Promo: The Corsican Widow by Vanessa Couchman

I'm delighted to host historical fiction author and good friend, Vanessa Couchman, on my blog today. Not only is Vanessa an exceptional writer – her stories are full of intriguing plots and dramatic settings –, she is also a fellow author with Ocelot Press, our successful author cooperative. 

In her Tales of Corsica series, Vanessa brings historic the island of Corsica to life in her immersive novels, The Corsican Widow and The House at Zaronza

This June, The Corsican Widow is Book of the Month in our Ocelot Press Readers Group on Facebook. Feel free to join us there for our latest news and chats, and some great giveaways!

But now, discover her inspiration for the novels, and prepare to follow Vanessa to Corsica!

The Corsican Widow

Vanessa Couchman

Historical Fiction

An inspiring Corsican village

The island of the island 

Corsica is a place apart, but the peninsula of Cap Corse has an even more distinctive feel. Corsicans call it “the island of the island”. The village of Nonza is situated on its rugged West coast, reached by a switchback road that runs around the cape. The place has a special meaning for me.

Nonza, on Cap Corse, the setting of Vanessa's novels

Nonza clings to a rocky pinnacle between the mountains and the cobalt-blue sea far below. We stayed at Casa Maria, a guest house off the village square. The exterior of this typical Corsican house is foursquare and unadorned, but it has superb views of the sea and the mountains beyond.

A historic watchtower

Nonza is steeped in history. Outside Casa Maria’s gate, a path fringed with fig trees and cacti leads up to the ruined château and an 18th-century watchtower of greenish stone. The Paoline Tower shares the highest point of the village with a ruined castle, now an atmospheric summer restaurant. The tower was built in the mid-18th century and takes its name from Pasquale Paoli, the leader of Corsica’s republic.

The Paoline Tower

During Corsica’s struggles for independence from Genoa, the Genoese hung onto the main coastal towns and operated a naval blockade. Other parts of the coast remained under the republic’s control. Paoli built a watchtower at Nonza, which commanded a view over the strait up to the port of Saint-Florent. Unlike the round Genoese watchtowers along the coast, the Paoline Tower is square and built of grey-green stone.

In my second Corsica novel, The Corsican Widow, Paoli comes to Zaronza (fictional name) to inspect places he can fortify. He meets my main character, Valeria, and her husband Santucci and asks the latter to supervise the building of the tower. There’s no evidence that Paoli actually came to Nonza, although he did send his architect to draw up the plans.

The Paoline Tower played a role in the French siege of Nonza in 1768. A Corsican captain, Casella, held the tower single handed, even though he was wounded. He devised a way of firing several muskets at once and was so successful that the French offered a truce. They were convinced that he commanded a unit in the tower, although his men had already abandoned him. The French were so impressed that they gave him a safe passage back to Paoli’s headquarters.

A grisly legend

The intimate church in Nonza has a glowing apricot-coloured façade and a fine marble altar. It is dedicated to a 5th-century saint, Santa Ghiulia, who is also the patron saint of Corsica.

According to the legend, Ghiulia was crucified for refusing to take part in a pagan festival. Her killers cut off her breasts and flung them against a stone. Two springs gushed from the spot, whose waters are said to have miraculous powers. A whitewashed shrine to Ghiulia is reached via a long rocky staircase down to the beach.

In the evening we ate in the restaurant near the Paoline Tower. We ate locally fished seafood and strong Corsican cheeses and sipped the flowery local Patriomonio wine to the sound of cicadas. Coloured lights played over the crumbling walls, and the scent of the maquis, the aromatic scrub that covers the hillsides, was quite distinct. 

Cap Corse, which inspired the Tales of Corsica novels

A gift for a writer

The best was yet to come. The walls of our guest house were decorated with framed letters in faded ink on yellowed pages. At breakfast beneath an arbour supporting an ancient vine, our host, Monsieur Burini, brought us copies of the letters.

“We found them walled up in the attic when we restored the house,” he said. “The village schoolmaster wrote them to the daughter of the house in the 1890s. They carried on a secret love affair, since her parents would have disapproved, and left notes in a hidden letter-drop. But she was destined for an arranged marriage, and the schoolmaster left the village.”

Chance brought us to Nonza and handed me the idea for a novel on a plate, which became The House at Zaronza, set during the early 20th century. The Corsican Widow also draws inspiration from this magical place.


The Corsican Widow 

The Corsican Widow is Book 2 in the Tales of Corsica series and is set mainly on Corsica and also partly in the French port of Marseille. The story takes place during the mid-late 18th century, a time of great upheaval for the Corsican people.


About the Author:

Vanessa Couchman

Vanessa has lived in Southwest France since 1997 and is a self-confessed history nut. Quirky true stories often find their way into her fiction, and she likes nothing more than pottering around ruined châteaux or exploring the lesser-known byways of France. She is very attached to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, which has provided the inspiration for some of her novels and short stories. 

The Tales of Corsica series are standalone novels set in the same house on the island: The Corsican Widow (18th century) and The House at Zaronza (early 20th century) are published so far. 

Vanessa is also writing a trilogy set in France between 1880 and 1945. 

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  1. You make me want to explore Corsica right away, Vanessa! Thank you both for sharing more interesting information about the island.


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