When life gave Maeve Haran lemons

Maeve Haran, author. Picture: GRAHAM TROTT

Maeve Haran, author. Picture: GRAHAM TROTT - Credit: Archant

Highgate author Maeve Haran tells Ellie O’Donnell how researching her latest novel taught her about lemon growing and making her own citrus cocktails.

An Italian Holiday

An Italian Holiday - Credit: Archant

Sitting in Maeve Haran’s vibrant purple and green study, it’s an embodiment of her adventurous new novel.

An Italian Holiday (Pan Macmillan £7.99) follows the fortunes of four different women with very different problems who unexpectedly meet at a villa in scenic southern Italy.

When one tries to save a failing lemon growing business, friendships blossom and a special limoncello is created.

“I always loved The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim which is about four Edwardian women, all with problems in their lives, who went to a tower in Italy,” says Haran whose research involved learning to make the citrus liqueur.

“I wondered what it would be like if there was a modern version, with modern women with their own problems?”

Having visited Ravello and Amalfi many times, Haran used the regions as inspiration for her fictional locations of Lanzarella and Lerini: “I like ‘moving the cathedral’ Some people get very cross when you do, but I enjoy having a fictional name.”

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As the story unravels, assertive Angela, extrovert Sylvie, unconfident Claire and mousy Monic encounter all kinds of problems they must solve, and through their experiences, become friends.

“I often write about friendships between women because it is such a big part of women’s lives - especially as you get older. The book is very much about independent women finding a way of making life work.”

The mother-of-three is a former TV producer whose debut novel Having It All was among the first to explore the work life balance for working mums.

Haran who started writing fiction to help with her own worklife balance, loves the line from her businesswoman character Angela: ‘I don’t do women friends because all women do is pour out their troubles to each other and go back to the bad situation.’

“I thought that was interesting because it is what women do. But in the end Angela falls and becomes as much of a friend as the others.”

One of the women falls in love with a lemon grower and Haran ventured to Amalfi in April to spend a week among the lemon groves with an Italian speaking friend.

“The lemon grower informed us of his future business plans – my friend and I both had quite high-powered jobs in our past - and when we left we both said, ‘that’s not going to work!’ So as part of the book I wrote about saving a lemon grove business through the creation of a limoncello which is everywhere in that part of Italy. Like many Italian aperitifs - Aperol, Martini, Campari – it has a mystery ingredient.”

It’s at this point that Haran takes me to her kitchen to share a glass of her self-created cocktail including her ‘secret’ ingredient: ‘grains of Paradise’ a lemony peppery seed from Africa that was popular in England in the 18th century.

“They used to put in beer but George III banned it because Londoners were getting too addicted!”

In Haran’s novel the Italian lemon grower adds the grains to create a cocktail and save his falling business.

“It’s been quite unusual writing this book because of all the practical applications, like making your own lemon tart and creating a cocktail,” says Haran who points out it only takes two weeks to make your own limoncello

“It’s great fun to make. The base is vodka, lemon, sugar and, of course, grains of Paradise.” She picks up the ready-made bottle that is finished off with a crafty make-shift label of the front cover of the novel. Adding her limoncello to prosecco to create: “Cellono! My own recipe, my own cocktail, my own aperitif! Maybe I should consider marketing it?”

Find the recipe for Maeve Haran’s limoncello at panmacmillan.com/blogs.

Maeve Haran is at Waterstones Crouch End on July 31 to talk and offer a taste of Cellono. Tickets £4 waterstones.com.