a sublimely talented writer. Do read it.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: They do disrupt a writing schedule but it rather depends on what stage of the book you’re at. And social media can be fun too. Sometimes you need to get away from your work in progress and interact with the readers who like your books. That’s the bit I enjoy. So, it’s a bit of a mixed blessing.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Don’t give up. Just keep writing. You can’t edit a blank page. And read lots.

Thank you for your time!

A: My pleasure. Thank for having me.

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