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Q&A with Paola Peretti

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For this month’s Q&A, we were lucky enough to interview Paola Peretti, author of the beautiful new novel, The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree. Paola’s personal story is incredible & inspirational; she has Stargardt Disease, a rare genetic disease that means she is losing her sight and will eventually be blind. There is no cure to date.

I’m going blind. That’s the cold, hard truth. With my brown, rather ordinary eyes I see only a fifth of what other people can see. Literature is my biggest passion. I want to write. I can’t wait any longer. I have eyes inside my hands, and when I’m writing I see even better inside my head.” – Paola Peretti

The Distance Between Me and The Cherry Tree features a character with the same condition. Mafalda is a nine-year-old girl who knows one thing: some time in the next six months her sight will fail completely. Can Mafalda find a way through a seemingly dark future and still go to school, play football and look after her beloved cat? With the help of her family, and her friends, Mafalda needs to discover the things that will be important to her when her sight has failed. This is a moving and empowering tale of courage and determination and is perfect for fans of Wonder, The Little Prince and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly.

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree is a very moving story. How do you want the reader to feel once they’ve finished the book?
I would like every reader to feel hopeful, whatever challenges they may face, but above all, to always live life to the full.

The cherry tree is a very important element in the story. Could you tell us about where the idea for it came from and why it’s so significant?
The cherry tree comes from my childhood. It represents a place of imagination and dreams. I also love the fact that it encourages Mafalda as a young girl to always climb higher and then, finally, to be brave and make the final leap.

The book was bought on just 39 pages. Did that add to the pressure when you were writing it or was it a real confidence boost?
Although the book proposal was sent out as a sample of 39 pages translated into English, I had already completed the book in Italian. So in that way I didn’t feel pressured. But it is true to say that I heard the news about the book being accepted for publication during a very hard period of my life, which gave me such a boost. I felt so lucky. And it also encouraged me to start work on my second book.

As Mafalda’s sight declines throughout the book, her other senses seem to become heightened. Was that a conscious decision?
Yes, it was, good question! I based that on my own experience. Although obviously losing my sight gives me challenges, it does give me what I like to call a sixth sense, where I can understand the mood of the person I am speaking to very well.

Have you always wanted to be a writer and do you have any advice for any budding young authors out there?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve loved reading ever since I was very small, and my passion for writing followed soon after. My advice to any budding young author would be: ‘Just do it. If you know that you are a writer, be a writer. Work hard and don’t try to lock up the creative energy that is writing. It is your nature.’

Could you tell us what a typical day is like for you?
Now that I can spend the whole day writing, I must be disciplined. I try to wake up early, very early in the morning and start writing immediately. Later I might have lunch with my family, or a friend. I can’t write for long periods of time, as after a few hours I feel empty and need to recharge, but I am always thinking about my characters and what has to happen to them. Before I go to sleep I always read books containing characters with voices that could influence me in writing.

Are you allowed to say what you’re working on next or is it top secret?
I am pleased to say I am happily working on my next book!

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti, translated by Denise Muir, published by Hot Key Books is out now.