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Talking Location With Lucy Fricke and Sinéad Crowe – Olevano Romano and Amorgos

22nd September 2020

We are delighted to be talking to author Lucy Fricke and Sinéad Crowe about the inspiration for settings in Daughters.

Lucy Fricke and Sinéad Crowe

Lucy Fricke, author of Daughters:

For me, writing and travelling go hand in hand. Sometimes I feel as if I’m really a traveller who writes novels on the side, but of course that can’t be true; nobody writes novels on the side. But nor is it the case that travelling is just a sideline for me; the truth is that I turn places and people into books. And ultimately, novels should always be a journey, both for the person who writes them and the people who read them.

The protagonists of my novel Daughters take a roadtrip from Germany to Greece via Switzerland and Italy, but most of the story unfolds in two places: the small Italian town of Olevano Romano and the Greek island of Amorgos.

Olevano Romano

Lucy Fricke and Sinéad Crowe

Olevano Romano Photo: Steve Quilliam

In 2016, I had a three-month fellowship at Casa Baldi, a little villa with a fabulous terrace and an incredible view of the Monti Prenestini mountain range and the valley below. Northern European artists flocked here in the nineteenth century, and so the landscape features in countless Romantic paintings. The town, which has barely 7,000 inhabitants, is 60 kilometres south of Rome, in the region of Lazio. It feels as if time has stood still here. When you wander through the lower parts of the town with their tiny lanes and houses, you feel transported back to the Middle Ages. Old people sit around in front of the church, and in the afternoons, they head next door to San Rocco for an aperitivo. Opposite the church is a butcher who makes the world’s best fennel salami and sells Cesanese, a superb red wine that is almost impossible to get your hands on outside Olevano. In Olevano Romano, you can escape the clichés and experience the real Italy in peace.

Amorgos

Possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to, this small island in the Cyclades in the South Aegean is an eight-hour ferry journey from Athens. I spent nearly two months here in the spring of 2015; I couldn’t bring myself to leave and just kept extending my stay. It wasn’t until the tourists began to arrive in the summer that I finally took the boat back to the mainland. Amorgos brings happiness to everyone who fetches up here. The only traditional tourist attraction is Panagia Hozoviotissa, a white monastery built on a cliffside almost a thousand years ago, where the monks serve an outstanding liqueur. Otherwise, the island is home to hidden coves, picturesque villages, lively tavernas and the most wonderful people.

I love places that lack showy attractions, places that demand nothing from you. Places that let their beauty unfold, where you can savour the silence and just be.

Sinéad Crowe, translator of Daughters:

I first read Lucy Fricke’s bestselling novel Daughters back in 2018, when it was published to critical acclaim in Germany. It tells the story of Betty and Martha, best friends staring down the barrel of middle age, who, like many of their generation, have a complicated relationship with their parents. When Martha’s terminally ill father, Kurt, persuades her to take him to a Swiss euthanasia clinic, our three protagonists set off in Kurt’s battered Golf on a macabre journey across Europe. I immediately fell in love with the novel’s black humour, vivid characters and relatable themes and was very keen share it with English-speaking friends of mine back home in Ireland and elsewhere.

Two years later, having secured a publisher in V&Q Books, I finally had the privilege of translating Daughters, but in a very changed world. I found myself in the strange position of working on a novel about an epic roadtrip across Europe while I, like pretty much everyone else on the planet, was suffering from intense cabin fever thanks to Covid-19. But at a time of so much fear and anxiety, it was comforting to lose myself in Lucy’s sensuous descriptions of the glassy surface of Lake Constance, the mist-covered Lake Maggiore, the seedy backstreets of Genoa, the winding lanes of Olevano Romano (which in the novel goes by the name of Bellegra) and the scents of oregano, thyme and lavender wafting across the fields of Amorgos (AKA Lofkes). And then there were all the mouthwatering moments of eating, drinking and general merrymaking in the novel, from the simple pleasures of a can of beer and a hot dog at the side of the German Autobahn to a Greek Easter feast of spit-roast lamb washed down with wine and ouzo. I must admit I felt the odd pang when rendering these passages into English. When would I be able to enjoy a meal and a booze-up with family and friends again, I wondered? I couldn’t help envying the characters, not just for the ease with which they cross borders, but also for these simple moments of togetherness.

From a practical point of view, too, the pandemic made my work more difficult. Before the lockdowns began, I had arranged a trip to Olevano Romano with the Spanish translator of Daughters, María Tellechea, in order to get a feel for the place. In one of the novel’s critical scenes, the narrator wanders all over the town in search of a long-lost father-figure. As someone with very poor spatial awareness, I thought it would help my translation if I could get a sense of Olevano Romano’s layout in real life. Sadly, it was not to be, and we had to cancel our travel plans. Instead, I had to rely on Google Maps and Google Images (how on earth did translators manage before the internet?) and the very helpful, if envy-inducing, photos Lucy sent me of her travels. I now feel as if I know Olevano Romano and Amorgos like the back of my hand, and I’m looking forward to one day seeing if the reality matches the pictures in my mind’s eye.

Thank you to both Lucy and Sinéad for wonderful insights into two beautiful places (and I can tell Sinéad that having been to Olevano – twice – that it is totally worth putting in the diary when we can travel once again!😉)

Catch Sinéad on Twitter

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Hurry, hurry! Our 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition entries close on 15th November...

750 - 3000 words with strong 'sense of place' theme

Short story, travelogue, or memoir

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Cash prizes totalling £500 / $600 

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Entries close 15th November 2020