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Locals I Love: Lisa Clifford

This week’s locals I love is someone I truly respect and who I’ve only actually met this year. A bit surprising since Florence is such a small town and you would have thought our paths would have crossed much sooner. However just another reason to adore where I live, it constantly has the ability to surprise you.

Lisa is an acclaimed author who’s books The Promise and Death in The Mountains have kept me enthralled, as she delves into the world of a Tuscany from the past and also the struggle to find one’s way in Italy. Something so many of us can relate too. Lisa is whip-smart and knows how to have a laugh. We’ve shared more than a few cappuccinos together and her outlook on life in Italy (read below), especially as a female looking to live and work is something every starry-eyed Italy love should read.

Thank you Lisa for agreeing to be a locals I love on the blog. To you all, cara readers, I wish you all a wonderful weekend and Buon San Giovanni (today is festa di San Giovanni) celebrating the city of Florence’s patron saint with a costumed historical parade, the last match of Calcio Storico Fiorentino and a fireworks show best seen over the riverbanks of the Arno river around 10pm. We are all trying to survive what is a pretty brutal June heatwave by downing copious amounts of caffe shakerato (espresso shaken with ice) and staying shuttered in our apartments, to leave only at night like vampires who inhabit a scalding Florence.

Name: Lisa Clifford

Nationality: Australia

Profession: writer

Favorite drink: Tenants beer

Find Lisa on Facebook, Instagram, and her website here

Tell me a little bit about yourself Lisa, where are you from in Australia and tell us how you ended up in Florence.

I arrived in Florence from Sydney when I was 17 years old, on the classic walk-about (Aboriginal term for moving about, nomadic life) that young Australians do to see the world. I met my husband when I was 17 years old but couldn’t believe that he was The One, so came back and forth from Sydney to Florence for 18 years. We finally married 20 years ago.

What are you up to here? Could be hobbies, work, passions or all of the above.

I write books and run Writers Retreats in Tuscany.

Giuseppe Spadi, 95 years old. “I used to go dancing to find a girlfriend but I’ve given that away now. Though I could still fall for a petite brunette. A small, dark woman still makes my heart skip. And if she can dance too? Wonderful, I’d absolutely fall in love. It’s never too late. I’d love to fall in love.” Giuseppe Spadi is one of the Stia Circolo’s regular dancers. Circolos are in most towns across Italy and are a 100% volunteer organization, run by mature people for mature people so that “old friends can get together, dance, eat and most of all, have company.” Giuseppe has been a widower for twenty-five years. “That’s a long time to sit at home alone, waiting for friends to drop by! I come to this Circolo to dance and have a chat, have fun, usually on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The music, the laughter, it keeps me young, keeps me alive.” A former woodsman/wood cutter/lumberjack, Giuseppe says he lives with his son now. “My daughter died. That’s the only thing about living to 95 years old. I’ve outlived my wife and my daughter. But I love life and while there is still breath in me I will continue to laugh. That and dancing. It’s what keeps me going from week to week.” #casentino #the-art-of-writing #writersretreatsitaly Photography @carlalovesphotography #carlacoulsoncoaching

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People often describe Italy as a sort of love story upon arrival, and luckily I was able to read your experience in The Promise. Can you share with my readers how your Australiatalian transition has been and finally, how do you see life here now?

I am definitely not one of those people who got off the plane and went ‘Oh, my goodness, I have found my soul country!’ I came to Italy in 1980 and it was amazing, beautiful and so different from my own country but I did not fall in love with the country rather my gorgeous Italian man. I battled the decision to leave Australia permanently. It wasn’t a step I took lightly. I am so settled here now it’s crazy! But that is something that interests me enormously. How do long term expats feel? Where is home now? That whole honeymoon thing: the first phase is loving Italy, the second phase is rejecting Italy. Then the third phase is accepting Italy. But what does acceptance of an adopted country really mean, for someone who has lived outside their own country for most of their lives? Are your deepest friendships with Italians or people of your birth country? So to answer your question, I’m not really sure how I see my life here now!

A lot of people have a hard time with homesickness and depression in Italy, what advice can you give those who underwent feelings as you’ve described in The Promise?

I think it’s extremely important for the girls/women who fall in love with Italians and want to live here, to have a skill that can be transplanted to Italy. Some kind of career that gives you a reason for being here that has nothing to do with your ‘amore’. There seems to be a plethora of English speaking girls married to Italians now. There were a few when I arrived in 1980 but so very many of those early girls have left their Italian men and gone back home. The reasons are manifold. Loneliness, unfulfilled careers, no career, boredom, incompatible cultures, different life expectations. I mean, I could go on and on. But if the foreign wife/girl/woman lives her life only through her husband, is that enough for a foreign, smart, educated girl nowadays? No, I don’t think so. Then the babies come along and she can feel more isolated. There will be different expectations on how to raise those kids. Different cultures raise children differently. There are loads of clubs, groups and networks now in Florence for foreign girls. When I moved here there were none, so we started a Network for English speaking girls with meetings, speakers etc in a language school at night. I think that Network has flourished. My understanding is that Network is huge now. I would say (as far as I know) that almost all of the women who started Network have gone home to the countries of their birth. So joining or creating a group helps but it’s not the answer. Career, groups, interests, hobbies that are yours, that are nothing to do with your husband. Give your life your own roots here. Give your life as much meaning here as possible. Try and make a difference here. All of that is important to your own self-worth and your own sense of belonging.

When one of the people you admire most is also a good friend and fabulous photographer. Grazie @carlacoulsoncoaching !

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Speaking of books, I also read “Death in the Mountains.” What inspired you to write such a thriller about the Tuscan mountains?

I felt that there was a wave of I Love Italy So Much but people had no idea how desperately poor this country was, such a short time ago. Who were the rural Italians before both wars? The country home, the casa colonica, is bought and renovated. But who lived in it? Why were so many country homes abandoned? What are the stories behind those homes, farmers? How did they love, live, eat? I’m a journalist by trade so stories and curiosity are a part of my life. Also, my mother-in-law is very important to me and it was her grandfather who was murdered. Death in the Mountains is homage to the sweet woman who took me into her heart and life – our Nonna. I guess I wanted to tell her family’s story.

I also know you run a popular writing retreat twice a year, can you tell me how that September’s retreat will be like?

Hopefully teaching others and mentoring can be a part of everyone’s life. I find it enormously satisfying to help others tell their stories. I love it. Mentoring and providing a dream location for people to ‘rest on the page’ is very rewarding. What are your writing dreams? How will you achieve those goals? Can you move past the slush pile? How engaging are your first five pages? Is the traditional publishing route right for you or should you consider the Indie route? There is a lot to learn so I fly successful writers and publishers over from the UK to teach. This year the commissioning editor of HarperCollins Publishers UK will also be with us for the week of September 10-16. An incredible opportunity for writers to meet and talk with someone who actually buys your work. My goal is to help people improve their work as well as sell it!

Can you share some of your favorite memories from previous retreats?

Every night at 6pm we Live Skype with agents and publishers in the US and UK. I provide the wine and it’s beyond fabulous for me to see our writers so happy at the end of a good writing day. You can tell they are pumped. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices – you know they have written their best work that afternoon. We have classes all morning, have lunch in the garden and then everyone writes (normally in their rooms) all afternoon. Then we meet for wine and Live Skypes. If someone’s work is not flowing we are there to help. So everyone’s writing improves, tightens, sharpens, evolves. That’s an experience I have during every retreat. That creative flow is a favorite memory from each one.

What advice as a published author can you give an inspiring writer who might be shy to get their story of Italy out there?

To be frank, it’s difficult as the market on Italy and moving to Italy is saturated. You have to have a very gripping, new angle on moving to Italy or being here. You can upload and self-publish your story for E-reading sales, no problem. And you may do quite well as long as you have a good social media following. However, if you want to be traditionally published you must come up with something totally new. Ideally suspense, something tense and tight. I have a few writers with good, well written accounts on moving here with mostly Coming of Age genre story lines. Writers don’t want to hear this but a traditional publisher will not take you on with solely that story line. In general, avoid cliché at all times. Dig deep, examine your emotions and learn new ways to express your emotions into a story by showing not telling.

What annoys you about Italy? Feel free to be as open as you want.

The masculine driven lack of equal rights and opportunities. The expectations that as a women you act and think in a certain way. Basic gender bias within the core of the male psyche. This is not just an Italian thing, of course. However this way of thinking is imbedded in a way that Italians have not yet even begun to examine. There was no Italian word for sexism, nor bullying. Funny how often the two go together yet Italians had no word to express either.

Do you think life in Italy is for everyone? Why does it work for you?

Italian life is not for everyone. And I’m not even sure that it is for me. I manage my life. I’ve been coming back and forth to Italy for 38 years, have lived here permanently with kids, home, farm, dogs and cats for 20 years. So life is busy and full of beautiful emotions. However, if I thought living here was for me I might stop questioning and examining the issues that surround living here. Not being complacent about living here is what I do, it’s become my job.

Weekend escapes: where do you go when you need a break from Florence and why?

I go to my house up in the mountains of Eastern Tuscany, Casentino. My mother-in-law gave me the house several years ago as she is too frail to farm the land and care for it. So it is somewhere I go to write and get away. I don’t get away very much to mini-break Tuscan locations unless I am writing a travel piece. Mostly I go to my own farm and write or take care of the orchard.

Favorite Tuscan comfort food and where to get it J?

Tortelli di patate e ragu o salvia e burro at La Rana restaurant near where the Arno River begins, on the Arno River at Stia, Casentino.

Last question… what is you working on next?

A fictional story set in Florence about an isolated foreign girl who becomes involved with the wrong kind of people. We’ll see whether I can stick to that plot line or digress!

If you had to make up a tagline for Florence according to Lisa, what would it be?

I’m not sure what a tagline is. I’m a generation past taglines and hashtags. I’m trying to learn and catch up!


Thank you Lisa for being so open and frank, I appreciate your insight and I look forward to our next cappuccino! For aspiring writers or those who just want to be with likeminded folk, check out Lisa’s September retreat in her beloved hills of Tuscany. Also worth noting, one of the In-house guests this retreat is Martha Ashby, Director of HarperCollins Commercial Women’s Fiction UK. What a wonderful chance to speak with someone directly in the industry!

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16 Comment

  1. Reply
    Cindy
    25.06.2017 at 15:15

    Love this interview! Don’t be complacent!:) there are So many emotions-so many experiences that Italy creates, I’m sure that’s why people want to write about Italy. You can’t express it in a normal way-written down it can really be powerfully overwhelming. But really, I couldn’t write about it because people would think I was crazy. I wish my only experiences with Italy was purely related to cuisine and sightseeing…. would love to go to a writers retreat-even though what I write is not meant for anyone to read but me:) one day!!!!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      26.06.2017 at 9:22

      I believe that everyone can benefit from going on a writer’s retreat, even if being a professional writer isn’t your end game. It’s also being around like-minded people, sharing stories and maybe getting that confidence to show your work in front of people who can be honest with you in a kind way. Thanks for commenting Cindy!

      1. Reply
        lisa Clifford
        28.06.2017 at 15:11

        Hi Cindy,

        I think when I first started to write about Italy people thought I was crazy. But there was always in the story’s sentiment that they could relate to. Whether I’m writing about Italian family relationships, Italian food and how it makes me feel, bilingualism, learning another language as an adult – people will always relate to something in there. So I do hope that one day you will let others read your words. We write for ourselves, I think. But at some stage it’s good to share our words so that others can evolve or grow through our experiences.

        That said, our own inner thoughts and feelings can be just for ourselves and not meant for sharing. I hope to meet you one day 🙂

        A presto Cindy,

        Lisa

  2. Reply
    Katie
    26.06.2017 at 15:39

    This is wonderful! As a military spouse, the same advice conveys — it’s difficult to be acclimated anywhere if you don’t have your own career, your own drives. I’ve been a “struggling” writer for a very long time, but I’m fortunate in that I have a work-from-home job that can travel along with us. We’ll be moving to Ferrara this Oct/Nov and staying for 2-3 years, so I might just have to look into your next retreat. It’s a specific struggle, knowing that a move is longer-term but temporary. People are sometimes resistant to friendships they know might not have years to cultivate, so it’s difficult. But I plan to dive in head-first and try to make the most of our time there. (And the gender bias? I’m certainly not excited about that, but after living in southeastern U.S. states for the last 13 years, it will, unfortunately, be nothing new.)

    1. Reply
      lisa Clifford
      28.06.2017 at 15:06

      Hi Katie,
      Well, I sure am glad that you found Georgette’s story wonderful! And I am thrilled that you like to write because I find it’s something that gives me joy. It’s the one thing, apart from my kids and other achievements, that constantly and reliably gives me happiness. So I hope you continue to write. For me, it’s therapy.

      Good luck with your move to Ferrara and I hope you make special friends that last you the rest of your life. I always tell my kids that making one friend, just one that lasts forever, in amongst a sea of people, is a gift.

      Take care and ‘tante belle cose’ – ‘lots of beautiful things’ to you,
      Lisa

  3. Reply
    Elaine Fraser
    27.06.2017 at 1:40

    Georgette, I love your stories and photos, not just because I love Florence and beagles, but because you’ve created something beautiful.

    Thanks for the interview with Lisa–she is a genuinely beautiful person, inside and out. I’ve been to two of her retreats and am going again this year.

    I spend my life writing and traveling these days and Florence has become a little waypoint on my travels. An idea for a novel was birthed in Tuscany in 2010 and since then it’s traveled around the world with me, including back to Tuscany several times. This year, I’m taking it to The Art of Writing retreat with Lisa to celebrate finishing the novel and bringing this particular novel journey to a close.

    If anyone is thinking of coming along to the retreat, do it. You never know, your writing idea just might develop and take you on a journey you never dreamed of.

    1. Reply
      lisa Clifford
      28.06.2017 at 14:59

      That is so lovely Elaine,
      I just popped over to Georgette’s page to thank her for such a wonderful chat about my life in Italy when I saw your reply. I love your work! Your books are fabulous, along with your spirit of adventure. And to have you with us on The Art of Writing is always such an honour. You have much to teach us! I am looking forward to seeing you soon, YAY!
      I too so enjoy Georgette’s stories – maybe one day we should bind them in a book. ‘Journeys into Tuscany’ or something.
      Hugs to you and hugs to Georgette!
      Lisa
      xxx

    2. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      28.06.2017 at 15:24

      What a beautiful comment Elaine. I love that you go her retreats every year. I am hoping to at least stop by to this year’s as well so we can meet in person! I am so happy that you have a novel in waiting that you plan on working on, that is really wonderful. Clearly this is a place that so many of us adore. I agree that being around motivated individuals who need a little push or maybe just even some fellow compatriots to write with would really benefit from Lisa’s retreat!

  4. Reply
    Sarah
    29.06.2017 at 10:54

    Thanks for this great read Georgette and Lisa. I am at the early phases of a potentially similar journey, as a 31 year old New Zealander in France – with a Frenchman (who always reminds me he is proudly half Italian!). We are navigating the “culture-clash” of a nomadic traveller who ultimately imagines life at the other end of the earth (me) when ready, and him, a much less travelled proud local, who never dreamed of ending up with a foreigner, let alone living outside his beloved France. I am trying to find my “things” that establish my life here for ME, as you so rightly portray the potential limitations on happiness when so much compromise (career, distance from family) is involved. It is unsurprising to me that you confirm what I suspect, that despite the love for your second home, you learn to manage the life in Italy, rather than ever being sure if it is for you. I am so very lucky to be on this journey, but it certainly isn’t easy! All the best and hopefully I can be inspired to finally do more writing and perhaps resurrect a dormant blog.

    1. Reply
      lisa Clifford
      06.07.2017 at 13:27

      I hope you do keep writing, Sara,
      and that you do revive your dormant Blog. There is nothing easy about the journey you are undertaking. There will be tough times and amazingly good times, as you no doubt already know. What sounds great is that you have such a strong, wise head on your shoulders. If only I knew what you already know when I embarked on my long distance love affair with my Italian. It may have better prepared me for the cultural and ‘expectational’ clashes ahead. And I’m saying that after 20 years marriage and two almost grown up kids. You sound like you know what you want, who you are and what is in your heart. Good on you and I wish you all wonderful things with your future, where ever it may be!
      Lisa
      xx

  5. Reply
    Stephanie
    05.07.2017 at 14:28

    Georgette, This series is a tremendous service. Thank you sincerely. I must have signed up for your blog a number of years ago, but have never received an email that I can recall. A notification popped up this morning, which led me to this piece about Lisa, who sounds like someone I would like to know.

    I rarely read blogs about Florence anymore (not because there aren’t good ones, including yours, but because I’m in the second phase that Lisa describes above: rejecting Italy; moreover, I’ve always been turned off by the rose-coloured telling of ex-pat stories and the necessary rejection of the “old”). I have been in a relationship with an Italian for ten years, but I have never left my home country of Canada. I have a great career in Canada that I’ve worked hard to build and love my home. The idea of giving that up for Florence and cobbling together a living has always been a deterrent to me to moving. I’ve always been sure that I could only move if I managed to build, as Lisa describes, a career that is portable and that I genuinely want to pursue. At this point, I shuttle back and forth between Italy and Canada at least four times a year and have made significant sacrifices to take extra time to be with my partner, who is less mobile than I am for a variety of personal reasons. This is what it is and our relationship is one of the most cherished parts of my life, but it will be difficult to sustain this indefinitely. Writing has always been something that I have considered as an option long term, combined with painting and making things (I’m a craftsperson at heart). I’m going to look into Lisa’s retreats.

    A big thank you again, Georgette, for this series of posts, and especially for this honest one that struck right to the heart of the matter for me.

    1. Reply
      lisa Clifford
      06.07.2017 at 13:32

      Wow Stephanie,
      I loved reading your response.
      There are relationships here in Florence that are so eaten up by resentment and lack of forgiveness because the one that didn’t move (ie: the Italian) hasn’t shown enough understanding of the changes and sacrifices made by the one who did move. So wow, you are amazing carrying that relationship on for 10 years, going back and forth. Good on you and all the best of luck for the future.
      Thanks for your comments 🙂
      Lisa

      1. Reply
        Stephanie
        10.07.2017 at 13:45

        Thanks, Lisa! Before I met my partner I had worked abroad in four countries, including in Australia (!), so it’s not that I couldn’t live elsewhere. I have also been learning Italian slowly and at this point am at a reasonable level. One thing that is a great about my partner and his family is that they have always told me to think very carefully about what I am doing and they have always been very supportive of my career at home (going so far as to tell me to not leave it). They are realistic people who have our best interests at heart. That said, I have an artistic streak that led me to Florence in the first place and that one day will almost certainly become my primary focus. All the best to you and perhaps one day our paths will meet! I’ve just begun writing and this September is not possible for me but perhaps the next retreat? I will keep an eye out for it. Best wishes.

        1. Reply
          Stephanie
          10.07.2017 at 13:51

          PS I think it helped that I met my partner when I was already in my late 30s (too old and too realistic to be swept away by romance?!). 🙂

  6. Reply
    Susan C
    06.07.2017 at 4:45

    I loved reading this interview. During study abroad in 2000, I, too, fell in love in Firenze. I fell in love with the city, the language, Chianti, and, of course, a man. I’ve started numerous novels and short stories, but never finished any of them. There they may stay… unless I do a writer’s retreat! That sounds lovely. Off to read some of Lisa’s books…

  7. Reply
    lisa Clifford
    06.07.2017 at 13:37

    Hi Susan,
    I’d certainly like to meet you. And this year we have such amazing people from all over the world coming to join us. Did you stay with that Italian man?
    Love to know,
    A presto,
    Lisa

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