Santa Montefiore is the women’s fiction queen, selling six million copies internationally of her heart-warming emotional sagas set in exotic places that have been described as “beach read blockbusters.”
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler, and today on The Joys of Binge Reading we’ve got a delightful treat – Santa Montefiore. She has published a book a year since 2001, and we’re talking about two of her latest on the show today – An Italian Girl in Brooklyn, a World War II story of loss and restoration, and the latest in her hugely popular Irish historical series the Deverills, The Distant Shores.
But before we get to that, some of our usual housekeeping. We’ve got our usual book giveaway this week – Justice Served – a historical and mystery groups giveaway. Details in the show notes for this episode on the website, www.thejoysofbingereading.com.
And Wine and Dine Booksweeps Closing very soon
Santa is on the Patreon only bonus content feature Getting-to-Know-You Five Quickfire Questions. Become a supporter to listen in and help support the show at patreon.com/thejoysofbingereading, or if you particularly like this episode, shout me a coffee at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/jennywheelX
Links to topics mentioned in show:
Deverill family series: https://www.goodreads.com/series/152817-deverill-chronicles
Giorgio Bassani: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/31655/giorgio-bassani
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/57509/the-garden-of-the-finzi-continis-by-giorgio-bassani-trans–jamie-mckendrick/9780141188362
An Italian Girl in Brooklyn: https://santamontefiore.co.uk/books/an-italian-girl-in-brooklyn/
The Distant Shores: https://santamontefiore.co.uk/books/the-distant-shores/
Love in the Time of Cholera: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9712.Love_in_the_Time_of_Cholera
Deverill Chronicles in order: https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/santa-montefiore/deverill-chronicles/
Secrets of the Lighthouse: https://santamontefiore.co.uk/books/secrets-of-the-lighthouse/
The Bridges of Madison County: https://www.amazon.com/Bridges-Madison-County-Robert-Waller/dp/1455554286
Theo Fennell Jewelry: https://www.theofennell.com/
Ralph Lauren: https://www.ralphlauren.co.uk/
Howard Shore Lord Of The Rings Soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4B1LwNM5DA
Penny Vincenzi: https://www.pennyvincenzi.com/
Sarah Waters: https://www.sarahwaters.com/
Daphne du Maurier: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18869978-hungry-hill
Isabelle Allende: http://isabelallende.com/en/books
Edith Wharton: https://www.edithwharton.org/discover/published-works/
Elizabeth Von Armin: The Enchanted April; https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3077.The_Enchanted_April
JoJo Moyes, The Giver Of Stars: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43925876-the-giver-of-stars
Joseph O’Connor, Star Of The Sea; https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/147848.Star_of_the_Sea
The Royal Rabbits series (written with her husband Simon Montefiore): https://santamontefiore.co.uk/books/the-royal-rabbits-of-london/
Where to find Santa Montefiore:
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to the show notes in The Joys of Binge Reading.com for important mentions.
But now, here’s Santa.
Introducing author Santa Montefiore
Jenny Wheeler: Hello there, Santa, and welcome to the show. It’s fantastic to have you with us.
Santa Montefiore: Thank you Jenny, for having me. I’m thrilled to be talking to you today.
Jenny Wheeler: You are an international bestselling author with an astounding backlist in fiction and you just keep going. We’ve got two new releases that we are talking about today – The Distant Shores, which is the fifth installment in the Deverill family series set in Ireland, and An Italian Girl in Brooklyn, which is a sweeping romantic family saga.
Let’s start with An Italian Girl, which I think is being released pretty soon. It’s billed as a spell-binding story of buried secrets and new beginnings. Tell us a little about An Italian Girl.
Santa Montefiore: Okay. Originally I wanted to call it Time, Tomatoes and Love, because I wanted a bit of a colorful, quirky title that gave a sense of nostalgia, of the passing of the years, but also of Italy and the tomatoes, the sensual side of Italy. My editor felt that because it was a very powerful story on an emotional level, it was a bit light.
We had a real headache trying to think of the title. Then a friend of mine said, what’s it about? I said, it’s an Italian girl in Brooklyn and he said, well, why don’t you just call it that? So that’s how we got the title, but the idea actually came from, I was sat next to a man at dinner about 15 years ago. His mother was a young Jewish woman who grew up in Poland and she was in love with her childhood sweetheart.
A real life story from a friend’s mother
She was 17 when the war came and they were both sent off to Auschwitz. Her story is so remarkable that at the end, when this wonderful man, Jonas Prince had finished telling me the story, I said to him, I have to write this. He said, well, you have to wait until my mother’s passed away.
In the years that followed it was always in the back of my mind as a fantastic story, but I wasn’t sure how I could write about Poland. I also couldn’t write about a Jewish woman’s experience in Auschwitz, not being Jewish myself. I converted to Judaism when I married my husband, but I’m not Jewish. I couldn’t presume to write about such an emotional, traumatic experience in a situation like that, that I have no experience of myself.
So it was a case of trying to find a way to make it work, that I could do it justice but also use a location that I was comfortable with. To cut a long story short, I was going through my old bookcase and came across a book from university – because I studied Italian at university – called The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Georgio Basani. It’s based in Ferrara in the north of Italy at the time the war breaks out and it’s about a Jewish family. I thought, oh my God, that’s it. I’m going to write about Northern Italy, my heroine will be a Catholic Italian, and my hero will be a young Jewish man. That’s really how the story came about.
Evelina must escape the sorrows of Italy
Jenny Wheeler: Evelina, your heroine is, as you say, a young woman in Italy in 1934. When this story opens she’s desperately hoping, like they all are, that war is not going to come. At first Mussolini makes lots of promises about how they’re not going to go to war, but then of course we all know now that it did happen, and she sees her neighbors taken away to be interned.
This is really Evelina’s story because the war and her experiences in the war break her to the point that after the war ends, she wants to get away from Italy because it’s got so many sad memories for her, doesn’t it? Tell us about that step for her.
Santa Montefiore: She grows up in this old, dilapidated, rambling palazzo, and it’s very isolated. Her father is an anti-fascist scholar who spends all his time in his office studying and writing books and her mother’s a narcissistic Bohemian who is only interested in herself. Evelina and her sister and her little brother are very much left to their own devices and sort of neglected really. So life is very sheltered. It’s very isolated and it’s very sleepy.
And then of course it opens up when she falls in love with Ezra. Suddenly she starts to live, and war comes and snatches this dream away because of course the racial laws come in and it’s prohibited for relationships to happen between Jews and non-Jews.
Evelina’s friend becomes a partisan fighter
Then the war comes and Ezra joins the partisans. His family are taken away and interned and he manages to escape but he becomes a partisan. Evelina finds herself drawn into the war and helping the partisans and protecting them on the estate in the old chapel where she takes them food and clothes and things like that.
At the end of the war, having lost a great deal, she has family who live in Brooklyn in America, and she cannot bear to remain in Italy with, as you say, all the memories of the heartbreak. She feels numb inside and she wants to start again and start a new life, and so she heads off to Brooklyn and turns her back on everything.
She also turns her back on the magic she had with Ezra. They had a wonderfully imaginative relationship. They saw shapes in clouds and it was wonderfully innocent and creative and rather magical, I think. She turns her back and says, the clouds are just going to be clouds now. Life is never going to be the same again. And yet she finds love in America and throws herself into her new life.
But we can’t run away from the past. We can’t run away from who we are. We carry that inside us. It’s really a story about the many colors and shades of love. There are many different ways of loving and we can love more than one person. I don’t want to give the story away, but it’s emotional, it’s about love in its many different guises.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, it’s beautiful.
Santa Montefiore: It’s hard to talk about the rest of the story without giving the plot away.
Creating a feeling for beautiful locations
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, we don’t want it to do that at all. But along the way you create a wonderful sense of place in both of these books. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the sense of the natural environment are very real in both books. I got the feeling that was something that is very important to you personally, that it’s something you notice.
In both the Northern Ireland story and the New York story, there are some gardens. I was amused about the New York gardens because our idea of New York is that it’s all very built up and so forth. Talk a bit about those environments you are creating and the very tactile sense you bring to the story.
Santa Montefiore: When I was about 25 and writing my first novel, Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree, which based in Argentina, I read Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. I was at a stage where I was writing my first book, I had written all my life as a hobby but I’d never written anything that was published, and I was soaking up how the great writers did it.
I was learning from them, reading the best books, and I realized when I read that book, that the way Garcia Márquez creates a sense of place is through the senses – sounds, smell, feel. You can feel that heat on your face and smell the lavender and the gardenia and the almond trees. You can hear the buzzing of the bees in the jasmine.
The languid siesta time of Latin America
It was so central, that book. I really felt I was there, and there was something about that languid siesta time in Latin America, when everything’s really quiet but this heavy damp heat settles over the place. I came away with that very valuable piece of knowledge, that in order to create a sense of place, you have to make the reader feel that they’re there through sound, taste, smell, sight, et cetera.
And so I set about with my first novel writing about that and thinking, well, when I’m in Argentina, what is it that I smell? I smell the eucalyptus. I can hear the horses’ hooves thundering up and down the polo field. I can smell the leather and the horse hair. I can hear the drone of the bees and the lawnmower in the distance. All of that made me feel I was there.
So I’ve always done that in all my books and nature is really important to me. I always set my characters in nature because there’s always an arc of development. The characters always grow. They start at one point, they end at another point and they mostly grow on a spiritual level. I very much believe that’s what we are all here for – to grow on a spiritual level. Nature helps me do that because when you are in nature, you are not anywhere else. You are looking and you are feeling and you’re listening and you are totally present when you’re in nature. It opens up something inside you and nothing seems so important.
Connecting with something greater than herself
It also connects me with something greater than myself, so I always set my characters in nature. That’s the place where they ask themselves the big questions. Any sort of emotional dilemma they have is always worked through in nature. For me, nature plays a massive part in my own life, also in my books, and my characters are there in every sense because they’re seeing and they’re feeling and they’re touching and they’re sniffing, and I hope my readers feel they’re there with them through that sensual description.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s lovely. You mentioned the spiritual aspect and in both of these books there’s a pervasive sense of the briefness of life and the closeness of the world after death, particularly in The Distant Shores, which we’ll get to talk more about a little later, but even in this book as well the thinness of the barrier between the worlds. I wondered if that also is something you’ve given quite a bit of personal thought to, because it comes through a little that way, that it is something that means a lot to you.
Santa Montefiore: Absolutely. I grew up seeing spirits all the time. I was a very sensitive child. I’d hear voices and rustlings in my room. Because I was little and I didn’t understand, I thought when I turned the lights on in a panic and my heart was going really fast, that these people walking around my room had gone because in the light I couldn’t see them anymore.
Blindness at a psychic level
Now I understand that they’re like stars. It’s a level of vibration that we can’t see with our physical eyes. Some people can, but in the day you can’t see the stars. At night, there they are, but they don’t go in the day. They’re still there. The spirits are like that. It always makes me laugh that people go to haunted houses at night to see spirits, like they come out like crabs or something coming out from under the rocks.
They are always there and they’re always around us, but what happens with most people is we go to sleep, we’re disturbed on a psychic level because our conscious mind is shut up, and when we open our eyes, we can see with our third eye. You’re not seeing with your conscious sense like you do in the day, you’re on a slightly different plane of awareness. It’s a bit like a radio. You tune in, and if I get too excited – because I love seeing spirits – and try and talk to them, I can shift out of that range and then I no longer see them or sense them, whereas if I stay very, very calm and just be with them, then I don’t shift out.
I grew up like that. Life and death are very much all part of the same thing. I don’t see death as an ending at all. It’s an ending of a chapter. It’s an ending of an experience. We leave our physical body behind and off we go back to where we came from, having hopefully grown and learned a great deal. So, yes, the spiritual aspect is important to me.
Secrets Of The Lighthouse – after death experiences
In the first four books I didn’t write about it a great deal. I think I was worried at that stage that I’d be written off as wacky and I wanted to establish myself as a writer first. Then around my fifth, sixth book, I thought, okay, I’m fine now. If people don’t like that in my books, it doesn’t matter. I need to be true to myself.
So, the first book that I wrote about life after death was The Secrets of the Lighthouse, which is narrated by a woman who’s passed away and is furious that her husband has fallen in love with somebody else and she’s not going to leave and she’s not going to let it happen. That was quite fun. So the spiritual side is massively important and is usually a very strong thread through my books.
Jenny Wheeler: The Distant Shores – talk a little bit about how it works then, because there are people in that book who aren’t alive but have a voice in the story. I wondered if that was also something to do with the Irish sensibility.
Santa Montefiore: Yes, you’re absolutely right. When I wrote my trilogy, which is called The Deverill Chronicles and it’s three books, based in Ireland, starts in 1900 and goes up to about the 60’s, I think, Ireland lends itself to the paranormal because there’s something very deeply magical about that land. It really is the land of leprechauns and fairies. You feel it there, it’s got an ancient energy, a bit like New Zealand. When you look at The Lord of the Rings, which was filmed there, the land is very similar. It’s very mountainous and craggy and rocky and ancient.
A supernatural story of family stuck in limbo
I know the whole world is ancient, but you really feel it in those two countries, and when I started writing the book, I heard a story about a legend that I used in my book. I changed it a bit, so in my novel King Charles II gives Barton Deverill land in Ireland, in the southwest of Ireland, as a reward for his loyalty, and because it belongs to the O’Leary people, the O’Leary family are sent off to the bogs.
Well, they’re not very happy about that, so Maggie O’Leary, who’s a very young, beautiful, psychic woman puts a curse on Barton Deverill and says that every heir will remain in a limbo after death and will not move on into spirit until the land is returned to an O’Leary. So, as the series begins in 1900, you have Barton Deverill and his heirs, of which there are many because this goes back 2-300 years, stuck in a limbo.
They are in the castle and they have their own story, especially Barton and Maggie O’Leary, who is burnt at the stake for witchcraft eventually. The two of them have this story that weaves through the three books. Then taking that on to four, five and I’m now writing six in the series, the spirit angle is very much a theme that continues because Kitty Deverill, who is one of the three main characters who are born in 1900, is the daughter of the castle.
An earthbound spirit who does not want to move on
When The Distant Shores opens it’s the 1980’s, and she has just died. The castle has been sold by her half-brother and it’s a hotel and she’s furious. She’s not going to rest until it’s returned to the Deverill family. She is in a limbo because she does not want to move on.
I will add quickly that there are many different types of spirits but the main spirits that I understand are – you have spirits that leave their bodies. Most of the people we love die and move on and they can come back anytime and visit us and see us and be around us.
But you also have earthbound spirits who are spirits who die, often in a very traumatic situation, where they can’t move on because they can’t see the light. They’re confused. They don’t know where they are and they remain in a sort of limbo, which is why you sometimes get trapped spirits that need psychic mediums to help them move on.
Kitty is an earthbound spirit, but she’s not earthbound because she’s confused. She’s earthbound because she doesn’t want to move on, and that’s another reason why some spirits don’t move on. They remain in a house because they love it. They want to stay. And they are suspicious maybe because their religious beliefs have told them, the devil’s work, don’t follow the light, it’s the devil. So they remain and they’re frightened to move on.
There are a lot of reasons why an earthbound spirit might be earthbound, but Kitty is earthbound by choice and she’s not going to move. In The Distant Shores you have her voice weaving its way through the book and making observations about what is going on in the story.
Weaving the Deverill series together
Jenny Wheeler: You mentioned that you started that as a trilogy and you’re now writing book six. Was that partly because of reader demand, that they didn’t want the story to end.
Santa Montefiore: I would love to say it is reader demand. I do get lots of emails saying, oh, I really love the Deverills, I hope it’s not the end, which is very encouraging, but actually it’s really me. After the third book I then wrote a book based in Italy, and I didn’t think I was going to write anymore. Then I came up with an idea and I thought, oh God, this series isn’t over yet.
The Secret Hours starts at the end of the trilogy in the 80’s but goes back in a dual timeline to the end of the 19th century, just before the trilogy starts, so it sort of wraps itself nicely around the trilogy without disturbing those three books. After that I went and did another two books or something, and then I thought, I’ve got a really good idea for another one.
So then I wrote The Distant Shores which is related but you don’t have to read the trilogy. Well, you can read them all independently but I would read the trilogy as a trilogy, and then number four and number five and certainly number six that I’m writing now, you don’t have to have read the trilogy to understand or enjoy it.
Jenny Wheeler: Was there a particular attraction you had for Ireland?
The magic captivation of Ireland
Santa Montefiore: Oh massively. I wrote Secrets of the Lighthouse, which is the one narrated by a woman in spirit. That was based in Connemara. After having written so many books based in Latin America, Italy, France, those very sensual hot countries, there was something really appealing about writing about misty mornings, the mist clinging to the hills and the snow and the cold and the log fires and things. There was something yummy about that.
After writing that one, when I decided to write a trilogy, I was thinking, where do I set this? What is going to give me enough fodder to create a family saga where I’m not creating all the drama myself? I’m actually setting my characters and my family in a place where drama happens, a bit like An Italian Girl in Brooklyn. The drama is the war, and I just set my characters in the war, in that place and time and see what happens.
Ireland sprang to mind because of course you have the War of Independence. First of all, you have the Anglo Irish and the Irish. The Anglo Irish who have been there for 400-500 years and consider themselves sort of Irish but they cling to England too. They are kind of like a hybrid Irish English.
But the National Irish don’t like them because they represent England and they have all these beautiful big houses that either were given to them by Cromwell or the land was given by Cromwell or Charles II, and they built these huge estates. So the Irish resent them, the Anglo Irish consider themselves Irish. It’s all quite complicated, but it gave me a lot of fodder to work with.
Writing a book a year for twenty years
Then you have the War of Independence. The Civil War happened at in the 1920’s, 1922 when it finished, and then of course you go on and you have the Great Depression. The Second World War, of course – there is a lot that I could use in that place, and I loved writing about the magic of it. There’s such a deep ancient, mystical sense that you get from Ireland that I love.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. In The Italian Girl, I think in the author’s notes, you mention that it took you five years to write your first book, and now you’ve written a book a year for about the last 26 years. How did you change from taking so long with the first one to becoming a book machine?
Santa Montefiore: I think it’s quite simple. I think it’s time and experience. The first book I wanted to be a kind of Bridges of Madison County, about two people. I had the idea and I wrote it. It was about 40,000 words and when I found an agent, having been rejected by three immediately, the fourth agent came back and said she loved it, but she wanted a bigger story. Her backing me and saying she loved it gave me such confidence. I then added 50,000 words and made it more of a saga.
I wrote about the main characters’ parents – in Ireland, funnily enough – and I’d go off on tangents. Then I got a publisher, and there are 24 years where these two people are separated. They get back together after 24 years and try and recreate their past and recapture their past through an affair, because by then they are both married with children. It’s set in Argentina. That 24 years I didn’t write about, but the publisher wanted me to write about it, so then I wrote another 50,000 words. In the end it became about 150,000 words.
Writing while also working a fulltime job
That book is one of my longest. That took time because I had a full-time job. I was working for Theo Fennell the jeweler. I then worked at Ralph Lauren, and I only had weekends and holidays and snatched evenings. When I left my job to write full-time I wrote my next book, The Butterfly Box, in about four months because I was doing nothing else. I had no children, I wasn’t married. I was just sitting at a table with the music on and a packet of chocolate biscuits, writing all day.
Now I know how to write a book. I’ve written, as you say, about 26 adult books. I’ve written four children’s books, that’s why I specify the adult books. I know what I’m doing. I know how many words per chapter. I know the feel of the plot, how you set it up, how you then unravel it. I sort of know where I’m going with it. So yes, I think it’s experience and time. Both of them.
During lockdown I wrote three extra books, so I wrote four books during the lockdown, and two of them were really big books. Another one comes out next year called Wait For Me. That’s another story. That comes out in January. So I had all the time in the world to sit, whereas now life has gone back to normal again. The sixth Deverill has taken me since September and I’m only finishing it now, whereas in lockdown I’d written four books by now. So it’s time. It really is.
Music an important part of the mix
Jenny Wheeler: You mentioned music playing. What music do you have going?
Santa Montefiore: Music is so important to me. And I have to say, I am so grateful for the card I picked. I have these angel cards and I don’t use them very much. I’m a big tarot reader, but I don’t really read these angel cards. I was asking advice about 15 years ago, it was right at the beginning when I was starting to write, and I got a card about music and how music can drive you deeper and help you connect with your emotions and things like that.
I thought, oh, that’s an interesting one, and I did a playlist of John Barry. For Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree it was John Barry, out of Africa, that sort of music. Always cinema music, because I don’t want words to distract me. And, oh my goodness, the difference it made having music because (a) it shut out the outside world, and (b) it got me right back in the story.
So every morning when I went back to my desk and I put on the music, I was there again in Argentina and I could smell it. It helped me because it’s sad music. I’m listening to really moving powerful scores which have been written for movies, and it helps me connect with my emotions. If I write a scene about loss and I don’t have the music on I’m sure I could write a pretty good scene, but if I have the music on I go deeper. I write so much better and I feel the emotion too.
Santa Montefiore – A playlist for every book
I do a playlist for every one of my books and the Irish books, of which The Distant Shores is included, I listen to this same music. It’s all the Howard Shore Lord of the Rings soundtracks, so it’s that very Celtic music. It’s all the Hobbit music and it’s brilliant. I love it.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you put your playlists online?
Santa Montefiore: I should do. Do you know what? That’s such a good idea. I should, because I have playlists for every single book. Maybe people might like to read the book and listen to the music.
Jenny Wheeler: I reckon they would.
Santa Montefiore: That might work quite well.
Jenny Wheeler: Turning away from the specific books to talk a little bit about your wider career, is there one thing that you’d see as the secret of your success and if so, what would it be?
Santa Montefiore: I would say, to be true. I’ve always been true to myself. I think it’s very easy to look at the market and say, okay, thrillers are the big thing. If you want to get into the top 10, it’s got to be a thriller.
When I was dumped by my previous publisher, I’d written 10 books for Hodder & Stoughton and they hadn’t done that well. I was being paid much too much because the first one, Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree, did very well. And to be honest, they weren’t publishing me very well. The covers were just awful. I was a number one best seller in Holland and I was doing really well abroad, and so I was thinking, why isn’t it working?
Learning how to be herself as a writer
Anyway, after 10 books with them they didn’t renew my contract. I met an editor from another publisher and she said to me, we want you to change your name, to start again, and we’d like you to write a story based … – and she started telling me the plot. She said, Penny Vincenzi is not really writing anymore, so we want you to write a Penny Vincenzi. I came away feeling really upset because I thought I can’t manufacture a book. It’s not what I do. I do what I do. I can’t write to order.
Then I was very lucky because Simon & Schuster picked me up and the first book I wrote for them was my first top 10 best seller. That was The House by the Sea. The rest has been wonderful. Then they republished my first 10 titles and made a success out of them, so I have been well published by Simon & Schuster for the last 15 years. I’m really grateful.
But they have never told me what to do. I’ve always written what I know I can write. When people say, oh, but you write all your books in the same genre, well of course they’re in the same genre because if somebody loves what I do, they’re going to want more of it.
What Santa Montefiore is reading now
I love Edith Wharton. I love Sarah Waters. There are lots of authors I love and when I buy a book of theirs, I don’t want a totally different book that sounds like it’s from a different author. I like them and I want what they do. And to be honest, I know what I can do, and I know what I can’t do and I stick to what I do well and what I love.
Jenny Wheeler: What genre would you say they are? Family Sagas?
Santa Montefiore: Yes, I think family sagas is correct. I think at the heart of all the books is family. Love is massive. They have mystery in them to a certain degree, they have secrets that are uncovered, but I think family saga with a heavy emphasis on love, life. You couldn’t say they’re a thriller, you couldn’t say they’re crime. I would never say they were romance because romance is more Mills & Boon – two people who love each other, hate each other, love each other, whatever. I would say they’re more family saga, definitely.
Jenny Wheeler: It would be wonderful to keep talking all day, but we are starting to come to the end of our time together, so let’s cover the part about Santa as reader. I always like to ask our authors about their taste in books because it’s nice for our listeners to get some recommendations from you about what you think they’d enjoy. What are you reading at the moment, and are you ever a binge reader yourself?
Some special favorites on the bookshelf
Santa Montefiore: I read massively when I’m on holiday. I take about eight books out and I just lie on a beach and read, read, read. But when I’m writing, I pretty much read books that inspire me and help me to write the book that I’m writing.
For example, writing The Deverill Chronicles, a book that I would recommend if you love Ireland is Daphne du Maurier’s, Hungry Hill. It’s one of her lesser known titles but it’s fabulous. It’s a family saga based in Ireland and it starts in about the mid 1600’s. It’s five generations of a family who have a copper mine, and it’s brilliant.
Daphne du Maurier is amazing. I love reading her, so I’ve been reading that. I love Edith Wharton. Isabel Allende I love. There is a beautiful book if you love Italy called The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. It was made into quite a weak film with Joan Plowright, who is a wonderful actress, but the book is sensational. That’s Italy between the wars and it’s four women who don’t know each other and they rent a house in Italy for the whole month of April. It’s divine.
What other books do I love? It’s difficult when you’re asked. Sarah Waters – I think Fingersmith is probably the best plot I have ever read. The twist in that plot – there are two major ones – will make you gasp. I like Jojo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars. She wrote Me Before You that was made into a movie. We share the same agent. She is extremely good. Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor. That was also Ireland, and that’s brilliant.
Looking back down the tunnel of time…
Jenny Wheeler: That sounds wonderful. Looking back down the tunnel of time, if there was one thing you could change, and this is relating to your creative career, what would it be?
Santa Montefiore: That’s a really difficult question. I don’t think there’s anything that leaps out to me that I would change.
Jenny Wheeler: You have had the serendipity of finding the right publisher for you, haven’t you.
Santa Montefiore: Well, my first publisher was great at the beginning, but then I think probably if I could go back, I might have changed publishers a bit earlier rather than just plodding along with the same one for 10 years.
Also, one thing I would change is, the trilogy was picked up by working title to make into a TV series, like sort of Downton Abbey, Poldark, that sort of thing. They got a very brilliant Irish playwright called Abbie Spallen to write the treatment, and when I saw the treatment it hadn’t got the spirits in. It was really good and it was an overview of the first series and everything, but it took out the spirits.
I thought, well, they know what they’re doing, that’s their job and their experience. So I said nothing. But I wish I had said no, if you do it, it’s got to include the spirits, because nobody picked it up and I got the rights back. Without the spirits, it’s just another Poldark, Downton Abbey, based in Southern Ireland. It’s nothing original.
I regret that. I wish I’d put my foot down. I’m one of those people that bows to the greater experience, and sometimes, nobody really knows. Sometimes you just have to say what you think.
What is next for Santa Montefiore, author?
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Follow your intuition.
Santa Montefiore: Exactly. I do regret that.
Jenny Wheeler: What is next for Santa as author? You’ve mentioned some of these projects you’ve got on your desk, but over the next 12 months what can readers expect to see from you?
Santa Montefiore: I’m speaking from the UK, so we have Flappy Investigates which is the second part of my comedy which comes out in October. We’ve got Wait For Me, which is another wartime book, big novel that comes out in January.
Then the book I’m writing now, which is called Eliza of the Lake, but it might change – my editor often changes my titles or certainly suggests that I think of a different one. Eliza of the Lake will come out next July, and then I think I’m going to take a little break.
Jenny Wheeler: That sounds like a great idea.
Santa Montefiore: I have been hard at it for 26-30 years, so I think I’m going to have a little break now.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Do you enjoy interacting with your readers and where can they find you online?
Where to find Santa Montefiore online
Santa Montefiore: I love interacting with my readers. If anybody wants to email me, go onto my website, which is www.santamontefiore.co.uk and write to me there because it actually comes through to my personal email. I don’t have a separate work email, so I get everything on my email. I write back to everybody. You can also sign up to a newsletter that I write every month. Just when I’ve written one it comes around again and it’s like, oh my God, what am I going to say? But I seem to come up with some sort of rubbish. I write that every month.
I’m also on Twitter @ Santa Montefiore and I’m on Instagram which is Santa Montefiore official. I’m around, but I don’t do a great deal on Twitter and Instagram. I’m on Facebook too, which is Santa Montefiore books, but I don’t do much. If you really want to contact me, email is better and my newsletter. Those two are the places where you’re going to find me most active.
Jenny Wheeler: Great, Santa. That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for your time.
Santa Montefiore: Jenny, it’s been lovely talking to you. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a great honor for me to talk to you. I’d say goodnight to you because I think it’s nighttime. We’re only just starting here.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s right.
Santa Montefiore: Thank you and have a good evening.
If you liked Santa’s stories you might also like Jan Moran
If you enjoyed Santa Montefiore you might also enjoy…. Jan Moran’s Heart-Warming Family Fiction
Next Week on Binge Reading
Michael Bennett is acclaimed New Zealand screen writer and director who’s debut novel Better The Blood has already sold for translation rights in six countries. It’s a nail biting crime thriller that is also a Trojan horse for complex, difficult themes.
A serial killer investigation led by a tenacious Maori detective Hana Westerman which reveals a darker side to Kiwi paradise and highlights the truth that the past never truly stays buried.
On Getting to Know You – Five Quickfire Questions Binge Reading on Patreon – Michael tells who he’d invite to dinner, what his dream day looks like and what he’d tell his 18 year old self
The Joys of Binge Reading podcast is put together with wonderful technical help from Dan Cotton at DC Audio Services. Dan is an experienced sound and video engineer who’s ready and available to help you with your next project… Seek him out at email@example.com or Phone + 64 – 21979539. He’s fast, takes pride in getting it right, and lovely to work with.
Our voice overs are done by Abe Raffills, and Abe’s another gem. He got 20 years of experience on both sides of the camera/microphone as a cameraman/director and also voice artist and television presenter. Abe’s vocal delivery is both light hearted and warm and he is super easy to work with no matter the job. You’ll find him at firstname.lastname@example.org