Take one Tuscan setting, one cheating husband, one childless, heartbroken wife, one Secret League of Widowed Darners, one handsome Italian, and some delicious biscotti and you have the recipe for Sarah-Kate Lynch's piquant new novel, Dolci di Love.
Some women dream of spending a summer in the warm seductive splendor of Tuscany, but Manhattan corporate star Lily Turner has never been one of them - until she discovers that Daniel, her perfect husband, has a secret family there.
Determined to confront the Italian temptress, Lily arrives in the hilltop town of Montevedova where her plight attracts the attention of The Secret League of Widowed Darners, pulling strings behind the scenes to create happy endings. Soon, ageing founding members Violetta and Luciana are scheming to mend Lily's broken heart - and to enlist her help for their struggling pasticceria (pastry shop). Then troubled but lovable little Francesca arrives on the scene and is a breath of fresh air from a most unexpected direction.
With the lush rolling greenery of a sumptuous Tuscan summer in the background, and the tantalising scent of fresh-baked biscotti -or cantucci as it's known in Tuscany - in the air, Dolci di Love is as good as being there.
In the 20 years Sarah-Kate Lynch worked as a journalist it increasingly occurred to her that her stories were always better if she made a little something up at the beginning, or in the middle, or at the end - or all three.
She soon abandoned the facts altogether and became a radio breakfast show host, then a food writer for a newspaper before becoming a writer of novels involving food as she still loved to eat!
Inspired by the artisan food producers of Ireland, her first novel Blessed are the Cheesemakers was published in the UK, the US and Europe and optioned by Working Title films. She dreamed of dressing in Harry Winston diamonds and going to the film premiere in Hollywood but alas the film was never made and, as it turned out, she wouldn't have been invited to the Hollywood premiere anyway.
Her subsequent novels about sourdough bread, New York restaurants, French champagne and English tea rooms left her with a hefty weight problem which she remedied by buying an exercycle and going on a diet.
The germ of the idea for Dolci di Love grew from a conversation about a real-life husband who had a secret family. Most men struggle with just one, so Sarah-Kate seriously wondered how did any man manage a second, hidden family? Then she met a woman who was part of such a secret, and some of her questions were answered.
Sarah-Kate spent two months in Italy researching the hilltop towns of Tuscany before returning to the Gold Coast, where much of the book was written while her husband, film art director Mark Robins, worked on the third Narnia film, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Dolci di Love is Sarah-Kate's seventh novel and has already been sold into the United States, Australia, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Brazil.
Dolci di Love
Harper Collins Australia
Author: Sarah-Kate Lynch
Question: What inspired you to write Dolci di Love?
Sarah-Kate Lynch: I knew of someone years ago whose father turned out to have a secret family and the sheer audacity of this captured my attention. How could he? Who knew? What happened? Then, more recently, I met someone who WAS the secret family and I was able to answer those questions. At the same time, I had a few friends struggling with infertility and was witness to some of the heartbreak that goes hand in hand with that. Then I went to Tuscany and noticed all these little old ladies clad in black sitting in their separate doorways watching the world go by and I started to wonder: "What if they're not separate at all? What if all these little old ladies are part of a secret network and they're texting each other to pass on gossip? What if they're up to something?" Some how all of these ideas ended up colliding (there may have been margaritas involved) and the result is Dolci di Love!
Question: What research did you have to do to set the book in Tuscany and write about a cheating husband?
Sarah-Kate Lynch: Well, I employed my imagination regarding the cheating husband although I do know of people whose husbands have strayed off the straight and narrow, with varying results. You reach a certain age and there seem to be a lot of cheating husband stories out there. Regarding Tuscany, I had stumbled upon the gorgeous hilltop town of Montepulciano on holiday with my non-cheating (I assume - but I do keep a pretty close eye) husband and because of its size, its beauty and its character, I knew I would set a book there and Dolci was born not long after so I went back for a month to further research it. The town of Montevedova in the book is pretty much exactly Montepulciano. Everyone should go there, at least once, and drink prosecco on the terrace at Poliziano cafe.
Question: Is the character of Lily Turner based on anyone you know?
Sarah-Kate Lynch: This is my seventh novel and I have entirely run out of people to base my characters on! She's a combination of a few people I know of who have replaced heartache with work - and Grace Kelly. I loved the idea that she was very successful in her career but totally frozen emotionally in a way that is hard to sympathise with at first until you realize she is so heartbroken she doesn't want to feel anything at all because it hurts so much, which is kind of the opposite of being the ice queen you first take her for.
Question: When you were growing up, what authors or books did you read?
Sarah-Kate Lynch: I loved AA Milne, in fact I still do. I read the Narnia books, and Beezus and Ramona, and then moved on to bodice rippers by Victoria Holt in my teens, followed by Harold Robbins (I read 79 Park Avenue over a year while babysitting for a couple who had it on their book shelf). In fact Harold Robbins nearly killed me because when I was working for Cleo magazine in the 1980s, the then-editor Lisa Wilkinson got me to abridge The Storyteller from about 200,000 words to 20,000. I took out all the sex and it made no sense whatsoever so I had to put it back in again and take out everything else. Every time I think writing a novel is hard work, I remember what a nightmare it was unwriting one. I went through an extended Kurt Vonnegut period after that, followed by Tim Robbins (no relation, I have been assured, to Harold) and John Irving.
Interview by Brooke Hunter