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Talking Location With … author Rosanna Ley, and the inspiration for fictional Deriu.

2nd April 2017

To round off our reading in the first #TFBookClub of Rosanna Ley’s “The Little Theatre By The Sea” set in Sardinia and Dorset, we have a piece from Rosanna herself – talking about Sardinia and where she found her inspiration for the fictional town of Deriu, in the actual town of Bosa.

(And if you are reading The Little Theatre By the Sea, there is still plenty of time to add your comments and join the discussion here)

‘That pale, bluish, theatrical light outside, of the first dawn…’ D H Lawrence wrote this in ‘Sea and Sardinia’ in 1921 – and he knew what he was talking about. The landscape of Sardinia is like a theatre: rugged cliffs hug secret white-sand coves and the interior is green, wooded and mysterious.

Talking location with... author rosanna ley

Rosanna making notes outside Teatro Civico Alghero

For the purposes of ‘Little Theatre by the Sea’ we by-passed the sparkling but touristy Costa Smeralda and headed for the wilder and more unspoilt west coast looking for adventure and a town I could call my own i.e. a town where characters in the novel could live, work and play…

We began at Capo Caccia, a north-westerly promontory towering over the sea. From the lighthouse perched on the point there is a dramatic view of Alghero, the ocean and peregrine falcons nesting in the crevices of precipitous cliffs. But the real drama turned out to be walking the 656 winding steps (known as the Escala del Cabirol or Roe-deer’s Staircase) down to the splendid prehistoric caves of Grotta di Nettuno.

Talking location with... author rosanna ley

Rosanna looking out to sea

On we travelled to the Catalan walled town of Alghero where the fusion of Italian and Catalan produces foodie treats such as Aragosta alla Catalana (lobster served with tomatoes and onions). While on the subject of food, some other Sardinian specialities to try are burrida (a spicy fish soup), spaghetti con bottarga (with mullet roe) and malloreddus (a gnocchi style pasta cooked with saffron in tomato sauce). I also fell in love with fregola – a delicious pasta similar to cous-cous, often served with clams.

inspiration for the Little Theatre in Bosa

Inspiration for the Little Theatre – in Bosa

And then came Bosa. Originally founded by the Phoenicians, Bosa’s pastel coloured houses line the riverbanks of the Temo, while the Castello dei Malaspino dominates the mediaeval quarter. Bosa has strong artisan traditions of gold-filigree jewellery and lace-making and as we wandered the narrow cobblestone streets we saw women sitting outside their houses making lace just like they have done for centuries. But the best thing about Bosa was that it had no theatre…

Bosa - the inspiration for the town of Deriu


OK, I need to clarify here. This was a good thing because it meant I could make one up. So, I found the right kind of old building with peeling paintwork and a touch of faded glamour (probably an old chapel) shut my eyes, opened my notebook and created my Little Theatre by the Sea.



At Bosa’s exhibition centre of Casa Deriu, the authentic reconstruction of a 1920s stylish Italian apartment included a cherry and olive wood parquet floor, majolica tiles from Ravenna, a frescoed vaulted ceiling and locally made lace curtains. It was so perfect. Deriu became the name of my town inspired by beautiful Bosa.

Casa Deriu

Casa Deriu

The novel also required a secret beach. In Sardinia, how hard could it be? We travelled further down the west coast past the marshes of the Sinis peninsula for a bit of flamingo-spotting, to the old mining town of Buggerru. The area is rich in mineral deposits and although the mines are now closed, some of the abandoned caves and tunnels can still be seen. Beyond the town is the secluded beach of Domestica.

Taking a well-earned break - all this research is hard work...

Rosanna taking a well-earned break – all this research is hard work…

The boardwalk led us past deserted mining buildings over the dunes to the beach. Its fine white sand was peppered with bright mineral specks and the water was translucent blue. The cove is overlooked by a solitary Spanish tower. So why is it secret..? We followed the path around the rocky promontory. Little more than a goat-track, it leads to a magical arch of rock and beyond, is the keyhole bay known as Caletta, invisible from both the sea and Domestica, lying at the mouth of a river with myrtle and juniper scenting the maquis all around.

Through the arch to the Secret Beach

Through the arch to the Secret Beach

Beaches and food apart, as one of the most ancient lands in Europe, Sardinia has a fascinating history, and since we’re talking theatres, we felt compelled to visit the ancient city of Nora in the south west, built on a spit of land jutting out to sea. Here, on a paved Roman road beside Roman baths decorated with white, black and ochre tesserae mosaics, stands one of the oldest amphitheatres in Italy – dating from the second century AD.

But all good visits have to come to an end and ours finished with a dish of simple lobster in Antica Cagliari, a charming and unpretentious restaurant in the island’s capital. We added a bottle of golden dry Vernacia di Oristano DOC for a perfect end to the trip. I had found a theatre, a town, a secret beach and so much more besides.

Thank you so much to Rosanna for sharing her research travels! I think we all want to visit Sardinia now!!

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  1. User: Hilary Rees

    Posted on: 26/10/2017 at 12:37 pm

    I love books that take me places, and this one although not quite finished is perfect. It says perfect holiday companion, but its not just that for me, living in West Yorkshire this type of book takes me to the sun, to beaches I would love to see, to the sea, to undiscovered sites – I have been to Sardinia but to the West coast. A place to discover some time. And the story is perfect mix of mystery, romance, intrique. Will pass on to friends when finished. Loving it.


  2. User: Mrs Helen Short

    Posted on: 11/09/2017 at 5:05 pm

    Reading Theatre by the sea love this book Rosanna.When I am reading lam in Sardinia lam on the beach ,l can see the buildings and smell the flowers etc lovely read.


  3. User: Michele Plews

    Posted on: 23/07/2017 at 9:44 pm

    Sat reading this in Bosa and realised that had to be where it was set, as a theatre director, just wish that bit was true !


  4. User: Anne Allen

    Posted on: 21/04/2017 at 2:03 pm

    I’ve nearly finished The Little Theatre by the sea and have been thoroughly enjoying it. The setting really appeals, as I love islands, particularly in the med or somewhere hot. These photos really add to the sense of place in the book. I’d love to go out for a holiday some day. Thanks, Rosanna, for such a lovely story


  5. User: andrewmorris51

    Posted on: 02/04/2017 at 8:20 pm

    Thanks Rosanna, for such an insightful article about your research in Sardinia, from which sprung some of the key locations and characters for The Little Theatre by the Sea.

    I know and love Alghero, but feel compelled now to go back and find Bosa, the Grotta di Nettuno….and devour some malloreddus.

    Where will your next book be located? Please let me know if you need any help with the research…

    Andrew for TF


    1 Comment

    • User: Julie Knight

      Posted on: 11/04/2017 at 7:13 am

      This is lovely as I am currently on page 81 of The Little Theatre by the Sea and loving it! I was trying to imagine Sardinia based on other places I have travelled but now have these photos and descriptions in my mind! I can transport myself there when reading! Thank you x


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