Writer Helen Pryke and I ‘met’ on social media quite recently, and I was interested to see she lives in the north of Italy – not a million miles from N.E. Switzerland. For obvious reasons, we didn’t manage a visit this summer, but one day… Here she is to tell us about her (wonderful; I’ve read it) new book, The Healer’s Secret.
The Healer’s Secret is set in Gallicano, a small village in Tuscany. The protagonist, Jennifer, is a 31-year-old English woman who is going through a rough period in her life – her husband is about to divorce her and she loses her job due to her drinking problem. Taking her mum’s advice, she goes to Tuscany to stay in her great-grandmother’s cottage and meet the Italian side of her family. But events don’t go exactly as she planned, and instead of a relaxing holiday in the sun she finds herself in the middle of a family mystery. With her overwhelming Italian relatives, a half-crazy uncle, and an attractive Englishman to complicate matters, will Jennifer ever manage to sort her life out?
Three years ago, after finishing the first draft of The Healer’s Secret, my husband, youngest son, and I decided to go to Gallicano for a short trip. We had four days to explore the area and taste the local food, so we made the most of it!
Gallicano is a beautiful town, with hidden treasures around every corner and breathtaking views. The church of San Jacopo is mentioned in the book. We found it during a walk around Gallicano, at the top of a very steep hill, overlooking the town. The overgrown graveyard was closed, so we couldn’t go in, but I saw a statue of an angel hiding among the grass, which sparked my imagination, and I had to include it in the book. (It was also after the ‘Weeping Angels’ episode of Doctor Who, so it was pretty creepy!)
The trip I was looking most forward to during our long weekend in Gallicano was the guided tour around La Grotta del Vento (the Wind Cave). We had to drive up a narrow road that wound around the mountain, with huge rocks overhanging it occasionally! Just like Jennifer and Mark, we went up early to avoid the crowds, but unlike Jennifer, we didn’t get lost inside the caves!
I came across the caves when I was doing research for The Healer’s Secret. With help from the website, I wrote the scene where Mark takes Jennifer there for a guided tour. But there’s nothing like seeing it for yourself, so when we booked our trip, the caves were the first thing I wanted to see! It was as amazing as I’d hoped it would be, as you can see from the photos. And I even found some creepy steps leading down to who knows where, which I had to add to the scene! If you ever go to Gallicano, I highly recommend you visit the caves – but take a jumper, it was freezing inside, even at the height of summer!
After our guided tour around the caves, we stopped at a village on the way down to stretch our legs and take some photos. I found a stone-walled cottage that looked very similar to how I imagined Great-grandmother Luisa’s cottage to be. We walked around a curve in the road to take some more photos of the back of the cottage, and were amazed to see something in the back garden! I’m not going to say what we saw, but the spooky thing is, I’d already written the book, and Luisa’s cottage has something similar in its back garden! If you’ve already read The Healer’s Secret, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not – you’ll have to read the book!
While driving around, we found a beautiful spot near a river. We spent a pleasant few hours soaking up the peace and quiet, it was lovely. I didn’t want to leave! The photo gives you some idea of how beautiful Tuscany is.
I’ve been living in Italy for the last 30 years, and I’ve come to know the people, the culture, and the country well. I love the Italian way of life, and I enjoy writing about it in my books!
Thank you, Helen!
I loved The Healer’s Secret – and it’s only 99p/c on kindle at the moment! Here’s a short extract:
The food was exquisite, spaghetti Bolognese with a home-made sauce, followed by tender roast pork drizzled with the cooking juices, and sautéed courgettes that, I was informed, had been freshly picked that morning. There was never a lull in the conversation, everyone chatted easily together while they ate. I watched as they broke every rule I’d ever been taught in England: talking with their mouths full, using their knives to scrape up sauce and then lick them, breaking a chunk of bread off the loaf and wiping it around their plates, leaning on their elbows, laughing and joking. Aunt Liliana prided herself as a wonderful cook, and told me every detail of the preparation process, while I copied my cousins and broke off a piece of home-made bread to mop up the delicious pasta sauce left on the plate.
Helen Pryke is a chocolate-addicted British author who has been living in the north of Italy for thirty years. She is now happily married to her second husband, who is a wonderful cook, and enjoying life with her two sons and a rescue cat, Pan.
Fluent in Italian, she worked as a translator and taught English to Italian students for many years, before deciding to follow her dream and become an author.
Helen has always loved reading, and started writing at an early age – her first article was published in a school magazine when she was ten. She got her passion for reading from her mum, who encouraged her to write, but sadly never got to see Helen’s dream come true.
Helen has written several women’s fiction novels set in Italy, and two suspense novels set in the Portsmouth area she grew up in many years ago. She enjoys creating dark characters who send chills down your spine, which worries her husband somewhat.