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Sun-drenched, touching and inspirational, this is your ultimate summer read for 2018, perfect for fans of Rosanna Ley and Victoria Hislop. Sicily, 1977 Ten-year-old Lily and family arrive for their annual summer holiday in Sicily. Adopted as a toddler, Lily’s childhood has been idyllic.
But a chance encounter with a local woman on the beach changes everything…. 10 years later… Ever since that fateful summer Lily’s picture-perfect life, and that of her family, has been in turmoil.
The secrets of the baking hot shores of Sicily are calling her back, and Lily knows that the answers she has been so desperately seeking can only be found if she returns to her beloved island once more….
Fans of Victoria Hislop, Rosanna Ley, Victoria Hislop and Domenica de Rosa will fall in love with the stunning and evocative Italian backdrop to this sweeping family epic.
Lily didn’t give much thought to the woman on the beach. It didn’t occur to her to wonder how she had known the piece of stone was hers or why she’d taken the trouble to return it. But a couple of days later she reappeared. The bumpy track that passed Villa Ercole was not much used and Lily and Harry, playing in the copse of almond trees, were surprised to see a car park on the verge. When the driver stayed in his seat and his passenger got out, they supposed it was to ask for directions.
At first Lily didn’t recognise the woman because she wasn’t wearing her sunglasses. Her eyes were brown and oval like the almonds, which gave her a sleepy look. She was carrying a curious device in a grey case. She leant over the wall and called out in Italian. When Lily didn’t respond, she said in English: ‘You are Lily, yes?’
‘Do you remember me?’
Lily nodded again and Harry, joining her, said, ‘Who’s she?’
‘She’s the person who found my statue after you lost it.’
The lady said, ‘The view is so beautiful here I must stop and take a picture.’ She undid the zip of the grey case and took out a large oblong camera. ‘This is Polaroid. You know it?’ They didn’t. ‘I show you how it works, yes? If you stand together.’
Lily held Harry’s hand. The leaves formed dappled shadows on the ground and behind them, she knew, was the glint of blue sea. The lady pointed the viewfinder at them and pressed a button. ‘Now,’ she said. ‘We must wait.’
Generally Jess was the family photographer, fiddling about with the light meter and the lens focus. The film had to be sent away to be developed before Lily could help arrange and label the pictures in an album. She had never seen a photo emerge like magic from the mouth of a camera, the image taking shape before their eyes. She and Harry both squealed.
‘You like it?’ said the lady. ‘You want to keep it?’
‘Can we, please?’
There were eight photographs, she told them, on each film, so she would take seven more and share them out. She had bought the camera in America when she’d lived there; it was where she had learned her English. She took some shots of the children, together and apart. Then she asked Harry if he would like to have a go. He took two pictures of Lily and the lady leaning against the wall, not quite touching, and a third one of them with their arms around each other’s waists. Lily snapped the lady pretending to pick a nut from the tree and she would have taken another, but the film was used up. The man in the car, who they’d forgotten about, hooted and called: ‘Dai, Carlotta, sbrigati.’
‘Arrivo, Claudio! I have to go,’ she said, her voice wistful.
‘Will we see you again?’ said Lily.
‘I hope so.’ She shuffled the pictures between her fingers like cards, hesitated a moment and then thrust them at Lily. ‘I will keep one,’ she said. ‘These are for you.’ Quickly she turned and got into the car. The man, Claudio, reversed and they drove off in a puff of dust.
Lily and Harry ran indoors and found their parents and Gerald in the salone. They were sitting at the table, with a carafe of wine in the centre. The wine in their glasses was a light straw colour; there wasn’t much left in the carafe. The needle was sticking on the record player but nobody made any move to take it off. Jess smiled lazily, ‘What have you got there, poppet?’
‘Photos? Where did you find them?’
‘They’re of me and Harry. A lady took them.’
‘I suppose she wants paying?’ said Alex. ‘She should have sent you to ask us first.’
‘They’re a present,’ said Lily. ‘She’s gone now.’
‘A present? That’s a bit weird. Are you sure you got the right end of the stick?’
‘She spoke English,’ said Lily, annoyed that her word was being doubted. ‘She said I could keep them, didn’t she, Harry?’
Harry nodded. ‘They were magic photos.’
Lily handed over one of the snaps of Harry and herself sitting on the stone wall. ‘Oh,’ said Alex. ‘Polaroids.’
‘Let me see,’ said Jess, and Lily passed her the rest.
The adults gazed at the pictures in an abstracted and bemused sort of way. In the background the record continued to stutter its same irritating phrase. ‘Turn that off, will you, darling? Thanks. Who is she anyway, this photographer?’
‘I don’t know. She didn’t tell us.’
‘The man called her Carlotta,’ said Harry.
‘She isn’t English?’
‘No, she’s Italian. She’s the lady who found my statue when it was lost on the beach.’
‘You mean this is the second time you’ve seen her?’
‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ said Jess and Lily began to think that, like Alice in Wonderland, her parents were getting easily confused. Probably because of the wine. This must have been one of those days when they started drinking as soon as they woke from their siesta. Gerald encouraged it. His prime time was in the morning. If he had any work to do it was always abandoned by lunch. He never exerted himself in the afternoons.
‘She was nice,’ said Lily.
‘Is this her, standing next to you?’
‘She let me take it,’ said Harry.
Jess examined the snapshot more closely, with a baffled frown. She gave it to Alex, who was peering at it when Dolly came into the room.
Penny Feeny has lived and worked in Cambridge, London and Rome. Since settling in Liverpool many years ago she has been an arts administrator, editor, radio presenter and advice worker. Her short fiction has been widely published and broadcast and won several awards. Her first novel, That Summer in Ischia, was one of the summer of 2011’s best selling titles.