Today, I’m very pleased to welcome Rosanna Ley to the blog to talk about her latest novel, The Saffron Trail. Rosanna is the best-selling author of three previous novels including The Villa and Return to Mandalay. Rosanna writes short stories and articles for magazines and her work is widely published abroad. She holds an MA in creative writing for personal development and has worked as a creative writing tutor for over twelve years, leading workshops and writers retreats in the UK and abroad in Italy and Spain. She also runs a manuscript appraisal service to appraise and mentor the work of new writers. She is married with children and lives in Dorset. Welcome Rosanna!
Two young women, Nell and Amy meet in one of those perfect and tranquil riads in Marrakech. Nell is learning about Moroccan cuisine and Amy is a photographer. They become friends and the novel follows their journey as they try to untangle their lives and their relationships and as they attempt to uncover the mysteries and strangely connected secrets of their pasts. In order to do this they travel to Essaouira, to a saffron farm in the foothills of the Atlas mountains and then back to Roseland in Cornwall and Lyme Regis in Dorset. At the heart of the mystery and of the story are the threads of red gold which are saffron…
Saffron – and its history – was the inspiration. But I also wanted to write about relationships between the generations and I wanted to write about the strengths of female friendship. In this book I am also exploring the relationship between a father and son whose views are radically opposite to one another.
The novel is set in Marrakech and Cornwall, two contrasting locations. Why did you choose these settings?
I chose Morocco because it’s a producer of top quality saffron, and because of its culture and warmth, colours and vibrancy. It’s also a place where there were hippie communes in the late 60s and this element was important for my sub-plot. When I went there I realised that the labrynthine nature of the medina perfectly echoed the tangled relationships of my characters!
I chose Cornwall because of its history with saffron and because of its landscape and atmosphere.
The story centres around Amy and Nell; please could you introduce them both.
Nell is a girl who loves saffron. She has always been very close to her mother and when her mother dies at the start of the novel, she feels incredibly lost and alone, which adds to the pressure on her marriage. Her ambition is to open her own restaurant and she would love to find out all the secrets that her mother has kept from her over the years and which she fears may now be lost to her.
Amy seems fearless and independent to Nell, but in fact she too has her own vulnerabilities and is finding it hard to build confidence in her work as a photographer and to trust a man. Amy’s mother is busy and doesn’t realize how much Amy needs her time and attention; as a result Amy has grown very close to her great aunt Lillian. When Jake Tarrant visits the gallery where Amy works in Lyme, sparks fly…
Saffron is a big part of the book; how did you go about your research and do you have a favourite saffron recipe?
I began by reading about it. I read lots on the Internet and several great books including Pat Willard’s ‘The Secrets of Saffron’. People have become incredible passionate about saffron and I wanted to know why. Once I knew more about its history and how it has been used, past and present, I visited a saffron farm in the foothills of the Atlas mountains to learn more. I then contacted Dr Sally Francis who runs a saffron farm in Norfolk. She gave me lots of helpful advice. I started tasting various foods cooked with saffron and about the only thing I haven’t done is grow my own! My favourite dish cooked with saffron is actually a Persian chicken curry which is quite complex and uses a lot of different spices but the saffron shines through. It gives a lovely colour to the dish. For my local launch party I made 106 saffron cakes!
Yes, I always visit; you need to capture the full flavour, I think, and there’s no substitute for spending time there. Unexpected things happen too and you can put those in the book! It all adds to the authenticity – hopefully! Italy is my favourite place, so I would have to say Sicily, but Burma was an incredible experience and I loved the warmth and sensuality of Morocco. Fuerteventura is a favourite place for me to go to write – my husband and I have spent a lot of time there so that’s special too.
If you could travel to any time and place through history where and when would you go?
I am very drawn to the 1920s, but I’d only like to live in that time if I had money! Going back in time there was much more hardship and poverty in many more places than there is today. And even today, there is a lot of hardship that we are fortunate enough not to experience in the UK. I think Italy would have been even more beautiful then than it is today.
And finally … What can we expect next from Rosanna Ley?
I am writing a novel set in Cuba and Bristol, working title ‘The Last Rumba’. One of the themes is power in relationships and how it can be used and abused. But it’s also a romance of course! One of my characters is a magician and I have fallen a little in love with him…
It sounds wonderful – I’m already looking forward to reading it. Thank you Rosanna.
The Saffron Trail is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Quercus.
Find out more about Rosanna and her writing at: http://www.rosannaley.co.uk/