The Echoes of Love is a touching love story that unfolds at the turn of the new millennium and is set in beautiful, romantic Italy: Venice, Tuscany and Sardinia. It is the tale of two people who have been badly hurt by life and by love and who are trying to love again, but are still haunted by those tragedies.
Venetia Aston-Montagu escapes to Venice to work in her godmother’s architectural practice, putting a lost love behind her. When she finds herself assigned to a project at the magnificent home of Paolo Barone deep in the Tuscan countryside, Venetia must not only contend with a beautiful young rival, but also come face to face with the dark shadows of Paolo’s past that threaten to come between them.
Please tell us about the character of Venetia.
Venetia is a passionate and sensitive young woman who has been scalded by love, which makes her wary of men and of relationships. She was never close to her parents – her father was a dictatorial figure in the family and her mother was just a shadow in the background. She is artistic and has a love of history and beautiful old buildings.
When she meets Paolo she feels an immediate emotional draw to this charming Italian millionaire, but at first she refuses to acknowledge her feelings and, in self-defence, pushes him away. But eventually she realises the depth of her feelings and of his, and then there is no stopping her passion.
What drew you to Italy and specifically to Venice for the setting of the book?
Italy is one of the most romantic countries in the world. In my opinion Venice is its prized jewel, an elemental city of stone and water, and the flamboyant Venetians are the fire that makes the city glow.
My love story with Venice began when I was just a child, the first time I came face to face with the magnificence of the Piazza St Marco, with its majestic basilica, the impressive Doge’s Palace and its awe-inspiring Torre dell’Orologio. The two great bronze figures on the terrace at the top of the tower made the most impact on my young imagination as they moved to strike the hours on a bell, and my governess explained that one of the statues was of an old person and the other of a young one to represent the passing of time. I was fascinated!
Still, even then I could not understand why and how in a such beautiful place a multitude of pigeons were left loose to fly around, be fed and dirty the ground. Surely that was not right!
Please tell us a bit about your childhood in Egypt.
My memories of my childhood in Egypt could be those of a fairy-tale: sunshine, azure skies and the ever-changing colours of the cobalt-blue Mediterranean Sea.
I grew up in Alexandria, the jewel of Egypt’s cities, in a family of pashas and ambassadors who had been part of the exiled King Farouk’s court. I was carefully cosseted in a strict but close-knit, loving family home, surrounded by lush gardens and fragrant orchards.
My younger sister and I rode our bicycles around acres of green grounds at my grandmother’s house. We developed a keen appreciation for the arts thanks to our parents taking us to performances by world-class ballet companies like the Bolshoi and Leningrad, and plays by La Comédie Française. And from our wonderfully creative half-Italian and half-French governess, Zula (short for Mademoiselle), we learnt the art of storytelling.
You are well travelled so where is your favourite place to be?
It’s true that I have travelled a lot and still do. There are so many beautiful countries in the world that it is very difficult for me decide which I like best. Ultimately, though, I think, ‘home’ is where my heart is.
My husband and I split our time between our family home in the Kent countryside, and what was originally intended to be a beach house in the south of France. Each has its charms, its advantages and its disadvantages:
We’ve come to find France wonderful in so many ways, and we now find ourselves spending more and more time there. We live close to the sea, with a view across the bay to St Tropez. It is the brilliant colours of the vegetation, the fresh fruit and vegetables and variety of local fish you find at the open-air market place, and the warmth that enthral us most. Did you know that Bougainvillea now comes not only purple, but also in red, orange, white and all shades in between? Stunning! We also love to watch the sailing boats, and even the sea itself provides constant changes of colour and mood.
What was your first time out of Egypt like when you went to Switzerland?
Everything about Geneva was unnervingly strange. People were distant and went about their business, indifferent to a polite smile or greeting from me. And the modern, clean and sparkling experience of cavernous supermarkets in Geneva was nothing like shopping in Alexandria. I missed the Egyptian bazaars: an animated, kaleidoscopic affair of exotic scents, fortune tellers, baladi (bread) sellers on bikes zigzagging through the crowds and the guttural voices of stall holders hawking their produce. Back home I was often woken by the cry of the fig man outside our house: ‘Sabah el teen!’ – ‘Morning, figs!’
There was nothing to do but grit my teeth and get stuck into a whole host of brand new experiences: catching a bus across the city, going to the launderette, managing my own finances. I made the small amount of money I had go a long way by walking wherever I could, despite the near-incessant rain. In Egypt I was used to horns tooting and people running across the middle of the road wherever they pleased. Not here. How terribly naïve this all sounds now, but for a young woman from a country thirty years behind the West in terms of feminism and independence, it seemed a daunting challenge.
To what extent do you think your own experience of love at first sight has affected the romance in your books?
I’m a romantic, a passionate dreamer by nature, and an avid reader. Since my early teens I’ve been reading – among other genres – romantic novels. As a child I was fascinated by fairytales where Prince Charming whisked the princess or pauper away on his white horse or his magic carpet. Later I fantasised about the romantic heroes that populated classic books like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and the more modern books with their alpha males that were handsome, powerful and charismatic. I dreamt of finding my Prince Charming, and when he came along I recognised him immediately and did not hesitate when he asked me to marry him. My motto is write about what you know – write from the heart. So naturally my own experience of love at first sight has affected the romance in my books.
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