Helena McEwen

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Scotland | 2002

Helena McEwen’s first novel The Big House was shortlisted for the 2000 Booker Prize and the 2001 Whitbread First Novel Award. She grew up in Scotland and now lives in London.


Report 2002

Santa Maddalena is situated in beautiful Tuscan countryside with olive groves, vineyards, forests filled with bird-song, and blue hills in the distance.

I walked every day for a few hours and allowed the book to take shape and wander along with me, so I saw the spring come to the landscape as every day new trees blossomed and shoots began to spring up. The olive trees were being trimmed and the branches burnt in bonfires so the air was filled with scented smoke. There were many deer and yellow butterflies and one sighting of the tail of a wild boar disappearing into the forest.

I loved my long walks and the intense peace that seems to rest in Santa Maddalena, where so many artists have been made welcome. I came to work on my second novel and it has been a valuable time. I also loved the blazing fire and long hours of after-dinner conversation.

We found time to visit Florence, Arezzo, and made a wonderful trip to Vallombrosa with the local mayor.

There is no institutional feel here. It is a real home full of beautiful paintings and precious objects, where one is well looked after. (No cooking, cleaning, shopping or washing for six weeks, is wonderfully liberating for writing.)

I am very grateful to Beatrice Monti Della Corte for setting up this Foundation as a home for writers as it was a writer’s home. Grisha’s spirit seems still present, his memory spoken of with much love by many, and one gets the feeling he would have liked the house to be full of people.