The Hazelnut Grove

Who has not, on occasion, fantasised about moving to another country and reinventing their life? The Hazelnut Grove is the story of my cousin and his wife who moved from the comfort of a two-bedroom cottage in southern England to a mountain-top ruin in northwest Italy, where the breeze plays around your shoulders even on the hottest of a Piemontese summer’s day and where the snow piles up in drifts in the heart of winter.

The Hazelnut Grove explores the joys and demands of daring to live in search of a dream.

Sarah and Luke’s chosen life is part fairy tale, part story of courage and self-reliance as their new  neighbour, nicknamed il Cattivo, the nasty one, decides to make war over the desolate hazelnut grove, a two metre strip of land behind their house. Their story is interspersed with anecdotes drawn from my family’s holiday cottage in rural France.

As events unfold that might have driven them away, especially Sarah, who does not share Luke’s Italian heritage, a picture emerges not only of how the Italian life has tested Sarah, but also of how she discovered in herself both a grand obstinacy and a respect for the materials and objects of that life. A chunk of rusting metal becomes, in Sarah’s eyes, an artefact with potential. Sarah becomes an artist.

Set in Piedmont, renowned for its wine and food, a story of abundance and thriving slowly emerges against the challenges of a menacing neighbour, the deaths of beloved animals and the loneliness of getting to grips with an unfamiliar language and culture.

When asked by English friends: ‘Would you ever move back home again?’ Luke and Sarah can only answer: ‘We are home.’

Available from 15 October 2020 here:

‘…about halfway through The Hazelnut Grove, the vividness of the writing one night suffused my sleep and I dreamed I was living in a house, perhaps even Cascina Cannella, where I was responsible for all the endless tasks of maintenance: plumbing, heating, etc. etc. When I woke up, I had to have a glass of something to calm me down.’

Tom Orr, scientist, writer and cartoonist, New York City, usa

‘It is an interesting and unusual blend of idyll, a celebration of the achievements of a very determined, energetic ‘heroine,’ and elegy (the Brexit business).’

‘…an insight into Italian rural life and an introduction to the delights of Italian food and wine.’

Peter Dixon, former member of the English Department at Queen Mary, London
University, uk

‘It’s about “winning” – without gloating but with integrity, passion, hard work and the solidarity, the unconditional safety net, of the family and their incredible bonds!’

‘…Luke’s meals…the cleverly juxtaposed menus made my mouth water!’

Alison King, writer and vagabond, Montreal, Canada

‘I love the heat, the food, the quirkiness of Piedmont…and those weird neighbours, the inheritance laws…all of it!’

Sarah Early, former journalist and sailor, dorset, uk


Susie, teacher, newcastle, uk

‘Though they are very different books, it struck me after I finished The Mermaid of Black Conch how similar the two are in a way. They both speak about the evolution of a young woman, in very exotic locales.’

(Monique Roffey, Peepal Tree Press Ltd, 2020, winner of Costa Book of the Year)

Brian, tech journalist, Portland, Oregon, usa