It was the overwhelming desire for change that pushed me into re-inventing myself in Italy.
Many years ago, I had invested some money in a hilltop cottage in Tuscany, never believing that one day I would live there.
After a successful acting career in theatre and on television, I immersed myself in writing and a Tuscan retreat – I hoped – would offer tranquility. But not a bit of it!
Life turned out to be more exciting than I could ever have imagined, as you will discover when you read my book, published by Solstice Publications, “Down a Tuscan Alley”.
Having to support myself in those early days by letting out my bedroom and doing B&B while I slept under the desk in the tiny sitting room wasn’t easy.
But it was something I felt compelled to do. One of saddest things is to look back wistfully on your life and say, if only I’d done this or that. The crucial thing is to do it while you still have the energy.
It wasn’t long before I was accepted by the locals, and within a month of arriving, I met Rosalbo, a property restorer and cat painter, at a friend’s dinner party.
Now me and Rosalbo have restored a spacious village house where we live.
It was the most frightening thing I ever did coming here alone and with hardly any money. But it’s been the best. An adventure of a lifetime!
As Titania in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 1974
As Tekla in "Creditors by Strindberg" at the Young Vic, 1976
A film publicity still, 1973
An Interview for the Corriere di Siena.
Sinalunga – A beautiful house in the historical centre with a roof terrace that looks out over the entire Val di Chiana has become the shelter of Laura Graham, a successful actress for many years in England and colleague of actors such as Donald Sutherland and Michael York. Laura has chosen Tuscany as her residence and place from which she takes inspiration to nurture a love that has accompanied her during her whole life, writing.
Laura, how did you come to find Sinalunga?
I had a good friend in London, Armando Pezzuolo, who had a tiny apartment to sell in Sinalunga. I took the plunge and bought it. When my long relationship ended with my former partner, I felt the need to turn my life around and Vicolo Della Mura in Sinalunga, seemed to me the best place from which to begin again.
Did you need time to find your feet?
When I arrived in Italy I knew almost no one, and only one person in the village spoke English. I spoke very little Italian but I asked the local people for their patience, which they gave willingly, helping me to settle in with their generosity and kindness.
After living in London don’t you miss the life of the big city?
Not really. I enjoy the tranquility here and being part of a small Italian community. The secret is to takes trips. At least two or three times a year I return to London or the U.S. And from Sinalunga one can easily travel to Rome, Florence and Siena. I was brought up for six years on a small island in the Hebrides, the isolated beauty and wildness of that place I carry within me. And together with the energy of this land, I take the power and inspiration to write.
How did your love of the theatre start?
Since I was a child I always created my own world and played all the characters within it. Then I was taken to a pantomime one Christmas and fell in love with everyone in the cast and longed to be up on the stage with them. At eighteen I won a scholarship to LAMDA where I studied for two years and then went straight to the Old Vic, the Young Vic and the Royal Court theatre.
What made you want to write?
A need to put thoughts and feelings on paper. I’ve always wanted to write. I gave up the theatre when I got married so that became the ideal creative outlet.
How did your agency, Laura’s Houses begin?
Exactly as written in the novel, I let out my bedroom and bathroom while I slept in the sitting room. It was the only means of earning a living that I had. Then gradually, people offered me their houses and I was able to build a business. I manage five houses in Sinalunga, Centro Storico, two of which are my own. I recently bought another cottage, which my partner, Rosalbo, is restoring.
Tell me about your book
It’s called “Down a Tuscan Alley”, which is where it all began in the Centro Storico of Sinalunga. The book tells the story of a woman of nearly fifty who at the end of a long relationship moves to Tuscany in search of a new life, as I did. The autobiographical aspect was a good starting point as it’s easier to write about things you know.
How does your writing day begin?
If I’m starting a new project I leave the house early with my exercise book and pens and go to a bar. I let the first draft of an idea pour onto the page, rubbish usually, but at least there’s something to edit, the writing juices are moving, and from that, if things go well, a story is born.
Who are you favourite authors?
George Orwell, Iris Murdoch, Ian McEwan, Donna Tart, Alice Hoffman, to name but a few. But I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed Carlos Ruiz Zafron and Sara Dunant.
And this is your first book?
Yes. Although I’ve written novels in the past I’ve never subjected anyone to them. Until now, that is!
Do you have an idea for the next book?
I am already halfway through the first draft. It’s set in Umbria — I don’t have a title yet.
What is the most important step in writing?
To write. Simple as that. It is easy to talk about writing, it’s another thing to do it. And finish what you begin, you never know where the journey may take you./
Do you have dreams about doing something else?
I had a dream: To find the means to live in Tuscany and write. My dream has become a reality. I cannot ask for more.