Nicki Storey's Positano-based debut novel
A Boatful of Lemons takes place in Positano, the breathtaking cliffside village on Italy's Amalfi Coast. Although the book is a work of fiction it's interlaced with some of Positano's factual local characters, and historic bars and restaurants.
Here's the edited transcript of our chat with links to some of Nicki's and my favorite Positano spots, and other places Nicki mentions in her book.
Wendy Holloway: I'm chatting today with Nicki Storey, and I think it was just after the pandemic that we first chatted, in Positano.
Nicki is the creator of her videos on the Positano Diaries, her YouTube channel.
Nicki Storey: I started using YouTube basically as a place to keep my videos way back then. It was literally somewhere to keep my videos. And then at some point I did one for a friend and I said, look, I'll show you the Path of the Gods and I'll put it on YouTube so you can watch it because she couldn't walk it herself.
And something like 20,000 people watched it. So I thought maybe I should do more. I think it was around about 2011 that I started posting a little bit more, but I didn't really try to make a “thing” until about 2016/2017. So, yes, it has been a while!
Wendy Holloway: So you started it just to store your videos and show your friends in the UK what your life was. They're fantastic. And you live in one of the most gorgeous spots on the planet; it's just exquisite.
Now, you have 200,000 YouTube followers, and 174,000 on Instagram. So it all kind of ties in together for this whole image of you, and you portraying Positano in the most gorgeous of ways.
You also had a dream in the back of your head to write a book and you have just published A Boat Full of Lemons, An Unforgettable Summer on the Amalfi Coast.
For anyone who may be thinking of coming to Positano or who has been there, the book is something you could read on the beach in Positano, read quickly.
You accurately portray life in Positano including local dishes and venues that have been around forever since the time when this book takes place.
So tell me how you really got started on the book idea.
Nicki Storey: I have been a voracious reader since I could read. There's photos of me, age three, sitting in my bunk bed, surrounded by books.
And my mum was a big reader, too, and she indulged me, and would take me to the library every week, and we'd get the maximum number of books and read them all, take them back, swap them. I joined book clubs. I was always good at English and always read ahead when we had a reading assignment.
I would finish the book when we were only supposed to read the first chapter. So I loved reading and me and my mum together, we always talked about writing a book one day, and it was something that we both loved the idea of doing. We talked about maybe doing it separately or doing it together, but it was a dream that we both had.
And unfortunately, my mum never got the time to do that before she left us. So I decided that one day I would give it a go. Then, of course, when lockdown happened and we were all stuck at home, I had plenty of time. So I said, okay, now's the time. I'm going to do it.
I decided I wanted to write a story based in Positano and I wanted it to be fiction, but I wanted to include a lot of little things that happened to me over the years. I've been living here for 24 years. It's enough time to accumulate a lot of experiences.
The book is set in 1986, the first year I came here. I wanted to write a lot of my experiences, a lot of the funny, quirky little things that happened to me over the years. And I wanted to bring them all together in one fictional story.
I love books that have crossovers with other characters or books that have places that you can actually look up on Google and find, and they're real. I wanted to make the book a little bit like a treasure hunt in a way for visitors to Positano.
So... You could read it and come here and find some of the locations, some of the characters even, and really get a feel of what it was like. So, that was my intention.
Wendy Holloway: I did look up the Bar Internazionale, which is kind of a classic historic bar. It’s been around forever.
And the Tre Sorelle dates back to the early 1950s.
Nicki Storey: A few people are in the book with their own names, and there're a few people that I've based characters on where I've changed their names.
Gloria is one of these ladies in the book. She was exactly as described. She was an American lady who came to Positano way back. I'm not even sure what year she came and she would sit on the stone bench on the pier and mend the fishermen's nets for them. And sometimes she'd go out on the boat with them and she'd always be there. And she was just such a lovely, happy, beautiful character. And I would go and sit with her, especially in the winter. We'd sit together on the stone bench on the pier where the boats come in and just talk and chat.
She was lovely and I just thought I have to include her in a book because she was part of Positano back then. She's no longer with us anymore. If she was, she would be in her mid 90s by now, I think, but yes, she's no longer around. I just thought it was a nice little memory to put her in it because she was such an important part of my life.
Wendy Holloway: About a decade ago I went to a fish shop in Positano and I was watching them load fish coming from the port into the shop, just the most gorgeous fish. And then at a certain point one of the people in the shop loaded up a ton of fish and put it on his shoulder to walk off somewhere. And I said, “Where are you going?” And he said, “Oh, I'm taking this to a restaurant.”
I gathered up all the people who were in Positano with me and said, “Come on! We're having lunch where this guy is going.” In fact, lunch at Ristorante Cambusa was amazing.
Nicki Storey: It's changed hands, because there were two owners, and one of them died, and the other one decided to sell because she couldn't cope on her own.
Wendy Holloway: I’ll share a little story with you. Before we were married, my husband took me to Positano in 1982 or 1983. We went there, driving along the Amalfi coast. It's so breathtaking.
He took me to this little place where he always stayed, one of these smaller family owned places, Casa Cosenza.
(I didn't speak a word of Italian; I lived in New York City.)
Maurizio said “I have to go take care of a piece of property of my father's a little bit further south. You stay here with Maria.” the owner, and then I'll be back to pick you up.
Time went on and Maria said, “Okay, it's getting late. Let's go up to the main road that winds through the town and we'll just sit at the bar and we'll wait for Maurizio.”
So we went up there and sat and it got later and later until it was almost 10 o'clock and I was thinking “Oh my, is this Italian guy going to come back and get me?”
Just like in your book with some of the Italian guys you talk about, and they were all saying, “He's not coming back. Come with us, come with us!” And then finally he did wind around the corner!
But, looking back it was such a funny thing. And your book really made me think of that incident because you portray that kind of local character: Italian guys from back then in the early eighties who were more prevalent.
Nicki Storey: Oh, yes, it's completely different from how it used to be. There was, back in the 80s and early 90s, a real small town culture. Positano has 3,800 residents, so it's the sort of town where everybody knows everybody and you easily spot a visitor. You just know who lives there and who doesn't.
Back then there was this real sort of summer culture where the Italians would come on holiday for the summer, and you'd know them because they'd be the same people coming back every year, and we'd have repeat visitors, so at the end of the beach day, everybody would migrate to the Buca del Bacco, the piazza on the beach, and have an aperitivo, and everybody would socialize.
Wendy Holloway: I read somewhere that even though you're married to an Italian, and you have a daughter, you still think about returning to England.
Nicki Storey: I know what you read. That was an interview I did 12 to 15 years ago. I think that was when we were still living in rented accommodation. We weren't up in this beautiful house that we live in now.
We lived in a tiny pokey little apartment that we weren't allowed to change the furniture or paint or anything. We had no outdoor space and I wasn't particularly happy. So I did dream of going back to England, but that was a long time ago now. And since then, my life has completely changed because now we live in this beautiful secluded property. With gardens and vegetables and fruit trees and and a view of the sea and it's completely different
Wendy Holloway: I think it takes a decade or more before you really feel that the new reality in Positano, or in Rome, or whatever Italian place it is gets into you and becomes more what's “you” than not.
Nicki Storey: Yes. I think it always takes time to settle anywhere you're going to go. If you're going to move from where you were grown, from where you grew up and from where you've been settled all your life, if you've moved to a completely different country and a completely different situation, of course, it's not going to be straight forward and the dream straight away.
You're going to come up with all sorts of problems, whether it's bureaucratical or the language or just the way of life, it's always going to be different and I think anybody will find pros and cons of settling into somewhere new. I found it hard. In rented accommodation, back then we didn't have any money and we were struggling and it wasn't a particularly nice apartment that we were living in.
I can remember getting back from the hospital the day that Sky was born and standing on a ladder scrubbing mold off the ceiling. Yeah, and we lived in that apartment for 13 years and it was really miserable. In fact, at the end of it, I said “Carlo, I can't live here anymore. We've got to find something else.” And that was the catalyst that made us start looking for other rented accommodation, realizing how expensive it had become over the years and that we weren't going to find anything to buy. And then this old abandoned property up in the mountains that his family had, that nobody wanted to live in was available.
And that's when we came up here and had a look around and said, “Do you think we can do it? Can we handle the 500 steps to the house every day?” The outside space for me was what made it because I grew up in a place with a very big garden and woods at the back and space around and no neighbors overlooking us. Whereas down in the center of town, it's like living in a goldfish bowl. Everybody can see you every time you step out your front door. I hardly ever go into town. It's maybe once or twice a week I'll pop down because I've got to go to the bank or I've got to pick up something somewhere.
Wendy Holloway: You've said that this is not an autobiographical book, but thinking about you, what I know about you in many ways it is. The main character Francesco, the love interest, lives way up in Montepertuso like you. And then, you have one daughter and the main character has one daughter There are just so many little bits that made me say “this is Nicki.”
Nicki Storey: I do want to talk about this because there's a lot of speculation going on at the moment. I have not based Wendy on myself, I would say there're pieces of me in Wendy, Amanda and Mia, the daughter.
For example, the job that Mia did back in England was a job that I did. Amanda's house in the future is obviously based on this house here. Yes, Wendy has one daughter and yes, she worked in makeup, which is what I did. Bits of the book are based on things that happened with Carlo, but most of it's made up.
Wendy Holloway: I think whenever an author writes a book, even if it's fiction, you can't help but put yourself into it because you have your life of experiences, outlooks, and it has to come through in one way or another, in overt ways or very subtle ways and of course that's the case with you as well.
So how is the book doing?
Nicki Storey: I think it's doing well. It's hard to judge. Carlo has been disappointed with how it's done because he was judging it on the fact that if our videos generally get watched by 100,000 people, he probably thought that a big percentage of them would buy the book, but...
Not that many people read anymore. I would say 5 percent of the viewers have bought the book. However, I'm thrilled by it. And it's had great reviews on Amazon. I didn't do it for the reads or for the money. I did it because I wanted to fulfill this thing that I'd had with my mum that one day one of us would write a book. I wanted to challenge myself to do it and see if it was possible.
And this is why I self published as well. I didn't want to go the route of sending it off to publishers and having people reject it.
I didn't want them to have the power of making me feel bad about what I'd written, so I never even contemplated sending it to a publisher. It sat on my computer for two years before I decided to publish it.
I've been pleasantly surprised by the lovely reviews that people have been leaving and the lovely comments that people have been leaving. So I'm thrilled with how it's done.
Wendy Holloway: So you found publishing on Amazon as a self-publisher is a good process?
Nicki Storey: Well, it depends what you want out of your book, because if you're looking to earn money, it's probably not a good idea at all. Amazon takes a huge percentage of the proceeds. They take 60% of the fee, and then you get 40%, but the printing costs are paid out of your 40%.
So if you're doing it for the money, no, you need to find yourself a publisher who's going to publish it and get it out in the shops and everything.
But that's not what I was doing. I didn't have the confidence to go that direction.
Wendy Holloway: You have a lot of discussion about food in the book. Are you a passionate cook or are you just passionate about food and thought you'd include things like a cooking class and some recipes that really make you drool when you read them?
Nicki Storey: When I first came to Italy, I literally couldn't even feed myself. I would have friends come to me and say, when was the last time you ate? And I’d say, maybe the day before yesterday. And they dragged me off to a restaurant, put food in my throat. I just wasn't interested in food at all.
I can remember everybody being so horrified by me and slowly, slowly people teaching me how to feed myself.
When I got a job in 2001 working in a hotel as the hostess in a restaurant the chef would bit by bit teach me how to make little things like certain pasta sauces and how to cook fish and things like that. Gradually over time I learned from people in shops and people in hotels and people's grandmothers when I went to their houses.
I love it now. It's something I do quite happily. And I love the fact that I can make food from what we have in our garden, which is a huge thing for us nowadays.
Wendy Holloway: What would you say are your two favorite restaurants in Positano?
Nicki Storey: We always like to go to the Ristorante Mediterraneo. It's up in Fornillo along the road. It doesn't have an amazing view, but it's got an outside seating area and an inside area and the owners are incredibly friendly, very cheerful.
They'll often come and sit down at the table with us and they have great food. We go there and they know us well, so we like the fact that we will go there and sit down and they won't even show us the menu, they'll just bring us food. They do these great platters with a bit of everything on them.
They're very good with seafood and they have the best stuffed zucchini flowers in town.
And then the other one that we go to quite often is our nearest restaurant to home, the Ritrovo up in Montepertuso, which is a beautiful little restaurant in the little piazza up in the town square.
They have a free shuttle service that will take you and pick you up from Positano.
Wendy Holloway: I have just one last question about your YouTube channel, Positano Diaries, which I absolutely love.
Tell me about your creative process. Do you have an editor? Do you do it all yourself?
Nicki Storey: Everything myself! I don't have anybody helping me with anything and that's why I sometimes get overwhelmed and go quiet for a bit because I do get burnout occasionally and just collapse.
I film the videos, I edit them myself. I love editing. That's my favorite part of everything that I do. I love getting all the bits of video onto my laptop and thinking what am I going to make out of this? What's it going to look like? And putting it all together. I love it.
It's not often planned, we normally do it quite spontaneously. We only film with my phone, and we really don't have any special equipment.
Wendy Holloway: You do it all with your iPhone?
Nicki Storey: I did have cameras and microphones and stuff, but they're just so bulky to carry around. And iPhones these days are so good that it's just so much easier and I can airdrop straight onto my laptop and I don't have to worry about cables and and transferring it and so forth.
So I might think to myself, okay, we've got all these vegetables now. I really should go into the kitchen and make something out of them. I look at what I have and say, I can make this and I can make that. So I go to the kitchen, got the phone on a little tripod. And everything takes double the time because you're moving the camera around and trying to film yourself chopping vegetables and cooking.
Then I do a voiceover explaining what I am doing, and explaining the recipe.
Wendy Holloway: Is that what you normally do then? You do a voiceover?
Nicki Storey: Sometimes. It depends. I like to do a mix. I like to do a bit of everything.
Wendy Holloway: And then for your editing, you airdrop onto your laptop and then next what's your process?
Nicki Storey: I put it into iMovie and I put it all together there. Then I normally drag it into Final Cut Pro, which I use to add the subtitles. Then I save it and upload it to YouTube when it's finished.
It takes a good few days to edit and choose the music and add the subtitles and put all the bits together. Sometimes there're bits missing and we have to go and re-film something or sometimes something doesn't make sense.
Wendy Holloway: One final question about the book title, A Boatful of Lemons. My feeling is that there was a scene with Francesco, the main love interest, on a boat and he has all these lemons that spill into the boat and it seemed to me that was the inspiration.
And yet on the other hand, Positano is all about amazing lemons, as is the whole area.
So what made you choose the title?
Nicki Storey: Originally it was going to be called Starlight and Lemons.
Then I remembered a book I’d read called Seven Eves. It was science fiction, and I don't normally read science fiction, but it was a fascinating book. It was about how one day the moon broke into pieces, and everybody was like, oh what happened, what happened, and then eventually a scientist comes along and says, we shouldn't be concentrating on what happened, we need to concentrate on what's going to happen next, what are the consequences are of this.
Anyway, the consequence was the world was going to end and everybody had to figure out where to go and a load of them went up into space. And Seven Eves - I never really considered why was it called that until I'd finished it the book - is left with just seven women, and they're the only humans left, and they have to figure out how to become Eve and repopulate the human race.
I love that the fact that the title of that book wasn't clear until you'd finished reading it. And in a way, A Boatful of Lemons is, shall I say, the answer to the very first question on the first page: “How on earth do you start to tell your adult daughter about her birth father who knows nothing of her existence?”
Where was she conceived? In a boatful of lemons!
Wendy Holloway: Nicki, thank you so much and great luck with the book! And for all you listeners and readers:
If you're thinking about Positano, go off season.
All the places and the recipes and everything that Nicki talks about is the real deal so when you visit head to these places.
November to March you can fully enjoy the area, tourist-free, although lots of restaurants and shops close for the winter.
To sum up, everything Nicki does is the real deal, and genuine, from her book to her Positano Diaries youtube channel.
Thank you so much Nicki for sharing your insights and stories today!
Nicki Storey: Thank you for having me. It's been lovely to chat!
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