Earlier this week I shared my thoughts on Carla Caruso’s fun and food-filled novel, The Right Place. Carla was kind enough to answer some questions I asked about the book and her experience writing it – read on to see what she told me about it.
Do you remember when the idea for The Right Place first came to you, and what inspired you to write it?
My idea for The Right Place came about when ‘rural romance’ was a big new shiny thing in the romance fiction world. There was a buzz in the industry about it and books with Akubra-wearing farm girls were flying off the shelves! Great news for Aussie authors.
I thought about my own Italian ‘migrant’ heritage—how my dad had grown up on a suburban market garden in Adelaide—and thought maybe I could do a twist on the current trend. A multicultural ‘rural romance’, oozing with Italian food and memories.
The rest—the characters, the plotlines—almost feel like they’ve come from someone else! I can never quite remember how these things pop into my head. But once the idea for a story takes root, it just grows, and grows. Takes on a life of its own.
Food is a central part of both Nella and her nonna Esta’s stories. Was food important to your family in the same way? Do you have a favourite food memory?
Yes, very much so, regarding food and family! My mum is a great cook, and so was her mother (my late nonna). Although, maybe this shows the shift in society because, despite the line of gourmand women my elder sister and I hail from, we aren’t the main cooks in our households—our husbands are, ha!
As a kid, I used to stay at my nonna’s for a week or so during the school hols with my big sis, and I have many fond memories cooking biscuits and the like in Nonna’s second kitchen (a lean-to attached to the main house). Funnily, my very Italian nonna was happy to experiment with Aussie recipes and some regular dishes we’d make together included chocolate Weet-Bix slice, coffee cake, and scones.
I also used to love eating the soft, syrupy persimmons from her tree. Or as Italians call them, cachi. My fave!
Then there were all the family occasions when we’d get together with the extended family and eat our weight in lasagne, meat, antipasti and the like. My mum’s continued the tradition!
Have you always been interested in food and cooking, or did you come to it later like Nella?
I have to admit, the cooking part came along later! Writing The Right Place was a good excuse to actually give some of my mum’s recipes a try and see if I could pull them off. And what I discovered was that some of the dishes I grew up with (and sorely missed, having married an Aussie!) are actually quite easy to make. What I love about my mum’s cooking is that she’s all for simple ingredients and shortcuts.
The other day I had a meeting with some writers at one’s home, and for my contribution to the lunch, I actually brought along the eggplant parmigiana and meatless meatball dishes from the novel. I was proud to see people scraping their plates afterwards!
Even if I haven’t always been the greatest cook though, I’ve always loved eating. I’m a Capricorn, and if you’re into that stuff, I recently read that people of my star-sign love snacking—it’s so true! Which is why I also need to visit the gym and jog regularly, ha.
I love that you have included recipes in the book and the way they are woven through the story. Where are the recipes from, and how did you decide which recipes to include?
As I said just before, I stole most of the recipes from my mum, Carmela. 😊 Over the years, whenever I sampled another memory-inducing dish, I’d ask her to write out the recipe and then I’d paste the notes in an exercise book—and forget to ever look at them again.
So the novel was actually a good excuse to have a record of all my favourite recipes in the one place, which were easy to access! As I was writing, I cajoled more recipes out of my mum. And as I tested out the dishes, I’d email or phone her for more precise details, because she is ‘a little bit of this, a little bit of that’ person. But we got there in the end!
Regarding the recipe culling, a lot of Mum’s dishes seem to include zucchinis, tomatoes and eggplant, so that helped me scrap a few that sounded too same-ish, ha! I also didn’t include many meat recipes as I’m forever trying to be a vegetarian … and failing.
Do you have a favourite recipe in the book?
Oh, do I have to pick one, ha? You know, it’d probably be something simple like the zucchini parmigiana or the fried capsicum strips in pasta sauce. Oops, that’s two recipes! If you’ll let me off the hook, those dishes are just so easy to make, and the tastes remind me of my childhood. 😉
Like Nella, you also have a background in fashion and food. Did you draw a lot on your own experiences when you were writing her? And did writing her story feel personal for you?
It did feel personal, as like most writers, I do ‘steal’ from real life. And obviously Nella is also Italian-Australian and has gone through some of the same things I have. Although, there is a heavy dose of imagination mixed into her story as well!
Unlike Nella, I don’t have to pick between fashion or food. I’ll have both please! In the past, I worked as a fashion editor at Adelaide’s daily newspaper, The Advertiser, and later (when I lived in Sydney for three years), I was a fashion writer and stylist at a weekly magazine. Then, when I went freelance, I was lucky to also write for a jewellery trade magazine, which sent me to Italy four times to report on an international jewellery fair.
So, like Nella, yes, I’ve always loved mucking around with fashion, and even have a little jewellery label, Carla C, which I sell at a few SA stores. Again, I blame my mum—before having kids, she was a designer and dressmaker, and she named me after Carla Zampatti!
Do you have a favourite scene from the book? Or one that was especially hard to write?
I’ve heard about other authors crying when they’ve written an emotional scene, and I thought maybe my writing wasn’t that moving as I’d never had that happen before … until I got to one of the final scenes between the hero and heroine, Adrian and Nella, where they really lay everything bare!
I don’t know if it was mental exhaustion, from all the writing and editing, but I did actually shed a few tears. Which was a surprise, but sort of nice. The characters become very real to me. In my mind, they’re still out there in the world somewhere, living glorious lives.
Nella’s OTT, funny sidekick, Fabiana, was also a lot of fun to write. When I was going through the edits, I thought, hmm, people might find her a bit much, but luckily, they’ve responded really well to her!
Can you tell us anything about what you are working on next?
Yes! I’m finally writing a story, which has been in my head (and heart) for a while. It surrounds twin babies coming into the world (drawing on my own experience raising twin boys, who are now five), the sisters who help to rear them, and a bit of forbidden love. I’m having so much fun writing it and finally getting those characters down on the page.
Lastly, I’d love to know what you are currently reading, or something you have read lately and loved?
I’m a big library borrower, also thanks to my mum! I think it’s a great way to discover new authors, who I often then go on to buy the books of. I was reading one title I’d had on reserve, Gill Sims’ Why Mummy Drinks (which a friend recommended and is so bitingly honest and funny). But then I got waylaid by another reserve which came in—Catherine Steadman’s thriller, Something in the Water. Apparently Catherine’s also an actress on Downton Abbey, and Reese Witherspoon has given the book her tick of approval! I really don’t feel right unless I have a book on the go…
Thanks again so much to Carla for taking the time to answer these questions – I absolutely love hearing more from authors about their writing process and the inspiration behind their books!