Today I’m thrilled to see Vanessa Couchman in the coffee shop. I love stories about houses which give up their longheld secrets so The House at Zaronza which is set in Corsica was right up my street and am eagerly awaiting her next book.
Hello Vanessa, what can I get you?
Thank you so much for inviting me today, Katy. Mine’s a cappuccino, please, and I’d love a slice of that chocolate cake. Anything with chocolate in…
Coming right up. How’s the writing going? I know you’re working on a new novel. Can you tell us anything about it?
I’m a history nut, so I love historical novels, especially when they are based on a true story. History provides so much inspiration and truth is often stranger than fiction! In fact, that’s the case with my latest novel, The Corsican Widow, to which I have just put the finishing touches.
My home has been in Southwest France for 20 years, but I’m a great fan of the stunning Mediterranean island of Corsica, where we have spent six holidays! As well as being a wonderful place to visit, Corsica has a fascinating history and a distinctive culture.
BMy first Corsica novel, The House at Zaronza, is based on a true story: the owners of the B&B where we stayed discovered some love letters walled up in the attic, giving a tantalising glimpse into an affair between two star-crossed lovers. A gift for a novelist.
I had fully intended to write a World War II sequel. That’s still the plan, but I became captivated by a fragment I read in a book. It recounted the tale of a lonely, wealthy widow in 18th-century Corsica, who was sentenced to death for having an affair with her shepherd and becoming pregnant. Since he was beneath her socially, she couldn’t marry him without dishonouring her family. The only alternative was for her to be executed.
To us in 21st-century Western society, this seems a terribly harsh verdict, although we know about honour killings carried out in other societies. However, in Corsica, honour has always been prized above all else and the Corsicans’ implacable pride was the origin of many vendettas. Women who overstepped the boundaries of public morality faced severe penalties, either from their families or from the authorities. These ranged from public humiliation to being banned from the family home or, in many cases, being murdered by family members.
Apart from the fragment I came across, no further details exist, and have no doubt been lost in the mists of time. I found this tale intriguing and just had to write it, so I used it as the basis of The Corsican Widow. To make the story more plausible to a modern audience, I’ve altered certain aspects and made it less stark. My story is set in Corsica and in Marseille in the mid to late 18th century. I’m not giving any more away!
History is full of enthralling snippets like this one. I’ve no doubt my subsequent novels will take full advantage of it.
About the author
Vanessa Couchman is a novelist, short story author and freelance writer and has lived in southwest France since 1997. Her first novel, The House at Zaronza (Crooked Cat, 2014) is set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front during World War I. Vanessa has written many short stories set in France and Corsica, which have won and been placed in creative writing competitions. A number of them have also been published in themed anthologies.
The House at Zaronza is available in paperback and e-book format from: