About me

  


I had the good fortune to be born into a family with lots of foreign relatives, both blood and adopted. My adopted Italian grandmother, Nonna, is at the date of writing, still alive aged 105. This meant hearing French, Italian, Spanish, German, Hungarian and others, and English was often spoken with quaint, amusing accents. Some of the languages rubbed off. After starting out at University studying Italian and German, I switched to law. As a barrister, unusually, I travelled across Europe and into Russia and soon became more fascinated than ever by European history. I often think of what a wonderful accident it is to be born in the UK and how things might have turned out differently if history’s victors had been losers. What if Napoleon had won Waterloo? I was particularly drawn to the American and French Revolutions and the Napoleonic wars, how the world changed so dramatically over a hundred year period between the mid 18th and mid 19th centuries. After the birth of my daughter, I worked as a reader for Random House for three years and then, covering for a teacher’s absence, taught history A level at a local school. Besides history and being an avid follower of the news, I love tennis, swimming, walking, the piano and guitar, sun, sea, sand, London, the United Kingdom, most things Italian – particularly old Fiats, Max Mara and Furla handbags and eating with loved one.  I think Napoleon should have been shot for many reasons, but not least for having said that women ought never to want to eat – so I take every opportunity to defy him…

BOOKS I LOVE TO READ

Of course there are some books which pop up everywhere. I remember when The Da Vinci Code came out, virtually everyone one was reading it. Whether on a London bus, in a café, in an airport lounge, on an aircraft, by the pool, on the beach it was there. I never managed to be on a yacht that summer, but I have a pretty good idea that Dan Brown had probably saturated the yachting fraternity too! But what fascinates me is that wherever you go in the world, there are incredible writers who rarely get an airing in the UK. I like to try and keep up with the latest writers in Britain, but I also try as hard as I can to keep up with writing beyond our borders. I am a great admirer of the French author Michel Houellebecq, the Italian Italo Calvino and German Bernard Schlink.

This summer, I decided to focus on Italian authors. Particular favourites are Alessandro Manzoni’s novel, The Betrothed, a wonderfully witty but serious allegorical tale of the times in which Marie-Louise lived, and The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, set in Sicily towards the end of Marie-Louise’s reign in Parma. I recommend anything by Elena Ferrante, Arturo’s Island and History by Elsa Morante, a little known author in the UK but much loved by another great writer and thinker, Doris Lessing. Both women paint life as it is lived, the travails of ordinary people of modest aspirations who struggle daily. I loved the charming mystical Indian Nocturne and Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi (translator of the great Portuguese Nobel prize-winner Fernando Pessoa). Another book I recommend is Fortunata y Jacinta, a family saga set in the mid 19th century in Spain, by Benito Pérez Galdós, a powerful commentator on political and social change. And I haven’t even begun to get started on New World authors! So many fabulous books and so little time to read…
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About Marie Louise - Napoleon's Other Wife

  

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Eighteen-year-old Habsburg Archduchess Marie-Louise leaves Vienna in 1810 to marry Napoleon, Emperor of France, previously her father’s arch-enemy. Like her great-aunt Marie-Antoinette forty years earlier, Marie-Louise believes her marriage will secure peace between Austria and France. But the Austrian foreign minister, Klemens Metternich, intends to use her marriage to bring down Napoleon for good. 

Unexpectedly, Marie-Louise finds Napoleon, an adorable, loving, romantic husband and duly produces a dynastic heir. Their time together is cut short by Napoleon’s Russian Campaign which sets in train wars which lead to her father marching on Paris. When Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo and despatched to St Helena, Marie-Louise is finally granted the duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, located east of Genoa, south of Milan and north of Tuscany. Marie-Louise proves her devotion to her subjects to such a degree that they keep silent as regards her secrets. But Europe is scandalised when all is revealed on the premature death of her lover. Marie-Louise fights to retain her Parman throne against the French and Spanish Bourbons who covet it, and against the forces of Italian patriotism which Napoleon inspired. 

Marie-Louise has many enemies: she is hated by most of the reactionary sovereigns in Europe for being Napoleon’s wife and for creating the most enlightened state in the Italian peninsula. She hangs on to her duchies by the skin of her teeth. Within a fortnight of Marie-Louise’s death, revolution spreads across the Italian Peninsula, engulfing her duchies.

About Parma - The begining of my journey

  

When I first visited Parma in 1999, much of its historic centre was concealed behind high barricades of khaki plastic sheeting. When occupied by the Germans, the city had suffered high altitude bombing by the allies in 1944 aimed at the train station and marshalling yards. Large parts of the forbidding 16th century complex known as the Palazzo della Pilotta were destroyed, as were Marie-Louise’s residences in the city. Many more of the city’s monuments and churches were damaged.


It was only in the 1990s with the advent of wealth from Parma’s most successful conglomerates - dairy food giant Parmalat, glass manufacturers Bormioli and pasta-makers Barilla - and before the economic downturn ensuing from financial scandals, that the centre was enjoying a makeover. The dust covers and barricades have since been removed to reveal Parma’s extraordinary beauty. Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque palaces, cloisters and arcades blend together with Mussolinian wide marble pavements and tasteful 1950s office buildings. Despite the rape, desecration and bombardment of history’s conquerors, Parma still remains an urban paradise. Virtually everyone goes about their business in the city on a bicycle or a vespa. Gardens, painting, sculpture, marquetry, carvings and inlays are all exquisite. The pace is relaxed but efficient. 

There are excellent restaurants, Parma boasting that it is the gastronomic heart of Italy (seriously challenged by several other Italian cities). Anolini in brodo (meat filled pasta parcels in broth) and tortelli d’erbetta (beet spinach and ricotta in fine strips of pasta) are local specialities and particularly delicious. The torta fritta (fried bread) and local salamis, from Zibello, Felino or San Secondo are also very satisfying. Local wines are delicious too. 


Parma has become internationally renowned for its theatres, opera-house, jazz festival and major trade events, such as its biannual antiquarian fair, the largest in Europe. Shops, galleries, museums, banks, educational and welfare institutions are named after the famous of Parma. The household names of composer Giuseppe Verdi (after whom Parma’s airport is called), conductor Arturo Toscannini and Mannerist artists, Antonio di Correggio and his pupil Francescesco Mazzola, known as “il Parmigianino”, appear frequently. But one name dominates: Marie-Louise. Most homes have her portrait, the portrait of the Good Duchess, displayed in their homes, either alone or next to that of the Pope.

  

  

Other projects I’m working on


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Saving the Elgin Marbles

Staying within my favourite historical period and my desire to rehabilitate those who have undeservedly fallen into oblivion, I am currently working on a reconstructed life of Giovanni Battista Lusieri, the travelling painter (what we would call today one’s personal photographer) who accompanied Lord Elgin to Constantinople (today Istanbul) following Lord Elgin’s appointment as English Ambassador to the Porte (the Ottoman Empire) in 1799.

In the summer of 2015, the world watched in horror as the ancient ruins of Palmyra were razed to the ground. It is therefore, perhaps, a moment to reflect on those who forestalled the destruction of antiquities.

It was Lusieri who saw how badly the Parthenon was deteriorating, and Lusieri who begged Lord Elgin to remove the temple’s ornamentation and statuary in order to save them from further deterioration and destruction. Lusieri’s story is dramatic. Look out for my watercolourist!

23rd Sept 2015

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Return to Ithaca

I am in the process of finalizing a novella which tells two stories in parallel, one set in BCE 1020 which is a retelling of the concluding episode of Homer’s Odyssey, namely the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope after over twenty-five years of separation, and the other set in CE 2010 which tells the tale of a modern Odysseus and Penny reunited after twenty-five years through the internet. I hope my readers will like the device I have chosen and find the story entertaining.

28th Sept 2015