Earlier this year I reviewed a romantic novel set on the island of Sardinia which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite it having me in floods of tears at one point.
It quite literally broke my heart, but ‘The Whispering Wind’ by Lexa Dudley isn’t just a great love story, it also offers a wonderful insight into life on the island, its landscapes, traditions and people. So when I had the chance to find out more about Lexa and her inspiration for the book, I took full advantage.
Lexa first visited Sardinia way back in 1972. Her husband was under doctor's orders to take a complete rest, so they planned a family holiday to Corsica. Finding it fully booked they changed track and booked into a new hotel in the south of Sardinia, near Pula.
Lexa explained: ”We had to look Sardinia up on the map but it turned out to be a really wonderful two-week holiday with our four sons. As well as learning to water-ski, we learnt a lot about the island and its people.
"One evening, we organised a BBQ on the beach with the help of one of the locals who worked at our hotel. We were all looking forward to freshly roasted suckling pig when it started raining before the BBQ was even lit. To our surprise and delight, our new friend arranged for us instead to have the meal in a hunting lodge belonging to his friend, the butcher who had supplied the meat for our feast. What a memorable evening that turned out to be. The Sards all sat at one end of the table, the English at the other. The conversations went from Sardinian and Italian to French and then to English and back again. We were all made to feel so very welcome and didn’t return to our hotel until the early hours of the following morning with promises that we would return again next year.
"We went back to the same hotel for the next 14 years, as we had become friends with the owners and all the staff; it became home from home. When the owners retired we found ourselves another magical place to stay and have been going there for nearly 30 years.”
Lexa told me how her love for Sardinia and its people with their unshakable faith and unquestionable loyalty, inspired her to write the book.
“They say if you make a friend of a Sard you have that friendship for life and I know that to be true.
"They have a code by which they live which has hardly changed over the centuries. I have a girlfriend who is married to a Sard and when she goes to her home in the mountains and goes out for a walk on her own; the phone is ringing in the UK to tell her husband she is out. So back in 1969 the relationship between the central characters, Beppe and the married Elise, would have gone against everything they held to be right and proper. It was this that interested me and prompted me to write the book.”
When I read ‘The Whispering Wind’ I found the details about the island, The Sards and their culture and customs fascinating. Lexa had obviously done her homework when it came to researching the book.
“I have travelled a lot over Sardinia and visited all the places mentioned in the book. I have also been there at different times of the year and have seen her in the glorious colours of spring and the dryness of September and rain in October.
"I first saw the Sagra Sant’Efisio in May 1975 and again in a couple of years ago. It still moves me, although I am not a Roman Catholic, I find the devotion and belief of the Sards, both young and old, very moving. I have also seen the Redentore in Nuoro in the 1980s. I have found that, although everyone is very welcome, the festivals are still for the Sards themselves rather than the tourists.”
While I love writing, the thought of taking on a project as large as a novel is daunting, so my next question was just how long does it take to write such book?
“I started writing it back in the 1980s and could have decorated the loo walls with the rejection slips. We moved and the manuscript got put away. We actually moved a number of times before finally settling in our present home.
"As I came up to retirement (from helping my husband with his business), he suggested I found the book and do something with it. So I read it, knew why I had so many rejection slips, sat down and rewrote it. With editing it took about two years, between family events and numerous trips back to Sardinia. It was all well-worth it and I have been lucky enough to win prizes in America for the book in both romance and Literary fiction.”
With Lexa’s obvious passion for Sardinia I was curious about whether she had ever thought of moving there.
“Yes, I would move there tomorrow, but someone once said you should never live in the land of your dreams, as it can become a nightmare and you have nowhere to retreat. My family is mostly in the UK and with three or four trips a year I am happy, but yes I would love to move there.”
I was also curious if there was anything about Sardinia that Lexa didn’t like.
“There is not much to dislike about Sardinia. When we first went there in the 1970s it was actually a bit of a tip with rubbish and old burnout cars dumped everywhere. It still has its problems, but is much better. Cagliari has grown over the 42 years I have known it and when I look back at photos taken at that time I can hardly believe it is the same city with its café culture, smart shops and wonderful new marina. It still remains a great and safe place to stay.”
And I was equally curious about whether she had a favourite time of year to visit or a favourite festival or event.
“I love the spring, we went in April this year and the colours of the island were breathtaking, the watercourses were full and everywhere was green, with the meadows a riot of wild flowers.
"By June the sun has dried the grasses and the flowers have faded, but there is a breeze that passes over the island all the time making it feel fresh. In September the sea is warm but the land almost parched, but still beautiful. If you want the beaches, well any time in the summer is wonderful as there are some amazing white sands and small coves, just about whatever you could wish for and only a couple of hours away.”
Lexa continued “The Sagra di Sant’Efisio has to be my favourite event; it is from the 1st to 4th May when the whole island joins in the festival. The villages that take part are different each year and are chosen by ballot. The villagers turn out with their intricate costumes. Young and old, men and women are in their traditional dress, so many villages and so many different designs. The statue of Sant’Efisio is taken from Cagliari to Pula, where the saint was originally beheaded, then returned to Cagliari on the fourth day. Everywhere is decked out with bunting and there is a real party atmosphere.”
Having loved Lexa’s first book so much I had just one more question to ask. Was another in the pipeline?
“I am writing a new novel called Children of the Mists which is a historic romance set in Sardinia in 1855. The research for this has been really interesting and so many people have helped me with the traditions and way of life at that time. As you can tell I find it difficult to write about any other country, but then Sardinia is in my soul.”
Excellent news – but hopefully it won’t take quite as so long from start to finish as I really can’t wait to read it.
Photographs courtesy of Lexa Dudley.