Letters from Elsewhere

What an honour! I’ve been joined today by an venerable old woman. I’m not sure how old Irena is, but I’m told she’s the oldest resident in the Tuscan mountain village of Santa Zita. She’s brought a letter to her son, Carlo, who’s been pressing her to help him piece together a mystery that’s puzzled him all his life and which he’s come back to the village to solve after living abroad for many years.

Irena’s chaperone is Katharine Johnson, whose first two novels, Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings and The Silence were very much enjoyed by yours truly. Here’s the letter:

Dear Carlo,

That wedding photograph I said I didn’t remember – I may as well tell you the truth, I suppose. The bride was Martina. And yes, I was the bridesmaid. And the one of the two girls sitting on the wall of the fountain eating ice cream? Martina and me. We must have been how old – twelve? Thirteen? We were best friends back then. I couldn’t imagine my life without her.

I know that will surprise you – she and I were never close when you were growing up. We never spoke to each other again after the war. At least not properly.

I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. You can laugh but you don’t know what it was like to be with Martina in those days. It’s funny, I remember her saying to me once, “In fifty years time we’ll be sitting here by the fountain and nothing will have changed.” How could either of us have guessed that our lives would change so much?

Sometimes I allow myself a little fantasy – an alternative history in which Martina didn’t do what she did. That she and I could really be sitting there now by the fountain discussing our children and grandchildren. But how could we have had any idea back then how precious and precarious our friendship really was?

You can see how beautiful Martina was. Oh, I know what you’re thinking – how she was a dried-up old prune when you knew her. And that scar was hideous. But life does that to you – war does that to you. In those days I felt very plain in comparison. 

Looking at the picture again, I always had that rather square face and thick eyebrows and I was a heavy build as you can see but I didn’t look so bad, did I? And yet next to Martina I always felt plain and plump and I suppose because of that it made me want to be good at something, so I studied harder than anyone. She and Gianni used to call me the Encyclopaedia. They tested me out in facts and dates – they hardly ever managed to catch me out. They both used to copy my school work, which made me feel proud.

We all thought Martina would be famous one day. She dreamed of moving on, being someone. This place was too small for her. She should have been a Hollywood star. She had that innate sense of glamour – and the temperament to match. If the War hadn’t happened, if she’d had different opportunities, she might have been a star.

So many things would have been different.

I don’t know to this day why she married Gianni. I suppose it was because she could. She said she loved him, but I think what attracted her most was that all the other girls loved him.

Gianni and I were wary of each other for a long time. We both knew we were competing for Martina’s attention. But we came to realise that if we both wanted to be with her we’d have to learn to rub along with each other. I grew fond of him.

God knows, he didn’t to deserve to die the way he did.

That’s enough for now. I wish you’d never asked. Why can’t you leave the past where it belongs?


About The Secret

A beautiful village hides a dark story – two girls growing up in wartime Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences reaching right up to the present day. But as one person tries to uncover the truth, another is determined to keep it hidden.

The Secret will be published by Crooked Cat Books on 1st June.

The Secret


The Silence, which tells of another secret harboured by the same village, was published last summer and is available from Amazon UK or Amazon US.


About Katharine Johnson

Katharine Johnson is a journalist with a passion for mysteries, old houses and all things Italian (except tiramisu). She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, three children and madcap spaniel. She plays netball badly and is a room guide in a stately home.

You can find Katharine at: Website/blog  Amazon author page  Facebook Twitter

Katharine Johnson


Letters from Elsewhere is taking a break and will be back towards the end of April.


I’m delighted to be visited today by Katharine Johnson, author of Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings, and now of The Silence. She’s going to talk about her fascination with secrets, so, over to her.

KatyJohnsonI know publishers and bookshops like books that have clearly defined genres. It makes them easier to market and display which in turn makes them easier to sell. The trouble is not all readers are as easy to categorise. I’m sure there are people who only buy romance or historical novels or detective stories but I’m not one of these. I like books from lots of different genres. You’re as likely to find me reading a family saga as a thriller and some of my favourite books don’t fall into any genre that I can identify. But I suppose if I had to find a common thread to the novels I love it would be secrets. I’m drawn to stories where things are not as they first appear, and where a long-held secret is threatened with exposure and the effect it has on people when it is revealed. 


SecretsI hadn’t really noticed that this was the case until someone recently pointed it out. My favourite book about a long-held secret is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. To me secrets are what make people interesting. We all have them to some extent but I’m curious about how people deal with having a big secret in their life, how they feel about it and to what lengths they will go to hide it. Perhaps it’s because I’m so bad at keeping secrets myself – I’ve come to the sad conclusion that I’d make a terrible spy – that I’m fascinated by people who can do so successfully for years.


I suppose the first person you need to convince is yourself. George Orwell said in 1984 “If you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself.”



In my novel The Silence which is being published on 8th June the main character Abby has a secret that goes back 25 years to a summer she spent in Tuscany as a teenager. Now in her thirties, she loves her job and is happily married with two lovely little girls – but she knows that if her secret gets out her perfect life will implode.



Villa in Tuscany

She has driven the details of what happened during her last day at the villa to the very back of her mind and has done this so successfully that she has almost convinced herself it never happened. How else could she have got on with her life, got a degree, got a job, married – all the things normal people do? But when human remains are discovered at the villa she realises her secret is no longer safe.


The other thing about having a secret is that you can only be sure of keeping it if you are the only person to know about it. But Abby wasn’t the only person at the villa that day and now someone else wants the truth to be told.


Special Offer

TheSilenceThe Silence will be published on June 8th in eBook and paperback versions and is available on this link  Amazon – The Silence

Grab the eBook at the special pre-order price of 99p (after publication it goes up to £1.99). 

Message me (or email katy@espressomedia.net) with proof of order and you will be entered into a goodybag prize draw which includes prosecco and chocolates, an Amazon gift card and a signed paperback of my first novel Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings


Come to the Party

I’m having an online book launch for The Silence on 8th-9th June. There will be fun and games, information about the book, visiting authors and prizes to be won. Please come along! Click on this link for more details: The Silence launch Party.


About the Author

Katharine Johnson is a journalist with a passion for old houses and all things Italian (except tiramisu). She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, three children and madcap spaniel.