‘It’s much harder to make friends in the north’

Italy's rich history inspired Hillary Corby to tap into her writing skills. Now a crime novellist, she is living in in the northern Italian coastal town of Imperia, Liguria. She talks to The Local about the differences between northern and southern Italy and how the country's cities and coastline help her to write books.

'It's much harder to make friends in the north'
Photo: Hillary Corby

Where are you from originally?

I was born in London, England.

So what brought you to Italy? Has it always been a dream destination?

After visiting Rome for my birthday, I decided I wanted to move here from Spain and I accepted an English teaching contract which landed me in Trapani, Sicily. It has not always been a dream destination, but it had always been a dream to visit. My first stop was the Colosseum.

You seem to have lived in a lot of places, in the south and north. Italy's often described as a place of "two halves", so how would you sum it up? 

In general, people are friendlier, more open and hospitable in the south. There is a very different mentality there and they do whatever they like with little regard to the rules. Sicily is a wonderful island with a diverse history but I do not really recommend life in Palermo. I have found it much harder to make friends in the north. They will be polite and friendly, but they will not open their doors to you as easily.

You're a crime novelist and have written When Angel Falls. Did you write before you came to Italy?

No, I didn't write before I came to Italy. I was inspired during my year in Florence. Being addicted to crime novels and writers such as Agatha Christie and a lover of Sherlock Holmes stories along with a passion for the Renaissance, I married them together to come up with my first historical crime fiction set in Renaissance Florence, When Angels Fall A Benedetti Renaissance Mystery. I'm working on my second crime fiction, which is set in Naples and has just been adapted to a screenplay. I won't tell you the name yet – still a secret.

What is it about Italy that inspires your books? Imperia in itself must be very inspirational.

The wonderful history. Living in Palermo, Florence and Rome, I could close my eyes and travel back in time and breathe the history. I enjoyed a pit stop in Tellaro and the Golfo dei Poeti where I visited the most beautiful cove and saw the houses that D.H. Lawrence and Lord Byron stayed in. Staring out of a large glass window at the sea was very inspiring. I experienced things that really stirred my imagination and have come to life in my books. There is nothing quite so inspiring and beautiful as Italy's coastline and its islands.

You seem very happy to live here, but Italy is not without its problems. So is there anything that frustrates you about Italy?

Yes, the bureaucracy and, at times, the poor work ethic are quite frustrating.

What would your survival tips be for anyone looking to come here and make a living?

I honestly can say, I do not recommend coming here to make living that is dependent upon the Italian economy, such as teaching English.

Go out, meet the locals, shop at the same places and they will get to know you. Smile, be friendly and life will be easier. Enjoy the cafes, the great pizza, pasta and fish. See the country, explore all the historical wonders!

Just remember, things move far more slowly here and are extremely complicated.

As with any country, there are the unscrupulous but in general, I found Italians to be sociable, warm, friendly, helpful and kind people and they love anglophiles! I have met some real angels that helped me in my time of need.

Hillary can be found bloggin at

When Angels Fall A Benedetti Renaissance Mystery is available here: 

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‘Some things need a special donation to work’

John P Brady left the grey skies of Ireland for the warmer climes of Sicily. But while the island is a paradise for some, for others it's a place to leave. He talks to The Local about living in one of the most colourful, yet chaotic, parts of Italy.

'Some things need a special donation to work'
Photo: John P Brady

So what made you leave the Emerald Isle for Sicily, apart from the weather?

Sicily is for some a paradise island, and for others a place to emigrate from. I moved here to broaden my horizons and to search for a new challenge. I enjoy the thrill of communicating daily in Italian and developing an entirely new social circle. I had lived in Dublin for long enough to know and love the city completely, but it was just time to move on.

Why Catania?

I like hot weather and anything below 20 C for me is cold, therefore I went as far south as possible. Catania is costal, which is a bonus, and this is obviously a huge draw during the summer months.

Sicilians often don't see themselves as "Italians" and vice-versa. Are the differences that stark?

Sicily is an island and for that reason it shares some things with other island cultures. For example, the way people relate to each other here and in Ireland has some similarities. Overall though, Sicily is Italy. The question is often asked, “what is Italy?” since it’s made up of so many divided parts, each of which have different local food and their own dialect.

Did you speak Italian before you came and have you picked up any of the local dialect?

A huge motivation in moving here was the language, which in my opinion is far richer than English, although English has an array of similar words which are often mistranslations from Latin (“pretend” would be a good example). I had learned Italian before moving to Sicily and was lucky enough to be able to communicate well from my first day here. This is hugely important because in Sicily, even more so than in the north of Italy, very few people speak English. For tourists this is fine, as most proprietors of hotels or bed and breakfast places can speak a few basic words. In reality, one will find it difficult to make friends without a good knowledge of Italian.

For me, Sicilian is a language and not a dialect, in fact “Catanese” is a dialect of Sicilian. It is used heavily in Catania but less so amongst university students and the upwardly mobile. I speak a little and can understand most of it. Some locals speak only Sicilian and are not able to converse properly in Italian.

Tell us a bit about the work you do there.

I’ve been teaching English as a means of income and as a social outlet. I discovered immediately that most people have a low level of proficiency. This means that you will need to explain things to them in Italian. To explain the difference between the present perfect and the simple past tense can be a challenge in English, doing so in Italian is another matter! So basically, without good Italian this is a difficult work choice. I’ve also been busy freelancing and writing fiction, and at the moment I’m working on a collection of short stories which will be released in early 2014.

Is Sicily cheaper to live than mainland Italy?

It’s cheaper than the north, but only for certain things. Items such as toiletries etc cost much more here. I’ve heard that this is to cover the extra cost of transportation. Eating out is expensive, especially fish. A drink can cost as much as €6 depending on where you go. On the other hand, shopping in the market can be very reasonable.

What are your favourite things about living in Catania?

As I said, I like hot weather and having lived in Ireland I’ve seen enough grey skies to last me a lifetime. I’m not overly fond of living in an expat bubble so the lack of foreigners is another advantage.

The vastly different culture is very stimulating and has inspired me to write a blog about my experiences, which I have tried to keep more informative and less personal. It is also a useful way for me to understand the experiences I’ve been having.

And what about the downsides?

For many, a disadvantage is bureaucracy. Things take time and I’ve heard that some things even need a special donation to work at all. There is a general sense of chaos here which for many is a downside.

Surprisingly, some locals don’t understand what bins are used for. The younger educated folk are trying to change this and are tackling other social problems such as political apathy and crime.

What would you advise anyone seeking to move to Sicily?

It is important to remember that when moving abroad you must leave your old life behind and avoid romanticising it. You have a new world to explore abroad, one just as ripe and full of possibility. If you like expat bubbles go and speak English in Andalucia instead!

Do you think you'll be there a while?

Who knows? The future is not ours to see. We must live in the present. At the moment it is a good choice.

John P Brady is a writer and teacher who has left the green isle of Ireland for the burnt soil of Sicily. His first collection of stories will be published in early 2014. Details are on his website,, where you can also find a blog about food, culture and life in Italy. 

You can also find him on Facebook at and Twitter