I am delighted to introduce you to my pick for the Summer Book Club the wonderful heart warming tale from G.R. Gemin ‘Sweet Pizza’. It tells the story of Joe a Welsh-Italian boy whose family runs a café which is well past its sell by date. Against his Mum’s wishes he desperately wants to preserve his family heritage and bring the café back to life. A thoroughly uplifting story, true food for the soul which left me with a warm glow inside, I cannot recommend this book enough.
Q & A with G.R. Gemin
1. Congratulations on ‘Sweet Pizza’ being longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2016. How does it feel being nominated amongst such a sterling line up of books?
It’s great to get recognition because so many books come out each month one has to brace oneself for it going by without much notice. It’s also nice to see my book amongst heayweight writers and subject matters. I think sometimes YA gets all the attention.
2. What inspired you to write ‘Sweet Pizza’?
As the article on oral history in the Guardian suggests – we all have a story to tell and as my parents were immigrants the temptation to write something inspired by their era was too strong.
3. I really enjoyed the fact that ‘Sweet Pizza’ references the characters from ‘Cowgirl’ for me it feels like the evolution of a community. When you were planning the book did you always intend it to take place in the same setting as Cowgirl?
Yes I did. It’s comforting to keep a fictional place alive and it’s lovely when readers acknowledge this as you have done.
4. In the book you weave operatic songs through the story, why did you decide that Joe would have a love of opera?
Oh that’s easy. We all have passions about something (other than reading) and it’s a lovely thing to share that passion. My dad played opera at home and it got into my blood. It’s not an easy thing to sell but if I can pique the interest of one reader to give it a try then that’s a good thing. Of course Sweet Pizza is about Italian culture which is inextricably linked to opera (and food!)
5. The experiences of Joe’s family when they emigrated to Wales are very reminiscent of the realities for immigrants today, do you feel it is important for children to read stories which help them build empathy?
One hundred per cent – we’re living in very challenging times. What must it be like for a child born outside of the UK these days, or whose parents were born outside of the UK? Children must be receiving so many mixed messages about immigration these days, and it’s terribly important that they hear real stories as well as fiction that can help them make up their own minds.
6. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where Joe is learning to cook, those wonderfully vivid descriptions tantalised all my senses. In real life are you a good cook and what do you love to cook?
I am a reasonable cook but my partner is extremely good and it’s her passion so she tends take the lead, but if I’m cooking I like to do a bacon pasta (actually it’s pancetta cubes, tomato and peas.) It’s quick and easy.
7. I think ‘Sweet Pizza’ would make a perfect holiday read, full of warmth and humour it is marvellously uplifting. What book will you be taking on holiday and where would be your ideal place to enjoy a book?
I’m going to re-read “Travels with Charley” by John Steinbeck. It’s easy to read and full of warmth. I like to read in the garden where you may look up to see a curious bird watching you.
8. Finally can you tell us anything about your current WIP? Will it be set within the same community or can we expect something totally different?
I’m very sorry to say I have no WIP – perhaps not the best thing to admit to, but I am a slow writer. I honestly do feel too many books come onto the market. I take my writing very seriuosly (too seriously, some would say) so I think I need to let a bit of time go by before I decide what I will do next. I do feel I’ve lost some of the enjoyment I used to experience as an amateur writer and I’d like that sensation to return.
Thank you to G.R Gemin for taking the time to answer my questions, you can read my full review of ‘Sweet Pizza’ on my blog